Happening August 2020

Issue No: 1869
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Webinar Series

One CGIAR Global Webinar Series on Genome Editing in Agriculture: Innovations for Sustainable Production and Food Systems

Accessing and applying genome editing tools in CGIAR plant breeding programs can accelerate delivery of key crop improvement targets with benefits across the agricultural value chain.
Coming up soon is a series of webinars (every Tuesday beginning 22 September) that will bring CGIAR centers and partners together with policy makers, academics, innovators and other stakeholders to take stock of current research and applications of genome editing within CGIAR, and address related topics.
Webinar 1: Genome Editing in Agriculture: Innovations for Sustainable Production and Food Systems – 22 Sep 2020
Webinar 2: Applications of Genome Editing in Agriculture: CGIAR Focus on Crop Improvement – 29 Sep 2020
Webinar 3: Applications of Genome Editing in Agriculture: CGIAR Focus on Livestock and Aquaculture – 6 Oct 2020
Webinar 4: Regulation and Genome Edited Plants – 13 Oct 2020
Webinar 5: Path to Commercialization for Genome Edited Crops – 20 Oct 2020
Register here now: https://register.gotowebinar.com/register/2415711018306101775

Webinar on Millets as Smart Foods – USP for Millet Marketing as good for you, the planet and the farmer

September 5 @ 9:30 am – 1:30 pm IST

Organized by Nutrihub, Technology Business Incubator of ICAR-Indian Institute of Millet Research, for entrepreneurs/startups, farmers, and agriculture officers.

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Cover shot of the ICRISAT Annual Report 2019.

Cover shot of the ICRISAT Annual Report 2019.

2019 was a year of many firsts – ICRISAT Annual Report launched

We are glad to have rolled out some path-breaking initiatives and put systems in place well in time before 2020’s ‘new normal’ engulfed us. Office corridors that once bustled with activity are almost silent but ‘resilience’ is still the operative word. Highlights from the last year include the launch of the Plant Breeding Modernization program for increased efficiency and agility and the fully automated system for plot monitoring ‘agCelerant’ to provide climate solutions for Nigerian agriculture. Other big achievements include the reduction of crop cycle by half in chickpea through rapid generation advancement, operationalizing the state-of-the-art climate research facility set up at ICRISAT-India and decoding genome sequences for two subspecies of cultivated groundnut.

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The 2019 Annual Report will take you through major impacts achieved primarily in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia with spillover benefits in other countries. A Quick Stats sheet will assist you in gauging the work across the Sustainable Development Goals and will see you surfing the big numbers – thousands of seed samples shared by our gene bank, millions of hectares covered by agri-food system projects, and a hundred million reached through digital initiatives. A handy lift-out on modernizing breeding will walk you through the biggest initiative of 2019. Separate sections in the report will acquaint you with milestones achieved by the research programs, the CRP Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals led by ICRISAT, the Smart Food initiative and of course, the important finances, human resources and other corporate details.

The big achievements of 2019 spur us on. This could not have been possible without the support of a wide range of partners who have championed the cause of smallholder dryland farmers. We thank our funders and donors for their commitment to the cause of smallholder farmers in the drylands, without their support this work would not have been accomplished.

Together we can face the ‘new normal’ taking it as a call to evolve­­­ – treading new paths together in search of more efficient solutions.

Happy Reading! For a PDF of the summary click here

For the interactive version click here. It comes in with aids for the laid-back reader – videos of the  ICRISAT leadership summing up the highlights in 2019, an audiobook of the theme section and a handy booklet print facility.

Five-year plan for driving Grain Legume and Dryland Cereals seed delivery systems through commodity value chains

For those seeking to create a win-win for farmers, marketers and consumers of grain legumes and dryland cereals, this handy 15-pager has valuable information. Covering a five-year period starting 2020, this booklet aims to guide policy makers, development partners, implementing agencies, extension staff and stakeholders across the Grain Legume and Dryland Cereals seed value chain. The primary goal of this strategy is to deliver realized genetic gains to millions of smallholders in the drylands who continue to use poor quality seed of non-improved varieties with lower productivity.

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Dryland cereals and legumes provide subsistence for more than half a billion people in the driest regions of the world. They are nutritionally rich; and are best fits for input-constrained, poor smallholder farmers in marginal zones as these crops are drought tolerant and resilient to harsh weather conditions. Though the focus of the strategy is primarily on sorghum, finger millet, pearl millet, groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea, lentil, cowpea and soybean, it can also inspire improvement in delivery systems of rice, maize and wheat.

Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) breeding programs have made substantial breakthroughs (see box) with hundreds of improved and high-yielding, pest- and drought-tolerant and nutrient-use-efficient varieties developed for different agroecological regions, yet it is observed that about 80% of smallholder farmers in developing countries rely on non-improved GLDC variety seed for planting. The book challenges this observation. It points to the fact that poorly organized seed systems and inefficient seed supply systems hinder large-scale use of improved variety of seeds. It underscores the main rationale for it, being that farmers use their own-saved seed, the bulkiness of seed of some GLDC crops (e.g., groundnut, chickpea), difficulty in storage and poor knowledge of GLDC’s comparative advantage (e.g., nutrients, production ecologies, etc.).

The strategy aims to –

  • Guide the design and implementation of seed systems interventions to systemically address bottlenecks in a concerted way with partners;
  • Trigger innovations and investments in GLDC through dynamic learning mechanisms across partners;
  • Converge key actors in GLDC to work around critical challenges for breakthroughs in seed systems;
  • Create synergies and partnerships for actions to move forward efficiently and effectively.

Strategic framework for seed systems Interventions to foster GLDC innovations

Each of the thrust points (numbered 1-5) comes with a five-year goal, critical challenges to address, strategies and actions to follow and partnerships and arrangements for successful implementation.

Strategy implementation at various levels of functions

This strategy was developed though a consultative process. The content is from outputs from different actors’ meetings, participation by and interactions between public, private sectors and development partners, i.e. scientists, managers, policy makers, NGOs, and farmer organizations who came up with different action points. Buy-ins were encouraged to refine the content to best fit the user context and be shared as a work tool for seed systems actors.

Strategic Framework to Foster Grain Legume and Dryland Cereal Seed Systems Innovations

Guidelines to Drive Seed Delivery Systems through Commodity Value Chains. Ojiewo C, Akpo E, Hagmann J and Varshney RK. 2019.  ICRISAT. CGIAR Research Program – Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals. 20 pp.

Impact of Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) breeding programs

  • Hundreds of improved farmer-preferred varieties and hybrids were developed. Dozens of Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs) and hybrids with 30-40% yield advantage over farmers’ OPVs were developed and deployed, while extra-early groundnut and pigeonpea lines with 75-95 days maturity with high yield potential were developed.
  • Integrated crop management practices resulted in about 60% higher yield than those from farmers and an estimated marketable surplus of more than 400 kg/ha for sorghum. Grain yields increased by over 110-320% in West Africa and by 35-60% in Eastern and Southern Africa.
  • Seed business development: Thousands of farmers including about 50% women were trained in seed production and marketing techniques to enhance seed businesses. Thousands of tons of quality seed of improved cultivars of chickpea, groundnut, cowpea and lentil were produced and used by farmers in South Asia and East Africa. More than a two-fold increase in legume production was recorded in most countries. Overall, over 160 new seed varieties of grain legumes were released to replace old ruling varieties.

Read more about biofuels on EXPLOREit

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.


(L) Finger millet on-station trial at Chitedze research station. (R) On-farm chickpea trial in Phalombe district. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

(L) Finger millet on-station trial at Chitedze research station. (R) On-farm chickpea trial in Phalombe district. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

Malawi officially releases its first improved chickpea and finger millet varieties

High-yielding chickpea and finger millet varieties with yield potential of up to 3 tons per hectare had their first-ever official release in Malawi. The release aligns well with the government’s crop diversification agenda for food and income security and the funding agency Irish Aid’s goal of increasing the resilience of poor households to economic, social and environmental shocks.

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High-yielding chickpea and finger millet varieties with yield potential of up to 3 tons per hectare had their first-ever official release in Malawi. The release aligns well with the government’s crop diversification agenda for food and income security and the funding agency Irish Aid’s goal of increasing the resilience of poor households to economic, social and environmental shocks.

The three chickpea and three finger millet varieties are the culmination of five years of on-station and on-farm evaluations for adaptability, yield, nutrition, climate resilience and utilization facilitated by the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP). These varieties bred by the ICRISAT breeding program in Kenya were tested for adaptability in Malawi.

