March
Issue No: 1896
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High level meetings


Mr Mohamed Ould Mahmoud (far left), Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries with Dr Ramadjita Tabo (far right) during the visit to sorghum experiment plots. Photo: N Diakité, ICRISAT

Mr Mohamed Ould Mahmoud (far left), Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries with Dr Ramadjita Tabo (far right) during the visit to sorghum experiment plots. Photo: N Diakité, ICRISAT

Mali Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries keen on stronger research partnerships to benefit farmers nationwide

This is something we needed to know about, support, promote and make better known at the national level in order to benefit to the maximum,” said Minister Mohamed Ould Mahmoud while on a visit to the ICRISAT research station in Samanko with a group of high-level members of the Malian Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. The Minister commended the organization’s contribution to sorghum, millet and legumes research for food and fodder security and the role of the genebank in protecting the crops’ genetic resources in the region.

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“Our immediate priority is to prepare for the 2021-22 agricultural cropping season. I have seen the different promising varieties that have the potential to improve the productivity of both crops and livestock,” said the Minister following a tour of the ongoing trials and interaction with scientists. The field visit included a tour of the cold rooms for sorghum and groundnut seed storage, the pathology and aflatoxin laboratory, which particularly captured his attention, and the sorghum and groundnut experimentation plots of improved varieties.

Upon arrival at the research station, the Minister met with Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Research Program Director, West and Central Africa, and watched with great interest a film on ICRISAT at 2022, a year that marks the 50th anniversary of the institute. A second video on the Smart Food initiative drew his attention on the need to promote and adopt improved varieties that are climate resilient and nutri-dense.

Excellent working environment, with a determined, committed and innovative ICRISAT team that records research results to boost production and promote millets and sorghumbased Smart Food.
Mr Mohamed Ould Mahmoud, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, remarks in the guestbook.

In response to the videos and Dr Tabo’s presentation, the Minister reiterated the crucial place and role of millet and sorghum in Mali, the important role research plays and the benefit that Mali can derive from partnering with a center of excellence such as ICRISAT. He reassured ICRISAT of continued support in all areas of research operations in Mali.

The delegation toured the facilities (cold seed stores, labs and fields) and experiments of hosted institutions at Samanko, including the World Agroforestry Centre and the World Vegetable Center. They were briefly introduced to the staff of the International Livestock Research Institute, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Before leaving the research station, the Minister and his team were served smart food products as refreshment. The visit ended with a stop at the Tubaniso Agribusiness Incubation Center, a former United States Peace Corps training center maintained by ICRISAT.

The Minister visited the ICRISAT research station at Samanko, Mali, on February 16, while on a tour of various agricultural training and production facilities, and the Joint India-Mali Venture for assembling tractors at Samanko. He was accompanied by members of his Cabinet, notably Mr Lassine Dembele, the Secretary General to the Ministry and Mr Oumar Tamboura, the Director General of Agriculture, and other high-official members of the Ministry.

Excellent working environment, with a determined, committed and innovative ICRISAT team that records research results to boost production and promote millets and sorghum-based Smart Food.

Mr Mohamed Ould Mahmoud, Minister of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, remarks in the guestbook.

Read more about our work in Mali on EXPLOREit

Link to video about the visit by Mali’s National TV: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cKczRmVPO70

Reported by:
Agathe Diama, Head Regional Information, Smart Food Coordinator, ICRISAT-West and Central Africa.


Dr Hughes addressing the gathering virtually.

Dr Hughes addressing the gathering virtually.

Celebrating a fruitful partnership that spurred a millet movement in India

If millets are regaining their lost place in Indian menus, considered as top contenders for biofuel production and validated as nutritious fodder for cattle, the partnership with the ICAR-Indian Institute of Millets Research since ICRISAT’s inception in 1972 has played a significant role. The many milestones that the institutes had achieved together were shared at the 6th Foundation Day celebrations.

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Introducing the chief guest of the event, Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, Dr Vilas Tonapi, Director of ICAR-IIMR, commended the partnership between the institutes in contributing to food and nutritional security, poverty alleviation and conservation of environment in the semi-arid tropics.

Dr Tonapi said that products and technologies that emerged from the partnership significantly enhanced sorghum productivity from 467 kg/ha in 1970 to 1051 kg/ha in 2020, while stover productivity increased from 7 t/ha to 11 t/ha indicating the dual advantage of the crop. Acknowledging the role of Dr Ashok Kumar, Principal Scientist and Product Placement Lead –Asia, in taking the partnership to the next level, Dr Tonapi said that the collaboration facilitated modernizing the breeding programs, testing networks, building capacities and sharing knowledge globally. To mark the event, a joint publication Sorghum in the 21st Century: Food – Fodder – Feed – Fuel for a Rapidly Changing World was released.

Presenting the Foundation Day address, Dr Jacqueline Hughes commended the effort of both organizations in taking the partnership to the next level for enhancing food and nutritional security and for empowering women and youth in providing innovative solutions for benefitting farmers. Physical proximity, material exchange and intellectual engagement since the beginning helped both the institutions in making significant progress in improved products development and their delivery, she said. Deploying best of germplasm and sharing phenomic and genomic tools and services were mutually benefitting. Sharing genebank materials wherein 55% of the material shared by ICRISAT went to Indian NARS was mentioned.

Dr Hughes said that both organizations are keen to modernize their breeding programs for enhancing genetic gains and varietal replacement rate. Towards this, both organizations have jointly developed product profiles, optimized breeding pipelines and are sharing locations for early generation testing of products, deploying data driven decisions for product advancement and recycling.  Identification of homogeneous environments and sharing the materials across continents led to the release of sorghum varieties Macia, Isiap Dorado and CSV 13 in a number of countries and the most promising hybrid and national check CSH24 MF in forage sorghum. She credited the institutes for releasing and taking biofortified pearl millet ‘Dhanshakti’ to the farmers.

Dr Hughes mentioned the ICRISAT-IIMR collaboration in biofuel research and commercialization with industry partners that led to significant breakthroughs such as providing an evidence base for policy makers to include sweet sorghum as an alternative feedstock for biofuel production in the National Policy of Biofuels – 2018, by the Government of India.  More recently, the dry biomass of sweet sorghum yielded 50% higher biogas compared to an equal quantity of paddy straw under anaerobic digestion as demonstrated by Ahuja Industries Ltd, Hyderabad, whose work was highlighted by Mr Narendra Modi, Prime Minister of India, in his latest ‘Mann-Ki-Baat’ program (31 January 2021).

The Nutri-hubs, Center of Excellence and Smart Food initiatives by both organizations received special mention. In India and across the globe, millets are finding place in consumers’ diets and attracting entrepreneurs. Both the organizations are gearing up for the proposed UN International Year of Millets in 2023.

The ICAR-IIMR Foundation Day was celebrated virtually on 9 February.

Feature stories


Pigeonpea is traditionally grown in Southern Malawi. Women here own land and take farming decisions. Photo: NVPR Ganga Rao, ICRISAT

Pigeonpea is traditionally grown in Southern Malawi. Women here own land and take farming decisions. Photo: NVPR Ganga Rao, ICRISAT

Climate-smart pigeonpea sparks phenomenal expansion across Malawi

A whopping 49% increase in cropping area, 153 % increase in production and 68 % increase in productivity since 2000 – these numbers show the phenomenal expansion of pigeonpea in Malawi sparked by wilt-resistant medium-duration varieties developed by ICRISAT scientists. The new varieties provided a sustainable solution to farmers affected by the dwindling ‘Chiperoni’ rains in Southern Malawi, a traditional pigeonpea growing area.

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A decade ago, the women of the region (women own land in Southern Malawi where matriarchy is predominant) celebrated the new variety that thrived despite a shorter rainy season and brought in a quicker harvest, however, few fathomed the ripple effect of this climate-smart innovation. The new varieties led to a phenomenal expansion of the crop across the country to areas where the crop was not traditionally grown.

The expansion: From the South, the crop moved to the central region. The medium-duration variety proved to be the right fit for the agro-livestock system of farming common Central Malawi. Intercropping of maize and medium duration pigeonpea ensured that the livestock farmers adopted this climate-resilient crop that also improved soil health by fixing Nitrogen in the soil. The medium duration variety found favor with the livestock farmers as early harvests facilitated longer free grazing for cattle. Northern Malawi experiences low rainfall during the short-growing season and the medium-duration variety fit the agro-ecological needs of the region. The phenomenal expansion of the crop in Malawi was observed and documented using geo-spatial tools.

In Central Malawi, medium-duration pigeonpea fit well into the existing agro-livestock system. Photo: NVPR Ganga Rao, ICRISAT

In Central Malawi, medium-duration pigeonpea fit well into the existing agro-livestock system. Photo: NVPR Ganga Rao, ICRISAT

The impact of climate-resilient pigeonpea on farmers lives

 “Our good choices have saved us from disaster. Farming is so risky, especially here in Malawi. We have to diversify in the right ways so we survive whatever the weather is.” Farmer John Msuku from Northern Malawi

Drivers of the expansion: Medium duration of 16-180 days compared to the previous 220-240 days was a key trait that breeders incorporated into pigeonpea cultivars. Other traits that led to the expansion of the crop include resistance to Fusarium Wilt (endemic to the Southern regions), lesser photo-period sensitivity that led to the crops adaptability in agro-ecologies with variable day lengths, disease resistance  and market-preferred traits such as bold cream seeds. Capacity building by ICRISAT on best agricultural practices led to increased yields and better incomes. Introducing ratooning let to double harvest for half the effort. ICRISAT’s genomic scientists are using advanced tools to come up with superior varieties to address problems in pigeonpea production at a much quicker pace.

