February
Issue No: 1788
Download PDF

New Initiatives


(L-R) Dr Abdulai Jalloh, CORAF; Mr William Asiko, FANRPAN; Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General-External Relations, ICRISAT, and Smart Food Executive Director; Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, FARA and Dr Ravi Khetarpal, Executive Secretary, APAARI at the signing of agreements on 13th January, 2019 at ICRISAT, India.

(L-R) Dr Abdulai Jalloh, CORAF; Mr William Asiko, FANRPAN; Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General-External Relations, ICRISAT, and Smart Food Executive Director; Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, FARA and Dr Ravi Khetarpal, Executive Secretary,  APAARI at the signing of agreements on 13th January, 2019 at ICRISAT, India.

Africa and Asia come together to lead a global initiative to diversify staples

Leading agriculture organizations from Africa and Asia have joined hands to take on a bold initiative to create a big new industry, with the intent of bringing some Smart Foods back on the plate as major staples. Targeting staples lays the foundation to generate major impacts on health and the agri-food system. The inaugural meeting and signing of agreements by the largest agriculture associations in Africa and Asia took place on 13th January, 2019.

URL for the story

Read more

This culminated in the formation of the Smart Food Executive Council led by – the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF), Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN), along with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) which set in motion the Smart Food initiative in 2013.

This partnership is part of a new effort to make a major contribution to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The approach is to focus on diversifying staples. Given that staples may typically constitute 70% of a meal and are often eaten three times a day, diversifying them can have a pronounced impact on overcoming malnutrition and poverty and coping with climate change and environmental degradation. This will contribute to the SDGs for overcoming poverty and hunger (SDG 1 and 2), responsible consumption and production (SDG 12), along with adaptation to climate change (Goal 13). The approach taken will include gender equality (SDG 5) and action through partnerships (SDG 17).

Insights from the Smart Food Executive Council members:

“I see how we can make Smart Food a household name. We need to link and synergize other existing programs along the whole value chain. Capacity building will be one opportunity especially in taking a holistic Smart Food approach where issues around nutrition/health, environment and farmer welfare can be tackled.” — Dr Ravi Khetarpal, Executive Secretary, APAARI.

“We see history unfolding before us as this is how big things emerge. Smart Food resonates with the desire to see the power of science translate into reality. I am happy that Smart Food is now institutionalized. FARA is excited to cooperate in this partnership and hold this partnership responsible for the success.” — Dr Yemi Akinbamijo, Executive Director, FARA.

“This approach is a fitting response to today’s major global issues. We want to add to the big crops; not displace them. Moving from the Big 3 staples (rice, wheat and maize) to having more, the Big 5 and later the Big 7, is an important aim. Now we have to go from a pitch to reality. Key to this are the nutrition and climate change adaptation needs and this is core to Smart Food. Smart Food crops have been neglected for reasons other than value as they are inherently nutritious and adaptable to diverse farming systems. We need to promote these inherent values.” — Dr Abdulai Jalloh, Director of Research and Innovation, CORAF.

“Smart Food is a noble and novel idea and well thought through. The major staples did not get to where they are by accident. There are benefits and financial viability, but this viability varied for different value chain players. We need to learn from these successes and ensure financial sustainability. Engaging with large players is a part of making this come to reality to ensure benefits to smallholder farmers and the environment.” — Mr William Asiko, Board member, FANRPAN.

“This new partnership strengthens collaborations between Asia and Africa and can open up opportunities to join forces at any point along the value chain, from consumers through to processors, chefs through to farmers, researchers and others.” — Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT.

For more information, please contact:

ICRISAT: Mr SreeRam Banda at +91 9703620166 or s (dot) banda (at) cgiar (dot) org
APAARI: Dr Ravi Khetarpal at +66 0 987844464 or ravi (dot) khetarpal (at) apaari (dot) org
FARA: Dr Yemi Akinbamijo at +233 540119833 or yakinbamijo (at) faraafrica (dot) org
CORAF: Dr Abdulai Jalloh at +221 338699618 or abdulai (dot) jalloh@coraf (dot) org
FANRPAN: Mr William Asiko at wasiko (at) growafrica (dot) com


Women farmers in finger millet field.

