Challenges and opportunities highlighted at the African Plant Breeders Association conference.
From developing improved crop breeding lines, setting up quality seed production and distribution systems, to stimulating demand and creating enabling environments for climate-resilient crops, ICRISAT’s contribution towards enhancing food security in West Africa has been substantial. This message was shared at the 2nd African Plant Breeders Association (APBA) Conference held at Kigali, Rwanda, by Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director, ICRISAT-WCA. The conference was held during 25-30 Oct 2021.
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In his presentation titled ‘Enhancing crop productivity and nutrition in the drylands of West Africa: Challenges and Opportunities’, Dr Tabo recalled that over 1.6 million children across seven countries in Africa’s Sahel region are under the risk of acute malnutrition, one of the big challenges in the drylands. “In order to break the stubborn grip of hunger and poverty, and enhance resilience to climate variability and other shocks, we have developed a strategic agricultural research-for-development (R4D) plan to not only generate food systems to provide sufficient, safe, nutritious and affordable food, but also help address poverty by creating jobs and sustainable livelihoods,” he said.
“Specifically, this research supports development of crop breeding lines that have proven tolerance to diseases, drought and aflatoxin; quality seed production and distribution; generating demand and sustainable markets, creating an enabling environment and capacity, increasing public awareness of their value, and strengthening a wide range of partnerships,” Dr Tabo explained. In his presentation, he provided an overview of new sorghum and millet hybrids that can yield up to 40% over the previous breeding materials and those are in the process for registration in the national catalogs. “These breeding materials have increased productivity by 51% for sorghum and 72% for pearl millet in some regions of Mali. Meanwhile, recent studies in Nigeria identified landrace sorghum genotypes with high grain iron and zinc concentrations for improvement of farmer-preferred varieties and development of commercial hybrid parental lines.’’
In the context of creating enabling environments to support adoption of improved varieties/hybrids, ICRISAT has (1) developed approaches to improve productivity through integrated management of natural resources at the farm and landscape/watershed levels, (2) made value chains more efficient for better access to infrastructure, market information and credit through an ICT tools, and (3) improved consumer-oriented policies to attract private sector investments and diversified markets through the Smart food campaign.
In his presentation, Dr Michael Quinn, Director, Excellence in Breeding (EiB), CIMMYT, focused on the ‘One CGIAR’ innovations. He discussed the breeding innovations for genetic gains in farmers’ fields as well as CGIAR’s strategy to achieve that goal, and explained why production gains were critically required. He emphasized how innovations in breeding would contribute to accelerated and optimized breeding within the CGIAR using performance management aligned with genetic gain and varietal turnover. “The ‘One CGIAR’ genetic innovation goals are to increase rate of genetic gain in the form of farmer-preferred varieties to at least 1.5% per year,” said Dr Quinn.
The panel discussion was moderated by Dr Rufaro Madakadza, Senior Programs Officer, AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa). It was chaired by Dr Jude Obidiegwu, Assistant Director and Coordinator for Yam Programme, National Roots Crops Research Institute, Umudike, Nigeria.
Reported by Ms Agathe Diama, Senior Manager Regional Communications and Information, ICRISAT-WCA.
During my childhood visits to my ancestral home in rural Uttar Pradesh in northern India, I would often find my grandmother eating roti – flat bread – made with pearl millets or sorghum.
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She would mix the flour with water, take a chunk of the dough and beat it between her palms to make a big flat disc and then cook it on the wood-fired clay oven.
If she offered it to me, I’d turn my nose up. I couldn’t comprehend why she’d choose them over thinner, tastier, easier-to-eat wheat rotis.
But a few years back, I switched to the food my grandma ate.
I replaced wheat flour in my kitchen with flour made from pearl millets after I saw a report that said that the latter were healthier.
Even though my roti is now more chewy, I’ve stuck to it because it makes me feel healthier.
And I’m not alone – agriculture experts say in recent years, many “forgotten foods” are making a comeback in the farms and fields and also on our plates.
For a while now, there has been “a concerted global effort” to help millets shed their “forgotten” tag, says
Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General of non-profit ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics).
India celebrated 2018 as Year of Millets and in March, the United Nations accepted Delhi’s proposal to celebrate 2023 as the International Year of Millets.
Reports say the year would be used to raise awareness about the health benefits of millets and their suitability for cultivation – they can grow in degraded soil and need little pesticide – at a time when the world is confronted with the spectre of global warming.
Millets, Dr Hughes says, are increasingly being recognised as “smart food” because “they are good for the planet, good for the farmer and good for you”.
“They require less water and grow in really hot temperatures. They are good for the farmer because they are very resilient and can survive pestilent diseases. They are good for you because they are more nutritious. Studies show that millets reduce diabetes, improve cholesterol profiles, alleviate calcium, zinc and iron deficiencies. They are also gluten free.”
Not surprising then that health experts in India are looking at millets with interest – the country is home to 80 million diabetics, over 17 million die from cardiovascular diseases every year and more than three million children are malnourished, half of them severely.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has talked of “a millet revolution” to “stamp out malnutrition from the country”.
Experts say it’s not an impossible task as millets were a staple for Indians for centuries.
Director of Indian Institute of Millet Research Vilas Tonapi says millets are “the most ancient grains known to mankind”.
“They were cultivated around 3000BC during the Indus Valley civilisation. Grown in 21 states, there are region and state specific millets which are part of the food culture and religious rituals.”
With the annual yield at 16 million tonnes, India remains the largest producer of millets in the world. But, in the past 50 years, Mr Tonapi says, the area under cultivation has shrunk from 38 million hectares to 13 million hectares and the share of millets in India’s food basket has declined from 20% in the 1960s to 6% today.
The decline of millets began in 1969-70, Dr Tonapi says.
“Until then, India used to receive food aid and import large quantities of grains to feed its population. In a bid to attain food sufficiency and alleviate hunger, the government launched green revolution and introduced high-yielding varieties of rice and wheat.”
Between 1960 and 2015 in India, wheat production more than trebled, and rice production increased by 800% while millet production remained stagnant at low levels.
Dr Hughes, who earlier this year was involved in the preparation of the Global Manifesto for Forgotten Foods, says “this overemphasis on rice and wheat led to the neglect of millets and many traditional foods that fell by the wayside”.
“Because they haven’t been bred to modern tastes or are not easy to cook in today’s fast-paced world, they have been under-utilised and neglected for decades. But it’s terribly important to have diversity on your plate,” she adds.
To do that, the “forgotten” crops will have to receive the same sort of attention given to rice and wheat and some of the other commercial crops. Experts say at least a beginning has been made where millets are concerned.
Several strategies suggested by agricultural scientists for their revival have begun to show results – Dr Tonapi says the demand for millets has grown by 146% in the past two years.
Millet cookies, chips, puffs and other munchies are being sold in supermarkets and online stores. The government is offering millets at one rupee a kg to millions through the public distribution system, and some state governments are serving ready-to-eat dishes as part of the school mid-day meal plan.
The renewed interest in coarse grains has come as a blessing for tribal communities in northern districts of Telangana state.
P Aila is among a group of 10 tribal women in Asifabad who have been trained by ICRISAT to prepare meals that are supplied to children in rural day-care centres.
Talking to me on the phone from her village, she lists the ingredients and spices that she uses in the meals and says that in August, they sold 12 tonnes of sweet and savoury dishes made with sorghum.
Aila doesn’t fully understand the interest in the humble grain that’s been her staple all her life, but she tells me she’s happy that it’s going places.
ICRISAT’s standing as an important partner in Zimbabwe’s efforts to build resilient food and nutrition systems was reaffirmed by the Government, donors and development partners in various meetings with ICRISAT staff Dr Rebbie Harawa, Regional Director – Eastern and Southern Africa, and Ms Anita Pirani, Director – Business Development, during their recent visit to the country.
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The meetings reiterated the great potential for drought-tolerant cereals such as sorghum and millets, positioned as ‘Future Grains’ for the drier regions of Zimbabwe, indicating timely opportunity for ICRISAT’s scientific interventions.
Contributing to the national strategy: ICRISAT’s important role as a consortium partner working on a national strategy for increasing productivity of drought-tolerant crops like sorghum and millets was acknowledged in a meeting with the Ministry of Lands, Agriculture, Fisheries, Water and Rural Development.
The Minister Dr Anxious Jongwe Masuka and Dr Dumisani Kutywayo, Chief Director in the Department of Research and Specialist Services within the Ministry, informed that the Strategy envisages 200-300 K tons of dryland cereals as part of its 1.5 M tons grain reserves. ICRISAT is working closely with the Government’s Crop Breeding Institute to speed up final trials and release hybrids by the end of 2022.
ICRISAT will also work with the private sector to develop a robust seed system for the hybrids to reach farmers. In the meeting, ICRISAT reaffirmed its commitment to continue working with the Government to complement efforts in improving dryland agriculture. The Government acknowledged the value of the ICRISAT Genebank and emphasized joint fundraising efforts to sustain operations. The Government of Zimbabwe is committed to supporting the facility through the secondment of staff in the short-term and through lobbying for ICRISAT’s financial support at the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture in 2022.
Indian Embassy in Zimbabwe to join efforts in popularizing millets: Potential areas for collaboration were explored in a meeting with the Indian High Commissioner to Zimbabwe, His Excellency, Vijay Khanduja. ICRISAT’s work in dryland regions aligns with the Government of Zimbabwe’s recent call to increase productivity of sorghum and millets and resonates with the Indian Government’s call to the UN to designate 2023 as the International Year of Millets. The Indian Embassy agreed to team up with ICRISAT and the Government to popularize millets for their nutrition, resilience and increased income to farmers.
Revitalizing collaborations with key donors and partners: Partners expressed keen interest to continue working with ICRISAT. The areas of common interest included natural resource management, agribusiness for resilient markets, digital agriculture and climate-smart agriculture. The team held discussion and meetings with the USAID (Economic Growth Office), Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO), European Union (EU), UNDP-Zimbabwe Resilience Building Fund (ZRBF), CARE-Zimbabwe, Save the Children-Zimbabwe, Welthungerhilfe, Econet Wireless (Cassava Smartech Division), the University of Zimbabwe and the Centre for Agriculture and Food Policy (CAFP).
Mars Chocolate North America, LLC and ICRISAT launched a new research project to deploy advanced sequencing tools and genomics approaches for developing low aflatoxin contamination (LAC) peanut. The four-year US$ 1 million project aims to identify superior LAC lines, pyramid superior haplotypes for aflatoxin contamination in market-preferred peanut varieties and mine additional superior haplotypes for aflatoxin contamination, seed features and yield related traits through germplasm sequencing and analysis.