File photo of ICRISAT scientists at work in a genomics lab.

File photo of ICRISAT scientists at work in a genomics lab.

Double the gains from ratooning

Ratooning involves taking advantage of pigeonpea’s perennial life cycle, whereby a farmer harvests from the same pigeonpea plants for two successive years. Peter Mwangofi a pigeonpea farmer from Karonga district in Malawi harvested about two times what he harvested during the previous season.

Other drivers that contributed to the expansion include policy support such as subsidized seed and inputs provided by the government and the seed revolving fund model fostered by ICRISAT. Having a strong seed system in place played an important role as farmers gained access to quality breeder and foundation seed. Malawi became synonymous with quality pigeonpea production and the Malawi ‘brand’ unfailingly fetched a premium price in neighboring Kenya and other East African countries. About 13 dal (split gram) mills have been set up to meet the Asian diaspora needs and also to cater to the local populace.

Seed revolving fund model wins accolades

“ICRISAT is a role model for other agricultural institutions in the country. Through ICRISAT’s initiatives, legume seed of improved varieties particularly groundnut and pigeonpea have been made available in the market and are easily accessible to farmers.” Mr Nesimu Nyama, Secretary General, Seed Trade Association of Malawi.

Focus on nutrition: Two-thirds of Malawi’s pigeonpea production is consumed locally and the nutrition aspects of the crop are well recognized. ICRISAT scientists are working on products capitalizing on the nutrition aspect and creating a market demand for ready-to-eat products that in turn create a market pull for the crop.

Ready-to-eat products in the making. Photo: G Wanjiku, ICRISAT

Ready-to-eat products in the making. Photo: G Wanjiku, ICRISAT

The success of pigeonpea in Malawi has spread to similar agro-ecologies in Zambia and Mozambique. Requests for germplasm adaptability testing and suitability to local agro-ecologies have been coming in from West and Central Africa. An expansion beyond Malawi is waiting to happen.

Varieties released since 2009 that contributed to the phenomenal expansion in Malawi

Variety Release year Maturity Key traits
Mwaiwathu Alimi (ICEAP 00557) 2010 Medium duration Wilt resistant
Chitedze pigeonpea 1 (ICEAP 01514/15) 2011 Medium duration High pod load
Chitedze pigeonpea 2 (ICEAP 01485/3) 2014 Medium duration Wilt resistant

Read more about pigeonpea in Eastern and Southern Africa on EXPLOREit

Contributing scientist: NVPR Ganga Rao, Product Placement Lead Eastern & Southern Africa Program, written by Jemima Mandapati

Projects that contributed to the growth:

  1. Tropical Legumes- II
  2. Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP)
  3. Irish Aid Malawi
  4. CGIAR Research Program onGrain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger good-health 4-gender-equality 7-decent-work 13-climate-action 17-partnerships-goals 


(L to R) Mr Gerald M Kusaya, Permanent Secretary of The Ministry of Agriculture, Tanzania, releasing the special journal issue during a National Policy Dialogue held in Dodoma, December 2020. Also in the photo Mr Abel Songole (ESRF), Dr Anthony Whitbread ICRISAT and Dr Makarius Mdemu, Ardhi University. Photo: Ardhi University

(L to R) Mr Gerald M Kusaya, Permanent Secretary of The Ministry of Agriculture, Tanzania, releasing the special journal issue during a National Policy Dialogue held in Dodoma, December 2020. Also in the photo Mr Abel Songole (ESRF), Dr Anthony Whitbread ICRISAT and Dr Makarius Mdemu, Ardhi University. Photo: Ardhi University

Simple interventions embedded in a wider learning environment lead to big gains and systemic changes

Impressive project findings from the use of the two synergistic interventions – Smart Water Management tools and Agricultural Innovation Platforms – published in the special Issue of the International Journal of Water Resources Development reveal big gains accrued from using simple technologies embedded in a wider learning environment. Some of the immediate outcomes reported from project sites in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe pointed to increased crop yields ranging from 28-313 %, income increase of 43-94% in farmer households, 43–60% increase in off-farm income due to less time spent irrigating and 40–85% of farmers reducing their irrigation frequency.

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The research for development project titled “Transforming smallholder irrigation into profitable and self-sustaining systems through outscaling in southern Africa (TISA)” is based on the premise that the transition from subsistence- to business-focused farming is essential to maintain infrastructure for sustainable irrigation. To achieve this, it is critical to consider irrigation schemes as complex systems, where simple linear interventions will not result in sustained development, and working exclusively with farmers is insufficient. It is critical to identify the most effective leverage points in these systems to start the process of change at the scheme level and interact with higher political levels to support systemic change.

Lead farmers from Kiwere irrigation scheme near Iringa, Tanzania, demonstrating the use of Smart Water Management tools. Photo: A Whitbread, ICRISAT

Lead farmers from Kiwere irrigation scheme near Iringa, Tanzania, demonstrating the use of Smart Water Management tools. Photo: A Whitbread, ICRISAT

The project utilized two separate interventions to investigate what leverage points could change farmer behaviors to transform schemes with continuous improvement for profitability and sustainability:

  • Introducing Smart Water Management tools (the Chameleon and the FullStop Wetting Front Detector) to facilitate farmer’s learning about soil moisture and nutrient management; and
  • Agricultural Innovation Platforms to bring together irrigators and stakeholders to generate a vision for the scheme and identify barriers to higher profitability, actions to overcome them and who to best implement them.

This is the project’s second special issue, following on the first issue that was published in 2017. The agricultural water management research presented in this second special issue shows that application of simple-to-use soil monitoring tools provided critical information for farmer learning, facilitating decision-making and learning about soil-water-nutrient dynamics that led to improved water productivity. The farmers increased their crop production using the tools and better irrigation infrastructure. Learning was a critical contributor to the project’s impacts with individual farmers learning by holding soil monitoring tools in their hands, making immediate and informed decisions. This led to experimentation and further adaptation. Farmers retained nutrients in the root zone by reducing irrigation frequency, number of siphons, and event duration.

The Agricultural Innovation Platform processes reinforced this learning and innovation by connecting farmers to new information sources as well as to input and output markets, leading to increased farmers’ income and overall well-being. At other scales, farmer organizations and local governments learnt, as did extension officers and government officials, leading to systemic changes.

Together, these interventions fostered the development of positive feedback loops in the complex irrigation systems. To bring about large-scale systemic changes in smallholder irrigation in Africa, there must be a move from linear technical approaches (such as fixing hardware only) towards more holistic systems approaches that require understanding the incentives for change (for all actors, but farmers in particular). This project clearly illustrates that there are relatively simple interventions to increase water productivity, reduce nutrient leaching, and increase crop yields and profitability, but only if these technologies are embedded in a wider learning environment where other important feedback mechanisms, such as labor constraints and market opportunities, are addressed.

Project title: “Increasing Irrigation Water Productivity in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zimbabwe through on-Farm Monitoring, Adaptive Management and Agricultural Innovation Platforms” renamed “Transforming Irrigation in Southern Africa”

Funders: Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), Australian National University (ANU), the University of South Australia (UniSA) and the CGIAR Research Program on Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE).

Partners: Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), National Institute of Irrigation, Mozambique (INIR), Ardhi University in Tanzania and Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FARNPAN) and ICRISAT.

CRP: Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE)

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
11-sustainable-cities 12-responisible-consumtion 15-life-onland 17-partnerships-goals 


A survey team member interviewing a farmer in Ananthapuramu, Andhra Pradesh.

A survey team member interviewing a farmer in Ananthapuramu, Andhra Pradesh. Photo: ICRISAT

New study fills critical gap in understanding pandemic impact on food value chains and offers solutions

In a new paper in the journal Sustainability, ICRISAT researchers analyzed the double burden of the COVID-19 pandemic on farmers in a leading groundnut producing state in South India. Results showed that farm production and marketing disruptions led to an average 50% drop in household incomes, an added average 23% rise in farm input costs and increased food prices drove farmers into debt and contributed to poor nutrition. Farmer losses snowballed to processors, input dealers and marketers in the value chain with varying impact. The losses could have lessened with better storage facilities, market information, public distribution system policies and farmer collectives, said the study.

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A survey team member interviewing a farmer in Ananthapuramu, Andhra Pradesh. Photo: ICRISAT

A survey team member interviewing a farmer in Ananthapuramu, Andhra Pradesh. Photo: ICRISAT

Significance of the study

Most assessments on the impact of COVID-19 on food systems in India have been generic and have focused at the level of macroeconomic impact. There is an urgent need to gather evidence of impact on specific commodities to enable researchers to make accurate assessments on food value chains and livelihoods of various actors involved.

The study had a total of 264 respondents (133 women; 131 men) comprising of different actors along the groundnut value chain in Ananthapuramu district of Andhra Pradesh State. The State is one of the leading producers of groundnut in the country. Groundnut is also a major crop grown in the region where ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform and the Accion Fraterna Ecology Centre are working together to improve livelihoods of 6000 farmers as part of the project “Accelerating value chain benefits for improved income for farmers and nutrition for consumers”.

Methodology

The researchers employed a case study approach to assess COVID-19 impact on –

  • Smallholders’ livelihood
  • Crop production
  • Agri-input dealers
  • Processors
  • Marketing
  • Food environment

In the paper, the researchers report that COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the strain that rural communities in this drought-prone region experience. The COVID-19 impact pathways are many, and it varies for different actors in the groundnut value chain. The most affected actors in the chain are farmers, village-level aggregators and primary processors.