Smallholder farmers who have been growing low-yielding landrace varieties for food and income have welcomed the new varieties that have the potential to invigorate chickpea and finger millet production in Malawi, said Dr Patrick Okori, ICRISAT Country Representative for Malawi. The farmer participatory research process, including food testing trials, have seen farming communities expressing interest in the new finger millet varieties as they are popular in traditional recipes such as sweet beer and porridge. The varieties will strengthen the community complementary feeding and learning programs being implemented by the nutrition program of the MSIDP. Similarly, chickpea remains key in the diets of many rural households in southern Malawi, where it is also an income-generating crop, owing to the increasing market demand, regionally.

The MSIDP project aims to strengthen legume and cereal seed systems and their complementary agricultural innovations, in order to improve productivity and consequently food, nutrition and income security of smallholder farmers.

The Department of Agricultural Research Services in partnership with ICRISAT has released the three chickpea (ICCVs 96329, 97105 and 97114) and three finger millet (ACC#14FMB/01WK, KNE#688 and P224) varieties, following clearance by the Agricultural Technology Clearing Committee, of the Ministry of Agriculture, Malawi.

Read more about work in Malawi on EXPLOREit

Click here for the recent newsletter on ICRISAT-MSIDP partnership outputs

Project: Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (Phase II)

Funder: Irish Aid

Partners: The Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) and the Department of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES) (both under the Ministry of Agriculture in Malawi), The Legumes Development Trust; International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and ICRISAT

CRP: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger good-health 7-decent-work 17-partnerships-goals 

Pod and kernels of ICGV 06189. Photo: Dr Babu Motagi, UASD

Pod and kernels of ICGV 06189. Photo: Dr Babu Motagi, UASD

Bigger, bolder, high-yielding confectionery groundnut variety released in Karnataka, India

A superior export-quality confectionery groundnut variety that comes with a higher benefit-cost ratio compared to local checks was released for cultivation in the Northern Transitional Agro-climatic Zone of Karnataka, India. The variety ICGV 06189 comes with superior pod and kernel features, higher pod yield, higher seed mass and low oil content preferred for confectionery varieties.

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“ICGV 06189 with its higher recovery of large seeds (> 70g /100 seeds) and better pod and kernel features compared to current confectionery varieties has the potential to increase farmers’ incomes, meet the current demand for confectionery groundnuts in the region and provides an opportunity to tap export potential,” said Dr Motagi.

Former groundnut breeder from UAS-D, Dr HL Nadaf, selected and recommended ICGV 06189 from the advanced breeding lines shared by ICRISAT under the Tropical Legumes II project to the All India Coordinated Research Project on Groundnut for national testing.

The new variety was released for cultivation in the Northern Transitional Agro-climatic zone (Zone 8) of Karnataka state at the 84th meeting of Central Sub-Committee on Crop Standards, Notification and Release of Varieties for Agricultural Crops held on 29 July 2020.

ICGV 06189 comparison with local zonal checks GPBD 5 and TGLPS 3

Attribute ICGV 06189 GPBD 5 TGLPS 3
Benefit-cost ratio 2.55 2.26 1.98
Mean pod yield 2,450 kg/ha 2,083 kg/ha 1,887 kg/ha
Seed size 62% of >70 g seeds 13% of >70 g seeds 41% of >70 g seeds
100 seed mass 65 to 75 g 40 to 50 g 60 to 70 g
Oil content* 43%   42%
Shelling outturn 74%   75%
Pod features

Large pods with slight constriction, medium beak and reticulation


Medium pods with moderate constriction, slight beak and reticulation Highly constricted large pods with prominent beak and reticulation
Kernel features Tan color, bold, long and mostly oval in shape Tan color, medium and round to oval in shape  Tan color, bold, long and mostly oval in shape
Release year 2020 2008 2007

* Low oil content of <44% is preferred for confectionery varieties.

Read more on groundnut research on EXPLOREit

Project title: (a) Tropical Legumes II;  (b) Enhancing groundnut productivity and profitability for smallholder farmers in Asia through varietal technologies

Funder:  (a) Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and (b) OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID)

Partners: University of Agricultural Sciences-Dharwad (UASD)

CRP: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC)

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals 

Forage variety pearl millet on the research field (left) and farmer’s field (right). Photo: ICRISAT

Forage variety pearl millet on the research field (left) and farmer’s field (right). Photo: ICRISAT

Rising fodder shortage prompts release of two pearl millet varieties with superior and higher forage in south India

Two pearl millet varieties with 7.0% and 5.4% higher green forage yields as compared to national check Giant Bajra, were released for cultivation in five south India states. These have significantly higher dry fodder yield and superior/or at par forage quality compared to checks. The release is significant given that India has a shortage of 284 million tons of green fodder and 122 million tons of dry fodder. This demand is likely to grow further and India would require 400 and 117 million tons of green and dry fodder, respectively, by 2025*.

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Farmers in the states of Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka, Kerala and Puducherry can now cultivate these high-forage pearl millet cultivars to ensure feed security of their livestock. These varieties are also resistant to leaf spot and blight diseases.

Driven by feedback from partners that lack of sufficient fodder is the major constraint to livestock production in smaller farming communities in the arid and semi-arid regions of India, the ICRISAT pearl millet team worked on the development of promising multi-cut forage varieties in association with Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU), Hyderabad. This resulted in the release and notification in 2020 of two forage pearl millet varieties – TSFB 15-4 and TSFB 15-8. The two varieties can be cultivated as rainfed crops in the rainy season and as irrigated dry crops during summer.

The varieties were developed through recurrent selection breeding methodology in association with Dr T Shashikala, Forage Breeder from PJTSAU.

Dr SK Gupta, Pearl Millet Breeder at ICRISAT, informed that based on three-year (2016-2018) multilocation evaluations in the south zone, TSFB 15-4 and TSFB 15-8 were released for their superior performance over national and zonal checks.

*Demand and Supply Projections Towards 2033, NITI Aayog 2018

Performance of TSFB 15-4 and TSFB 15-8 compared to national and zonal checks

TSFB 15-4

TSFB 15-8

National check
(Giant Bajra)

(Moti Bajra)

Green forage yield (tons/ha) 42.67 42.02 39.87 39.80
Dry fodder yield (tons/ha) 8.47 8.60 7.76 8.02
Crude protein (%) 9.8 10.1 9.7 9.0
In vitro dry matter digestibility (IVDMD) (%) 56.5 57.7 56.8 NA

Read more about pearl millet and feed and fodder on EXPLOREit

Projects: Improved Pearl Millet Hybrid Parents for Increased and Stable Production; Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR)-ICRISAT Pearl millet collaborative project (2019-2023)

Funder: Pearl Millet Hybrid Parents Research Consortium (PMHPRC) and ICAR, Government of India

Partners: Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute, Jhansi; PJTSAU, Hyderabad and ICRISAT

CRP: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC)

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
15-life-onland 17-partnerships-goals 

Read more about pearl millet and feed and fodder on EXPLOREit


File photo of Dr Mamta Sharma and her team at work in the pathogen lab. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

File photo of Dr Mamta Sharma and her team at work in the pathogen lab. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Soil-borne pathogen new to chickpea growing regions in India detected

A soil-borne pathogen, new to chickpea growing regions in India, was detected during a real-time survey being conducted regularly to study the spike in soil-borne diseases. After intensive morphological and molecular characterization, the pathogen was identified as Ectophoma multirostrata – which to the best of our knowledge, this is the first report of E. multirostrata causing root rot of chickpea worldwide. The sequence of this new pathogen was submitted to the National Center for Biotechnology Information GenBank database and the findings were published in Plant Disease , a leading international journal for rapid reporting of research on new, emerging, and established plant disease.

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Infected chickpea samples were collected from 300 different fields in five states — Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka — spanning a diverse range of climates. An average incidence of soil-borne pathogens in the surveyed tracts was 25-30%. Of the 150 symptomatic root samples, most of the fungal colonies obtained were identified as Macrophomina phaseolina (syn. Rhizoctonia bataticola) causing dry root rot in chickpea, while isolations from 10-15% samples recurrently yielded the new pathogen closely resembling Macrophomina phaseolina.

Previous reports of E. multirostrata causing root rot were from Australia in coriander. Studies are underway to examine if this new pathogen has a climate change aspect to it. Since the disease symptoms are very similar to dry root rot and hard to differentiate visually, molecular characterization is needed for identification.

Due to soil-borne nature of this pathogen, field practices like deep summer ploughing, cultivation of alternative crops and soil solarization can reduce this disease severity to some extent.

The ongoing survey in major chickpea growing states in India is being conducted under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India and the Center of Excellence on Climate Change Research for Plant Protection in partnership with National Agricultural Research Systems.