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Aflatoxins are produced during infection and growth of Aspergillus flavus and A. parasiticus fungi on crops such as peanut. Aflatoxins are carcinogenic (cancer-causing) and teratogenic (affecting fetal development). Peanuts are among the crops most susceptible to aflatoxin contamination and serve as the main source of aflatoxin contamination in humans. Owing to strict restrictions in peanut exports to North America (aflatoxin contamination at maximum 20 μg/kg) and Europe (maximum 10 μg/kg), smallholder farmers elsewhere do not receive the desired price for their produce if it has aflatoxin contamination. Furthermore, because of the limited availability of aflatoxin-free peanuts in the markets, food processors and confectionary manufacturers have to buy a limited amount of high-quality peanuts at exorbitant prices. Similarly, smallholder farmers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa face challenges of exporting their produce because of high aflatoxin contamination in groundnut crops. To address these challenges, ICRISAT and Mars Chocolate have been working together and have identified several LAC lines along with superior haplotypes associated with aflatoxin contamination traits (ACTs).
“We are happy to take this research partnership forward which perfectly aligns with our vision of a prosperous, food-secure and resilient drylands in Asia and Africa,” said Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, during the signing of the project agreement earlier this year.
Dr Victor Nwosu, Senior Fellow, highlighting the expectations from Mars Chocolate, said, “Use of high-quality peanut is one of the key components for us. However, the high level of aflatoxin contamination has always hindered peanut export from India and Africa. We are excited and look forward to address these challenges, which will be a win-win situation for us as well as the smallholder farmers.”
Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, said, “We are excited to see the deployment of advance genomic tools and technologies towards developing LAC peanut. We look forward to such collaborations, where modern scientific approaches can be integrated to modernize and improve our crop breeding programs across locations.”
Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director-Accelerated Crop Improvement and the project’s Principal Investigator from ICRISAT, said, “Infection with aflatoxin-producing fungi is one of the most devastating diseases for peanut crop and has serious consequences for human health. However, under this project, we intend to have confirmed LAC lines with stable performance, as well as optimize haplotype-based breeding to develop improved lines with low aflatoxin contamination in the next 3-5 years.” He also elaborated on the successful past and ongoing collaborations and achievements including development of high-oleic lines and low aflatoxin contamination lines using modern science-based approaches in addition to proving a glimpse of targets to be achieved in this new project.
“Mars and ICRISAT while working together have delivered on several aspects of improved peanut varieties, including early and late leaf spot resistant and high oleic groundnut lines, etc. We now look forward to having low aflatoxin contamination lines as an outcome of this project,” said Eric Dowd, Senior Manager, Flavor/Mint Science, Mars Wrigley Confectionery.
Mars and ICRISAT have been partnering over the last eight years in development of foliar disease resistant and high-oleic groundnut lines. In the new project, ICRISAT will work with Murdoch University (Australia) and several Indian agricultural universities such as the University of Agricultural Sciences – Dharwad, Junagadh Agricultural University – Junagadh, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture & Technology –Udaipur and Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University –Tirupati.
In addition to launch of this new project on 17 November 2021, detailed discussions were held between Mars Wrigley and ICRISAT teams for exploring other potential areas of collaboration. Drs Janet Dawson, Eric Dowd, Victor Nwosu, Bethany Bernier, Robin Vogel, Dondeena Bradley, Christopher Rowe and Daniel Whitehouse from Mars Wrigley were at the launch. Drs Arvind Kumar, Rajeev Varshney, Manish Pandey, P Janila, Hari Sudini, Anu Chitikineni, Damaris Odeny, Manish Roorkiwal, S Anitha, S Srinivasan, and Ephrem Habyarimana from ICRISAT participated in the meeting.
Teams from Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, the Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel (CILSS) and Sasakawa Africa Association visited ICRISAT-Mali to explore opportunities and forge partnerships to contribute to the sustainable development goals of No Poverty, No Hunger and Climate Action.
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Smart Food and climate-smart village initiatives capture the attention of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe
Two initiatives that resonate well with the mission of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe in the Sahel, namely, the Smart Food and climate-smart village initiatives, figured prominently in discussions during the team’s visit to ICRISAT-Mali to explore collaboration avenues.
Mr Francesco De Pasquale, Country Director, Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, congratulated ICRISAT on winning the African Food Prize 2021 and presented the main areas of intervention of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe in Mali. These include 1) Agriculture, environment and climate change; 2) Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) and; 3) Economic development. These areas hold potential for collaboration with ICRISAT.
Agriculture, Environment and Climate Change: The visitors were apprised on ICRISAT’s expertise in producing and scaling up of varieties and hybrids that are high yielding, drought tolerant, dual purpose, biofortified, climate resilient and resistant to pests, diseases and weeds, especially Striga. Developing seed systems by training and building the capacity of seed companies and seed production cooperatives. Building resilience through training/dissemination of good agronomics practices and proven technologies such as fertilizer microdosing and fostering climate-resilient villages.
Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH): Deutsche Welthungerhilfe is particularly interested in activities related to nutrition aligned with the Smart Food initiative for the promotion of nutritious local products. Food safety along with the prevention of aflatoxin contamination in food products was identified as another potential area for collaboration.
Resilience and economic development: The visiting team were keen on learning about climate-smart villages, digital agriculture and the use of information technologies in agriculture. Agribusiness incubators for youth was considered as an important area for collaboration. A critical and crosscutting theme was humanitarian aid and resilience programs in collaboration with other organizations of the United Nations.
“It was an excellent visit, full of food for thought and collaboration. We will get back to you soon to better define the future steps and perspectives of our partnership,” said Mr De Pasquale who participated in discussions with Dr Tabo and his colleagues. A video of ICRISAT winning the African Food Prize 2021 and a presentation by ICRISAT staff Ms Agathe Diama apprised the visitors of the reach and impact of the Smart Food initiative in West Africa and Central Africa.
Mr De Pasquale, accompanied by Mr Hugo Verkuijl, Director of Programs and Mr Katie Sogoba, Assistant to Chief of Project of Deutsche Welthungerhilfe, visited the ICRISAT office and regional research station in Mali on October 27.
The meeting concluded with a tour of demonstrations of sorghum and millet varieties and hybrids as well as groundnut plots. Mr Francesco also visited the World Vegetable Center and CIFOR/ICRAF hosted at the ICRISAT Regional Research Center.
CILSS and ICRISAT discuss pathways for future collaborative initiatives in Mali
ICRISAT and CILSS committed to strengthening their collaboration and partnership through jointly developed project proposals to mobilize resources at a meeting on November 10.
Dr Abdoulaye Mohamadou, Executive Secretary of CILSS (Permanent Inter-State Committee for Drought Control in the Sahel) based in Burkina Faso visited ICRISAT-Mali and was accompanied by Dr Mohamed Abdellahi Ebbe, Director General of INSAH based in Bamako and Dr Mahalmoudou Hamadoun Maïga, the new Director General of AGRHYMET based in Niamey.
AGRHYMET is a specialized agency of the CILSS. It has two main objectives – to contribute to food security and increased agricultural production in member countries of CILSS and ECOWAS and to help improve the management of natural resources of the Sahel and West Africa. The Institut du Sahel (Sahel Institute), INSAH, is another specialized institution of the CILSS that is responsible for the coordination, harmonization and promotion of agro-socio-economic and population development research in CILSS now comprising 13 states (including Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, Chad and Togo).
During discussions, Dr Tabo briefed on ICRISAT’s research programs in the region and efforts towards strengthening relations with the partners of the national agricultural research system and regional bodies.
‘‘The aim is for ICRISAT and CILSS including INSAH and AGRHYMET to work and strengthen the partnership between our institutions and jointly mobilize resources for the execution of research activities within the framework of our collaboration,’’ said Dr Tabo. He also informed the visitors of the upcoming 50th anniversary of ICRISAT in 2022 and of the International Year Millets of the UN in 2023. Visitors also congratulated ICRISAT on winning the Africa Food Prize 2021.
Performance of improved sorghum prompts Sasakawa Africa Association (SSA) to partner on seed dissemination initiatives
I was pleasantly surprised during a field visit in Kita region to see the performance of improved sorghum varieties Tiandougoucoura and Soubatimi. SSA is excellent in agricultural extension organization and we can help ICRISAT to better disseminate improved varieties to significantly increase their adoption by farmers and producers,” said Dr Sokona Dagnoko Country Director, who visited the ICRISAT research station in Mali. She was accompanied by Dr Mel Oluoch, the Regional Director.
Dr Sokona Dagnoko said that the main objective of the visit is to strengthen the partnership, particularly with regard to the dissemination of improved varieties of sorghum, millet and groundnut through SSA’s network of farmers in several regions of Mali.
Dr Tabo took the opportunity to reiterate the need to grow more ICRISAT crops, especially sorghum and millet, which have significant nutritional value. “Through the Smart Food campaign, an initiative founded by ICRISAT, we want to build food systems with food that is good for you (highly nutritious), good for the planet and good for smallholder farmers. We are happy to know that SAA can help us promote these crops better among farmers in order to fight food insecurity.”
Dr Sokona Dagnoko invited ICRISAT for developing joint communication materials such as videos and books and for joint campaigns targeting the farming community in Mali.
Both ICRISAT and SAA agreed to further discuss and consolidate their partnership to better help farmers in rural Mali in their battle against food insecurity in the context of climate change.
The delegation from SSA visited ICRISAT-Mali on November 11.
Reported by Ms Agathe Diama, Senior Manager Regional Communications and Information and Mr Moussa Magassa, Executive, West and Central Africa Communications.
Team from the World Bank visits ICRISAT-Mali.
“The research-for-development community and the private sector should reinforce their linkages with farming communities by greater collaboration among themselves so that best research benefits the most disadvantaged,” said Mr Chakib Jenane, Practice Manager, Agriculture and Food, World Bank, when he, along with his team, visited ICRISAT center in Mali. He went on to discuss elements of partnership between ICRISAT’s research programs and the World Bank operations in West Africa.
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During the visit on 24 November 2021, the World Bank (WB) team was briefed on ICRISAT’s key impacts in the region through an audio-visual presentation, including special inputs on the Africa Food Prize recently awarded to ICRISAT and the Smart Food initiative.
Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director, ICRISAT-West and Central Africa emphasized the key areas of interventions of ICRISAT in the region, viz. drought adaptation and mitigation, soil fertility management, studying abiotic and biotic stresses on crops, food and nutrition, etc. He also insisted on the role of the crop improvement operations team (CIOT) which is a one-stop shop for ICRISAT breeding programs.
Dr Robert Zougmore, Africa Leader, Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), highlighted the use of climate-resistant crop varieties as useful to helping farmers cope with the impact of climate variability. CCAFS, which has served numerous farmers and inspired many projects during the past decade, is now involved in the Accelerating Impacts of CGIAR Climate Research for Africa (AICCRA) by the International Development Association (IDA) from 2021 to 2023. In the AICCRA project funded by the World Bank, ICRISAT will play an important role including, for example, for dryland cereals in Senegal, he added.
Dr Jean Baptiste Tignegre, Vegetable Breeder and Officer-in-Charge, WorldVeg, West and Central Africa – Dry Regions, presented the 2021-2025 strategic plan of WorldVeg along with focus areas of interventions in the region.
Unlocking technologies from the lab to the farm
Mr Chakib Jenane commended ICRISAT and WorldVeg for their work. He encouraged both institutes and the overall research-for-development community to engage more with the private sector in order to bridge the gap between top research and end beneficiaries, and to further enforce their linkages with the farming communities for greater impacts. “Food insecurity has been increasing in the region and though a lot of research is being carried out, only a few technologies have reached and impacted the farmers.”