Key results

  • COVID-19 created a “double burden” on farmers. Their household incomes declined up to 50% due to disruptions in farm operations and marketing of their farm produce. This was coupled with a steep rise in farm input costs (average 23%) and food prices resulting in increased household expenditure and decreased dietary diversity.
  • Farmers’ stored produce and the public distribution system that supplied staples like rice, wheat, sugar and pulses to some extent ensured their food supply. However, this also compromised their nutritional security during the pandemic.
  • The farmers reported significant uncertainty about the future. The majority (54%) of the households borrowed money by paying an average 22% interest per annum. Besides, they mortgaged their assets such as home, jewellery, livestock, machinery and land.
  • Disruptions in post-production supply chain were due to lack of transport, storage infrastructure, market intelligence, and poor market linkages. With reduced business, there was a reduction in the income of all the actors in the supply chain (input dealers, brokers and processors). For farmers, an increase in the input price, reduction in the commodity prices, and post-harvest losses were major concerns.
  • Restrictions on interstate transport, labor shortage, input price volatility, pressure from input supplying companies to pay previous outstanding bills and demand for inputs on a credit basis from farmers placed input dealers under immense pressure. They lost their income from business by up to 75% during the pandemic. Overhead costs of input shops such as rent, electricity charges and higher wages for the labor added to their expenditure.
  • Village-level brokers and primary processors were also affected by the pandemic. About 75% of the brokers reported that the pandemic affected their economic activities, leading to losses and 88% of the primary processors were unable to buy materials from farmers or village-level brokers which affected supply to their buyers further down the value chain.

Recommendations

Currently, Indian agriculture is witnessing many marketing related reforms. These reforms aim to enhance the efficiency of agricultural value chains, ensure increased farmer participation and help them gain control over their income and livelihood. Thus, based on the evidence gathered by this study, the researchers recommend the following interventions:

  • Encourage farmers’ collectives that have the potential to reduce transaction costs (logistics, inputs, extension, etc.) for small and marginal farmers.
  • Strong policies to develop infrastructure in strategic places such as storage, cold chains and pack houses.
  • Develop digital platforms and its efficient use in making value chains more competitive, inclusive, sustainable and scalable.

ICRISAT and AFEC are well-placed to develop evidence-based, crop-specific inclusive value chain models through farmer collectives. Through this work, the researchers hope to contribute specific evidence from a critical food crop for a better understanding of COVID-19 impact on Indian food systems and to contribute to India’s policy-making to mitigate the impact of pandemics and other such disasters.

Link to the publication: https://doi.org/10.3390/su13041707

Read more about groundnut on EXPLOREit

Authors:

Ravi Nandi, Associate Scientist-Socioeconomics/Agricultural Economics, ICRISAT

S Nedumaran, Senior Scientist – Economics, ICRISAT

Project: Accelerating value chain benefits for improved income for farmers and nutrition for consumers

Partners: ICRISAT, Accion Fraterna Ecology Centre (AFEC) NGO, Ananthapuramu

Funding: Walmart Foundation

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals Flagship Program 2 (FP2): Transforming Agri-Food Systems

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
2-zero-hunger good-health 12-responisible-consumtion 17-partnerships-goals

Milestone


Shipment of ICRISAT mandate crops to Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Photo: ICRISAT

Shipment of ICRISAT mandate crops to Svalbard Global Seed Vault. Photo: ICRISAT

Ensuring the safety of our seeds

With the recent shipment of 3702 accessions, 91% of ICRISAT’s genebank collection has been safety duplicated at the Svalbard Global Seed Vault. The shipment included 2041 accessions of sorghum, 969 of pearl millet, 39 of pigeonpea, 221 of finger millet, 80 of groundnut and 350 of chickpea.

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As part of CGIAR Genebanks standards, at least 90% of the accessions that are “in Trust” must be safety duplicated in Svalbard. Many of the accessions are part of the Regional Genebanks collections that were sent to India for long-term conservation and for safety duplication. ICRISAT Genebank has a strict agenda on regeneration of accessions and seed multiplication as per genebank standards, to be able to not only conserve the accessions properly but also to be able to safety duplicate them.

ICRISAT Genebank has Standard Operating Procedures for all its activities. All packing and labelling were done by the genebank trained staff with special materials. The aluminium foils were developed specially for the safety duplication in Svalbard. The common ones, used in all genebanks’ long-term cold rooms have three layers. The ones used for Svalbard have four layers and last longer. These packets are then sealed in special black boxes designed for shipment to Svalbard.

Watch the Times of India reportage here

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

New video


Future-ready sorghum making headway in Asia

Investing in sorghum breeding is key to achieving Food, Nutrition, Fodder and Biofuel security in dryland regions under changing climate scenarios. Sorghum is a hardy dryland crop that can survive harsh climate and poor soils. Investments in sorghum breeding programs will be accelerated by increasing national forage demand and biofuel policy prospects in developing countries. See Video

Virtual meetings


Screenshot of the HarvestPlus-ICRISAT virtual meeting.

Screenshot of the HarvestPlus-ICRISAT virtual meeting.

Well-designed strategy drives pearl millet mainstreaming nutrition initiative

A well-designed strategy currently being implemented to develop pearl millet lines that are both high-yielding and high in iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn) was appreciated by donors and partners at a virtual review meeting attended by the leadership of HarvestPlus. Strategic studies ongoing at ICRISAT identified potential high-yielding lines that had Fe ranging from 44 to 72 ppm and Zn from 33 to 56 ppm.

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The strategy focused on –

  • Ensuring that 70-80% of the crosses have at least one parental line that is high in Fe and Zn.
  • Identifying parental lines (both seed and restorer lines) with a good combining ability for grain yield and high Fe and Zn for uptake in breeding programs.
  • Initiating trials to assess nutritional profile of pipeline and commercial hybrids of the private sector and providing market advisories to promote biofortified hybrids.
  • Supporting phenotyping of breeding material of the private sector at a highly subsidized cost.

Identifying bottlenecks, setting realistic goals 

Delivering the inaugural address, Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, reiterated ICRISAT’s commitment to mainstreaming of nutrition in pearl millet amongst other crops and acknowledged the contribution of HarvestPlus. He said that once the yield of biofortified varieties is on par with the commercial check, more and more private sector entities would be vying for it. In the context of increased incidence of Zn deficiency in soils, Dr Wolfgang Pfeiffer Director Research and Development, Regional Director-Asia, HarvestPlus, suggested rebalancing Fe and Zn in pearl millet.

Biofortified staples and crisis preparedness

Dr Virk emphasized on the development of standard set of indicators for assessing and monitoring mainstreaming activities jointly with partners. He clarified that in the next 5-10 years targeted breeding will continue in parallel with mainstreaming and the goal is to meet 2 billion consumers by 2030. He pointed out that 10 million farmers are growing biofortified crops and 49 million are consuming it worldwide. He presented an opportunity map of pearl millet in India based on production, consumption overlaying with micronutrient deficiency and coupled with availability of biofortified varieties. Mainstreaming challenges like, competitiveness of biofortified varieties and hybrids, mainstreaming biofortification in private sectors, number of product profiles and dual investment in target and mainstreaming breeding were discussed. He emphasized on the holistic approach to catalyze biofortified food systems and development of value chains for biofortified crops.

ICAR-ICRISAT partnership

ICRISAT’s support in the fields of genomic-assisted breeding pipelines for A1 zone*, setting the right product profiles, high seedling heat and drought tolerance among local backgrounds and the flour rancidity study was acknowledged by Dr Tara Satyavathi, Project Coordinator, All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet in her overview on the pearl millet scenario in India. She also mentioned about the nutritional evaluation of pearl millet stover of biofortified varieties/hybrids and briefed on the nutritional study conducted on different indigenous food prepared with pearl millet. (*Areas with annual rainfall less than 400mm).

Dr Harish Gandhi, Theme Leader – Crop Improvement and Interim Global Head Breeding, Asia program, ICRISAT, emphasized the importance of efforts ongoing at ICRISAT keeping in perspective the Indian mandate of Fe (> 42 ppm) and Zn (> 32 ppm) in pearl millet hybrids. He appreciated the work achieved despite pandemic restrictions and acknowledged the statistical and bioinformatics department for critical analysis of data.

Work updates

Studies indicate that pearl millet can be bred simultaneously for high yield and biofortification, said Dr S K Gupta, Principal Scientist, RP-Asia, Pearl Millet Breeding. He presented on the target product line of pearl millet in Asia and stressed on the integration of Fe and Zn with all the other traits improvement at different ecologies. He emphasized on the usage of precision micronutrient phenotypic platforms and further strengthening of public-private sector partnership for biofortification. He named some of the hybrids selected for advancement/promotion in 2020-2021 based on multi-year testing, mentioned about the evaluation of new African germplasm sources for Fe and Zn and highlighted the screening of breeding lines for Blast and Downy mildew resistance.

Dr Gupta said that based on the three-year  All India Coordinated Pearl Millet Improvement Project data across Initial and Advanced Hybrid trials, most of the hybrids met the mandate of Fe (> 42 ppm) but only few met the baseline for Zn (> 32 ppm). He called for a rethink on the benchmark for Zn in the release of pearl millet hybrids.

Towards biofortified food systems

Briefly explaining the challenges that the pandemic would bring up in terms of hunger and malnutrition, Mr Binu Cherian, Country Manager, HarvestPlus, presented on the topic “Partnerships for scaling up of Iron Pearl Millet”. He said that the partnership between HarvestPlus and the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition would help commercialize biofortified crops in India, focusing on pearl millet in Rajasthan, Maharashtra and Karnataka. He also gave an insight into the scaling up of biofortified food systems with the private sector.

Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General, ICRISAT and Executive Director, Smart Food, presented on “Smart food approach in building demand for millets”. She emphasized on the importance of diversifying staple foods and the global impact it would have. ICRISAT scientist Dr Pooja Bhatnagar Mathur, who is working on the aspect of pearl millet rancidity presented on using molecular and advanced breeding interventions.

At the review meeting, HarvestPlus pearl millet biofortification partners presented details of the 2020 trials followed by a brainstorming session on micronutrient breeding strategy.

Brainstorming session insights

  • Dr Tara Satyavathi clarified that Blast is the major rejection factor for hybrids from the private sector and any line being advanced for Fe and Zn traits must avoid lines with blast susceptibility.She pointed out to rancidity variations in biofortification material and highlighted that the biofortified varieties like Dhanshakti and AHB 1200 Fe hybrid were grouped into medium rancidity that may indicate the role of Fe chelators.
  • Dr Harish Gandhi addressed private sector partners regarding the testing of potential lines with high General Combining Ability.
  • Mahycho and Rasi Seeds partners informed that they are looking for good combiner lines and once they get it then they would go for line development. Rasi Seeds informed that some of the lines sent for micronutrient analysis to ICRISAT will be added to their biofortification program.
  • Dr S K Gupta stressed on the screening of F3/F4 progenies for Fe and Zn using XRF and spoke of the service that ICRISAT is providing.
  • Dr Virk emphasized that if in case any hybrid in the market from the private sectors are available with significant high Fe then that can be re-promoted as nutritionally-rich biofortified hybrid like in the case of Dhanshakti.
  • Dr Rajan Sharma spoke on the screening strategies for Blast at ICRISAT. In discussion with Dr Tara Satyavathi a critical point that came up is to screen lines at seedling stage for multiple pathotypes and then screen at different advanced stages preferably at 30, 45 and 60 days in order to get stable resistant sources.

In the final session of the day, the 2021 work plan was finalized in consultation with partners.

Read more on pearl millet and biofortification on EXPLOREit

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
2-zero-hunger good-health 17-partnerships-goals 


Photo: ICRISAT

Photo: ICRISAT

Youth or Young mothers? The paradox of transitions in the rural women’s lives

A global event held across 13 CGIAR centers to celebrate the International Day of Women and Girls in Science provided an opportunity for women to share their achievements, lessons learned and advice on making it as a scientist and nurturing the younger women and girls in science.

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Opening the ICRISAT section of the Marathon Spotlight event, Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, said, “Women scientists play an indispensable role in CGIAR’s mission to end hunger by 2030. As 29% of our workforce, women power our innovations. At ICRISAT, we believe that SDGs can be achieved when full and equal access to and participation in science for women and girls happens.”

The three women scientists from ICRISAT who joined the event were Dr Vania Azevedo, Head, Genebank;
Dr Pooja Bhatnagar, Theme Leader, Cell Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering; and Dr Rebbie Harawa, Research Program Director, Eastern and Southern Africa. Dr Vania presented a short video on the role of the genebank in conserving and sharing genetic material across time and regions. Dr Pooja talked about her work in creating platform technologies and advanced interventions for future traits in crop breeding pipelines, while Dr Rebbie described how in Kenya, she and her team successfully deployed agricultural advisories at the time of the pandemic-mandated lockdowns, via digital innovation systems.

Four points from Dr Jackie Hughes for Women in Science

  • Dr Jacqueline Hughes. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

    Dr Jacqueline Hughes. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

    Be confident about what you know.

  • Be yourself.
  • Make sure no one is recruited in a position just because of his/her gender.
  • Diversity is very important. Be different and revel in it.

Talking about ‘lessons learned’, Dr Pooja rated her attitude as a major determinant for her success as a researcher. “Your attitude doesn’t depend on your gender. My tenacity and persistence have helped me a lot in getting me where I am,” she said. Mentioning that women often face an “assertiveness penalty”, a backlash for being assertive, she said that over the years, she had learnt to blend assertiveness with fluidity in order to navigate this difficult path. She reiterated that women scientists should continue to assert themselves, otherwise their voices may be lost.

“In the global south, women play a very critical role in agriculture as well as in the home – taking care of nutrition, finances, education, childcare, etc. Therefore, it’s very important that we have women and girls in science, especially in this region, so that they can help apply a ‘gender lens’ to all these aspects,” said
Dr Rebbie. “The biggest challenge I see for women and girls in science is a lack of role models and mentors in this area. Women in leadership positions should encourage a culture of openness where younger women feel safe, supported and encouraged to pursue science.”

As for what organizations could do to better support women and girls in science, Dr Vania said, “I’d like to see better implementation of the gender balance rules so that there is actual change for the people on the ground,” stating that this event was a good beginning but more needed to be done. Dr Pooja felt that a cultural change was needed in organizations so as to support women in roles traditionally designed for men.

Apart from ICRISAT, other CGIAR centers also participated in the 13-hour session and as women across centers, geographies, ages and levels shared their stories, it became apparent that quality support during early career from men as well as women, can play a key role in building confidence and success later.

The event, held virtually on 11 February 2021, was organized by CGIAR’s new employee-led resource group WIRES (Women in Research and Science) and supported by CGIAR’s Gender, Diversity and Inclusion (GDI) Function. As noted by Ms Fiona Farrell, CGIAR System Senior Advisor, Gender, Diversity and Inclusion, in total, the event had 794 unique viewers, with between 100 and over 200 people being connected to the event at any moment throughout the 13 hours.

The session on ICRISAT women scientists was coordinated and moderated by Ms Agathe Diama, Head, Regional Information, Smart Food Coordinator, West and Central Africa and a Founding Member of WIRES; and Ms Rajani Kumar, Sr Communication Officer.

Lauding the efforts of the group, Dr Hughes said, “WIRES is an example of the innovative ways that we’re using to explore and advance gender diversity in our work. Beyond stereotypes, we have to increase visibility of women in science, ensuring that their voices are not just heard but listened to; their contributions recognized and valued. Events like these are easy ways for people to get together, make the workplace more fun, more informative and more connected to Gender, Diversity and Inclusion.”

Click here to watch the video of the session.

For more on ICRISAT’s work on gender equity, click here: Gender| EXPLOREit@ICRISAT

For more information on WIRES, email wires@cgiar.org

Reported by:
Rajani Kumar, Sr Communication Officer, ICRISAT


A haveli structure in Birdha village, Lalitpur district, Bundelkhand renovated under ICRISAT’s Doubling Farmers’ Income Project. Runoff from most of the upland location is harvested in the haveli, while a long core wall covered with soil and a masonry outlet facilitates excess runoff. Photo: Dr Ramesh Singh/ICRISAT

A haveli structure in Birdha village, Lalitpur district, Bundelkhand renovated under ICRISAT’s Doubling Farmers’ Income Project. Runoff from most of the upland location is harvested in the haveli, while a long core wall covered with soil and a masonry outlet facilitates excess runoff. Photo: Dr Ramesh Singh/ICRISAT

Rejuvenation in Bundelkhand: How an upland watershed got its groundwater back

The world of water management is replete with stories about traditional systems that break down, such as the one we reported in November from Karnataka, South India. Age-old, decentralized approaches to managing water and watersheds do fall apart, leaving farmers high and dry. However, a remarkable study published in the Journal of Hydrology documents just how rapidly farmers can reap the benefits when an old system is restored and enhanced.

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Researchers at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and their collaborators selected for a five-year study two degraded watersheds in the hilly, semi-arid region of Bundelkhand, which is divided between Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh in central India. Farmers in the region – a third to half of whom subsist below the poverty line – live in villages that traditionally have an earthen rainwater harvesting tank called a haveli. These havelis act as reservoirs during the monsoon (June to September), and after draining they are used for crop cultivation during the post-monsoon (October to February). By facilitating groundwater recharge the system ensures water security for households, livestock and agriculture. Farmers maintained their havelis together for hundreds of years, but many of the structures have collapsed along with the rural institutions that created them. When the monsoon comes now, rainwater quickly flows downhill. Rainfall is becoming more and more variable every year, with climate change cutting some rainy seasons down to a fraction. Yet even after a good monsoon, more than 80% of open wells soon run dry.

Bringing back the haveli system

From this rather sobering baseline analysis, the story gets much better. The researchers targeted one of the two watersheds for rejuvenation, first restoring a defunct haveli to service and upgrading its earthen wall with a concrete core for improved storage and longevity. This was just the beginning of a five-year watershed monitoring, adaptive management and resilience-building scheme. The plan extended to other low-cost rainwater harvesting structures – check dams along drainage lines, and systems of contouring and bunds in farmers’ fields – along with tree planting and crop management demonstration. The second watershed, similar in all other respects, served as an experimental control.

Watershed management is nothing new in India, where more than $14 billion has been invested since 1990 to solve the connected problems of land degradation, water scarcity and unproductive agriculture. Public programs have even made a push to repair and maintain havelis in the last two decades, although the impact was short-lived due to frequent breach. The shortfall has also been in monitoring and understanding the impact of such efforts – on hydrology, water balance, upstream–downstream trade-offs, land use and livelihoods. Where most watershed planning has been based on assumptions about these factors, the new study looked at five years of substantial evidence.

The data flows in

The team collected hydrological data through carefully placed runoff gauging stations, and through water level measurements taken monthly at all 388 dug wells in the intervention watershed. The results couldn’t have been clearer. The rainwater harvesting structures, which added up to 100,000 cubic meters of new storage capacity, significantly enhanced groundwater recharge by reducing surface runoff from an average 250mm a year to 150mm a year. The difference was very noticeable to every member of the community: well water levels stood 2–5 meters higher than in the control watershed.