This work was undertaken as part of the CRP Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC)

(L-R) Root Rot Symptoms, Pycnidia on host tissue and colony containing conidia. Photo: ICRISAT

(L-R) Root Rot Symptoms, Pycnidia on host tissue and colony containing conidia. Photo: ICRISAT

Read more on pests and diseases on EXPLOREit

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
13-climate-action 15-life-onland 17-partnerships-goals 

In the media

ICRISAT scientists Dr Janila Pasupuleti (L) and Dr Pooran Gaur (R) presenting packs of two new groundnut varieties to the Minister for Agriculture Singireddy Niranjan Reddy (center) in Hyderabad on August 4, 2020. Photo: ICRISAT

ICRISAT scientists Dr Janila Pasupuleti (L) and Dr Pooran Gaur (R) presenting packs of two new groundnut varieties to the Minister for Agriculture Singireddy Niranjan Reddy (center) in Hyderabad on August 4, 2020. Photo: ICRISAT

The Hindu:  New ICRISAT groundnut varieties to be available from the next season

Two new groundnut varieties with high oleic acid content developed by ICRISAT in association with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-Directorate of Groundnut Research would be made available to the farming community in Telangana from the next season.

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Original post on

Two new groundnut varieties with high oleic acid content developed by ICRISAT in association with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-Directorate of Groundnut Research would be made available to the farming community in Telangana from the next season.

This was stated by the Minister for Agriculture, Singireddy Niranjan Reddy, after a meeting with a team of scientists from ICRISAT. The Minister stated that the new varieties known as Girnar 4 (ICGV-15083) and Girnar 5 (ICGV-15090) would be most suitable for cultivation in the erstwhile Mahabubnagar, Rangareddy and Nalgonda districts.

Mr Niranjan Reddy said the new varieties could withstand moisture stress and Telangana state can produce high quality groundnuts. Groundnut is largely cultivated in Rabi season (post-rainy) in Telangana state under irrigation. The harvesting is done in dry months rendering the produce to be less prone to Aflatoxin contamination. This enables production of high quality and food safe groundnuts in Telangana state.

Stating that the two varieties had proven to be having high content of oleic acid, about 80% against the 40% to 50% in regular varieties, the Minister noted that they would also give 30% higher yield compared to the existing varieties and the crop period would be less than four months — 115 days. The new varieties would also ensure better price to the farmer.

The quality of oil from the two varieties of groundnut would be like that of olive oil as they reduce the bad cholesterol and would maintain good cholesterol reducing the risk of cardiovascular diseases among those who consume the oil. ICRISAT scientists sought the cooperation of the State government for seed production on a large scale with the help of Telangana State Seed Development Corporation (TSSDC).

The Minister stated that steps would be taken for entering into agreements for buy-back of quality groundnut produce by well-known companies such as MARS and Mondelez.

Secretary (Agriculture) B Janardhan Reddy, Managing Director of TSSDC K Keshavulu, Asia Research Program Director Pooran M Gaur, Principal Scientist-Groundnut Breeder Janila Pasupuleti (both from ICRISAT) and Director (Seeds) from Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University T Pradeep participated in the meeting.


Pigeonpea crop. Photo: BioTechniques

Pigeonpea crop. Photo: BioTechniques

Genetic molecular markers to accelerate genetic gains in crops

Dr Rajeev Varshney from the Center of Excellence in Genomics and Systems Biology, ICRISAT, sheds light on his recent research in an interview with BioTechniques, a MEDLINE peer-reviewed, open access journal.

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Originally published in

Please can you give us a short summary of your article, ‘Genetic molecular markers to accelerate genetic gains in crops’?

Accelerating and delivering genetic gains in smallholder farmers’ fields is high on international agricultural research agenda, especially in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. This will help in improving crop productivity, better yield and higher income for farmers and most importantly achieving food and nutrition security in developing countries.

Conventional plant breeding approaches have contributed immensely to this; however, they have limitations in terms of delivering improved varieties with desired traits in a time-bound manner. Genomics tools and technologies have changed methods of plant breeding in a positive direction.

Since the boom of the genomic sequencing era, several advancements and innovations originating in the field of molecular markers are enhancing the pace of crop improvement. Over the decades, significant advances have been made in development of molecular markers and their deployment in crop breeding programs. In this article, we provide an update on the evolution of marker technologies and new applications for accelerating genetic gains in crop breeding programs.

What led you to carry out this work?

The crop productivity in several semi-arid tropic legume crops such as chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut, has remained low for the last several decades. Genomics-assisted breeding or translational genomics approaches, due to limited availability of genomic resources, have not been used until recently in several of these crops. With an objective of developing genomic resources and using them for crop improvement, we at the Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology – ICRISAT, in collaboration with our partners from national/international organizations initiated efforts to develop large-scale molecular markers; transcript sequence data; genetic, transcript and physical maps; cost-effective and high-throughput marker genotyping platforms, as well as decoding genome sequences of several crops.

While analyzing the sequence data, several computational genomics tools and databases were developed. Furthermore, in collaboration with scientists/staff from ICRISAT and partner organizations in Asia and Africa, the genomics research was translated successfully into developing superior lines in several ICRISAT mandate crops.

Since significant advances have been made in translating our research results from “genome-to-field,” it is important to put together a consolidated review of available contemporary molecular marker technologies and their applications in crop improvement programs for the benefit of the global scientific community, especially for early-career researchers. This is why we put together this expert opinion.

What were the key conclusions, what impact do you foresee this work having?

Over the decades, several varieties of our mandate crops with varying traits – from pest and disease resistance to higher productivity and climate resilience have been developed by ICRISAT and its partner organizations, and benefitted several countries around the world. Also, in 2019–2020, NARS partners in India and Ethiopia, in collaboration with ICRISAT, released several remarkable improved varieties developed through genomics-assisted breeding: Pusa 10216 (drought-tolerant chickpea); MABC-WR-SA-1 (Fusarium wilt-resistant chickpea); Girnar 4 and Girnar 5 (high-oleic groundnut) in India, and Geletu (drought-tolerant chickpea) in Ethiopia.

This also substantiates that deployment of genomics tools not only help in the development of molecular markers with desired traits in lesser time but also accelerate the delivery of improved crop varieties in farmers’ field. We would like to reiterate that availability of genomics tools and technologies in so-called orphan crops is not a challenge anymore, but it is the need of the hour to use translational genomics approaches in crop breeding programs to accelerate the rate of genetic gains.

In summary, molecular markers are among the many genomic tools available in the breeders’ toolkit. Adopting integrated breeding approaches by carefully selecting the right tools will help in accelerating the rate of genetic gain in crop breeding programs. These tools should be combined with analytical and decision support tools (ADSTs) through open-source platforms; this approach, together with the adoption of shared genotyping services like high-throughout genotyping (HTPG) and data management systems, would enhance the precision of crop improvement programs.

What work are you hoping to do next in this area?

We at ICRISAT are currently focused on modernizing crop improvement programs by deploying and integrating cutting-edge genomics and molecular breeding technologies. Together with state-of-the-art genomics facilities at the Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology – ICRISAT and international partnerships, we have embarked on the sequencing of large-scale germplasm collection for understanding genome architecture and cataloguing haplotypes. In parallel, we have initiated the optimization of new “genomic breeding” approaches, such as “forward breeding,” “haplotype-based breeding” and “genomic selection,” to integrate into crop improvement pipelines for developing improved crop varieties with climate resilience and market-preferred traits. We very much hope an integrated approach of sustainable agriculture will be serving our stakeholders – the smallholder farmers – in the most-effective manner.

Dr Rajeev Varshney is Global Research Program Director – Genetic Gains; and Director, Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology at ICRISAT.

Seed System impacts

Groundnut seed production improved Gertrude Ngoma and her family’s food security and income. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

Groundnut seed production improved Gertrude Ngoma and her family’s food security and income. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

Legumes grow money: Success script of seed systems in Malawi

An estimated US$ 40 million per annum, up from US$ 17 million in 2009, was infused into Malawi’s economy during Phase-I from legume export states a 2016 impact report of the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project. Project investments on increased adoption of improved varieties triggered the unlocking of crop productivity and livelihood opportunities in agriculture.  While the seed revolving fund bettered the lives of smallholder farmers like Gertrude Ngoma and Samson Kwenda, public-private partnerships with the Malawi Seed Alliance, Seed Traders Association and commercial entities like Kakuyu farm provided a safety net.

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High use of improved legume varieties led to positive impacts. A 46% increase in productivity was recorded for groundnut and 43% for pigeonpea in project impact districts. Farmer income associated with groundnut saw a 45% increase, for pigeonpea it was 66%. Malawi’s first-ever improved chickpea varieties made their entry into the seed system recently during Phase II of the project.