Women farmers in finger millet field.

Extended partnership to deliver high-yielding, disease-resistant finger millet to farmers

Farmers can soon access finger millet varieties that not only withstand drought but are also resistant to parasites and diseases. This is due to the boost received from a finger millet Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) pre-breeding project led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and funded by the Crop Trust which ensures funding until 2020.

URL for the story

Read more

Finger millet is highly valued for its nutritional qualities and recognized as a Smart Food, yet production of finger millet remains below its potential. Farmers claim that the two key constraints to increased production are the blast disease and a parasitic weed called Striga. “Blast is the most destructive disease of finger millet” said Dr Henry Ojulong, a cereals breeder at ICRISAT. “Blast can occur at all stages of plant growth and can affect the leaves, neck, and fingers.” In Kenya, blast can cause an estimated average yield loss of about 30%. Similarly, Striga, a sap-sucking weed, can lead to a complete loss of crops and once it’s in a farmer’s field, it is nearly impossible to eradicate.

“This project involves working with crop wild relatives (CWR) of finger millet since some of those have developed tolerance to either blast or Striga,” reported ICRISAT’s Dr Damaris Odeny, who is the principal investigator of the five-year CWR finger millet pre-breeding project.

“We are delighted with the progress shown by the team during Phase 1,” said Dr Benjamin Kilian, the Crop Wild Relatives Pre-breeding Project Coordinator. “Thanks to the support from the Government of Norway we will be supporting the project further. Our end goal is to raise finger millet production by providing farmers with access to varieties that not only withstand drought but are also resistant to blast and Striga.”

The team started by collecting wild finger millet samples and screening them for resistance to blast and Striga. “We used wild relatives of finger millet because we observed that some of them growing alongside cultivated finger millet on farmers’ fields were not affected by either Striga or blast disease,” explained Dr. Odeny. The wild types, however, lack many traits that cultivated varieties may have, such as grain size and color, early maturation or high yield.

During the first phase of the CWR project, the team, which included researchers not only from ICRISAT but also from the Kenya Agricultural and Livestock Research Organization (KALRO) – Kisii Center and Maseno University, was successful in identifying wild finger millet samples showing resistance to Striga and blast disease as well as drought tolerance. The team also identified finger millet qualities preferred by farmers and consumers so that the project would ensure that new varieties maintained these qualities.

“In Phase 2 of the project (2018 – 20) we will now introduce these unique characteristics into cultivated varieties with the support of the Crop Trust,” said Dr Odeny. The team will work towards releasing farmer-preferred varieties that have been improved using the superior traits from wild finger millets.

Crop improvement work of finger millet is important due to the millet’s high nutritional and health qualities. The high levels of calcium, iron and amino acids in finger millet make it exceptionally nutritious. It is an ideal food for diabetics since it has high amounts of slowly digestible starch and resistant starch that contribute to a slow release of sugar in to the bloodstream.

For more information, please contact:
Christine Wangari at +254722603687 or c (dot) wangari (at) cgiar (dot) org
SreeRam Banda at +91 9703620166 or s (dot) banda (at) cgiar (dot) org
Damaris Odeny at d (dot) odeny (at) cgiar (dot) org


Dr Trilochan Mohapatra (2nd left), and Dr. Peter Carberry (Second right) after the signing. Photo: ICAR

Dr Trilochan Mohapatra (2nd left), and Dr. Peter Carberry (Second right) after the signing. Photo: ICAR

Collaborating to innovate for India’s agriculture research: ICAR – ICRISAT finalize 5-year action plan

Improved crops, nutrition-sensitive agriculture on the cards

A five-year plan for Indian agricultural research was finalized with the signing of a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between one of the largest national agricultural research, education and extension systems in the world, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). This plan will focus on technologies especially suited to harsh conditions of the drylands, covering grain legumes and dryland cereals – groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea, finger and pearl millet and sorghum.