The trend of extreme variability in monsoon seasons, linked to global climate change, was very evident in the five years of research, and this variability led to some of the most important findings. One was on upstream–downstream trade-offs. The data from Bundelkhand showed that the interventions did affect water availability downstream, but only in intermediate rainfall years; there was no loss downstream in very dry years, when runoff is minimal anyway, or in very wet years, when havelis release ample excess water.

The real difference the structures made was to the recharge of shallow groundwater aquifers. Following the interventions, a single recharge in a wet year could sustain groundwater supplies through two subsequent years of low rainfall – meaning that most dry years would not become drought years for farmers. Within the study period, 2015 was an exceptionally dry year, with just 404mm of rain. At the end of the monsoon, 30% of dug wells in the control watershed were already dry, whereas only 6% of the wells in the intervention watershed had run out of water.

A watershed breaks the cycle of upland poverty

What difference does a few more meters of groundwater make? A very large one, according to the study’s analysis of household farming changes in the watershed. The researchers gathered evidence through crop cutting estimates, taking samples from 50 farmers’ fields and extrapolating to estimate agricultural production in the entire watershed each year. Overall dairy income, too, was estimated from the livestock kept by individual households.

Secure groundwater availability led to shifts in cropping patterns throughout the agricultural calendar. Nearly 20% of fallow land was brought under cultivation, and farmers planted higher-value crops, expanding groundnut production in the wet season and barley and wheat in the dry season. These three crops showed 50–70% increases in their yields. Cultivation of green fodder and vegetables spread from just 5 hectares to 70 hectares, and with more fodder, more farmers invested in dairy buffaloes. In the span of just a few years, annual household incomes shot up from USD 960 to USD 2,700.

Looking to other watersheds and some lessons from history

Clearly, there is untapped potential in the renovation and improvement of traditional rainwater harvesting structures. Uncounted thousands of these defunct structures exist all over India and in other countries, and they need to be re-examined and reconsidered to prepare for fluctuating rainfall regimes. Repairs and modifications are less expensive than many other solutions to drought, and the Bundelkhand study indicates just how effective these can be. Looking to how such traditional systems were once sustainably managed, furthermore, reveals the role of communities and social mobilization in their success – another rich area of research that has also been recently explored in India in a study combining archaeology, history and collective action.

The Bundelkhand study did show that in years of intermediate rainfall, the haveli and other structures reduced flows downstream by harvesting nearly 40% of runoff. This reinforces the need for monitoring, impact analysis and management at larger scales, possibly with measures to compensate domestic, agricultural and industrial water users downstream. Yet from the perspective of equitable resource distribution, the study documents a significant boost for upland communities – typically some of the most resource-deprived and most vulnerable to drought and climate change. Rainwater harvesting in the uplands protects these communities from drought by retaining a larger fraction of their rainwater as groundwater, smoothing over uncertainties and making better livelihoods possible.

Read more about ICRISAT work in Natural Resource Management on EXPLOREit

Authors: Dr Kaushal Garg, Senior Scientist, ICRISAT Development Center, Asia Program and Paul Farah Cox, Senior Writer and Editor (Communications Services) at Scriptoria

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


Farmers in Sikasso, Mali. Photos: A Diama, ICRISAT

Farmers in Sikasso, Mali. Photos: A Diama, ICRISAT

Build trust, build lives…

“Farmers thought we were coming to steal their money!” Microfinance specialist Lamine Sountoura remembers the first time he tried convincing farmers in Mali to warehouse their produce a decade ago. Sountoura and his colleagues from Soroyiriwaso Microfinance Institute were trekking through villages and hamlets in Sikasso region on a mission to help farmers understand that well-stored, quality grain can be used as collateral for loans. The personal approach worked. Farmers increasingly began storing their grain in warehouses, got much needed access to credit for income-generating activities, repaid their loans on time, and ploughed the proceeds back into farming.

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Warrantage system helps farmers

“By the end of the trainings when the first credits were issued, farmers understood that the warrantage system was designed to help them avoid selling off their product at a low price. They understood that their grain stock is more valuable if well-maintained and properly stored,” says Sountoura.

The mission started in 2011 with Soroyiriwaso and NGO EUCORD partnering to train farmers and organizations to improve crop storage, marketing, and access to credit and inputs. A new opportunity emerged in 2018 through partnership with Malian NGO Malimark to establish Innovation Platforms as part Africa RISING’s large-scale Diffusion of Technologies for Sorghum and Millet Systems (ARDT_SMS) funded by Feed the Future through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

Over the past two years, Sountoura and his colleagues have significantly improved crop producers’ views on microfinance services. They have helped establish ARDT_SMS Innovation Platforms in 10 villages orienting stakeholders on inventory credit system standards.

Microfinance specialist Lamine Sountoura

Microfinance specialist Lamine Sountoura

“I presented training modules on the warrantage system to more than 600 agricultural producers. It was a great ice breaker,” says Sountoura. “Conventional bank credits and loans are subject to requirements and conditions that most farmers are unable to meet. With the warrantage system organized by farmers groups within the Innovation Platforms, a good environment was created for them to store important stock of cereals safely. In the past two years, many farmers’ groups have amassed sufficient grain stocks as guarantee for microfinance institutes to allocate them agricultural credit for income generating activities or to buy inputs. During the trainings with Innovation Platform members, we emphasize the invaluable role that quality millet and sorghum stored in good conditions can play as a guarantee for credit and loans”.

Once cooperatives were brought together through Innovation Platforms set up by Malimark and partners, the microfinance institution assumed responsibility for supervising and monitoring the warrantage facilities. With storage and quality standards fully ensured, the institution granted loans to producers based on their needs and the amount of goods deposited into warrantage stores as guarantee.

Warrantage system also facilitates safe storage of cereal stock.

Warrantage system also facilitates safe storage of cereal stock.

With stores that can hold up to 120 tons of cereal per season, the warrantage system presents a viable source of guarantee that has contributed to building trust between producers and microfinance institutions. According to Sountoura, a win-win partnership based on mutual trust was created and strengthened. “Our microfinance system granted Innovation Platform members credit of 18,000,000 FCFA (US$ 32,125) in 2018 and 30,000,000 FCFA (US$ 53,541) in 2019. This demonstrates that the system is working well and is a sign of the growing enthusiasm of producers for the warrantage system. We are happy that the loans taken were repaid 100% on time,” adds Sountoura.

Farmers share their success

In 2020, Dama Coulibaly and colleagues from an Innovation Platform in Bougouni district cultivated 160 hectares and harvested nearly 190 tons of cereal which will be stored as a guarantee for access to credit. Financing accessed through the warrantage system enabled Coulibaly to grow his business and invest in poultry. “The training I received in business planning and marketing is helping me negotiate better prices,” he says.

Poultry is just one of the ways farmers are using increased incomes from the warrantage system to diversify and exand their businesses. According to Issa Koné, “We have invested in composting which helped increase our maize production. We used to harvest 1.8 tons per hectare but after using the proper composting technique we have harvested 4.5 tons per hectare.”  He and his fellow Innovation Platform members are now working with a seed company which purchased 300,000 FCFA (US$ 531, 91) of seed from them in 2019. “They first visited our production fields and put an order to purchase our produce,” says Koné.

Baba Mariko, a producer from Becko village says, “We constructed a warrantage store for our harvests. From 5.6 tons in 2018, we reached a stock of 10 tons in 2019 which allowed us to access a loan of 950,000 FCFA (US$ 1,747).” Over a cup of tea, he and his friends tell us that the platform has built their confidence and improved their access to fertilizer. Members of the platform have acquired plowing oxen and even motorcycles.

Drissa Koné (left) is the marketing manager of an Innovation Platform of 367 members (including 122 women) in Signé and three other surrounding villages. The platform had 29 participants in 2016 and now has 367 members.

“The innovation platform has been a good place for me to learn about new varieties which are more resilient, productive and nutritious. I really liked the Tiandougoura variety because it is used both to feed livestock as a fodder while I keep its grains for my family consumption. Per hectare, I produced 2 tons per hectare, up from 1,700 kg for the local variety. It is also resistant to Striga. In 2017, I stored up 3 tons of my sorghum in the Platform’s warrantage store. I borrowed 245,000 FCFA (US$ 450) which I used to buy beef for fattening and sold for 300,000 FCFA (US$ 551). The profit made was added to increase my grain production and to enlarge my sheep fattening business,” he says. “The warrantage system has enabled many to keep their production in the store as guarantee to credit, avoiding wastage. Belonging to an Innovation Platform has given me access to a microfinance institute and to their credit,” stresses Koné.

Read more about work in Mali on EXPLOREit

Authors: Agathe Diama, Head-Regional Information – WCA, Dr John Nzungize, Project Coordinator and Jemima Mandapati, Senior Communications Officer, ICRISAT.

Project: Africa RISING’s large-scale Diffusion of Technologies for Sorghum and Millet Systems (ARDT_SMS)

Partners: Aga Khan Foundation (AKF), Association des Organisations Professionnelles Paysannes (AOPP), Catholic Relief Services (CRS), Compagnie Malienne pour le Développement des Textiles Nord- Est, Compagnie Malienne pour le Développement des Textiles, Sud, European Cooperative for Rural Development (EUCORD), Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), SPROXIL, myAgro, and Malimark.

Funder: USAID Feed the Future.

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals 


ICRISAT file photo used for illustrative purpose.

ICRISAT file photo used for illustrative purpose.

Higher quality seeds can help beat Africa’s ‘hunger pandemic

Vaccination efforts across the globe encourage hope of an imminent end to the COVID-19 health crisis. But the food security crisis that the pandemic has deepened cannot be alleviated quickly and will require lasting solutions.