Success stories of farmers

Groundnut seed production improved Gertrude Ngoma and her family’s food security and income. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

Groundnut seed production improved Gertrude Ngoma and her family’s food security and income. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

Gertrude NGoma from Chamunguma village in Mzimba district was growing a groundnut variety susceptible to disease and local maize varieties. The harvests were barely enough to feed her family, let alone sell. In 2014, she joined a local farmer group that produces groundnut seed for ICRISAT through the project. She noticed that members of the group were both income and food secure, unlike the majority of farmers in the community, and she wanted the same for her family. She received 10 kg of CG 7 groundnut variety, as a startup seed loan, as well as training on agri-business and good agronomic practices. “After giving back the 10 kg seed loan, ICRISAT bought the rest of my produce and I made enough money to feed my family. I also built a decent iron sheet house,” she said. Through groundnut seed production, Gertrude also bought two diesel-powered maize mills saving women in the community the long trek to the nearest maize mill.

Samson Kwenda attending a training session. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

Samson Kwenda attending a training session. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

Samson Kwenda, a smallholder farmer from Mchinji district, central Malawi, used to struggle to produce enough on his one-hectare piece of land, to sustain his family for the whole year. He used local, recycled seeds, and followed the traditional growing practices. After many unsuccessful years of farming, Kwenda relocated to Kasungu district, to work as a tobacco tenant. Life as a tenant was not any better. “With a meager salary, providing food, clothing and other basic needs for five children and a wife was not an easy feat,” recalls Kwenda.

A year later, he decided to return to his farm. At that time, ICRISAT through the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP) had just started working with smallholder farmer groups in the area, training them in CG7 groundnut seed production. Kwenda joined the Katonda group. From his groundnut seed production Kwenda has been able to buy goats and pigs but more importantly, he was able to pay for his children’s education. His graduate son has a Bachelor of Science degree in Agri-business from Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

The Katonda group was also trained in community seed banking, whereby smallholder farmers receive 10 kg of improved groundnut seed and give back twice as much, after harvesting. The returned seed is stored in a community warehouse for use by another group of farmers in the subsequent season.  MSIDP smallholder farmer clubs are provided with improved legumes and dryland seed varieties along with training on allied technologies and agronomic practices, which in turn will improve farm incomes, food security and reduce poverty in the communities.

Sayilesi Gwizima, a groundnut farmer from Mchinji district.

Sayilesi Gwizima, a groundnut farmer from Mchinji district.

Sayilesi Gwizima, from Mchinij district, central Malawi started noticing a decline in his groundnut yield due to Groundnut Rosette Disease. For him, seven new improved groundnut varieties with early maturing and foliar disease resistance traits, released by the Department of Agricultural Research Services, in collaboration with ICRISAT, were the need of the hour. ICRISAT through strategic partnerships with members of its Malawi Seed Alliance and the Seed Traders Association, among others, has begun rolling out these new varieties, in the country. The response has been overwhelming, as farmers like Gwizima have been engaged to produce new technologies for farmers in the country.

(Watch video: https://youtu.be/KF1SlShkcxE)

Roping in the private sector

Aerial view of groundnut breeder seed at Kakuyu farm, a private enterprise. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

Aerial view of groundnut breeder seed at Kakuyu farm, a private enterprise. Photo: ICRISAT-Malawi

To sustain the availability of improved legume and dryland cereals among smallholder farmers in Malawi, MSIDP is strategically engaging commercial farmers, leveraging on their unique capabilities to ensure legume seed security in Malawi.

Commercial farmers are the backbone of the project’s seed security efforts, as they guarantee production even under unfavorable conditions and unlike smallholder farmers, meet conditions required to produce classes of seed, such as breeder, pre-basic and basic. Smallholder farmers are limited by structural challenges such as limited landholdings among others.

“At Irish Aid, we are guided by the philosophy of ‘reaching the farthest first’, hence our primary target in the agricultural sector are the smallholder farmers. However, we also understand that working cohesively with other players who are not in that category, but are instrumental to our course, is important, in order to achieve our goals. We therefore encourage these kinds of partnerships,” Irish Aid Senior Advisor, Gracewell Kumwembe said.

Kakuyu farm owner, Mazur Beda hailed the partnership with MSIDP saying it has revitalized the legume seed system in Malawi. He however noted the need for more effort towards incentivizing legume production among smallholder farmers, citing lack of markets for smallholder farmers, as a major factor crippling the legume grain and seed industry in Malawi.

Read more about work in Malawi on EXPLOREit

Click here for the recent newsletter on ICRISAT-MSIDP partnership outputs

Project: Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (Phase II)

Funder: Irish Aid

Partners: The Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) and the Department of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES) (both under the Ministry of Agriculture in Malawi), The Legumes Development Trust; International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and ICRISAT

CRP: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger good-health 7-decent-work 13-climate-action 17-partnerships-goals 

Peter Mwangofi tending his pigeonpea crop. Photo: ICRISAT, Malawi

Peter Mwangofi tending his pigeonpea crop. Photo: ICRISAT, Malawi

Double harvest for half the effort

Peter Mwangofi is a pigeonpea farmer from Karonga district in Malawi. He relies on the crop for both food and income. Over the past few years, Mwangofi has seen a decline in pigeonpea produce, mainly due to land pressure, as he now has a smaller landholding than he did in the past. In 2016, Mwangofi was part of an exchange visit that ICRISAT organized for farmers in Karonga, to learn about pigeonpea ratooning, from an experienced commercial farmer in Mangochi district.

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Ratooning involves taking advantage of pigeonpea’s perennial life cycle, whereby a farmer harvests from the same pigeonpea plants for two successive years. Currently, Mwangofi harvested about two times what he harvested during the previous season, as ratooning has allowed the crop to have more branches and pods. Before ratooning, he harvested 250 kg on his 0.1 ha piece of land, while after ratooning he harvested 480 kg on the same piece of land.

“This is a very good practice. It requires less effort but doubles harvests. No additional seed is required and I save on labor as I can skip activities such as planting and making ridges.   I am grateful to ICRISAT for arranging the trip that has changed my life.

Exchange visits are among the participatory and experiential learning approaches that ICRISAT uses for extension. Through this approach, farmers see, learn and ultimately adopt new practices from people with similar experience, without the barrier of language, a common challenge for researchers.

Project impact on pigeonpea cultivation in Malawi

During the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (Phase II) project period, 1262.2 metric tons of pigeonpea certified seed was produced. Based on a beneficiary tracking survey, 38,477 households have adopted various technologies, mostly improved seed of different cereal and legume crops, including new pigeonpea varieties.

Read more about work in Malawi on EXPLOREit

Click here for the recent newsletter on ICRISAT-MSIDP partnership outputs

Project: Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (Phase II)

Funder: Irish Aid

Partners: The Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS) and the Department of Agricultural Extension Services (DAES) (both under the Ministry of Agriculture in Malawi), The Legumes Development Trust; International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and ICRISAT

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 7-decent-work 13-climate-action 

Watershed impacts

Farmers attend a Field Day at Buchinelli village in Telangana. Photo: ICRISAT

Farmers attend a Field Day at Buchinelli village in Telangana. Photo: ICRISAT

Multi-national company nurtures a Climate-Smart Village, facilitates return of migrant farmers

Plummeting groundwater levels and adverse rainfall patterns forced farmers in Buchinelli village in Telangana to abandon agriculture but a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative implemented by Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd. adopting a climate-smart approach equipped farmers to return to farming. So far, more than 400 households in the watershed have benefited from increased profits and crop productivity. As part of the ongoing project work, 20 smallholder farmers were recently oriented on Best Agronomic Practices taking due precautions in the midst of the COVID 19 pandemic for the current cropping season.

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Before the watershed program, declining groundwater levels (20cm/year) and an adverse rainfall pattern (33% of the annual rainfall is from 4-5 high rainfall events of >30 mm) forced farmers to migrate to Hyderabad, the nearest city, in search of livelihoods. The collaborative watershed initiative started in 2017 and a pool of climate-smart agricultural technologies developed by ICRISAT equipped farmers to take up farming, grow improved crop varieties, save water, restore soil heath and sustain farming. The project impact speaks for itself.

Check dam in the village. Photo: ICRISAT

Check dam in the village. Photo: ICRISAT

Increased groundwater availability by 30-40%

Fifty water-harvesting structures (check dams, gully plugs, sunken pits, mini pits, farm ponds, recharge units, etc.) were constructed. The interventions created a storage capacity of 25,000 cubic meters and more than 90,000 cubic meter of rainwater was harvested each year, enhancing groundwater availability in surrounding farms (100-120) in the watershed.

Storage capacity created and rainwater harvested in the watershed from 2017-20.

Storage capacity created and rainwater harvested in the watershed from 2017-20.