URL for the story

Read more

The MoA representing action plans for 2019 to 2023 was signed by Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE) and Director General ICAR, and Dr. Peter Carberry, Director General of ICRISAT.

The DGs of both organizations highlighted the longstanding partnerships between ICRISAT and ICAR and emphasized convergence on mutually enriching collaborations to evolve, lead and innovate in agricultural technologies. “I value the ICAR-ICRISAT partnership greatly in the interest of farming communities of India” said Dr Mohapatra, adding that this would help adapt to the changing agriculture landscape in India as well as contribute towards the country priority of doubling farmers’ income.

Speaking on the partnership, Dr Carberry said, “This is a significant event for our work in India. Our science teams in ICRISAT have worked hard to develop these plans with support from ICAR partners. These collaborations are critical to deliver on our mission to improve livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers across Asia and African drylands”.

The two organizations work together towards creative disruptions by thinking outside the box of existing paradigms. This requires maximizing impact of existing technologies and generating new ones to increase efficiency of dryland agriculture production systems. Key projects include – improved crop varieties, new breeding and enabling technologies, and systems and modeling tools for better farm systems and nutrition-sensitive agriculture value chains.

ICRISAT and ICAR have a long-standing partnership of several decades, collaborating on agriculture research agenda. The science at ICRISAT is guided by the needs and priorities of the country, that is set by the national agriculture research program.

For more information, please contact:

SreeRam Banda at +91 9703620166 or s (dot) banda (at) cgiar (dot) org
Jayashree Balasubramanian at +91 9840050444 or b (dot) Jayashree (at) cgiar (dot) org


Dr. Sehgal interacting with rural women

Dr. Sehgal interacting with rural women

Sehgal Foundation and Smart Food align to intensify efforts

Sehgal Foundation is aligning some big initiatives with the Smart Food Endowment Fund to help create a bigger movement. This will bring more attention to Smart Foods like millet, sorghum and grain legumes.

URL for the story

Read more

Sehgal Foundation started 20 years ago, and its current mantra “Together we empower rural India,” will further be enforced with this new partnership. Dr Surinder (Suri) M Sehgal, Founder, with his wife Edda and Chair of the Sehgal Foundation Board of Trustees, highlighted that “Through collaborations we can do more and bring more attention to the needs of smallholder farmers and make agriculture more profitable and desirable to grow foods that are more nutritious and more suitable to the drier tougher regions.”

Sehgal Foundation signed an agreement with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) for their joint endowment fund to become a component of the Smart Food Endowment Fund that was established in April 2018. This will take the total funds to US$6 million.

“Our aim is to grow the Fund by attracting additional investments to create a significant endowment as long-term commitment toward developing the value chains of Smart Food. Such investments are vital at a time when food insecurity, malnutrition, obesity, diabetes and iron deficiency anaemia are impeding good health and livelihoods of millions of people globally. ICRISAT has had decades of collaboration with the Sehgal Foundation and is pleased to take this partnership to another level,” said Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT.

ICRISAT launched a Smart Food initiative in 2013 that stemmed from the strategic thinking around the need for food that fulfils the criteria of being good for the consumer (nutritious and healthy), good for the planet (environmentally sustainable) and good for the farmer (profitable and lower risk). A major objective under the initiative is to diversify staples that can have a strong and durable impact on nutrition, the environment and farmer welfare. Millets, because of their higher iron, calcium and overall mineral content compared to wheat and rice, have the potential to help address malnutrition problems in India, other parts of Asia and Africa.