To bring the science closer to the end users, Dr Ramadjita Tabo suggested more investment from governments to support policies, infrastructure, and human as well as financial resources. “Research centers have tried hard to reach out to farmers with improved technologies in a participatory manner, yet the seed system leaves much to be desired. We need countries that are risk-takers and are willing to invest in infrastructure such as roads, mechanization and much more. We need also to create a pool of human resources in the private sector who will take this seed system ahead,” he explained.
Dr Amadou Ba, Senior Agricultural Economist, World Bank, emphasized the good working relationship between ICRISAT and the World Bank in Niger and appreciated the concept of climate-smart villages promoted by CCAFS in the country. “We need to learn lessons from this experience and find out how to scale them up,” he said. On how to unlock technology dissemination from laboratories to farms, he said that the link between ICRISAT and the national research system was crucial. “One step toward this,” he said, “has been of the establishment of the Centers of Excellence of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP).” He mentioned a new investment by WB that approved a US$570 million multi-phase programmatic approach program to be implemented by three regional centers (CORAF, UMOA and AGRHYMET) to improve food system resilience, promote intraregional value chains, and build regional capacity to manage agricultural risks.
During the meeting, the WB delegation interacted with the WorldVeg team and discussed technologies available in horticulture in villages; how the partnership between ICRISAT and WorldVeg has been deployed; and ways to collaborate with ongoing and upcoming projects funded by the WB Group. The lack of local seed system for vegetable was highlighted by both parties.
Overall, all participants agreed on the need for a paradigm shift in the relationship between research-for-development and its end users. “To get out of food insecurity, we need to move from looking only to research outputs to research outcomes. We can increase adoption and sustain the seed system with business models,” said Dr Zougmore.
During this visit to ICRISAT, Mr Chakib Jenane was accompanied by Dr Amadou Ba and Ms Rhoda Rubaiza, Senior Agricultural Economist, World Bank. The meeting at ICRISAT-Mali, was attended virtually by colleagues from Niger and Nigeria from their respective locations. It concluded with a visit to the Genomics and Postharvest facilities, seed conservation chambers, and mobile garden of the World Vegetable Center hosted by ICRISAT-Mali in Samanko.
High-yielding sorghum with grain yield between 1.8 to 2 t/ha and dry fodder yield of 7 to 12t/ha and biofortified pearl millet with yield potential of up to 1.2 to 1.5 t/ha captured the attention of farmers and seed producers from six villages at a farmers’ field day held at Wakoro village in Dioïla region of Mali. These early-maturing varieties and hybrids tolerant to drought and Striga infestation exhibited up to 50% yield advantage compared to the local checks.
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Several projects implemented by ICRISAT and partners are helping smallholder farmers achieve food self-sufficiency and better nutrition in the region of Dioïla. The ESPHYV project funded by the German Corporation for International Cooperation (GIZ) and the Networking4Seed (N4S), funded by the McKnight Foundation in partnership with ICRISAT and the Union Locale des Producteurs de Céréales (ULPC) of Dioïla has enhanced the adoption of new technologies in over 20 communes in the Dioïla region.
Improved varieties and hybrids of sorghum and pearl millet are being increasingly adopted by farmers stated Mr Yalaly Traoré, advisor to ULPC.
Mr Bourama Fomba, ULPC member, who has been producing improved millet and sorghum and has been a champion in disseminating improved varieties in the region, says, “Every year, the project team gives us new improved varieties for testing in our fields. Last year, I tested a couple of them and this year I produced on 6 hectares several of these varieties such as biofortified millet variety Chakti and sorghum varieties Soubatimi and Pablo.”
Chakti pearl millet has over 65mg/kg iron content compared to popular farmer varieties with about 47mg/kg. Breeding efforts continue to make it even more nutritious. In addition to the nutritional benefits for consumers, farmers also appreciate that chakti matures 40 days earlier and has a 30% greater yield than local varieties, as well as resistance to downy mildew disease.
Soubatimi sorghum can yield up to 2 tons of grain per hectare and 10 tons of dry stover per hectare in farmers’ fields.
Mr Zoumana Coulibaly, a farmer who participated in the project demonstration activities, produced Soubatimi variety on 1 ha. He says, “I made a good choice because I harvested 1.5 tons which is by far the best yield harvested for a crop in my farm this year.”
ICRISAT scientist Dr Baloua Nebié, who has been working with NARS partners to develop these technologies, says, “Several dual-purpose varieties with a grain yield between 1.8-2 t/ha in farmers’ fields, including Seguifa, Soubatimi, Jigikala, Tiandougou coura, Sariaso 15, Sariaso 16 and ICSV 1049 have been released in several countries. Some millet varieties produced by farmers in the demonstration fields are garnering attention from farmers in the region of Dioïla. Chakti, Missari 1 and ICRI-Tabi are some high-yielding Open Pollinated Varieties (OPVs) that can reach up to 1.2 to 1.5 t/ha.”
Early maturity, drought and Striga tolerance
Mr Karim Coulibaly from Wakoro village is a beneficiary of the project in Dioïla. In his first year as farmer-demonstrator of the project, he was able to raise a demonstration plot of three varieties on 0.04 ha each including two hybrids (Pablo and Sassilon) compared to his best local variety. “The two new hybrids are ready for harvest, while our local variety will mature at the end of the season,” he says. Some OPVs such as like Soubatimi, Jigikala and Seguifa are sought-after by farmers for many reasons. Karim, who also witnessed the Seguifa variety in a friend’s field, says, “It is early-maturing and tolerant to drought and Striga and despite the lack of the rain, the variety still produced more than the local one”.
Breeding for enhanced nutrition
In their demonstration fields, Mr Bourama Coulibaly and Moumouni Coulibaly have produced different improved varieties of sorghum (Dougouyiriwa, Saba nafate and Jigikala) which are also rich in iron, zinc and proteins. “Thanks to their nutrition value, these varieties are well appreciated particularly by pregnant and lactating women. Iron and zinc rich varieties can help us also fight child malnutrition,” says Ms Djeneba Coulibaly, mom and seed producer. Rural women who lack access to health centers are of the view that these varieties rich in iron and zinc can help supplement their diet and keep them and their children out of hospital for iron deficiency related ailments. Ms Djeneba initiated three other women to take up improved seed production who are now registered seed producers.
Seed production and distribution
Within a few years of its implementation, the project has supported sorghum and millet demonstrations in farmers’ fields and in the scaling of these improved varieties in about 410 locations. The project distributed several mini packs of improved seed varieties in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger. “In 2021 i.e. the second year of the project, we distributed a total of 23,000 mini-packs of 200g of sorghum and 16,000 mini-packs of 200g of pearl millet seed in three target zones,” says Dr Baloua Nebié, coordinator of the project.
ESPHYV has contributed to broadening and sustaining the scaling activities, including seed production in response to target zones’ needs by setting up and running innovation platforms involving different actors in the sorghum and millet value chain. “The project has initiated training sessions for demonstrator farmers on techniques for setting up plots, monitoring and collecting information on the demonstration plots. Other training sessions have been offered on seed production, especially for the hybrids,” says Mr Yalaly Traoré.
Local media engaged for scaling of improved technologies
One of the objectives of the project is to build the capacity of local media partners in order to improve their knowledge of the technologies for better communication of project activities in the target zones in collaboration with field partners and farmers’ organizations. “The majority of these partners are not involved in agriculture. So, they need to be better informed about what we do and to know the technical words used in agriculture,” explained Mr Yalaly Traoré during an exchange meeting organized by ULPC with 10 local media personnel. “I started taking pictures and posting them on Facebook. I could see from the comments that a lot of people were interested in being informed directly online. I made it my job,” said Mr Soumaila Sangaré, who curates the Facebook page “Dioïla 24”.
The interactions have helped to identify the needs of the local media partners: 1) Need to be better informed about agriculture in general, especially on technical themes focused on demonstrations and seed production. 2) Need to know the rules and ethics of professional media for processing and dissemination of information, and 3) Strengthening the capacity of these partners on the use of online communication tools such as social media.
The main goal of the ESPHYV project is to improve food and nutrition security of 120,000 smallholder households, including 70,000 direct beneficiaries and 50,000 indirect beneficiaries in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
Reported by Mr Moussa Magassa, Executive Communication, with inputs from Ms Agathe Diama, Senior Manager, Regional Communications and Information and Dr Baloua Nebie, Senior-Scientist Sorghum Breeding, and coordinator of the ESPHYV and Networking4Seed projects, ICRISAT-WCA.
An open field day at our research station in Samanko, Mali, introduced local private seed companies and project partners to new crop varieties and hybrids that are high-yielding, climate-resilient and nutritious. The major aim of the event was greater visibility of the improved agricultural technologies promoted through these projects and better linkages for commercial relations.
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The field day, held on 4 November 2021, was also attended by members of projects that contribute to increased production of dry cereals and legumes, thereby promoting commercialization of quality seeds to boost adoption and create greater impact for agricultural transformation in West and Central Africa (WCA).
“Along with our partners, we’ve successfully developed highly productive varieties to improve our farmers’ yields,” said Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director, ICRISAT-WCA, on the occasion. “Over the past decade, our efforts have been focused on developing crop varieties that are resilient to climate variability. Our researchers are also directing their attention towards improving the nutritional composition of grains and enriching our crops with important micronutrients in order to address the malnutrition issue in WCA. Apart from this, our research programs have developed dual-purpose open pollinated varieties and hybrids for high grain and fodder yields,” he said.
“A significant portion of the seeds used by smallholder farmers in WCA is currently produced by farmer cooperatives and local seed companies recognized as valuable partners of research organizations and NGOs in the chain. This is really encouraging and proves that we are on the right track; the use of good agronomic practices supported by quality seeds can greatly improve producer yields, even in difficult environments,” explained Dr Tabo.
The open field day consisted of visits to the field trials and demonstration plots of pearl millet, sorghum and groundnut varieties and hybrids. Africa’s first biofortified pearl millet variety Chakti drew a lot of attention from the visitors. “Chakti is extra-early, drought-tolerant and rich in iron and zinc, which is very important in combating anemia and micronutrient malnutrition,” said Dr Mohammed Riyazaddin, Pearl Millet Breeder at ICRISAT-WCA. He highlighted the important role private seed companies can play with biofortified varieties or hybrids by producing the quality seeds and getting them to end users without diluting existing micronutrients.
At the sorghum plot, sorghum hybrid Fadda garnered many questions because of its dual-purpose attributes. “Fadda is a hybrid – a multipurpose variety of sorghum used for different consumption needs. Its porridge, for example, is very delicious and popular among consumers. It is a hybrid that is also suitable for local beverage production,” explained Mr Mamourou Sidibé, Research Assistant, Sorghum Breeding Program, ICRISAT-WCA. Other varieties of sorghum, such as Pablo, Samboni, Sangatigui, Sassilon, Seguifa, Soubatimi and Tiandougoucoura were also displayed and introduced for their attributes to improve the quality of their fodder.