Crop yields increase by 10-15 % through land management

Demonstration of Broad Bed and Furrow system in farmers’ fields. Photo: ICRISAT

Demonstration of Broad Bed and Furrow system in farmers’ fields. Photo: ICRISAT

Twenty farmers were trained to use a tractor-operated tropicultor developed by ICRISAT for implementing the Broad Bed and Furrow system to conserve soil moisture. The crops grown using this method were able to withstand long dry spells and facilitate yield increase. Each year nearly 80-100 farmers participate in various training programs and field exposure visits and field days.

Reduced use of chemical fertilizer saves around Rs ? 2,000 per ha

Soil test-based fertilizer application reduced the usage of chemical fertilizers contributing to reduced cost of cultivation. As an entry point activity, 100 soil samples were analyzed to understand the nutrient status of farmers’ fields across the village. Fertilizer recommendations for different crops were provided through soil-health cards to maintain balanced soil health, reduce excess fertilizer usage and increase crop productivity.

Improved varieties and best practices increase yields

The introduction of improved crop variety of pigeonpea (ICPL 87119) along with best management practices enhanced the crop yield by 20-25% and for chickpea (NBeG 44) crop yield increased by 21%.

Productivity enhancement demonstrations involving about 90 farmers on 30- 35 ha of farmers’ fields each year (since 2017) with improved varieties enabled farmers to select suitable varieties based on performance and also increase crop yields by 15-40%.

Pest management strategies such as use of yellow sticky traps (20 traps for every 0.40 ha) and pheromone traps (5 traps for every 0.40 ha) allowed farmers to monitor pest activity and reduce the use of pesticide to protect beneficial fauna in the ecosystem.

20,000 cubic meter of wastewater treated annually

Hybrid wastewater treatment wetland. Photo: ICRISAT

Hybrid wastewater treatment wetland. Photo: ICRISAT

Reusing rural wastewater effectively helps mitigate diseases and improve hygiene and sanitation. To reduce the pollution load in the wastewater generated from households, a floating wetland unit using plants like Cana Indica and lemon grass was set up in an existing wastewater pond and a hybrid treatment wetland using algae was set up on a community wastewater drain. For the first time a combined system was used to enhance the treatment efficiency. By combining plants and algae, both macro and micronutrients and heavy metals were removed. It is estimated that nearly 60% of nutrient load can be removed from the wastewater. An estimated 20,000 cubic meter of wastewater is treated annually, supporting 3-4 ha of area per season. The resulting treated wastewater can be used for agriculture or to grow nurseries or fodder for animals as a business model.

Women earn through income generating activities

Women learn to make millet-based food products. Photo: ICRISAT

Women learn to make millet-based food products. Photo: ICRISAT

About 150 women received training on tailoring, computer literacy, preparing millet-based food products, vermicomposting, etc. Women who learned tailoring are earning about Rs ? 2,500 per month.

Crop-livestock integration leads to extra incomes

A livestock survey was conducted and an animal health camp and water trough interventions were carried out in the pilot village to reduce the prevalence of diseases, improving the productivity of milch animals, and reducing water stress during summer. Demonstrations on feed and fodder development were also conducted, which increased milk yield by 1 to 1.5 liters per day, giving an additional income of around Rs ? 1,800 to ? 2,400 per month

Kitchen gardening and agroforestry activities

Each year, 100 households are each provided with 9 types of vegetable seeds ranging from leafy vegetables, brinjal, tomato, beans and gourds. This initiative intends to address nutrient deficiency and malnutrition especially among kids and women. Also 5,500 teak, avenue plants and fruit saplings were provided to help in income generation and carbon sequestration over a period of time and two bee hives were installed in the watershed to educate farmers on the benefits of apiculture and this will be scaled-up based on farmer interest.

About the Project

The watershed is located 3 km away from Mahindra Farm Division Plant in Zaheerabad mandal of Sangareddy district in Telangana state and covers an area of around 813 ha and 405 households. Farmers grow soybean, pigeonpea, cotton, chickpea and black gram in the rainfed areas (50% and sugarcane and vegetables in the irrigated areas (50%) of the watershed.

Reference for impacts:



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Project: Improving Livelihoods and Agricultural Productivity through Integrated Watershed Management

Funder:  Mahindra & Mahindra, Zaheerabad Mandal, Sangareddy District

Partners: Rural Education and Agricultural Development (NGO)

CRP: Water Land and Ecosystems

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger good-health 4-gender-equality 5-clean-water 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 11-sustainable-cities 12-responisible-consumtion 13-climate-action  15-life-onland 17-partnerships-goals

(L) Groundnut demonstration plot interspersed with guava trees in Anantapur. (R) Pigeonpea demonstration plot in Wanaparthy. Photo: ICRISAT

(L) Groundnut demonstration plot interspersed with guava trees in Anantapur. (R) Pigeonpea demonstration plot in Wanaparthy. Photo: ICRISAT

Harvesting rains to grow fruit, vegetables and improved crops at watershed learning sites in India

This cropping season, observing all safety measures amidst the COVID pandemic (see box), more than a 1,000 farmers will be participating in demonstrations on growing improved groundnut, pigeonpea and vegetables with balanced application of fertilizers and planting orchards at two learning sites of a successful watershed initiative in southern India. Simultaneously, more than 300 farmers will be participating in constructing new farm ponds.  Increased water availability due to watershed interventions has enabled farmers in two states to grow new and better crops and increase production on drought-stricken lands that barely supported subsistence.

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Entering into Phase II this year, this Corporate Social Responsibility project of the Rural Electrification Corporation Limited (RECL), India, seeks to build on work that began in 2014 in Wanaparthy district in Telangana state and Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh state.

The watersheds are now developing into exemplar sites to provide a proof of concept of scaling-out key on-farm solutions for climate-resilience and strengthening of livelihoods and mainstreaming of women farmers.These projects will show the way forward not only for uplifting drylands but also for leveraging social responsibility in uplifting the underprivileged, while contributing to food security and ecosystem services.

During Phase II, the initiative will focus on the following:

  • Intensify on-farm water solutions for drought-proofing,
  • Extensive on-farm mechanization
  • Infrastructure for improving operational & economic efficiency,
  • Mainstreaming of women farmers through select activities
  • Building on rejuvenated soil and water resources for on-farm intensification and diversification

Impact of Phase I of the watershed projects:

Check dam at Anantapur. Photo: ICRISAT

Check dam at Anantapur. Photo: ICRISAT

Harvesting rainwater

Net water storage capacity of more than 50000 m3 created at each site.

Major water conservation measures implemented at Anantapur site includes 58 farm ponds, 15 check dams, 256 rock-filled-dams/loose-boulder-structures, 43 open-well/borewell recharging pits and seven sunken/mini-percolation pits.

In Wanaparthy, major water conservation structures included 137 farm ponds, 20 check-dams/check-walls, 134 rock-filled-dams/loose-boulder-structures, 77 open-well/borewell recharging pits, 20 sunken/mini-percolation pits, 37 nala plugs and other structures.

Managing soil:

Sowing demonstration at Wanaparthy. Photo: ICRISAT

Sowing demonstration at Wanaparthy. Photo: ICRISAT

Farmers saved on average Rs 2,500 per ha on chemical fertilizer application annually with the added advantage of improved soil health. Recycling of hardy on-farm wastes through chopping with shredders and aerobic composting technology for soil-carbon building were promoted in 150 farms annually.

Soil health mapping helped estimate fertilizer requirement as the intervention sites showed widespread soil fertility degradation. In both sites, the soil was treated with the required dosage of macro/micro nutrients and soil-carbon building practices were promoted in the villages after the mapping activity.

Operating during the COVID-19 pandemic

  • The safety of line-staff and farmers is a priority while implementing critical farm interventions
  • Line-staff are equipped with masks and sanitizers and have been oriented on social distancing guidelines
  • Regular site inspections have minimized but farm inputs for intensification and diversification are being distributed following all safety guidelines
  • Gatherings and meetings have been put on hold
  • Communication with farmers is mostly through phone or one-to-one when needed.

The outcomes of these interventions were as follows:

  • Yield benefits of 10-90% were reported in 600 farmers’ fields at each site after the use of need-based fertilizer and improved crop varieties like groundnut, pigeonpea and paddy.
  • With rejuvenated water and soil resources in the watershed, the systems intensified and diversified. Around 40 new farmers in Anantapur and Wanaparthy started vegetable cultivation with mechanized easy planters that facilitated transplanting and reduced overall drudgery.
  • More than 80 households in Anantapur and 30 in Wanaparthy planted orchards in 1-2 hectares each. Five-six fruit saplings of mango, guava, amla (Indian gooseberry) and jamun (Indian blackberry) were distributed and around 500 households in Anantapur took up home gardening. Kitchen gardens were promoted through women farmers – around 200 household in Anantapur and 100 households in Wanaparthy were given kitchen garden kits.
  • Income generation programs for women increased their incomes and resilience. Through Self-Help Groups, 226 women in Anantapur and 89 in Wanaparthy bought sheep, goat, buffaloes and earned incomes of Rs 4,000-5,000 annually. Around 120 families in Anantapur and 350 families in Wanaparthy took to raising poultry, around 20-30 chicks, in their backyards and around 90 women engaged in non-farm activities received support.
  • As part of the effort to develop the watersheds as sites of learning, in this current cropping season, more than 1,000 farmers will benefit from demonstrations based on previous learnings and build on the impacts mentioned above.