“Addressing nutrition security and sustainable diets is key to solving some of the biggest global issues like hidden hunger and rural poverty. We are pleased with the Smart Food Initiative of ICRISAT; this effort will help to achieve a turnaround in environmental degradation and diversify food systems,” said Dr Sehgal.

Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General-External Relations, ICRISAT, and Smart Food Executive Director, explains, “Given that staples across Asia and Africa can be about 70% of a meal, and often consumed in a refined form, this may result in little nutrition being available. However, the major staples have well-developed value chains and are well supported. As a result, farmers have the incentive to grow these crops in agro-ecologies not suitable for their production, further straining the environment. The Smart Food approach is to start with driving consumer demand to diversify staples with nutritious alternatives like millets, and work along the whole value chain, while making efforts to ensure that farmers benefit.”

For more information, please contact:

SreeRam Banda at +91 9703620166 or s (dot) banda (at) cgiar (dot) org
Jayashree Balasubramanian at +91 9840050444 or b (dot) Jayashree (at) cgiar (dot) org


Dr Peter Carberry (L) and Mr Rajendra Pawar exchange the signed MoU documents as Mr Sharad Pawar looks on. Photo: KVK-Baramati.

Dr Peter Carberry (L) and Mr Rajendra Pawar exchange the signed MoU documents as Mr Sharad Pawar looks on. Photo: KVK-Baramati.

Collaboration to introduce new varieties and technologies to farmers in western India

MoU signed between ICRISAT and Agricultural Development Trust-Baramati

A ‘live’ agriculture expo provided the perfect venue for an MoU signing to introduce new technologies for farmers in Maharashtra, in western India. The technologies will help move towards doubling farmers’ incomes as part of India’s ‘Mission 2022’. The MoU was signed between Agricultural Development Trust (ADT)-Baramati and ICRISAT. Farmers, national and state government officials and political leaders attended the event.

URL for the story

Read more

The technologies in pigeonpea as well as intercropping of pigeonpea with sugarcane, hold promise for better incomes and nutritious crops. Mr Sharad Pawar, Member of Parliament, Rajya Sabha, (India’s Upper House) and President, ADT-Baramati, assured ICRISAT of ADT’s support in introducing innovations to farmers in India and appreciated the organization’s contribution to agriculture worldwide. Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, said that he was looking forward to this collaboration where new varieties and technologies introduced to farmers’ fields would benefit them. For her work in the region, Dr Anupama Hingane, Scientist – Pigeonpea Breeding, Crop Improvement Asia Program, ICRISAT, received special mention.

ICRISAT in partnership with Krishi Vigyan Kendra-Baramati is working towards –

  • Developing technologies for intercropping of super-early pigeonpea with sugarcane. This research aims to find out if growing of pigeonpea (a leguminous crop) will reduce fertigation costs for sugarcane and provide farmers the additional benefit of growing a protein-rich crop like pigeonpea.
  • Demonstrating hybrid pigeonpea technology to farmers.

In view of ‘Mission 2022’ for doubling farmers’ income, ADT’s Krishi Vigyan Kendra organized the 4th edition of its annual exhibition “Krushik-2019” from 17-20 January. Field demonstrations of crops (cereals, pulses, vegetables, fodder, horticulture crops, flowers, etc.), technology solutions, agricultural inputs, farm implements and machinery, irrigation demonstrations, and protected cultivation on 44 ha area were some of the attractions at the expo. Dr Carberry, who inaugurated the expo, said that farmers from Australia and Africa, who work in similar dryland conditions and face the same climate constraints, could benefit from visiting exhibitions like these.

Dignitaries who attended the expo include Ms Supriya Sule, Member of Parliament; Mr Rajendra Pawar, Chairman, Agriculture Development Trust,  Baramati; Mr Burzis Taraporevala,  CFO and Company Secretary, Tata Trust; Mr UD Shirsalkar, Chief General Manager, National Bank For Agriculture & Rural Development ; Dr Lakhan Singh, Director, ICAR-Agricultural Technology Application Research Institute , Pune; senior officers from the Department of Agriculture, Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri and trustees of ADT.