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Well-adapted and nutrient-dense crops like millet, sorghum, groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea, cowpea and common bean, collectively called dryland cereals and legumes, are like a vaccine of sorts for hunger and under-nutrition. This is because, over time, improved varieties of crops will be able to render farming resilient to climate stresses, help improve nutritional outcomes and improve soil health. In the short run, they boost yields, ensure food sufficiency in farm households and increase earnings.

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, seed systems, which determine seed access in a country or a region, were beset with challenges. In a recently published paper we identify what the bottlenecks are and what can be done about them.

The biggest issues we identified include, firstly, the limited access to varieties of groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea, sorghum and finger millet that are bred to perform where they are needed. They need to be suited to changes in temperature and rainfall in the area and the stress of pests and diseases. They must also be nutrient-dense and there must be a market for them. The problem of access to these varieties is partly due to limited interest in the private seed sector to include grain legumes and dryland cereal crops in their portfolio.

The second issue is the limited capacity of the institutions involved in the production and delivery of early generation and certified seed production.

Thirdly, there are large gaps in the flow of information, which means that farmers have limited awareness of crops best suited for their environment and the merits of new varieties.

The pandemic further hit these systems, warranting emergency responses from governments and relief agencies. To ensure quality seed flow in the long run, several interventions have been identified.

Beyond relief

One useful intervention would be to organize farming communities – or seed producer groups – into business entities. This would offer several benefits. Primarily, it would help boost local access by people who currently can’t get or afford certified seed.

High quality seed access will mean better quality grain production and meeting the standards set by grain buyers. This, in turn, would enhance grain demand and encourage farmers and other seed enterprises to produce and use quality seed.

Another problem that needs to be addressed is quality control. Farmers in Africa often procure seed from informal markets, which doesn’t allow for robust quality checks. In a sample of 2,592 smallholder farmers in six countries, 92% of sorghum seed, 84% of millet seed, 93% of groundnut seed, 93% of common bean seed and 88% of cowpea seed were reported to be from informal sources.

These seeds are likely to be suboptimal. They are more likely to be of subpar genetic purity, unknown variety and hence performance and they may have a huge seed-borne disease burden.

Another challenge is how information is shared, and what language is used. For example, a study in Uganda found that farmers were interested in and willing to pay for high quality seed. But the term “certified seed” didn’t strike a chord with them. The research concluded that simpler language, such as “super seed”, would be better.

A major hurdle is getting seed companies to participate in developing the new varieties. This could be through using structures like the Seed Revolving Funds. These involve an initial start-up fund to get groups of seed producing farmers to produce foundation seed from breeder seeds sourced from research institutes that are later multiplied into certified seed for sale to the larger farming community.

The sale of proceeds of foundation seed supports the scheme by covering infrastructure costs and packaging.

The fund has had success in Malawi and is being piloted in Tanzania.

Through the work of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics and partners in Africa, there’s evidence that local seed production can benefit immensely from communities setting up and managing seed banks with support and technical backup from agriculture research organizations. Seed banks are local stocks of seeds managed by a community of farmers who have been trained in seed production, harvest and post-harvest management. They may also involve a private sector collaboration.

An example of how crop researchers can help is by calculating for farmers how much seed they’d need per unit of land for maximum yields and growth efficiency. This planting data is essential for smallholder farmers in particular.

These measures have already been tried in Ethiopia, Kenya and Tanzania. This has led to a 30% increase in the adoption of improved varieties.

Finally, digital tools such as digital seed catalogue and road map applications like SeedX and social media have to be added. They are increasingly popular and available.

An unprecedented opportunity

We believe the fallout from COVID-19 has presented an opportunity that should be exploited. This is because some people have taken refuge in agriculture after losing their jobs to the pandemic.

Newcomers from formal employment sectors are more likely to be willing to take professional planting advice, adopt improved varieties and use high quality seeds. This is an opportunity to intervene on behalf of nutrition.

Increasing the likelihood of good harvests and good returns in the near future will ensure African farms can sustain and help reverse rural-urban migration. More hands will mean increased food supply to meet the demands of a growing population and an opportunity to make diets nutritious.

For governments, policymakers, research institutions and others wanting to intervene in African food systems to help fulfil this long but connected chain of objectives, the time is now.


Africa’s exposure to climate change, Covid-19 and volatile global commodity markets is increasing the risk of hunger and unrest. Can investments in the domestic production of food legumes like chickpea and soybean help? Photo: ICRISAT

Africa’s exposure to climate change, Covid-19 and volatile global commodity markets is increasing the risk of hunger and unrest. Can investments in the domestic production of food legumes like chickpea and soybean help? Photo: ICRISAT

Legumes: a climate-smart option to address Africa’s dependence on costly food imports

According to the United Nations, the Covid-19 pandemic has the potential to double (to an estimated 265 million) the number of people without access to nutritious food, heightening the risk of malnutrition, hunger and social unrest in the near future.

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But the deeper truth of the matter is that Covid-19 only acts as an early warning system for problems that the continent will inevitably face as a result of the looming crisis that is climate change. In reality, sub-Saharan Africa’s growing dependence on food imports leaves it uniquely exposed during periods of global uncertainty and disruption, making its overwhelmingly poor population vulnerable to food shortages and sudden price hikes.

In a region with a food import bill totaling some US$ 35 billion per year, countries will be desperate to avoid a repeat of the 2007–2008 food crisis, which saw the price of staple foods rise beyond what ordinary people could afford — triggering riots and upheavals.

Boosting domestic production of staple foods has long been touted as a potential solution to strengthening national food security. And crop scientists say that, in the harsh growing conditions of sub-Saharan Africa, food legumes are a key option to help countries achieve this.

Legumes: the smart agricultural choice for Africa

Why are scientists so interested in food legumes such as groundnut (or peanut), common bean, chickpea and soybean? Partly because these legumes have a natural ability to tolerate harsh growing conditions and survive with limited amounts of water — climate-resilient traits that guarantee farmers an income even when other crops have failed.

Plus, these legumes have the unique ability to take nitrogen from the air and transfer it to soil — a process known as nitrogen fixation. This enhances soil health and means that when they are grown side-by-side (or immediately before and after) other crops such as wheat and maize, legumes can greatly boost the final harvest while avoiding the need for farmers to buy costly and unsustainable nitrogen fertilisers.

Finally, food legumes are an affordable source of micronutrients and protein — which is why they appear so commonly in vegan and vegetarian recipes. In fact, they contain significantly more protein than the starchy staples most frequently consumed in Africa. This means that they could have a big impact in the work to address the continent’s critically low levels of daily protein intake.

The micronutrients they provide — B vitamins, iron, magnesium, zinc, potassium — could also prevent malnutrition, infant stunting and chronic diet-related diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease. And, because good nutrition contributes to healthy immune systems (as the World Health Organization notes), legumes could even have a role in providing critical protection for Africans against Covid-19.

Identifying the blocks

So why aren’t more farmers growing food legumes? To a large extent, it’s simply because Africa hasn’t had the well organised seed breeding and delivery systems it needs to ensure that African growers can access high-performing legume varieties.

Strengthening Africa’s food legume delivery system is therefore a major focus for organisations like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, who over recent years have provided tens of millions of dollars to develop food legume seed breeding and supply systems in sub-Saharan Africa.

The results of smart investment in legumes

The approach that Gates Foundation-funded projects like the multi-country Tropical Legumes initiatives have taken is to specifically target those food legume crops that African farmers depend on most — including groundnut, common bean, cowpea, chickpea, pigeonpea and soybean. Strategically, this is a smart approach and has resulted in real impacts that other organisations can build on moving forward.

Over the twelve years that this work has been ongoing, millions of farmers have adopted improved legume varieties, generating economic benefits worth over
US$ 3 billion. Over half of those benefiting from higher yields and incomes are women.

During this period of focused work, sub-Saharan Africa has substantially increased its production of legumes. Pigeonpea and chickpea harvests have nearly doubled, for instance, and soybean production has increased over 2.5-fold to reach a current annual total of 3.5 million tons.

Surpluses have also created opportunities for producers to tap into growing legume export markets. For example, chickpea global exports have shown sustained growth — and some 2.4 million tons now enter world markets each year. And, while most trade opportunities are likely to be within Africa, it is possible some producers could tap into more lucrative markets in Europe, taking advantage of a shift towards healthier, meat-free diets that are now becoming more popular in higher income countries.

Author: Dr Chris Ojiewo, Principal Scientist at ICRISAT and Project Coordinator of the Tropical Legumes and AVISA initiatives.

In the media


Pulses of ICRISAT. Photo: ICRISAT

Pulses of ICRISAT. Photo: ICRISAT

African project highlights importance of legume crops on World Pulses Day

Could legumes be the key to food production sustainability and climate change resilience? They consume less than half the non-renewable energy of traditional cereals, they can survive harsh conditions like drought and they improve soil health by fixing nitrogen.

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On this, World Pulses Day, February 10, Dr Christopher Ochieng Ojiewo, principal scientist at ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) in Nairobi, Kenya, asks the question “What lessons can we learn from legume farmers in Africa?”

He is a seed systems expert and coordinates the AVISA Project (Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa).

For 12 years the Tropical Legumes initiative worked to develop and distribute high-yielding, climate-resilient legume varieties to millions of poor farmers in drought-prone areas of Africa.

The results have been life-changing and include increasing farmers’ yield and income, as well as strengthening their food security.

As the risks from climate change increase for farmers across the world, our agriculture and food systems will need to adapt to sustainable production if they are to survive.

Could legume crops be the way forward in delivering multiple advantages in line with sustainability principles?