Project location and demographics

In Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh, the project covers 6,810 hectares in four villages (Kondampalle, Gonipeta, Settipalle and Cherlopalle) of which 3,150 hectares are under cultivation. The watershed is home to 8,700 people in 1,480 households.

In Wanaparthy district of Telangana, the project was implemented in 5,400 hectares covering four villages, (Rajapet, Kadukuntla, Peddagudem and Mentapalle) of which 3,970 hectares is under cultivation. The watershed is home to 11,726 people in 2,285 households.

Reference for impacts: http://oar.icrisat.org/10952/

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Project title: Farmer-centric Integrated Watershed Management for Improving Rural Livelihoods
Funder: Rural Electrification Corporation Limited, New Delhi, India
Partners: NGOs (Samatha Society for Rural Education and Development, Anantapur; BAIF Institute for Sustainable Livelihoods and Development (BISLD), Hyderabad), Department of Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh and ICRISAT
CRP: Water, Land and Ecosystems

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger good-health 4-gender-equality 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 11-sustainable-cities 13-climate-action 15-life-onland 17-partnerships-goals 


Screenshot of the webinar.

Screenshot of the webinar.

Discussions on propelling India towards biofuel sees calls for more R&D

India has made good progress in blending bioethanol with gasoline (petrol) and biodiesel with diesel, said Dr Ashok Kumar Are, Principal Scientist, ICRISAT, while pointing out the need for faster establishment of 2G biofuel plants and stepping up R&D to improve biofuel feedstocks for India to be able to meet its future targets.

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Dr Kumar was speaking during a webinar themed “Biofuels towards Atmanirbhar Bharat” (biofuels towards a self-reliant India) on the occasion of World Biofuel Day on August 10. The webinar was organized by India’s Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas (MoPNG) to raise awareness of the importance of non-fossil fuels as alternatives to conventional fuels.

“India’s progress made in blending of bioethanol in gasoline (5.12%) and biodiesel in diesel (0.1%) has been good. There is still a long way to go in meeting the targets of 20% blending of ethanol in gasoline and 5% blending of biodiesel in diesel by 2030 as envisaged by the National Policy on Biofuels 2018,” said Dr Kumar, who is also ICRISAT’s Product Placement Lead–Asia.

Dr Kumar discussed feedstock for biofuels and highlighted ICRISAT’s ‘BioPower’ strategy to improve sorghum cultivars amenable for sugar based or first generation (1G) biofuels. ICRISAT worked with partners to develop management practices for maximizing feedstocks production and commercializing them for ethanol production by partnering with ethanol industries and sugar mills. It pioneered the sweet sorghum ethanol value chain development and established the commercial feasibility and environmental sustainability by using this feedstock for biofuel production.

Currently, sweet sorghum is extensively tested for adoption in multiple ecologies in Maharashtra by the Paani Foundation that aims to identify most suitable locations and best practices for commercialization. Initial results indicate higher fresh stalk yields (45 tons/ha) and higher juice brix (17%) that favours 1G biofuel production on commercial scale. Further, improved sweet sorghum genotypes developed by ICRISAT showed 22% Brix content (a measure of sugar) which can give up to 55 lit of ethanol per ton of stalk compared to 35-40 L from earlier genotypes.

ICRISAT also developed high biomass sorghum and pearl millet for ligno-cellulosic biomass based (2G) biofuel production, Dr Kumar said during the webinar. The high biomass sorghum RCIVSH 28 grown in farmers’ fields at Golaghat in Assam showed encouraging results with 16 tons of dry biomass production. This can serve as an alternative to use of bamboo as feedstock in lignocellulosic biofuel production 2G biofuel plants. Further, the dry biomass from RCIVSH 28 has shown it can yield by 50% higher biogas under anaerobic digestion compared to same volume of paddy straw.

The webinar also had discussions on financing and India’s experience of setting biofuel projects and biofuel implementation in India. Mr Tarun Kapoor, Secretary, MoPNG; Sunil Kumar, Joint Secretary, MoPNG; Dr YB Ramakrishna, Member, Taskforce on Biofuels, MoPNG; Dr Anjan Ray, Director, CSIR – Indian Institute of Petroleum, Dehradun and Dr Narendra Mohan, Director, National Sugar Institute, Kanpur were part of the deliberation.

Read more about biofuels on EXPLOREit

Projects: Commercialization of sweet sorghum for ethanol production in sugar mills; Development of sustainable advanced ligno-cellulosic biofuel systems; Developing sweet sorghum ethanol value chain

Funders: Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, Indo-US Science & Technology Forum (IUSSTF), International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFD), Common Fund for Commodities (CFC), European Union (EU –FP7), National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP).

Partners:  ICAR- Indian Institute of Millets Research, CSIR- Indian Institute of Chemical Technology, Indian Institute of Technology, Delhi and IIT-Madras; ICAR-Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, International Livestock Research Institute, National Federation of Co-operative Sugar Factories Ltd, University of Florida and University Missouri.

CGIAR Research Program Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP- GLDC)

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 6-affordable-energy 13-climate-action 

Online workshop

Screenshot of the workshop.

Screenshot of the workshop.

Modelling tools equip scientists to predict pest and disease attacks in a climate change scenario

A five-day workshop on agricultural pest and disease modeling was conducted to equip agricultural scientists with tools and techniques to create and accurately interpret pest and disease models, especially in the setting of climate variability.

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It is estimated that plant pests and diseases cause up to 40% crop loss worldwide. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has declared Year 2020 as International Year of Plant Health in order to spotlight the urgency of combating plant pests and diseases. With a changing climate, it is increasingly clear that we need modern, innovative tools to complement traditional methods of pest/disease control. Pest and disease modeling, a relatively new area, is becoming increasingly important.

The workshop ‘Agricultural Pest and Disease Simulation Modelling under a Climate Change Scenario’ was jointly conducted by the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) – Bangalore, and ICRISAT, with experts from various institutions sharing their knowledge with the participants.

Data visualization, plant disease mapping and modeling, pest and disease simulation and dynamic models, fundamentals of deep learning and its application, use of satellite data, climate change scenarios, etc., were some of the topics covered in the intensive training sessions, which also included detailed demonstrations of using various software.

At the inaugural session, welcoming the event attendees, Dr Mamta Sharma, Theme Leader & Principal Scientist, ICRISAT, emphasized the need to not only develop cutting-edge pest/disease models but also to integrate them with crop models for effective warning mechanisms to help farmers.

Dr KK Sharma, Deputy Director General – Research, ICRISAT, underscored the need to develop robust models to keep pace with the rapidly changing pests and diseases in response to the increasingly variable climate patterns.

Dr Rajendra Prasad, Vice Chancellor, UAS-Bangalore, said, “Forewarned is forearmed. If we can accurately predict pest/disease attacks, we can reduce potential crop losses by way of timely advisories to farmers.”

Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director – Asia, ICRISAT, said, “Under the rapidly changing climate scenario, historical climate data alone is no longer adequate. We need improved data from accurate, next-generation technology for better predictions.”

Other dignitaries at the inaugural session included Dr RC Agrawal, Deputy Director General (Education), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR); Dr MK Prasanna Kumar, Associate Professor, UAS-Bangalore;  Dr Adam Sparks, Associate Professor, University of Southern Queensland, Australia; Dr KK Sharma, Deputy Director General, ICRISAT; and Dr Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director, Innovation Systems for the Drylands, ICRISAT.

Instructors from Australia; CSIR-Bangalore; ANGRAU, Andhra Pradesh; UAS-Bangalore; and ICRISAT equipped the 30 participants of the workshop (who were picked from the 1000 aspirants who applied from across the globe) to create innovative solutions to tackle plant pest/disease problems affecting agricultural crops worldwide.

The virtual training session was held from 24-28 August 2020, in view of the travel restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic.


Dr Bharati Karsondas Patel

Dr Bharati Karsondas Patel

A gentle soul with strong views: Remembering former Board Member Dr Bharati Karsondas Patel

She was fun, had strong views, was pragmatic and very outspoken, yet kind and gentle to a fault bearing no ill will towards anybody – this is how former colleagues remember Dr Bharati K Patel.