The field visit culminated in a presentation of improved groundnut varieties by Dr Keita Djeneba Konaté, Pathologist, Groundnut Breeding, ICRISAT-WCA, who mentioned the objectives of ICRISAT’s groundnut improvement program. “In the program, we have clear objectives; our selection targets include the creation of varieties with short or intermediate cycles. We also develop varieties that are tolerant or resistant to leaf diseases.” For example, she explained, among the varieties showcased, Fleur 11 was a drought-tolerant variety with high oil content. Seed producers and seed companies seemed to find other varieties such as the ICG 7878 (Waliyar Tiga), ICGV 99029, ICIAR 19BT and ICGV IS 96909 also interesting.
In collaboration with national research programs, ICRISAT has developed and made available to producers these varieties of sorghum, pearl millet and groundnut to improve food and nutritional security, mitigate the adverse effects of climate change and strengthen the resilience of targeted communities including the most vulnerable – the women and children. In this context, ICRISAT supports national research institutes for the production of first-generation seeds, strengthens the capacity of seed companies and cooperatives in the production of certified seeds and establishes the necessary links between them.
Mrs Oumou N’Tji Coulibaly, Managing Director, Faso Kaba Seed Company, thanked ICRISAT researchers for the quality of their research work. “As seed companies, we are delighted to visit these plots of improved technologies in order to make our choice.”
Towards the end of the day, a discussion was held on the opportunities offered by new technologies and the perspectives of collaboration with seed companies for dissemination at scale.
This ICRISAT open field day gathered more than 40 participants including seed producers and seed sector stakeholders such as farmer organizations and seed companies, research partners (IER and IITA), the national agriculture authority, development partners such as NGOs and the World Food Programme (WFP).
Reported by Ms Agathe Diama, Senior Manager Regional Communications and Information, ICRISAT-WCA
Climate change worsens poverty for large parts of the population in Zimbabwe. There are multiple efforts to incorporate climate change adaptation in agricultural programs; however, there are gaps between research and policy that limit context-specific and effective responses. To bridge the gap a project in Zimbabwe is working towards facilitating evidence-based decisions to support the contribution of climate action to agricultural transformation.
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Given the need for more effort to enhance climate action, the AgMIP (Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project) CLARE (Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience) project, funded by International Development Research Centre (IDRC), provides tools, and information to better understand vulnerabilities of agriculture to climate change, and its performance under plausible future pathways, towards enhanced climate change adaptation, mitigation co-benefits, and resilience. The collaboration with multi-scale and multidisciplinary experts and stakeholders to undertake and validate forward-looking research is set to guide actionable agriculture and climate change policy decisions.
The Government of Zimbabwe places high priority on the agriculture sector. The country steps up its climate actions in line with its own Vision 2030 and the Paris Agreement provisions, where both climate change adaptation (National Adaptation Plans) and mitigation (Nationally Determined Contributions) are critical to support the agricultural sector.
Directors of the Climate Change Management Department (CCMD) say that AgMIP CLARE complements their mandate on climate change assessments and planning for adaptation and mitigation actions with a focus on local-level interventions supported by national policies. Research officers, climate scientists, academicians and journalists affirm the same and share their experience on how AgMIP has equipped and guided them and, how involving them in developing the policy briefs is a step forward in bridging the gap between research and policy.
CCMD Director and Deputy Director Mr Washington Zhakata and Mr Kudzai F Ndidzano say, “Through the project, we had the opportunity to participate in the revision of future climate and adaptation scenarios for Zimbabwe as a country and implications for specific farming systems like the mixed crop livestock farming in Nkayi district. This enhanced our understanding of the future climate impacts, as well as entry points for policy development and implementation, which are critical for strategic planning considering the expected future climate. The key messages as elaborated in the jointly revised policy briefs come in handy to reach out to policy makers, with evidence-based policy recommendations for strengthening research and policy linkages in the country.”
Climate Scientist, formerly at CCMD, Dr Elisha N Moyo, says, “This methodology is transformative in that it gives scientists, policymakers and practitioners an understanding of the likely climate direction or the convergence or divergence of models when it comes to the future scenarios. It enables researchers to understand the certainties around climate modelling or the confidence in the projections”.
Principal Research Officer at Matopos Research Institute, Mr Gevious Sisito, says that there is a growing demand for AgMIP CLARE integrated assessments and collaborative research tools that can test the impacts of adaptation packages under specified farming systems and climatic conditions. This can support mainstreaming climate change adaptation through better-tailored technology packages. The Matopos Research Institute hosts one of the Green Climate Fund Innovation Platforms for testing climate change adaptation packages in semi-arid farming conditions
Social Scientist at Lupane State University, Dr Thulani Dube, says, “Forward-looking approaches in terms of climate simulations and integrated modeling have enormous potential. We have introduced this subject in our curriculum to capacitate students that enroll with us”.
Journalist and Communication Specialist, Mr Busani Bafana, says climate research and policy advocacy are technical and complex but relevant and beneficial for development. “As a journalist, I realize the importance of effective communication of research outputs. The AgMIP tool has offered important insights on future climate scenarios and for me, the next steps will include on-the-ground assessment on farmers adopting the adaptation packages and how current policy frameworks are helping farmers adapt,” he says.
The below diagram explains the consultative process being deployed to bridge the gap between research and policy for climate adaptation in Zimbabwe.
The policy briefs mentioned in the article can be accessed on http://oar.icrisat.org/11933 and http://oar.icrisat.org/11934
Research-informed policy and decision-making for climate adaption in Zimbabwe
Scientific evidence, learnings and recommendations from research institutes will be considered while drafting the National Agriculture and Technology Innovation Plan of the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD), said Dr Mohammad Mahmood Abubakar, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria. He was speaking at the debriefing session of outcomes of socio-economic studies conducted by ICRISAT and partners in Nigeria.
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In partnership with, and support from national research for development partners, ICRISAT led the value chain analysis and adoption studies to generate evidence of impacts of crop breeding on end-users of technologies. Three value chain analyses, two value adoption studies and a foresight analysis were carried out in 2020-2021. Alongside these studies, a pioneering end-of-project implementation technical report was compiled. Considering that outcomes of these studies provide pathways to strengthening partnerships in Nigeria, they were reviewed by partners and put together into seven technical working documents.
The Minister cited the slow uptake of improved crop technologies, including value additions, limited access to farm inputs, inadequate extension service delivery, poor market linkages and lack of synergies among value chains actors as persisting challenges of the agricultural sector in Nigeria.
Offering science-based solutions to Nigeria’s agriculture challenges, Dr Hakeem Ayinde Ajeigbe, Country Representative, ICRISAT-Nigeria, said that the session was organized to:
The Honorable Minister Dr MM Abubakar applauded ICRISAT for persistently championing initiatives in developing sorghum, millet and groundnut value chains as well as climate-smart agriculture. He said FMARD is ready to partner with research institutes in ongoing and new initiatives targeting the promotion of agricultural value chains. “Sorghum should be given the priority it deserves and I want collaborators of the FMARD to take note that efforts should be made for sorghum to be given the same attention as cassava, rice and maize,” he said.
The Permanent Secretary of the FMARD, Dr Ernest Umakhihe, congratulated ICRISAT for the pioneering initiative in value chain studies and development, and for updating on outcomes of its socio-economic studies. The Chairman of the House Committee on Agricultural Research Institutes and Colleges, Honorable Munir Babba Dan Agundi thanked ICRISAT for sharing the outcomes of its research with policy-makers. He shared his firsthand experiences working with ICRISAT and urged the Minister to visit the headquarters in Hyderabad (India) to know more about the institute’s research for development interventions worldwide.
Participants at the event lauded ICRISAT’s contributions to the promotion of sorghum, millet and groundnut value chains, crop-livestock integration and management of degraded lands in Nigeria. Policy-makers who participated in the event included scientists and policy makers from agricultural research institutes, technical departments of the FMARD and the private sector.
The meeting was organized by ICRISAT-Nigeria in partnership with FMARD, Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) and the Center for Dryland Agriculture of the Bayero University of Kano (CDA-BUK).
The strategic partners of ICRISAT in Nigeria include the commodity value chain units of the FMARD, State-based Agricultural Development Projects, IAR, LCRI, CDA-BUK, National Agricultural Seeds Council (NASC). Civil society partners are SASAKAWA Africa Association (SAA), and Women Farmers Advancement Network (WOFAN).
Development initiatives implemented at the watershed site in Wanaparthy district, Telangana, India, drew appreciation from the state’s Agriculture Minister Mr S Niranjan Reddy. The minister lauded the holistic and integrated approach that focused on improving livelihoods of women, the self-sustaining model of farm-machinery renting centers and farm-level water conservation measures. He congratulated Rural Electrification Corporation Limited and ICRISAT for developing a model that is replicable, transparent and inclusive in its operations.
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In the last two months, the minister visited the project thrice, the recent visit being from December 9 to 10. During his visits, the minister inaugurated farm machinery renting centers and distributed sheep to 73 women beneficiaries in two villages – Mentapally and Peddagudem.
The watershed sites (see map) in Wanaparthy district in Telangana State and Anantapur district in Andhra Pradesh State funded by the Rural Electrification Corporation Limited (REC Limited) and implemented by ICRISAT and partners have emerged as learning sites for doubling farmers’ incomes through minimum investment for maximizing benefits to smallholder farmers, says ICRISAT scientist and project lead, Dr Girish Chander.
Women in general get a raw deal when it comes to land ownership, decision-making and their share of income despite their substantial contribution to the agricultural production process 1. As most women have no land rights, they are not direct beneficiaries from land-based activities in watersheds. Livestock is one of the most important sources of income for families in dryland areas and generally, women take care of livestock and related activities. As part of the gender mainstreaming initiative, women farmers who expressed interest in livestock-based livelihoods were offered ‘sheep units’ (two female and one male) and those without fodder sources were provided with sewing machines to start non-farm-based livelihoods.
As many as 600 women in Wanaparthy and 450 in Anantapur asked for support to start livestock-based livelihoods. About 550 sheep units were distributed so far and 500 more units will be distributed by the end of this year. Sewing machines were provided to 110 women and another 440 will be added to this number by yearend. In 2022, 800 women will receive support for livestock-based livelihoods and 450 women for non-farm-based livelihoods.
To reduce the drudgery of farmers in general, particularly women, and to streamline farming operations for higher productivity, on-farm mechanization is being promoted through machinery renting centers at the village level. Eight centers with sowing, inter-culture, harvesting and threshing machines have been set up in each of the watershed sites (see map).
Water is a basic requirement for crop-based and livestock-based activities. Access to water is a major challenge for most of the smallholder farmers. Farm-based water storage solutions included the digging of 425 new farm-ponds and 26 check-dams/rock-dams during 2020 and 2021, in addition to 195 farm-ponds, 35 check-dams and other in-situ rainwater storage interventions built in the earlier phase of the project (2014-2017). These interventions have not only increased groundwater level by around 1-2 m, but also improved smallholder farmers’ access to water, which has supported various intensification and diversification activities undertaken by the project.