The advantages of legumes:

  • When grown in rotation with other crops, they can break cycles of pests and diseases
  • Can ‘unlock’ phosphorus for other crops to use and have a unique ability to take nitrogen from the air and transfer it to soil – a process known as ‘nitrogen fixation.’ They can therefore provide a cheaper and more sustainable alternative to fertilizers
  • Release high-quality organic matter into the soil and facilitate soil nutrient circulation and water retention
  • Contribute to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, as they release 5–7 times less GHG per unit area compared with other crops
  • Allow the sequestration of carbon in soils to assist in slowing or reversing atmospheric CO2 pollution and mitigating or reversing global warming
  • Induce a saving of fossil energy inputs in the system thanks to N fertilizer reduction, corresponding to 277 kg ha−1 of CO2 per year
  • Could be introduced in modern cropping systems to increase crop diversity and reduce use of external inputs
  • Have high potential for conservation agriculture, being functional either as growing crop or as crop residue.

The Tropical Legumes initiative:

  • Involved approximately 25 million farmers across 15 countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia and helped them replace older legume varieties – some 20, 30, or even 50 years old – that were susceptible to drought, pests and disease.
  • Was 12-year, $67 million initiative funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation that was implemented across 15 African countries by national partners and three international CGIAR research organisations: the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA).
  • Targeted three main areas: (1) developing high-yielding and climate-resilient legume varieties; (2) improving ‘seed systems’ that deliver the varieties directly to farmers; and (3) strengthening the capacity of breeding programs so they were able to develop the varieties faster and more efficiently.
  • Strategically invested in the food legume crops that African farmers depend on the most for their consumption and income, including groundnut, common bean, cowpea, chickpea, pigeon pea and soybean.
  • Leveraged the experience of the private sector, crop science initiatives and the CGIAR Excellence in Breeding Platform – adopting their approaches and tools to increase efficiency and effectiveness.
  • Enhanced understanding of food legume genetics. With access to richer genetic information breeders were able to develop more varieties at a quicker pace to meet evolving demands and needs.
  • The gains of the Tropical Legumes initiatives are now being consolidated by a new project, Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA), which is building on the experience of its predecessor to continue enhancing the efficiency and effectiveness of breeding programs and seed systems.

World Pulses Day, February 10, is a designated United Nations global event to recognize the importance of pulses (chickpeas, dry beans, lentils, dry peas and lupins among others) as a global food.

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals


Photo: ICRISAT

Photo: ICRISAT

Millets are good for us, good for the planet and good for the farmer too

Covid-19 turned the spotlight on healthy eating. So, are diets changing to impact the mass market, farms and well-being of our planet? The increased attention does not seem to be towing commensurate change. Not yet.

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However, change in the form of diet diversification is precisely what is needed to make nutritious diets commonplace. In India, about 70% of the plate is either white refined rice or wheat. Major public health issues like anemia, stunting, diabetes and obesity are closely tied to diets. If cereals were diversified with millets and sorghum, we would see big gains on multiple fronts.

Why millets and sorghum?

Because they are smart foods- good for you, planet and farmer. Rich in calcium, iron, zinc, protein, fiber and with low-glycemic index, they are nutricereals. They allow multiple farm-revenue streams as they can be food, fodder, source of sugar production and even biofuels. They can be grown in high temperature, with less rainfall or water, in nutrient-poor and saline soils. They have a smaller environmental footprint. They can be eaten in many ways, including ways we are accustomed to.

For centuries, millets and sorghum were staples in India but are marginalized today. Their production has remained largely unchanged since 1960 while rice production tripled, wheat production increased 800% and maize rose by 500%.

This can only be explained by the food-farm loop. Unless consumers diversify staples by looking beyond rice and wheat, farmers have no incentive to diversify cereal production. Without the required consumer and farmer support, these crops received negligible investment compared to rice and wheat.

Course correction

Indian government is leading a global movement for UN International Year of Millets in 2023. This initiative is being followed up with the ‘Millet Mission’. ICRISAT-founded Smart Food initiative is advocating demand driven strengthening of millet and sorghum value chains.

Entrepreneurs have pioneered demand-building efforts by launching a big range of millet and sorghum based foods. We can count many farmers’ groups among these enterprises. The number of foods has skyrocketed in the last five years.

These efforts will have to get bigger for millets and sorghum to return as major staples. That is possible only with demand and strong value chains.

Author: Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General-External Relations, and Executive Director, Smart Food, ICRISAT.


Budget 2021: Investments in agricultural infrastructure will pay off

Union Budget 2021 India: The Budget provisions in the agricultural sector, implemented with enthusiasm and spirit, will boost investments, promote diversification and raise incomes of farmers. The most notable feature of the Budget for the agricultural sector is its enhanced outlay and facilitation for direct and supportive infrastructure

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Indian Union Budget 2021-22: The Budget for the current fiscal has been presented during extraordinary circumstances, when the country is recovering from the Covid-19 pandemic. It aims to improve the health of the economy and the well-being of citizens. The broad objective of this Budget is to transform India through four ‘I’s (investment, infrastructure, institutions and innovations). It intends to revive the economy, accelerate growth, generate employment and improve the environment. The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdowns has adversely affected all sectors of the economy, except agriculture. In fact, the farm sector has emerged as the main driver of economic growth during these difficult times.

The government announced a slew of measures during the lockdown and later to revive the economy through several packages under AtmaNirbhar Bharat. The agricultural sector also received several measures to boost incomes of farmers, ensure remunerative prices for their produce and improve supply chains of essential food commodities. The provisions in this year’s Budget are in continuation of the announcements made during the pandemic period.

The Budget is expected to promote agricultural diversification towards financially worthwhile and high-value horticulture, dairy and fisheries sectors that are all the more important for consumers in a post-Covid-19 world. These are, interestingly, untouched of minimum support prices and the procurement mechanism. To promote horticultural commodities, the Operation Greens scheme is now extended from TOP (tomato, onion and potato) to 22 other perishable commodities. It was in continuation of the earlier announcement made during the lockdown, when all fruits and vegetables were included under the scheme for six months. The main aim of the scheme is to protect the growers of fruits and vegetables from making distress sale.

The Budget has extended the scheme to minimise the price risk of fruits and vegetable growers. Under this scheme, the government provides subsidy at the rate of 50% of the total cost on transportation from surplus to deficit regions, and hiring of appropriate storage facilities for the eligible crops. This will strengthen the value chains of fruits and vegetables due to transport subsidy and stabilise prices through facilitating storage when prices crash due to excess supply. The scheme will also contribute to stabilising incomes of fruits and vegetable growers and minimise wastage. The Budget has provisions to strengthen 1,000 more mandis and connect these under e-NAM.

This will expand the scope of e-trading through the electronic platform and ensure better prices for agricultural commodities. The most notable feature of this year’s Budget for the agricultural sector is its enhanced outlay and facilitation for direct and supportive infrastructure. In fact, infrastructural development in any form (roads, ports, shipping, waterways and power) will contribute towards boosting the agricultural sector, especially perishable commodities, as these effectively connect production areas with consumption centres. These will also contribute to better integration of markets and stabilisation of prices of agricultural commodities.

The fisheries sector is going to receive investments for the development of modern harbours and fish-landing centres; this will help develop modern markets for this sector. A significant population of India’s 8,100-km stretch of coastline depends on exploitable coastal and marine resources. Indian coastland has enormous potential for growth of seaweed. The Budget has provided to establish a multipurpose seaweed park. Promoting seaweed production, processing and marketing will open new income and employment opportunities for the poor living along the coastline.

Enhancement of the allocation to the Rural Infrastructure Development Fund (RIDF) from ₹ 30,000 crore to ₹ 40,000 crore will have a positive impact on the rural and farm economy, driving inclusive growth. The Agriculture Infrastructure and Development Cess of ₹ 2.5 and ₹ 4 a litre on petrol and diesel, respectively, is expected to generate, as per estimates, an additional amount of ₹ 30,000 crore. Interestingly, this cess has been offset by equal amounts of reduction in the basic excise (and special additional excise) duties on the fuels. It’s a great relief for both farmers and consumers. The proposal for usage of agriculture infrastructure funds to augment facilities in APMC yards is another welcome announcement.

Reverse migration during the lockdown saw many informal and gig workers and labourers returning to their native places, mostly in rural areas. As a part of the stimulus package, the government had made a record allocation (₹ 1,11,500 crore that includes additional outlay of ₹ 61,500 crore in FY21) under the MGNREGA. This year’s Budget estimate for this important rural scheme is ₹ 73,000 crore, which is expected to take care of job seekers in rural India, including migrant labourers who would have stayed back home and not returned to their previous workplaces.

Few other Budget announcements such as raising the target of agricultural credit to 16.5 lakh crore; doubling the micro-irrigation fund to ₹ 10,000 crore; and extension of the SWAMITVA scheme (for mapping of village lands with modern technology and tools) to all the states and Union territories will directly and indirectly support the farm sector.

Another welcoming feature in the Budget is the provision for setting-up of a National Institute of ‘One Health’, as an interlinkage between human, animal and plant diseases, is getting recognised. It has been scientifically established that there are several zoonotic diseases that are transmitted from animals to human beings. Therefore, a well-integrated health management system will reduce the extent of plant and animal induced diseases.

The Budget provisions in the agricultural sector, implemented with enthusiasm and spirit, will boost investments, promote diversification and raise incomes of farmers. Targeted outlays for infrastructure development in the farm sector will prove to be rewarding.