Screenshot of the digital seed roadmap. See more at http://seedsystems.icrisat.org

Screenshot of the digital seed roadmap. See more at http://seedsystems.icrisat.org

Now, get critical seed data in one click

A modern digital seed ‘catalog’ and seed ‘roadmap’ tool is now available for information about the quality and availability of seeds in one click. This innovative tool will ultimately enable farmers in several African countries to access seed varietal information quickly and help them plan seed production over a long period. The online catalog provides information on all seed varieties available nationally and regionally over a long period.

URL for the story

Read more

In Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farmers still face challenges in obtaining good quality seeds on time, mainly due to lack of access to information about them. To address this need, ICRISAT’s Digital Agriculture team, as part of the HOPE II and Tropical Legumes III projects, has created an online seed catalog and a digital seed roadmap tool. At the national level, seed roadmaps enable governments, small-scale seed producers and the private sector to plan, produce, monitor and provide quality seed to smallholders, no matter what the locality. Both the seed catalog and digital seed roadmap are now available to actors and stakeholders in the seed system.

However, no tool is effective until the stakeholders actively adopt it and use it as part of their regular tasks. With this in mind, ICRISAT, through the HOPE II and TL III projects, organized a series of workshops to demonstrate the use of the tool to various seed system stakeholders including NARS partners, extension workers, and staff of research institutes and seed companies. So far, these workshops have been conducted in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia; Kampala, Uganda; and Arusha, Tanzania. The fourth workshop was conducted in Bamako, Mali,

during 11-12 December 2018, in order to better plan seed production in Mali.

“The common goal is access to quality seeds, in adequate quantity and in a timely manner by smallholders, which is important for the transformation of agriculture in Africa,” said Dr Aboubacar Touré, sorghum breeder, acting on behalf of Dr Ramadjita Tabo, ICRISAT Regional and Research Program Director for West and Central Africa.

Mr Satish Nagaraji conducts a practical training session. Photo: M Magassa, ICRISAT

Mr Satish Nagaraji conducts a practical training session. Photo: M Magassa, ICRISAT

Mr Satish Nagaraji, Senior Manager, Digital Agriculture (M&E & Tools), ICRISAT, and Mr Krishnam Raju, Keansa Solutions, introduced the participants to the basics of the online seed catalog, including changing the language of the tools (from English to French) for better management. They demonstrated how to update the seed catalog by adding newly registered varieties and varietal characteristics. “The online catalog is a memory bank for young researchers looking for characteristics of even old varieties,” said Mr Alfousseiny Maiga, a PhD student in plant breeding. “It allows us to focus our research as well,” he added.

In Mali, this online varietal catalog takes into account four main crops (sorghum, millet, groundnut and cowpea). By the end of the training session, registered information on these crops went from 55% to 95%. The percentages of sorghum and millet data covered in the seed catalog increased from 58% and 48% to 99% and 94%, respectively. Impressively, online data capture about cowpea went from 23% before the training to 87% after the training.

The workshop saw enthusiastic involvement from over 60 participants. After the hands-on training session on the use of the digital seed roadmap tool, many of them felt that the tool would be very useful for planning their seed production cycles. They expressed the wish that the catalog be extended to farmers. “It’s a great experience for me and my company. From now on, we will not be afraid of losing our data because we will be able to find them in the online catalog,” said Mrs Oumou N’tji Coulibaly, Deputy Director of the Faso Kaba Seed Company, who is attending such a training for the first time.

Modernizing seed management tools is important for the transformation of agriculture in Africa. Digital solutions such as the online variety catalog and computerized seed production planning guide are major steps forward against poverty and hunger in the world.

Click here to read about the workshop in Ethiopia last year.

The next workshop in this series will be conducted in Kano, Nigeria, during 31 January – 1 February 2019.