'The Millet Movement in India’, the first coffee table book about the increasingly popular grain just published by Penguin Random House India, has hit the stores. “I am confident the coffee table book will provide valuable insights into our cultural culinary landscape and help increase awareness about our ancient wisdom of food processing,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi said about the book.
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The book brings to fore the chefs who are giving millets the traditional to modern makeover, farmers who are keeping traditions alive, entrepreneurs who take millet foods to the consumer in umpteen ways every day and the traditions that underpin all. The book also makes a clear case for consuming millets to overcome anemia and promote healthy growth in children by presenting scientific evidence, from various studies, including from the first school feeding study with millets, undertaken by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Akshaya Patra.
One of the authors and former Assistant Director General of ICRISAT, Ms. Joanna Kane-Potaka, said, “As 2023, the International Year of Millets, approaches, this book is a timely read for everyone from the consumer to the chef and from the farmer to the policymaker.”
The book shows a consumer numerous ways to tastefully cook millets with a recipe section from some of India’s top chefs like Ranveer Brar, Sanjeev Kapoor, Anahita Dhondy and Saransh Goila. The millet recipes range from traditional dishes like idlis, biryani and laddoos to modern dishes like burgers and waffles.
Prof. Ramesh Chand, Member, NITI Aayog, Government of India, noted in the book, “Millets are indeed superior cereals in terms of nutrition and resilience and also in terms of sustainability. They are ideally suited to address child undernutrition and fit very well in nature-friendly production. Use of millets in various nutrition intervention programs and in Public Distribution System will be of great help to address malnutrition and improve health of low income households.”
“Millets are an opportunity right at our doorstep to create new exciting products and markets. If we want to tackle climate change, environmental degradation, malnutrition and farmers’ resilience, millets have to be part of the solution,” emphasized Dr. Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT.
The book is also supported by ICAR-Indian Institute of Millets Research (IIMR). The Director of IIMR, Dr. Vilas Tonapi, noted, “India has the largest biodiversity of millets in the world as well as the largest range of millet products. We can leverage this to become a global leader in millets.”
ICRISAT, ICAR-IIMR and the National Institute of Nutrition (NIN) are some of the key organizations leading this cause with scientific backing. The recent scientific case for consuming millets has been made through a series of studies led by ICRISAT along with NIN and others which have established that regular consumption can help lower the risk of diabetes and obesity, while improving cholesterol levels and contributing to lowered risk of cardiovascular disease. The research effort had also demonstrated the effectiveness of millets in combating iron-deficiency anemia and deficiencies of calcium.
Mr. Liam Wright, a photographer from New Zealand who has covered India extensively through his work, and Dr. Sangeetha Parthasarthi, a social scientist from Bengaluru who previously worked with ICRISAT, authored the book with Ms. Kane-Potaka.
The Millet Movement in India is available at Amazon.
Cultural diversity, cheer and resilience marked ICRISAT’s 49th Annual Day celebrated on 21 December across its offices in Africa and India. Signalling a departure from last year’s subdued celebrations due to COVID-19, staff participated actively taking necessary precautions.
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“We are celebrating our values, achievements, diversity, and we are celebrating us. We now have our strategic plan 2021-2025, which outlines a strong and focussed vision. We worked through a rolling medium-term plan and have recently launched a tool to track how we are doing,” said DrJacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT.
The celebrations at Hyderabad, India, began with performances of song and dance followed by a carnival. Later in the day, the institute recognized and rewarded outstanding scientific contributions and fundraising efforts, excellence in the celebratory sporting events held on campus and recognition of long service to the institute. Staff awards were also given in West and Central Africa and Eastern and Southern Africa.
Commending ICRISAT’s achievements in 2021,
Prof. Prabhu Pingali, Chair of ICRISAT’s Governing Board, said, “The Africa Food Prize was an enormous recognition for the contribution ICRISAT made in addressing food insecurity and rural poverty in
sub-Saharan Africa. The work on sequencing chickpea pan-genome has received worldwide attention. We have also seen very important papers released on the role of millets in addressing micronutrient deficiency and non-communicable disease.”
Reaffirming ICRISAT’s commitment to the drylands,
Prof.Pingali mentioned technologies, scientific knowledge and the background that ICRISAT has in drylands research as just some of its strengths for being an independent international research organization. Prof. Pingali recognized the management’s partnership building efforts by listing some new partnerships, including those with FAO and the World Food Programme, and affirmed these partnerships as essential as the institute charts its future course.
He also noted that in-person capacity building has resumed in Africa.
The Board Chair singled out the health and security services teams for their work during the past two years of the pandemic, and applauded their services in keeping ICRISAT safe. He then paid a tribute to
Mr Sarwat Hussain, a former ICRISAT and World Bank staff member who passed away recently.
Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and Vice-Chair of ICRISAT’s Board, congratulated the Institute and complimented it on its successes. “Last year was quite challenging for all of us. We reaffirmed our commitment to move forward with our trusted partnership. The ICAR-ICRISAT partnership has been hugely successful with high impact research, particularly in the area of genomics and marker-assisted breeding.
“ICRISAT continues to play a key role as a leading research institute in dryland agriculture both in India and Africa. It is heartening that ICRISAT was awarded the Africa Food Prize 2021,” he said, expressing confidence that ICRISAT will continue striving to reduce poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation in the drylands.
Speaking about the future of research at ICRISAT,
Dr Hughes said, “The future of agri-food systems is digital. We need to make our digital technologies, our apps and our programs internally and ensure they are crosscutting and interconnected. My aim is to position ICRISAT as a thought leader in digital agriculture as we go through 2022.”
Dr Hughes urged all staff to prioritize gender and empowerment of the disadvantaged in research work. “Women are half our population and do more than half of the unpaid work. Given their caring role, they are more likely to be highly affected by climate and economic calamities,” she said.
Speaking of the strong research pipeline at ICRISAT,
Dr Hughes underscored the importance of partnerships and conveyed to the staff that ICRISAT’s partners in the drylands are committed to the Institute’s vision. She spoke about plans to mark ICRISAT’s 50th Anniversary in 2022 and urged the staff to plan in advance activities and outputs for the International Year of Millets in 2023.
Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General-Research, said that despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the institute has fulfilled some of the most essential tasks over the last 12 months. He thanked the
non-research staff for their support to research.
“I thank the entire research team and the Research Leadership Team for where we are today. We have moved from uncertainty to certainty. Despite the challenges, we know where we want to go. Let’s work together in a committed fashion and realize the future we envision for ICRISAT,” Dr Kumar said.
ICRISAT’s genebank has begun sending copies of its large germplasm collection to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) as a backup, commonly referred to as first-level safety duplication. The first batch of 20,000 accessions of both sorghum and pearl millet was sent on 27 December.
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“I am pleased to note that this timely exercise has started with a large number of sorghum and millet accessions,” said Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT. “The genebank has already safety duplicated more than 90% of its collections in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault.”
ICRISAT’s genebank houses more than 129,000 accessions and has the world’s largest collections of pearl millet, sorghum, groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea and small millets.
“ICRISAT’s genebank is a treasure trove of traits and has helped breeders across the world improve both productivity and resilience of dryland crops. That apart, the genebank has helped restore many traditional varieties, also called landraces,” said Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director-Accelerated Crop Improvement at ICRISAT, to underscore the importance of conservation and duplication of germplasm resources.
Multi-level duplications of genebanks are essential in order to effectively safeguard biodiversity, ensure easy means of restoration when needed and eventually ensure the food security of our future generations, explained Dr Kuldeep Singh, Head of the genebank at ICRISAT. Multi-level duplications are mandated by the Crop Trust, which supports and funds CGIAR genebanks through the Genebank Platform. Many genebanks across the world duplicate their germplasm in other genebanks.
“In the first batch, we sent 15,000 accessions of sorghum and 5,000 accessions of pearl millet. The second batch is being prepared to be send to IITA by end of January next year,” Dr Singh informed.
Dr Ovais Peerzada, Manager at the genebank’s seed lab, detailed the extensive process behind preparing accessions for duplication. “Every accession sent in the first batch weighed 25 grams. The seeds had a germination percentage of over 90% and were packed in vacuum-sealed aluminum pouches to ensure they can be put to use even after many years of conservation in extremely low temperature. The process of preparing the shipment began more than two months ago and involved drying seeds to ensure the right moisture level, tests for germination, phytosanitary checks, meticulous packing and labeling,” he said.
Crop improvement at ICRISAT just got more extensive and faster, with the LeasyScan facility getting new multispectral scanners and the launch of a UAV (Unmanned Aerial Vehicle) Phenotyping Platform. Inaugurated on 3 December 2021, both these facilities are set to provide crop breeders information from high-resolution imaging, including insights into plants’ experience of agro-chemicals under biotic stress, a first for ICRISAT.
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The new PlantEye F600 scanners on the LeasyScan can scan both near-infrared (NIR) and the visible spectrum of light. NIR scanning, which was not available in the scanners used earlier, helps assess traits which can be distinguished with color intensity like plant senescence, stay green, foliar diseases (by distortion in color) and biomass quality traits like leaf nitrogen content.
Advanced phenotyping traits like leaf area, LA index, plant height, biomass, etc., and water utilization traits like transpiration and transpiration rate can be measured faster than before with the new LeasyScan; thousands of lines can be characterized in just five weeks.
The newly launched UAV phenotyping platform is expected to make observations of agronomic and stover-related traits, which are labor-intensive and time-consuming to gather in the field, faster and easier. The platform is a result of multiple partnerships through various initiatives/projects. Through the CGIAR’s EiB drone initiative, the Crop Physiology and System Modelling Cluster from our Global Research Program Accelerated Crop Improvement is working on UAV-based phenotyping methods for chickpea, pigeonpea and sorghum. Meanwhile, the ICRISAT team has started work on stover biomass and stover quality (stover nitrogen and digestibility) phenotyping for groundnut and sorghum under the TiHAN (Technology Hub for Autonomous Navigation) Project. The debut drone flight of this project during the inaugural on 3 December marked the launch of the UAV platform.
Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, commended the phenotyping team and expressed confidence that the new facilities would take crop improvement at ICRISAT to the next level. Highlighting the importance of these new facilities for crop improvement, Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director – Accelerated Crop Improvement, acknowledged the support and contribution from collaborators and ICRISAT researchers. At the launch of the facilities with Prof Rajalakshmi from IIT-Hyderabad, who is the Vice-Chairperson of TiHAN, ICRISAT scientists Dr Jana Kholova, Cluster Leader – Crop Physiology and System Modelling; Dr Sunita Choudhary, Scientist, Crop Physiology and System Modelling, and the rest of the Crop Physiology and System Modelling Cluster, Dr Kumar thanked IIT-Hyderabad, Aviac Technologies, Marut Drones and Phenospex for partnering with ICRISAT in these initiatives.
Dr Kholova mentioned that the new facilities make ICRISAT unique in its phenotyping capabilities and announced that these facilities are ready to commence operations.
Performance data on genotypes has been utilized to make crop selection and advancement decisions at ICRISAT’s first Product Advancement Meeting, heralding a significant step forward in data-driven breeding. Cross-functional crop teams based in Asia, Eastern and Southern Africa and West and Central Africa participated in the hybrid meeting organized on the 9th of December.