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From being the first Rotary Fellow from West Africa and the first Rotary-sponsored student at Hawaii University in the late 60s, obtaining a Double Masters plus PhD, to her work at the Rockefeller Foundation and ICRISAT, Bharati never relied on anyone else but herself. She never compromised, just achieved and gave back.

A specialist in Plant Protection, Nematology and Pathology, she began her career as a part-time lecturer in the University of Zambia and rose up the ranks steadily in agriculture research. She was a fellow of the Commonwealth Institute of Helminthology (British Council) and the International Agriculture Center, Wageningen, The Netherlands. She served on the Boards of as many as six international organizations and has many publications to her name.

“Bharati was one of three Indian research students at the Waite Institute in Adelaide when I worked there for a short time, in the mid 80s – she was a petite nematologist then. The next time I met her was in Zambia – she was an agricultural advisor to President Kenneth Kaunda. And then she appeared in our midst. What a warm character she was, and what a great laugh,” remembers former Senior Entomologist
Dr John Wightman.

She was the Director of Research of the Zambian National Agricultural Research Systems when she was on ICRISAT’s Governing Board in the late 1980s and joined ICRISAT in June 1989 as Advisor to the Director General. She was an inspiration, a breath of fresh air and great to work with – talking with her was always a lively and interesting affair, recall colleagues at ICRISAT.

She was a pioneer and was known and respected in the international Agriculture for Development community across Sub-Saharan Africa. She was widely respected in the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) community, working on advancing science and technology and higher education in Africa.

She tirelessly championed the cause of women scientists. She was the lead author of The Green Book: A Guide to Effective Graduate Research in African Agriculture, Environment and Rural Development, a hugely popular “how to” manual designed to help women scientists navigate the field of higher education in African agriculture.

She was awarded Ruforum’s Mother of Africa award for her belief in students as ‘Change Agents’ warranting the need to work with and invest in young people towards Rural Transformation in Africa. As a role model, she epitomized knowledge, action, selflessness, independence and equality for all.

“From 2008 to 2016 when I visited ICRISAT on work-related issues, I always tried to touch base with Bharati in Hyderabad. Much to my surprise, she enjoyed playing golf, and we played together several times. I definitely planned to visit her on my next trip to ICRISAT, but I guess I will have to wait to see her again,” says former Senior Economist Dr Tom Walker.

At age 77, Bharati, the one with an indomitable spirit and an irrepressible smile, slept on August 24, never to wake up. Her attachment to ICRISAT continues – a portion of her ashes was immersed in a lake on the India campus.

File photo of Dr Dallas Oswalt (fifth from left) with in-service trainees, 1975.

File photo of Dr Dallas Oswalt (fifth from left) with in-service trainees, 1975.

Remembering Dr Dallas Leon Oswalt

Dr Dallas Oswalt, former Head of International Training at ICRISAT, passed away on 14 August. He was 92. Colleagues remember him as a born educator, a strict disciplinarian, a devout man and a fair-minded leader who applied the rules equally to students and staff.

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Born in Ohio in 1927, his humanitarian streak was evident from a very young age. In 1945, on graduating from high school, he volunteered in the merchant marines under the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration to deliver livestock from USA to Italy.  He set sail on the SS Mexican from Baltimore, Maryland to Italy and on reaching the capital city of the Friuli Venezia Giulia region, the appalling scenes of devastation and ruin left an indelible mark on the 17-year-old.  This experience shaped the foundation of his lifelong endeavor for international peace and justice.

Dr Oswalt started his career as a teacher of applied agricultural sciences in 1950 in USA. In 1953, he set out to establish a secondary school and teacher’s training college in northeast Nigeria.  He served as principal of the school. After 11 years in Africa, he returned to Purdue University to conduct research on sorghum and earned a PhD in Agronomy from Purdue University in 1973 for his thesis “Nutritional Quality of Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench as Affected by Polyphenols, Crude Protein, Amino Acid Composition and Rat Performance”. In 1975, he joined ICRISAT as a Training Officer and retired as Program Leader, Human Resources Development Program in 1992.

At ICRISAT, he was responsible for developing comprehensive training schedules and assignments for all levels of trainees, Research Scholars and Post-doctoral Fellows.  Since instruction was in English, and several of the trainees were from non-English speaking backgrounds, he included English language lessons as part of their curriculum.  He was especially effective with the training of research technicians from Sub-Saharan Africa in the six-month courses. He saw to it that trainees not only gained necessary experimental design and statistical analysis skills to support scientists, but also ensured they were hands-on in sowing plots, managing them and harvesting the produce at the end of the season.

By the time he retired, around 2,267 trainees representing 87 countries  were trained by ICRISAT and several of them went back to their native homes as leaders of research themselves.  He was a staunch Christian and held prayer services at his house every Sunday for residents who were religiously inclined.

Dr Oswalt served on committees related to training, workshops, principal staff housing, staff council, computer management, editing of scientific publications, air-pollution control, transport management, cost management, regional technology-exchange systems, and staff policy.

ICRISAT mourns his demise and cherishes his dedication to the Institute. He is survived by his daughter Karen Sue, son Kris Sydney, grandchildren and great-grand children.

New Publications

Genomics-integrated breeding for carotenoids and folates in staple cereal grains to reduce malnutrition

Authors: Ashok Kumar K, Govindaraj M, Karthikeyan A, Shobhana VG and Warkentin TD

Published: Frontiers in Genetics (TSI), 11. ISSN 1664-8021


Conservation tillage increases water use efficiency of spring wheat by optimizing water transfer in a semi-arid environment

Authors: Peng Z, Wang L, Xie J, Li L, Coulter JA, Zhang R, Luo Z, Kholova J and Choudhary S

Published: Agronomy (TSI), 9 (583). pp. 1-18. ISSN 2073-4395


Soil bacterial diversity and potential functions are regulated by long-term conservation tillage and straw mulching

Authors: Liu C, Li L, Xie J, Coulter JA, Zhang R, Luo Z, Cai L, Wang L and Gopalakrishnan S

Published: Microorganisms (TSI), 8 (836). pp. 1-16. ISSN 2076-2607


Data pre-processing for agricultural simulations

Authors: Jarolímek J, Pavlík J, Kholova J and Ronanki S

Published: Agris on-line Papers in Economics and Informatics, 11 (01). pp. 49-53. ISSN 1804-1930


Improving the productivity and resilience of smallholder farmers with maize-legume and legume-legume systems in Malawi

Authors: Ngwira A, William N, Sieglinde S, Regis C, Rao KPC and Whitbread AM

Published: 2nd International Crop Modeling Symposium, 3-5 February 2020, Montpellier, France


Complete genome sequence of sixteen plant growth promoting Streptomyces strains

Authors: Gopalakrishnan S, Thakur V, Saxena RK, Vadlamudi S, Purohit S, Kumar V, Rathore A, Chitikineni A and Varshney RK

Published Scientific Reports (TSI), 10 (1). ISSN 2045-2322


Performance of biofortified pearl millet hybrids for grain yield in northern India

Authors: Govindaraj M, Kanatti A, Sharma LD, Yadav D and Shivade H

Published: In: 13th International Conference on Development of Drylands: Converting Dryland Areas from Grey into Green, 11-14 February 2019, Jodhpur, India


MSIDP newsletter: New highly productive sorghum varieties released

Authors: Lazarus L, Mkuwamba S, Sichali F, Mankhwala C, Makoko S and Okori P

Published: [Newsletters]


Molecular basis of root nodule symbiosis between Bradyrhizobium and ‘crack-entry’ legume groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.)

Authors: Sharma V, Bhattacharyya S, Kumar R, Kumar A, Ibañez F, Wang J, Guo B, Sudini HK, Gopalakrishnan S, DasGupta M, Varshney RK and Pandey MK

Published: Plants, 9 (276). pp. 1-24. ISSN 2223-7747


Efficient land water management practice and cropping system for increasing water and crop productivity in semi-arid tropics

Authors: Kamdi P, Swain DK and Wani SP

Published: Agronomy Journal (TSI), 112 (4). pp. 2552-

  1. ISSN 0002-1962


Parasitism of locally recruited egg parasitoids of the Fall Armyworm in Africa

Authors: Laminou SA, Ba MN, Karimoune L, Doumma A and Muniappan R

Published:  Insects (TSI), 11 (7). pp. 1-13. ISSN 2075-4450


Handbook on improved agronomic practices of groundnut production in Northeast Nigeria

Authors: Ajeigbe HA, Vabi MB, Inuwa AH, AbdulAzeez T and Akinseye FM

Published: Manual. ICRISAT, Nigeria


Handbook on improved pearl millet production practices in Northeastern Nigeria

Authors: Ajeigbe HA, Angarawai II, Inuwa AH, Akinseye FM and AbdulAzeez T

Published: Manual. The U.S. Government’s Global Hunger & Food Security Initiative, Nigeria http://oar.icrisat.org/11530/

Handbook on improved agronomic practices for sorghum production in Northeast Nigeria

Authors: Ajeigbe HA, Angarawai II, Akinseye F, Inuwa AH, AbdulAzeez T and Vabi MB

Published: Manual. The U.S. Government’s Global Hunger & Food Security Initiative, Nigeria http://oar.icrisat.org/11531/

How Indian agriculture should change after COVID-19

Authors: Kumar A, Shalander K and Padhee AK

Published: Food Security (TSI). ISSN 1876-4517


An integrated research framework combining genomics, systems biology, physiology, modelling and breeding for legume improvement in response to elevated CO2 under climate change scenario

Authors: Palit P, Kudapa H, Zougmore R, Kholova J, Whitbread AM, Sharma M and Varshney RK

Published: Current Plant Biology, 22. pp. 1-12. ISSN 2214-6628


G × E interactions in QTL introgression lines of Spanishtype groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.)