Project: Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE II) for Sorghum and Millets in sub-Saharan Africa

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Partners: Institut de l’Environnement et Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso; Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali; Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and Usmanu Danfodiyo University of Sokoto (UDUS), Nigeria; Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Ethiopia; Department of Research and Development (DRD), Tanzania; National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Uganda.

Project: Tropical Legumes III

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Partners: International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT); International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); Institute for Agriculture Research, Ahmadu Bello University (IAR-ABU); Centre for Dryland Agriculture, Bayero University, Kano (CDA-BUK); Federal University of Agriculture, Makurdi (FUAM); Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Institute – Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (CSIR-SARI); Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso; Heritage Seeds Company Ltd and Epam Seeds Pvt. Ltd; local Nigerian Agricultural Development Projects; and ICRISAT.

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals


Charles Renard Analytical Laboratory now a part of SEALNET

ICRISAT’s Charles Renard Analytical Laboratory (CRAL) has joined the South-East Asia Laboratory NETwork (SEALNET) of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

Read more

FAO launched SEALNET in 2017 to strengthen the performance of laboratories and support harmonization of soil data sets and information towards development of standard operating procedures (SOPs) for key soil tests. This is critical for soil information to be made comparable and interpretable across laboratories, countries and regions.

This network will also support workshops, technical communications, training and capacity building of lab staff. CRAL is the only the second lab in India to be on this network. Click here for location on the network map.

Research on ICRISAT mandate crops


Chickpea scientists from several countries during a tour of ICRISAT campus. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Chickpea scientists from several countries during a tour of ICRISAT campus. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Riding high on chickpea’s growth

Scientists call for sustained research to accelerate crop improvement

Scientists from Asia and Africa called for sustaining research efforts to reap greater gains given that global chickpea production, buoyed by recent increases in India’s output, is inching towards the 15 million ton mark.

URL for the story

Read more

“India was producing 5.5 million tons and now it is 11 million tons. Chickpea has become a mega crop and its growth in the last five years is unlike any other crop’s in the country,” said Dr NP Singh, Director, ICAR-Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR). He was speaking at the Chickpea Scientists’ Meet held recently at ICRISAT. The meet is organized biennially at ICRISAT-Patancheru.

Being the largest producer of chickpea, India is also its biggest consumer and imports the local variety, commonly referred to as ‘desi’. The ‘kabuli’ variety, with larger seeds, is produced in surplus, warranting export. Production has increasingly shifted from northern India to central and southern India, where vast tracts of land came under chickpea cultivation since the Green Revolution. ICAR’s collaboration with ICRISAT resulted in breeder seeds for most varieties that are now in use with three varieties being released in the last two years alone.

The meeting saw representatives from Ethiopia, Kenya, Myanmar, Nepal and Tanzania present progress in chickpea improvement in the last two years.

Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director – Asia, speaking to chickpea scientists at the meet. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director – Asia, speaking to chickpea scientists at the meet. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Outlining the hurdles to cultivation of chickpea, Dr Tun Shwe and Dr Mar Mar Win from Myanmar’s Department of Agriculture Research said that new and agronomic research helped improve productivity. They said that increased utilization of fallow lands for cultivating short-duration chickpea varieties and improved market interventions for the pulses could further boost chickpea efforts in Myanmar.

Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director – Asia, said that ICRISAT’s collaborations with Myanmar’s Department of Agriculture and with national partners in Africa had resulted in the release of most varieties that are currently in use in those countries. He also noted that the number of female chickpea scientists had steadily increased over the years.

“Chickpea research is helping the agriculture research landscape find gender balance. Steps taken for that at all levels of education are showing results. There now are more women in chickpea breeding than ever before,” he said.

Dr Robert O Kileo from Tanzania’s Agricultural Research Institute said that chickpea production, yield and area under production increased significantly after the second phase of the Tropical Legumes project. Further research was needed to combat biotic and abiotic stresses, and to address socio-economic challenges, he said.