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Cross-functional crop teams based in Asia, Eastern and Southern Africa and West and Central Africa participated in the hybrid meeting organized on the 9th of December.
Chairing the session, Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General – Research, ICRISAT, described it as historic day for breeding program modernization as the Product Advancement Meetings facilitate rigorous assessment of the breeding program’s progress while enabling data-based decisions in advancing products. It is feasible to assess the rates of genetic gain from various pipelines in a systematic way and take measures to enhance it further, he said.
Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT, commended the efforts of Dr Ashok Kumar, Product Placement Lead – Asia and the entire Crop breeding team for internalizing the breeding program modernization and making efforts to integrate precision genetic and genomic tools, analytical methods to increase efficiencies and genetic gains. He called for the precise management of data and the storing of results for ease of retrieving in the future.
ICRISAT has embarked on the journey of breeding program modernization, particularly in the design, development and dissemination of demand-driven improved products. The Stage-Gate model was introduced as a technique to help create more value. It improves an organization’s ability to convert innovative ideas into practical applications and new products using a roadmap comprising of various interventions/deliverables (stages). The Stage-Gate process encompasses all the interventions (stages) and control points (gates) in the product design, discovery, product development, product testing and validation and commercialization.
Targeted Product Profiles were developed by involving stakeholders and breeding schemes have been developed andoptimized based on the profiles. Breeding schemes workflows are based on the size of the relevant market segment and product profile attributes. The product prototypes are tested in multi-environment trials (METs) in Target Population of Environments (TPEs) and data from METs are considered in advancement decisions.
With the first Product Advancement Meeting successfully held, the objectives of subsequent meetings will be to:
New products that meet the metrics identified in product profiles are advanced to national variety testing or recycled as parents in breeding programs.
In her remarks, Dr Janila Pasupuleti, Cluster Leader – Crop Breeding, ICRISAT, applauded the cross-functional teams for rapidly adapting to new ways operatingand optimizing breeding pipelines to match product profile attributes while developing improved products. She called for openness to not only embrace new technologies but to facilitate continuous learning that could contribute to high-performing breeding programs.
Dr Ashok Kumar in his presentation indicated that during the 2020 rainy season, multi-environment testing was carried out involving 240 Stage 1 and 2 trials comprising 83 experiments conducted in 72 environments in Asia. The trials were designed with the help of Data Management and Analytical Support (DMAS) team.Field books along with seed materials were shipped to partners with support from the Crop Improvement Operations Team (CIOT). The MET partners were supplied with moisture meters, weighting balances and tablets for efficient data collection. The trials were monitored from time to time with data obtained from partners. Following quality checks, the DMAS team analyzed the data and shared results for review by the breeding team.
The results from groundnut and pigeonpea multi-environment trials showed improved products with significantly higher yields compared to best checks. A selection index was developed in groundnut to select the lines for the next stage and products were identified using selection indices. The results indicated that the predicted genetic gains in these two breeding programs ranged from 0.4 to 1.5 in different breeding pipelines for yield, and more than 1.5% for shelling percentage and ? hundred seed weight in groundnut. Standard operating procedures were developed for conducting both the multi-environment trials and the management of MET data to serve as ready reference.
In his concluding remarks, Dr Arvind Kumar sought the institutionalization of the MET process for assessment of genetic gains and to empower partners to improve the rigour in data collection for effective decision-making.
One of the fallouts of climate change is an increased incidence of new diseases in pigeonpea and reemergence of old diseases, leading to increased crop losses. To address the issue, an expert group led a virtual workshop to standardize protocols for detection, phenotyping and management of major pigeonpea diseases to cope with the changing disease scenario. More than 80 researchers from 13 countries across Africa, South Asia, Europe and South America attended the 3-day marathon sessions.
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Though the sessions were focused on emerging and re-emerging disease detection, diagnoses phenotyping and management of pigeonpea diseases, aspects of surveillance and monitoring of emerging diseases were included. With newer diseases affecting pigeonpea crops, it is increasingly important to detect and manage them on time.
ICRISAT scientist Dr Mamta Sharma, Cluster Leader-Precision Phenotyping, said that one of the effects of climate change has been an increased incidence of pest and diseases in pigeonpea crop and minor diseases are becoming major, thereby increasing the burden of crop losses due to diseases”. Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director-Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT, emphasized on the need of such training programs that focus on phenotyping with standardized protocols.
The development of multiple disease-resistant varieties and identification of disease-resistant genes is critical to the success of breeding programs and in addressing the needs of target beneficiaries, said Dr A S Dhawan, Vice Chancellor, VNMKV, Parbhani.
Dr I P Singh, Project Coordinator-AICRP-Pigeonpea, said that their scientists are looking forward to the development of new and rapid disease phenotyping techniques from the workshop to cope with the changing disease scenario. He said that it was important for training programs like these to be periodical.
The program included a) Expert lectures and updates on the current scenario of diseases; b) Online practical training sessions on individual disease/pathogen and; c) Brainstorming and group discussions. Expert lectures from the private sector and advanced research institutes covered the areas from disease-resistant varieties to advance use of robotics and machine learning for rapid disease detection and screening for disease resistance.
The virtually training session, ‘Online International Expert Training on Pigeonpea diseases – Detection, Phenotyping and Management’ was held during 24-26 November, jointly organized by ICRISAT, VNMKV-Parbhani, ARS-Badnapur and AICRP on pigeonpea.
The training workshop covered modules related to:
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Ghana’s first training event on the CCAFS Regional Agricultural Forecasting Tool (CRAFT) was held in its capital city, Accra, during 25-29 October to strengthen national capacity for in-season yield forecasting, assessing impacts of climate fluctuations on crop production and projecting such impacts in the future. Organized by the University of Ghana, University of Florida and ICRISAT, the workshop conveyed the basic concepts of gridded crop simulations, described algorithms used for regional yield forecasting and the CRAFT toolbox architecture, and involved hands-on exercises for assessing risk and generating in-season yield forecasts.
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CRAFT is a framework for running multi-crop model ensembles in gridded simulations for yield forecasting, agricultural risk analysis and climate impact studies. An initiative of the CGIAR research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), CRAFT is currently being developed and maintained by the University of Florida. A key feature of the framework is its ability to seamlessly integrate leading crop models such as DSSAT, APSIM, SarraH and INFOCROP with seasonal climate forecasts that are statistically downscaled with the Climate Predictability Tool (CPT).
Another feature is the ability to run spatial simulations down to the district level, which is essential for predicting production shortfalls or gluts with adequate detail for government intervention and market regulation. This functionality will be important for the transformation of food systems and ushering in food sovereignty in the post-COVID era, with more efficient and competitive national value chains, shorter and more circular agricultural food circuits, and a lower dependence on expensive food imports.
One emerging user of CRAFT is the Ghana Meteorological Agency (GMet). As part of the CASCAID project, GMet was the first national meteorological agency in West Africa to successfully implement the ENACTS initiative, which provides blended, gridded station-satellite data directly exploitable by CRAFT. During the workshop, Mr. Eric Asuman, Director General, GMet, reiterated the agency’s strong interest in CRAFT and its commitment to prepare the first operational 2022 maize yield forecast for the West African Climate Outlook Forum using CRAFT. GMet, ICRISAT, Manobi Africa and University of Florida also discussed the industrialization of frugal, recyclable agCelerant IoT rain gauges, a CASCAID-supported innovation by project partner Manobi Africa.
The workshop brought together 25 participants from Georgia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Senegal, South Africa, the USA and Zimbabwe. In addition to the University of Ghana and GMet, other key participating institutions included the Ghana Space Science and Technology Institute (GSSTI), IDEMS-Ghana, and the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS) which was represented by seven of its alumni.
The deployment of CRAFT reported here was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) project titled, “Capacitating African Stakeholders with Climate Advisories and Insurance Development (CASCAID)”, and by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) through a grant, implemented by Alliance Bioversity-CIAT with AR4D support from the European Commission for the year 2019. Building Livelihoods and Resilience to Climate Change in East and West Africa: Agricultural Research for Development (AR4D) for large-scale implementation of Climate-Smart Agriculture, is a three-year project funded by the European Commission and IFAD.
University of Ghana, University of Florida and ICRISAT are partnering in the effort.
The national release of high oleic groundnut varieties Girnar 4 (ICGV 15083) and Girnar 5 (ICGV 15090) in India in 2020 generated interest among public and private seed producing agencies, leading to its quick uptake. To ensure production of seed with the highest genetic purity, especially for confectionery industries, actors across the commodity value chain were oriented on procedures and guidelines. Over 65 participants from public and private seed producing agencies, food companies, policymakers, groundnut breeders, and National Agricultural Research Systems participated in the hybrid virtual meet.
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Framing the right guidelines: Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General – Research, ICRISAT, said, “I see this as a very timely meeting with policymakers to set guidelines to ensure genetic purity for the benefit of seed producing agencies associated with seed production and dissemination of these two varieties. This is a great opportunity for breeders to take timely action and follow these guidelines to help the farmers, the industry and the government system in the area of cultivation.’’
Paving the way for trait-based certification: “India has been focusing on commercialization of biofortified crop cultivars and trait-based segregation helps to procure high-quality material right from the seed stage. We need to have a mechanism for trait-based seed certification so that the consumer gets the product having the target nutritional trait. The output from this meeting will help the Government of India to set guidelines for ‘trait-based certification’ in the country,” said Dr DK Yadav, Assistant Director General (ADG)-Seed, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).
Quality assurance at each stage: Prof PK Agarwal, Vice-chancellor, Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology, noted that engagement with all stakeholders leads to establishing the high oleic groundnut value chain in the country with high quality standards. Dr Sanjeev Gupta, ADG (Oilseeds and Pulses- ICAR) said the there is a growing demand for high oleic groundnut varieties among traders, processors and consumers and the guidelines will aid quality seed production.
Research updates, on-farm performance and seed sharing: ICRISAT scientist Dr Janila Pasupuleti informed about research efforts to combine the high oleic trait with other market traits like higher blanchability, easy removal of testa from kernels and desired kernel size. Farmers in Gujarat growing Girnar 4 harvested higher pod yield than local cultivars during the rainy season in 2021 and so far, ICRISAT shared about 200 high oleic groundnut lines with collaborators from 11 countries, she said.
Proceedings of the meeting: Dr SK Bera, Director of ICAR-Directorate of Groundnut Research, shared the guidelines for testing of genetic purity in high oleic groundnut seed production including sampling methods for various classes of seeds at the meeting held on 7 December. The National Seeds Corporation (NSC) has taken up the seed increase of Girnar 4 and indicated interest in taking up the seed production of the high oleic varieties. Near-infrared spectroscopy was identified as the most cost-effective method and a robust, non-destructive method of ascertaining the oleic acid content in groundnut kernels.
To train the next generation of researchers in the use of genomic tools for enhancing crop productivity and climate resilience in Mali, a training program on quantitative genetics and its application to selection was recently organized at ICRISAT’s Samanko research station.