Authors: Rathnakumar AL, Manohar SS, Nadaf HL, Patil SC, Deshmukh MP, Thirumalaisamy PP, Kumar N,  Lalwani HB, Nagaraju P, Yenagi B, Patil SS, Suryawanshi J, Khatod J, Kumbhar CT, Kathmale DK, Naik KSS, Rajesh P, Vemana K, Sundaravadana S, Premalatha N, Variath MT, Chaudhari S, Radhakrishnan T, Pandey MK, Varshney RK and Janila P

Published: Euphytica (TSI), 216 (6). pp. 1-20. ISSN 0014-2336


Combining high oleic acid trait and resistance to late leaf spot and rust diseases in groundnut (Arachis hypogaea L.)

Authors: Deshmukh DB, Marathi B, Sudini HK, Variath MT, Chaudhari S, Manohar SS, Rani CVD,

Pandey MK and Janila P

Published: Frontiers in Genetics (TSI), 11 (514). pp. 1-15. ISSN 1664-8021


Boondh: The journey of a raindrop in the drylands

Authors: Dixit S, Pathak P, Sachan RC, Garg KK, Raghavendra Rao S and Nagaraju B Published: Project Report. ICRISAT, India


Genetic molecular markers to accelerate genetic gains in crops

Authors: Bohar R, Chitkineni A and Varshney RK

Published: BioTechniques (TSI), 69 (9). pp. 1-3. ISSN 0736-6205


Access to information technologies and consumption of fruits and vegetables in South Africa: Evidence from nationally representative data

Authors: Sinyolo S, Ndinda C, Murendo C, Sinyolo SA and Neluheni M

Published:  International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health (TSI), 17 (13). pp. 1-17. ISSN 1660-4601


The role of soil water monitoring tools and agricultural innovation platforms in improving food security and income of farmers in smallholder irrigation schemes in Tanzania

Authors: Mdemu M, Kissoly L, Bjornlund H, Kimaro E, Christen EW, Van Rooyen A, Stirzaker R and Ramshaw P

Published: International Journal of Water Resources Development (TSI). pp. 1-23. ISSN 0790-0627


Characterizing and mapping cropping patterns in a complex agro-ecosystem: An iterative participatory mapping procedure using machine learning algorithms and MODIS vegetation indices

Authors: Feyisa GL, Palao LK, Nelson A, Gumma MK, Paliwal A, Win KT, Nge KH and Johnson DE

Published: Computers and Electronics in Agriculture (TSI), 175. pp. 1-11. ISSN 0168-1699


Assessment of spatio-temporal vegetation dynamics in tropical arid ecosystem of India using MODIS timeseries vegetation indices

Authors: Reddy GPA, Kumar N, Sahu N, Srivastava R, Singh SK, Naidu LGK, Chary GR, Biradar CM, Gumma MK, Reddy BS and Kumar JN

Published: Arabian Journal of Geosciences (TSI), 13 (15). pp. 1-13. ISSN 1866-7511


Dynamics and drivers of land use and land cover changes in Bangladesh

Authors: Xu X, Shrestha S, Gilani H, Gumma MK, Siddiqui BN and Jain AK

Published: Regional Environmental Change (TSI), 20 (2). pp. 1-11. ISSN 1436-3798


Multi-parent populations in crops: a toolbox integrating genomics and genetic mapping with breeding

Authors: Scott MF, Ladejobi O, Amer S, Bentley AR, Biernaskie J, Boden SA, Clark M, Dell’Acqua M, Dixon LE, Filippi CV, Fradgley N, Gardner KA, Mackay IJ, O’Sullivan D, Percival-Alwyn L, Roorkiwal M, Singh RK, Thudi M, Varshney RK, Venturini L, Whan A, Cockram J and Mott R

Published: Heredity (TSI). ISSN 0018-067X


High resolution mapping of restoration of fertility (Rf) by combining large population and high density genetic map in pigeonpea [Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp]

Authors: Saxena RK, Molla J, Yadav P and Varshney RK

Published: BMC Genomics (TSI), 21 (1). pp. 1-8. ISSN 1471-2164


Genetic and genomic resources, and breeding for accelerating improvement of small millets: current status and future interventions

Authors: Vetriventhan M, Azevedo VCR, Upadhyaya HD, Nirmalakumari A, Kane-Potaka J, Anitha S, Ceasar SA, Muthamilarasan M, Bhat BV, Hariprasanna K, Bellundagi A, Cheruku D, Backiyalakshmi C, Santra D, Vanniarajan C and Tonapi VA

Published: The Nucleus (TSI). ISSN 0029-568X


Spatial prediction of the concentration of selenium (Se) in grain across part of Amhara Region, Ethiopia

Authors: Gashu D, Lark RM, Milne AE, Amede T, Bailey EH, Chagumaira C, Dunham SJ, Gameda S, Kumssa DB, Mossa AW, Walsh MG, Wilson L, Young SD, Ander EL, Broadley MR, Joy EJM and McGrath SP

Published: Science of The Total Environment (TSI), 733. pp. 1-16. ISSN 0048-9697


Genome wide association analysis of a stemborer egg induced “call-for-help” defence trait in maize

Authors: Tamiru A, Paliwal R, Manthi SJ, Odeny DA, Midega CAO, Khan ZR, Pickett JA and Bruce TJA

Published: Scientific Reports (TSI), 10 (1). ISSN 2045-2322


Do agricultural innovation platforms and soil moisture and nutrient monitoring tools improve the production and livelihood of smallholder irrigators in Mozambique?

Authors: Chilundo M, de Sousa W, Christen EW, Faduco J, Bjornlund H, Cheveia E, Munguambe P, Jorge F, Stirzaker R and van Rooyen AF

Published: International Journal of Water Resources Development (TSI). pp. 1-21. ISSN 0790-0627


The dynamics between irrigation frequency and soil nutrient management: transitioning smallholder irrigation towards more profitable and sustainable systems in Zimbabwe

Authors: Moyo M, van Rooyen A, Bjornlund H, Parry K, Stirzaker R, Dube T and Maya M

Published: International Journal of Water Resources Development (TSI). pp. 1-25. ISSN 0790-0627


Exploiting biological nitrogen fixation: A route towards a sustainable agriculture

Authors: Soumare A, Diedhiou AG, Thuita M, Hafidi M, Ouhdouch Y, Gopalakrishnan S and Kouisni L

Published: Plants, 9 (8). pp. 1-22. ISSN 2223-7747


Long-term nitrogen fertilization impacts on soil bacteria, grain yield and nitrogen use efficiency of wheat in semiarid Loess Plateau, China

Authors: Xu A, Li L, Coulter JA, Xie J, Gopalakrishnan S, Zhang R, Luo Z, Cai L, Liu C, Wang L and

Khan S

Published: Agronomy (TSI), 10 (8). pp. 1-19. ISSN 2073-4395


Past, present and future perspectives on groundnut breeding in Burkina Faso

Authors: Konate M, Sanou J, Miningou A, Okello DK, Desmae H, Janila P and Mumm R

Published: Agronomy (TSI), 10 (5). pp. 1-23. ISSN 2073-4395


Towards bamboo agroforestry development in Ghana: Evaluation of crop performance, soil properties and economic benefit

Authors: Akoto DS, Partey ST, Denich M, Kwaku M, Borgemeister C and Schmitt CB

Published: Agroforestry Systems (TSI). ISSN 0167-4366


Why agricultural production in sub-Saharan Africa remains low compared to the rest of the world – a historical perspective

Authors: Bjornlund V, Bjornlund H and  van Rooyen AF

Published: International Journal of Water Resources Development (TSI). pp. 1-34. ISSN 0790-0627


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