The visiting scientists toured chickpea fields on ICRISAT campus to identify and select lines for subsequent breeding. Plant type, suitability for machine harvesting, and resistance to Fusarium wilt were among the traits researchers sought.

Dr Peter S Carberry, Director-General, ICRISAT, lauded the multi-institutional efforts in chickpea improvement and mentioned that the crop was now being preferred over others like wheat owing to productivity and profitability. The meet was organized on 4-5 January 2018 by ICRISAT’s Research Program-Asia and was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals.


Pilira 3 Photo: L Kachulu, ICRISAT

Three new farmer-preferred sorghum varieties released in Malawi

Three new improved sorghum varieties have been released in Malawi after extensive trials. Pilira 3, Pilira 4 and Pilira 5 have been released by the Agricultural Technology Clearing Committee (ATTC), under the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security in Malawi, in December 2018.

URL for the story

Read more

Pilira 4 Photo: E Manyasa, ICRISAT

Pilira 4 Photo: E Manyasa, ICRISAT

Therefore, to replace the old varieties with new superior farmer- and market-preferred varieties, ICRISAT-Malawi (with backstopping from the sorghum breeder in Nairobi) and DARS have, over the past three years (2015/16, 2016/2017 and 2017/18 cropping seasons), conducted on-station and on-farm/participatory variety selection (PVS) trials with farmers. The test material was bred by the ICRISAT-ESA sorghum breeding program in Nairobi. Among the high-yielding sorghum varieties that outyielded the check Pilira 1 were: IESV 23006 DL, IESV 23004 DL, IESV 23005, IESV 23010 DL and KARI-Mtama 1.

Pilira 5 Photo: L Kachulu, ICRISAT

Pilira 5 Photo: L Kachulu, ICRISAT

Of these, IESV 23010 DL, IESV 23006 DL and KARI-Mtama 1 were found to be high-yielding and stable across the four test locations (Chitedze, Chitala, Ngabu and Baka Research stations). KARI-Mtama 1, which has white grains, recorded a mean yield of 4.0 t/ha outyielding the check by 48%. IESV 23010 DL recorded a mean grain yield of 4.2 t/ha outyielding the check by 56%. IESV 23006 DL recorded a mean yield of 4.5 t/ha outyielding the check by 64%. All the three varieties flowered within 84 days and attained maturity in 100-120 days. These varieties were also selected by farmers as the best in terms of performance and palatability (nsima) through participatory variety selection. IESV 23010 DL was also preferred for its good brewing qualities (local sweet beer).

Consequently, the three varieties were selected by the ATTC for release and renamed as follows:

KARI-Mtama 1     Pilira 3

IESV 23010 DL     Pilira 4

IESV 23006 DL     Pilira 5.

The release of these three new varieties is expected to improve incomes and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Malawi.

For more on ICRISAT’s work in Malawi, click here.

Project: Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP)

Funder: Irish Aid

Partners: Department of Agricultural Research Services (DARS), Malawi

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

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


A chickpea farmer in Ethiopia.

A chickpea farmer in Ethiopia.

Two-fold increase in varietal adoption in seven years – a chickpea tale from Ethiopia

Adoption of improved chickpea varieties increased more than two-fold in seven years, shows data from more than 600 households in Ethiopia. “In just seven years, the percentage of households growing the new varieties rose from 30% to 80%. Improved chickpea varieties are assumed to be a key pro-poor and environmentally friendly technology,” state the authors of the study ‘A recipe for success? Learning from the rapid adoption of improved chickpea varieties in Ethiopia’.

URL for the story

Read more

The authors, whose study was published in the ‘International Journal of Agricultural Sustainability’ suggest that the case of improved chickpea adoption in Ethiopia demonstrates how new technologies can be made acceptable to the smallholder farmer.