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The training offered an overview of quantitative genetics such as genetic variance, heritability and use of markers. It started with a historical overview of the fundamental equation of quantitative genetics. Discussions revolved around the genetic component in the equation, improvement of which is fundamental to any breeding program. It is a crucial link between genetics and breeding, which is realized through marker or genomics-assisted selection.
The discussions also featured Breeder’s Equation, genetic gain and construction of selection index to deepen the link between quantitative genetics and selection as well as the introduction of socio-economic elements for a holistic approach to the selection process.
The participants witnessed presentations of practical cases based on their research interests. There was sharing and exchange of tools and methodology approaches (R codes before and after training). The trainer and participants are expected to engage beyond the workshops to help the latter apply the newly acquired knowledge in their work.
“What I have learned allows me to deepen my knowledge, especially in quantitative genetics. I have learned how to undertake QTL analysis. The topics on molecular and genomic analysis came at the right time for me as I am preparing to undertake such an activity, and thus, I am better prepared to organize my data,” said Mr Boubacar Sinare, an aspiring groundnut breeder.
“We spent three very intense days. I was impressed with the way the course was offered; the main purpose of this course was to arouse curiosity in the use of certain tools,” said Dr Baloua Nebie, Sorghum Breeder and Coordinator of the UE-APSAN-Mali project. The training was conducted under the aegis of the project during 20-22 October.
Thirty two researchers (seniors, doctoral students and post-doctoral fellows), including eight women, from different academic backgrounds and professional experiences, participated. Participants came from diverse disciplines such as plant breeding, agronomy, computer science, geography and socio-economics. Participants who attended the course in person came from programs of IER, ICRISAT and IPR-IFRA. Participants online were able to access the training through their connection to the ABEE (Strengthening of networks and institutional capacities in Plant breeding for the development of resilient crops for meeting the needs of West African farmers) project led by CORAF and / or through Facebook.
Dr Vincent Garin, a scientist in quantitative genetics and a post-doctoral researcher at ICRISAT supporting work on target environments by phenotype (TPE) and BC-NAM population analysis, trained the participants.
It all started in June 2020, when the foundation of a climate-smart village was laid at Sawaya in Niger. Initially it just comprised of a community making a diagnosis to characterize the changes in the past, observe the present situation, and identify opportunities for the short-term and long-term futures. In line with the community’s shared vision of the future, we at ICRISAT, along with the community members, carried out a series of activities to strengthen their resilience to climate change for both the short and long terms.
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Recently a field day was organized at Sawaya to help scale up the climate-smart technologies. People from 12 remote villages converged at the venue to discover and learn to use new technologies that could help them earn profits, improve their nutrition and health, and enhance the soil fertility of their fields. It involved visiting smart composting systems, a tree nursery, small-scale hybrid tree planting as well improved breed poultry farms in households.
They first visited the smart composting production system managed by Mr Djamilou Sani who was trained and equipped by ICRISAT. The system uses aerobic water vapor mechanism resulting in saving up to 90% water and less labor compared to traditional compositing. It enables compost generation in just 45 days as compared to 90 days the traditional approach takes. With this system, in a year (2021), Mr Djamilou produced 20 tons of smart composting some of which was sold to buy seeds and mineral fertilizer and other part used in his own field. With this activity he has managed to double his millet production compared to previous year.
Participants to the field day also visited a fruit tree nursery system managed by Mr Massaoudou Maman Saminou. Since his training few months ago, this pilot farmer has already sold 30% of the plants produced. “The production of different species in this nursery is planned according to market requirement,” said Mr Saminou. With the revenue from his new activity, Saminou says he was able to better provide for family to purchase food and medicine.
“I am happily surprised to see how local species, which have since long disappeared from our cropping systems, are given a new development at this nursery,” said Mr Ado Abdou, Chief, village of Tanti.
The participants also viewed some early-maturing and high-yielding F1 hybrid papaya plants planted in 79 households and under the charge of women. According to Mrs Laoure Mato, group leader of the women from Sawaya village, all the papaya plants were at the fruiting stage after only 4 months of planting. “This shows the integration between agriculture and nutrition/health corresponding to one of the main objectives this project,” said Dr Bouba Traore, Global Research Program on Resilient Farm and Food System, ICRISAT-WCA.
Afterward, the group visited households that have benefited from improved breed poultry resistant to diseases and with rapid growth. After only 5 months of introduction, the number of generations varied from 1 to 2 per hen with 7 to 12 chicks per generation.
To assist farmers in making decisions based on rainfall, ICRISAT also provided the community a rain gauge and display board which was installed in a public place. This helped the farmers because with the rain gauge they know how much rain has fallen and what decision to take for farming practices.
The visit concluded with a trip to a field demonstration of improved pearl millet and groundnut varieties and to Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration fields on 73 ha all around the village. According to Mr M Salissou Natche, Director of Agriculture, Department of Magaria, backstopping with equipment and community knowledge strengthening provided by ICRISAT and CRS have contributed towards making the village more resilient and that it all needs to be consolidated. “The department will do the needful to encourage farmers in this perspective,” he concluded.
The field day was organized in partnership with the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and with the support of the USAID-funded project, Development Food Security Assistance program (DFSA/GIRMA) to witness the progress and to share knowledge around the ongoing experience.
Mana Koudoussou, Scientific Officer, ICRISAT-WCA
Hachimou Zabeirou, Agriculture lead, CRS-GIRMA
Bassirou Gaoh, Scientific Officer, ICRISAT-WCA
Bouba Traore, Global Research Program on Resilient Farm and Food System ICRISAT-WCA
Marked by hyperinflation and battered by several years of drought, Zimbabwe’s troubled economy took a hit for the worse as the country scrambled to contain COVID-19. The cities and their inhabitants, always having borne the brunt of economic instability and the accompanying political disruption, watched as the unemployment rate spiralled out of control, with limited public investments in services such as health, education and nutrition and industrial production hit record low after the national lockdown took effect.
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Informal sector activities (access to delivery services, markets and consumers), which are lifelines of cities and major contributors to the national GDP, contributing to about 76% to total employment, came to a standstill. The declining health, food and income security of the city dweller brought to light the plight of the vulnerable urban household dependent on informal markets for food and income. An estimated 40% of Zimbabwe’s population was deemed extremely poor at the onset of the pandemic, and its cities were already witnessing runaway rates of poverty.
An AgMIP study 1 conducted by researchers at ICRISAT, Columbia University and Oregon State University, shows how, and how much, the restrictions to slow the pandemic hurt the Zimbabwean urban household. Inability to get to work, and reduced economic activity, caused incomes to decline, resulting in reduced ability to pay for basic needs like food, health care and education. Where food was available, steeply rising prices constrained access and diversity as consumers opted for the cheapest available option, which more often than not lacked nutrition, or was unsafe. Furthermore, the food supply itself was disrupted, limiting access to food. Many informal and commercial food markets closed. Farmers were restricted in production and delivery of produce to the market.
The restrictions on movement during the pandemic led to negative social impacts on children, who were without school, and women, who constitute a majority of people engaged in informal food vending. Female-headed households, which comprise 40% of the study sample, were found to be particularly vulnerable due to an increased burden to generate income and meet nutrition demands of the household.
Differentiated impacts of COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a broad range of impacts in Zimbabwe. The effects were disproportionally severe on women (Figure 1). The impacts have affected almost all dimensions of livelihoods and most likely have either magnified the effects of the pre-pandemic crises and/or constrained the recovery from those crises that should have begun to occur due to good climatic conditions during the 2020/2021 growing season.
About 90% of the surveyed households reported a decrease in income over the first year of closures and mobility restrictions. For households that produce agricultural products and vend, the decrease was a result mainly of travel restrictions and closure of formal and informal markets. Lower incomes reduced purchasing power and had other ramifications.
About 90% of the sampled households reported consuming less food. The proportion of households that reduced the number and size of meals as a coping strategy increased by 30 percentage points. There is a similar increase in the proportion of households that switched to less preferred and less diverse, less nutritious diets. Households increased the consumption of maize-based foods, which are cheap but low in nutrition, and reduced consumption of protein foods, such as legumes, meat, eggs, and milk-based products.
A relatively small percentage of households increased their reliance on strategies to cope with declining incomes and food supplies. However, many of these strategies may have long-term consequences for livelihoods. Selling assets, depleting savings, and increasing debt pose a potentially long-term threat to livelihoods. Sale of productive assets can lead to lower capacity to earn income in future seasons, and increased financial stress can cause households, especially agricultural households, to invest less in production, further reducing incomes. Such ripple effects can lead to, or worsen existing, poverty traps.
The impacts of the pandemic were not distributed equally. Peri-urban areas and rural neighbourhoods near towns were most likely to experience widespread changes in livelihoods. However, some of the most severe effects on access to food occurred in remote rural areas, though they were not widespread.
The changes in income and food security levels exacerbated an already precarious situation of a preexisting low level of income and assets, which were depleted by several poor growing seasons and an ongoing economic crisis, and the pandemic may have impeded an opportunity to improve livelihoods after the previous crises. The 2020/2021 growing season brought good rainfall and the government implemented a program to provide seeds to support crop production. Our data show that some farmers in the study had access to the input support program since the amount of land planted with maize and sorghum increased on average and farmers used more inputs. The expectation was that the harvest would be a good one after several years of drought and some analyses do show increases in crop production. However, the evidence for the change in crop production in our study does not indicate improvement.
The percentage of households that reported decline in production and harvest increased by about 10% from 47% in 2020 to 56% in 2021, and about the same percentage reported reductions in farm income in 2020 and in 2021.
The pandemic may not be the only reason why farmers may not have benefited as much as expected from the good growing season. The climate conditions differed across the country during the season and southern Zimbabwe experienced erratic rains and significant pest problems. The government support program may not have been implemented consistently across the country.
At the same time, our analysis suggests that the pandemic is likely to have contributed to the lack of improvement and further erosion in livelihoods as a result of restrictions on movement and closures of stores and markets imposed during the pandemic. While the measures may have limited the spread of disease, they increased food insecurity and poverty. The restrictions ignored the essential role of the informal economy as a source of livelihoods and a safety net for majority of the population and the food value chain as an essential service.
The response to the pandemic and development efforts more generally may have been more effective if they recognized that differences in conditions across contexts require appropriately differentiated approaches. A more nuanced approach that maintained precautions, for example by moving markets outdoors and maintaining distance between stalls, especially in areas that are most reliant on the informal economy, may have contained the pandemic without some of the adverse effects, including effects on health through lack of food, nutrition, and access to health care.
Government, development and aid organizations need to work on well-coordinated multistakeholder processes to transform agriculture and food systems in Zimbabwe. Researchbacked empirical evidence is urging shifting from maize monocropping towards diversifying into small grains, legume food and feed crops, given the growing vulnerability of maize to extreme weather induced by climate change.
With an eye on achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, chiefly those of food, nutrition, health and environmental sustainability, there is a need to pilot more climate-resilient and nutrient-dense food value chains, with enhanced policy implementation, and context specificity in the agriculture sector.