By Dr PK Joshi and Dr AK Padhee

Dr PK Joshi is former South Asia director of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and Dr AK Padhee is country director-India of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Views are personal

Media release


Ms Satyavathi Rathod, Minister for Scheduled Tribes, Women and Child Welfare of India’s Telangana state, inaugurating a women-led processing unit. Photo: ICRISAT

Ms Satyavathi Rathod, Minister for Scheduled Tribes, Women and Child Welfare of India’s Telangana state, inaugurating a women-led processing unit. Photo: ICRISAT

Two women-led food processing units opened in India

Ms Satyavathi Rathod, Minister for Scheduled Tribes, Women and Child Welfare of India’s Telangana state, recently inaugurated a moringa (drumstick) processing unit in the state’s Khammam district and a dry mix (ready-to-cook foods) unit in Bhadrachalam. Both the units are wholly owned by tribal women, who were trained in food processing and entrepreneurship at ICRISAT. Sri Lakshmi Ganapathy Dry Mix Unit will supply ready-to-cook Jowar meal (Upma mix) and ready-to-cook multigrain meal (Khichidi mix) to government nutrition programs and anganwadis in the tribal region. Sri Rama Moringa Processing Industry will sell moringa powder in markets.

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The food products being produced in these units have very good nutritive values. Both children and adults can consume them. These will be supplied to children in schools, ashram schools and anganwadi* centres to keep them healthy and help them grow. Plus, the units are providing employment to tribal women, the minister said during the inauguration.

ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) established the unit in collaboration with partners and has implemented two other programs as part of the collaboration – Nutri-Food Basket program (March 2017) and Giri Poshana (September 2018). The collaboration aims to transform tribal women into entrepreneurs, localize production and address malnutrition. Accordingly, 80 tribal women farmers from Bhadrachalam, Utnoor and Eturnagaram in Telangana were trained by ICRISAT in Hyderabad. After training, ICRISAT helped the women form Joint Liability Groups (JLGs) to manage the food processing units. With the latest opening, four food processing units of this type have been opened in Telangana.

The women will produce hygienically packed, safe and nutritious foods in the units, which are designed and equipped with machinery as per guidelines of Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI). The food products will be sold under the Girijan Co-operative Corporation (GCC) brand as well as in the open market.

“ICRISAT cherishes the successful partnership with the Department of Tribal Welfare in this significant move towards women empowerment. This project has leveraged locally available nutritious dryland crops to support the economic independence of tribal women while ensuring means of nutrition for their communities,” said Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT.

The project brings together key aspects of ICRISAT’s mandate: nutrition, food safety, sustaining small businesses and gender equity. Turning dryland crops that are locally available and consumed into healthy smart food products helps promote dietary diversity, address malnutrition and create sustainable livelihoods. The project also spurs creation of local value chains that are key to making vulnerable communities sustainable, especially post COVID-19. To continue empowering Telangana’s tribal communities, more food processing units will be established and the communities will be supported to run them.

“The ready-to-cook Jowar (sorghum) meal (Upma mix) and ready-to-cook multigrain meal (Khichidi mix) made in the dry mix unit provide balanced nutrition and energy through local nutritious crops such as millets and pulses. The ready-to-cook format is convenient for cooking in anganwadis and homes, and the foods have been an emergency ration during COVID-19 lockdown,” Dr Saikat Datta Majumdar, Chief Operating Officer, NutriPlus Knowledge (NPK) Program, ICRISAT.”

“Equipped with state-of-the-art leaf cleaning, drying and packing equipment, the moringa powder processing unit will produce high quality powder from moringa leaves grown by the tribal community without fertilizers or pesticides. The moringa powder will be marketed as a health supplement. Moringa is said to provide as much as seven times the vitamin C in orange, 10 times the vitamin A in carrot, 17 times the calcium in milk besides being a rich source of potassium, iron and protein. The unit will thus provide substantial value addition to locally grown moringa and bring additional income for farmers in the area,” he added.

Project: Setting up of eight processing units in ITDAs of Utnoor, Eturnagaram and Bhadrachalam through Joint Liability Groups (JLs) of Telangana.
Partners: Integrated Tribal Development Agencies, Tribal Women-led Joint Liability Groups, Girijan Cooperative Society, Anganwadis (Ministry of Women and Child Development) and ICRISAT
Funders: Department of Tribal Welfare, Government of Telangana
CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC)

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 4-gender-equality 7-decent-work 17-partnerships-goals 

Training


A crop modeling training session in progress. Photo: ICRISAT

A crop modeling training session in progress. Photo: ICRISAT

Building capacity in crop modeling today for a better tomorrow

Young Malawian researchers are being trained in crop modeling to tackle land, water and climate related challenges facing agriculture and smallholder farmers. During a recently-held training program, 11 researchers from Malawi’s national research organizations learned to model agricultural systems with the Agricultural Production Simulator Model (APSIM) under the aegis of the Australian Center for International Agricultural Research.

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Crop modeling is a process that simulates different stages of crop growth and development in response to weather, soil conditions and crop management. Dr Amos Ngwira, Systems Agronomist and Modeler at ICRISAT-Malawi, said crop simulation models are key tools to assess the growth and performance of crops under various conditions – soil, climatic, management and rotations.

“With the APSIM platform, the participants were introduced to concepts used in modeling of the processes that determine a plant’s growth including soil, water and nitrogen balances,” said Dr KPC Rao, a soil scientist and a specialist in crop modeling at ICRISAT-India, who delivered the trainings online and instructed the participants.

The eleven-session training was held from 6-9 January 2021 for plant breeders, agronomists, soil scientists, agro-meteorologists, statisticians and economists.

The participants said the sessions enhanced their understanding of crop growth simulations and yield. The training also helped them explore how water, nutrient and carbon dynamics affect productivity and sustainability of the resource base, they added.

“Transforming raw data from excel into APSIM formats and running simulations of soil-water balances, carbon fractions and simulation of several field crops grown by smallholder farmers in Malawi were key learnings for me,” said Mr Pacsu Simwaka, a soil scientist with Malawi’s Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS).

Legume Agronomist Ms Florence Kamwana, who is working on developing sustainable intensification options, said the training showed how influence of parameters like genotype on crop production can be factored. Mr Gechem Dambo, a maize breeder, shared that the training helped him understand how nutrition and resilience traits important in planting breeding programs can be identified.

“I would like DARS to embrace crop simulation modeling. It is one of the analytical tools to be employed by researchers in everyday work for characterizing environments and explaining processes that cannot be explained by other statistical models,” said Ms Esnart Yohane.

Following this training, researchers are expected to conduct participatory crop modeling with farmers in various districts in the country.

According to Dr Anthony Whitbread, Director for ICRISAT’s Innovation Systems for the Dryland (ISD) Research Program, crop modeling is a key methodology for understanding interactions between climate, soils, farming systems and management.

“It helps us build extension material that presents information on agronomic risk and response, considers the role of climate forecasts in management and underpins decision frameworks such as the ISAT tool. Building this capacity in our NARES partners has been a long term aim, and one which we work towards under the new Excellence in Agronomy (EiA) initiative, a collaboration led by IITA,” he said.

Project: Understanding the climate and market risks farmers face in SSA and SA to co-design better farm-level interventions

Funder: Australian Center for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR)

Partners: National agricultural research organizations in Malawli

CRP: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

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

New publications

Lessons from a pandemic to repurpose India’s agricultural policy

Authors: Padhee AK and Pingali P

Published: Nature India

http://oar.icrisat.org/11696/

Crop Advances Feed Economic Gains

Authors: Padhee AK and Mohapatra T

Published:  Nature India

http://oar.icrisat.org/11697/

Monitoring Of Irrigated Areas In Gujarat State Using Gee Cloud Based Algorithm

Authors: Master’s thesis, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad

Published:  Master’s thesis, Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Hyderabad

http://oar.icrisat.org/11698/

Constructed wetland for improved wastewater management and increased water use efficiency in resource scarce SAT villages: a case study from Kothapally village, in India

Authors: Datta A, Singh HO, Raja SK and Dixit S

Published:  International Journal of Phytoremediation (TSI). pp. 1-10. ISSN 1522-6514

http://oar.icrisat.org/11699/

Use of wild Pennisetum species for improving biotic and abiotic stress tolerance in pearl millet

Authors: Sharma S, Sharma R, Pujar M, Yadav D, Yadav Y, Rathore A, Mahala RS, Singh I, Verma Y, Deora VS, Vaid B, Jayalekha AK and Gupta SK

Published:  Crop Science (TSI), 61 (1). pp. 289-304. ISSN 0011-183X

http://oar.icrisat.org/11701/

Characterization and identification of annual wild Cicer species for seed protein and mineral concentrations for chickpea improvement

Authors: Sharma S, Lavale SA, Nimje C and Singh S

Published: Crop Science (TIS), 61 (1). pp. 305-319. ISSN 0011-183X

http://oar.icrisat.org/11702

Harnessing wild relatives of pearl millet for germplasm enhancement: Challenges and opportunities

Authors: Sharma S, Sharma R, Govindaraj M, Mahala RS, Satyavathi CT, Srivastava RK, Gumma MK and Kilian B

Published:  Crop Science (TSI), 61 (1). pp. 177-200. ISSN 0011-183X

http://oar.icrisat.org/11703

Deciphering the antagonistic effect of Streptomyces spp. and host-plant resistance induction against charcoal rot of sorghum

Authors: Gopalakrishnan S, Srinivas V, Naresh N, Pratyusha S, Ankati S, Madhuprakash J, Govindaraj M and Sharma R

Published:  Planta (TSI), 253 (2). pp. 1-12. ISSN 0032-0935

http://oar.icrisat.org/11704

Networks, incentives and technology adoption: evidence from a randomised experiment in Uganda

Authors: Shikuku KM and Melesse MB

Published:  European Review of Agricultural Economics (TSI), 47 (5). pp. 1740-1775. ISSN 0165-1587

http://oar.icrisat.org/11705

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