Enhance local, inclusive markets for nutritious foods
Localized, inclusive, and nutritious food markets could integrate farmers and consumers better into the economy, expanding their access to a range of coping strategies during shocks. Diversifying coping strategies could help to avoid the more severe vulnerabilities, such as not having access to food for entire days on a weekly basis. Expanding markets is not sufficient; it needs to be combined with localized support networks that supply and respond to local information about deprivation.
Social protection and economic development needs to support these localized food markets. The current social protection efforts instituted in Zimbabwe focus on financial compensation for selected vulnerable groups consisting of a paltry ZWL200 which is far below the estimated food basket per household estimated at ZWL6000. Social protection can effectively support food value chains, enabling continued access to food by vulnerable households.
Promote investment in nutritious food value chains and food environments
Developing value chains for locally produced small grains, which are more climate-resilient and nutrient-dense than maize, complemented by legumes and other drought tolerant crops, may reduce the exposure to multiple food shocks.
This requires a change in policies and increases in public investments to encourage the growing or purchase of small grains and legumes whether for food, feed, and/or enrichment of the soil. Legumes do not feature in current policies, yet they would support improved soil fertility, feed, farm income and nutrition. There is also a need to invest in multigrain mills operated by farmers and small-to-medium businesses. Such investment will help to increase the reliability and value of locally produced small grains and legumes, resulting in the growth of sustainable jobs, with the promotion and uptake of the resilient and highly nutritious crops. It also allows for urban dietary diversification to be linked with nearby rural supply chains.
Sustain and support context specific informal economies
The informal economy is a safety net for providing income, food security, and employment for the large majority of the population. Therefore, supporting the informal sector during normal times and in coping with shocks should be a priority for policy.
The informal economy is essential to livelihoods during regular times and provides flexible coping strategies during recovery from shocks. Policies protecting and facilitating transactions in the informal economy will accelerate recoveries and improve their outcomes. For example, keeping outdoor markets open or moving markets outdoors whilst ensuring COVID-19 social distancing, hygiene and mask measures will help to avoid large shortfalls in incomes by vendors and traders, and ensure continuous supply of (nutritious) food for consumers.
Zimbabwe should develop an adaptive policy framework in responding to different types of crises that impact food and nutritional security to enable a quick recovery. Flexible and adaptive policies and administration can be achieved in different ways but could include some of the following features: (i) widely shared information about human health, food markets and climatic conditions to facilitate government response to potential shortfalls of food, guiding the distribution of cash transfers and in-kind support, and to guide decisions by farmers, processors, and food distributors. (ii) more support to the local economy, agricultural and food markets. Armed with correct information, producers and distributors would be able to move food from areas of surplus to areas of deficit, while also securing profits, and allowing consumers to access food.
Co-authors: Homann-Kee Tui, S. (ICRISAT, email@example.com), M. Madajewicz (Columbia), C. Hambloch (ICRISAT), C. Mutter (Columbia), R. Valdivia (Oregon State), B. Bafana (Journalist)
Acknowledgments: This work was carried out with financial support from the International Development Research Centre, Ottawa, Canada Climate to Columbia University as a supplemental award (#109204-002) to the AgMIP (Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement) ‘A-Teams’ project award (#109204-001). The IDRC award also supported partners at ICRISAT and Oregon State University. The article reflects the perspectives of the authors, not necessarily those of their respective institutions. Special thanks to Kennedy Famba for pandemic photography, and to Rohit Pillandi (ICRISAT) for editing.
1. AgMIP CLARE – Covid-19 cascading impacts: Re-shaping staple food value chains in Zimbabwe. Interviewed were 600 randomly selected households in urban and rural sites in Bulawayo and Bulilima, Chiredzi and Nkayi Districts)
Bhoochetana: Reviving Soils for Agriculture
Authors: Chander G, Dixit S and Sawargaonkar G
Published: In: Mapping the Nutrient Status of Odisha’s Soils. ICRISAT, Hyderabad, pp. 1-6.
Soil Sampling and Analysis
Authors: Chander G and Choudhari P
Published: Mapping the Nutrient Status of Odisha’s Soils. ICRISAT, Hyderabad, India, pp. 1-19.
Developing Soil Test-based Fertilizer Recommendations
Authors: Chander G, Choudhari P, Sawargaonkar G, Mishra A and Nayak RK
Published: Mapping the Nutrient Status of Odisha’s Soils. ICRISAT, Hyderabad, India, pp. 1-49
Management of Acidic Soils
Authors: Mishra A, Nayak RK, Chander G, Reddy M and Choudhari P
Published: ICRISAT, Hyderabad, India, pp. 1-55.
substitution of Chemical Fertilizer with Organic Fertilizer Affects Soil Total Nitrogen and Its Fractions in Northern China
Authors: Hossain ME, Mei X, Zhang W, Dong W, Yan Z, Liu X, Saxena RK, Gopalakrishnan S and Liu E
Published: International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 18 (12848). pp. 1-15. ISSN 1661-7827
Impact of Tillage and Residue Management on Sustainable Food and Nutritional Security
Authors: Aditi K, Chander G, Laxminarayana P, Wani SP, Narender Reddy S and Padmaja G
Published: International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences, 8 (10). pp. 1742-1750. ISSN 2319-7692
Mainstreaming of Women in Watersheds Is Must for Enhancing Family Income
Authors: Chander G, Wani SP, Prasad Rao DS, Sudi RR and Rao CS
Published: Springer Nature, Switzerland, pp. 189-202. ISBN 978-3-030-29917-0
Soil management for Sustained and Higher Productivity in the Adarsha Watershed
Authors: Chander G, Wani SP, Sudi R, Pardhasaradhi G and Pathak P
Published: Community and Climate Resilience in the Semi-Arid Tropics (TSI).
Springer Nature, Switzerland, pp. 49-63. ISBN 978-3-030-29917-0
Oral toxicity evaluation of probiotic strains isolated from Finger millet [Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn.] in Wistar rat models (in vivo)
Authors: Divisekera DM, Samarasekera JKR, Hettiarachchi C, Maharjan R, Gooneratne J,
Iqbal Choudhary M, Gopalakrishnan S, Wahab A and Mazumdar SD
Published: Archives of Ecotoxicology, 3 (3). pp. 91-102. ISSN 2644-4747
India–Africa partnerships for food security and capacity building
Authors: Chakravarty A, Whitbread AM, Gaur PM, Selvaraj A, Mazumdar SD, Philroy J, Durgalla P,
Mane H and Sharma KK
Published: International Political Economy Series. Springer Nature, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 73-93.
Utility and triggers in pptake of agricultural weather and climate information services in Senegal, West Africa
Authors: Ouedraogo I, Diouf NS, Ablouka G, Zougmoré RB and Whitbread AM
Published: Atmosphere (TSI), 12 (11). pp. 1-14. ISSN 2073-4433
Addressing iron and zinc micronutrient malnutrition through nutrigenomics in pearl millet: Advances and prospects
Authors: Srivastava RK, Satyavathi CT, Mahendrakar MD, Singh RB, Kumar S, Govindaraj M and
Published: Frontiers in Genetics (TSI), 12 (723472). pp. 1-9. ISSN 1664-8021
Meghdoot – A mobile app to access location-specific weather-based agro-advisories pan India
Authors: Dhulipala RK, Gogumalla P, Rao KPC, Palanisamy R, Smith A, Nagaraji S, Rao SA, Vishnoi L, Singh KK, Bhan SC and Whitbread AM
Published: Working Paper. CGIAR.
Analysis of rainfall variability and trends for better climate risk management in the major
agro-ecological zones in Tanzania
Authors: Joseph JE, Rao KPC, Swai E, Ngwira AR, Rötter RP and Whitbread AM
Published: Working Paper. CGIAR.
Impact tracking: A practitioner-developed approach to scaling agricultural innovation in Ethiopia
Authors: Child K, Desta G, Douthwaite B, Haileslassie A, Van Rooyen A, Tamene L and Uhlenbrook S
Published: Project Report. International Water Management Institute, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Comparative advantage of newly-released varieties of groundnut in Tanzania
Authors: Akpo E, Bakari H, Lukurugu GA, Daudi H, Muricho G, Minja A, Nzunda J, Ojiewo C and Varshney RK
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Policy options for enhancing quality groundnut seed production and delivery systems in Tanzania
Authors: Akpo A, Mwalongo S, Lukurugu GA, Daudi H, Muricho G, Minja A, Nzunda J, Ojiewo C and Varshney RK
Published: [Policy Briefs]
Priority interventions for transformational change in the Sahel
Authors: Abberton M, Abdoulaye T, Arinloye DA, Asiedu R, Ayantunde A, Bayala J, Cofie O, Jalloh A,
Kane Potaka J, Lamien N, Tabo R, Tenkouano A, Tepa-Yotto G, Whitbread A, Worou O, Zougmore R and Zwart S
Published: CGIAR working paper
Genome-wide miRNAs profiles of pearl millet under contrasting high vapor pressure deficit reveal their functional roles in drought stress adaptations
Authors: Palakolanu SR, Gupta S, Yeshvekar RK, Chakravartty N, Kaliamoorthy S, Shankhapal AR, Vempati AS, Kuriakose B, Lekkala SP, Philip M, Perumal RC, Lachagari VBR and Bhatnagar-Mathur P
Published: Physiologia Plantarum (TSI). pp. 1-17. ISSN 0031-9317
Functional characterization of the promoter of pearl millet heat shock protein 10 (PgHsp10) in response to abiotic stresses in transgenic tobacco plants
Authors: Kummari D, Bhatnagar-Mathur P, Sharma KK, Vadez V and Palakolanu SR
Published: International Journal of Biological Macromolecules (TSI), 156. pp. 103-110. ISSN 0141-8130
Overexpression of RNA-binding bacterial chaperones in rice leads to stay-green phenotype, improved yield and tolerance to salt and drought stresses
Authors: Guddimalli R, Somanaboina AK, Palle SR, Edupuganti S, Kummari D, Palakolanu SR,
Naravula J, Gandra J, Qureshi IA, Marka N, Polavarapu R and Kishor PB
Published: Physiologia Plantarum (TSI). pp. 1-18. ISSN 0031-9317
Functional characterization of late embryogenesis abundant genes and promoters in pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum L.) for abiotic stress tolerance
Authors: Divya K, Palakolanu SR, Kavi Kishor P, Rajesh AS, Vadez V, Sharma KK and Mathur PB
Published: Physiologia Plantarum (TSI). pp. 1-13. ISSN 0031-9317
Co-inoculation of Bacillus spp. for growth promotion and iron fortification in sorghum
Authors: Manasa M, Ravinder P, Gopalakrishnan S, Srinivas V, Sayyed RZ, El Enshasy HA, Yahayu M,
Kee Zuan AT, Kassem HS and Hameeda B
Published: Sustainability (TSI), 13 (21). pp. 1-14. ISSN 2071-1050
Characterization of rhizobia isolated from leguminous plants and their impact on the growth of
ICCV 2 variety of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.)
Authors: Mir MI, Kumar BK, Gopalakrishnan S, Vadlamudi S and Hameeda B
Published: Heliyon (TSI), 7 (11). pp. 1-13. ISSN 2405-8440