The study questions the introduction of technologies that make big tradeoffs; the authors argue that smallholder farmers will not adopt new technologies unless innovations come with significant benefits.

For the study, researchers Simone Verkaart, Kai Mausch, Lieven Claessens and Ken E Giller analyzed data collected in the Shewa region located in the heart of Ethiopia. The capital city of Addis Ababa falls in the region. Data was collected during the Tropical Legumes II Project, led by ICRISAT, through a survey of households in 2006-07, 2009-10 and 2013-14.

The authors showed that rising domestic and export demand, higher price of kabuli varieties over desi varieties which were earlier cultivated by farmers, among others, drove the adoption of newer varieties.

Researchers also depicted the role of household traits, like education levels, in determining adoption. Despite the increase in input costs when new varieties were taken up for cultivation, the adoption rates were high as farmers anticipated higher returns. The study linked adoption of improved varieties with reduced household poverty.

“People will only adopt a new technology if they expect benefits from it. As adoption involves risks, learning and investments, these benefits need to be substantial, particularly in the case of resource-poor smallholders. In the end, only innovations that clearly outperform locally available technologies and manifest limited downside risks are likely to be adopted on a large scale,” the study concludes.

This study was made possible by funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The study can be accessed at http://oar.icrisat.org/11035/


Dr Lee Hickey, University of Queensland, elaborating on Speed Breeding at the symposium. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Dr Lee Hickey, University of Queensland, elaborating on Speed Breeding at the symposium. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Need to achieve global food security faster? Reach for new technologies, say scientists

Scientists from varied areas of crop research called for a mix of molecular techniques to accelerate genetic gains and meet the growing global demand for food.

URL for the story

Read more

“The world population is growing and by 2050 there will be 10 billion people. We need to speed up development of productive crops under climate change. Plant scientists discover new traits but the problem is it takes a long time to put those traits into varieties farmers can grow,” said Dr Lee Hickey of the University of Queensland.

Speaking during the keynote of the symposium ‘Advanced Genomics & Breeding Technologies for Accelerating Genetic Gains, at ICRISAT, Dr Hickey spoke about ‘Speed Breeding’, a set of techniques to hasten plant growth in controlled environments. Speed Breeding can help accomplish crossing and inbreeding in 1 to 2 years while it takes as long as 7 years to complete this phase with conventional practices.

Emphasizing the need for accelerated genetic gains, Dr Arvind Kumar, Director for the International Rice Research Institute’s (IRRI) South Asia Regional Center, in his keynote address said, “We cannot now afford the time taken in the past to develop traits like drought tolerance and disease resistance.”

For solutions to key issues in agriculture technology and policy, two panel discussions were held during the symposium. Both panels comprised senior scientists and administrators from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), state agricultural universities, ICRISAT and other partner organizations.

Advocating demand-driven technologies, Dr V Praveen Rao, Vice Chancellor, Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agriculture University, and Dr K P Viswanatha, Vice Chancellor, Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, emphasized the need for a repository of technologies to lower research costs.

Dr C Tara Satyavathi, Project Coordinator, All India Coordinated Research Project on Pearl Millet, recounted recent policy initiatives aimed at nutrition security. “In 2018, the government changed the nomenclature of millets to ‘nutri-cereals’. This is to convey to the public that they may increase their consumption,” she said, while adding that advanced genomics technologies would be required to enhance crop production and nutritional value of these nutri-cereals.

“In today’s world, the plant breeding community is privileged as they have access to new genomics tools and molecular breeding methods.  It is important to see that these technologies are utilized in a way that translates genomic information into molecular breeding in the shortest time possible,” said Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director – Genetic Gains and Director, Center of Excellence in Genomics and Systems Biology (CEGSB), ICRISAT.

The symposium was held during training courses that ICRISAT’s CEGSB organized between 10 and 21 December 2018. The courses were supported by CRP-Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals, Excellence in Breeding Platform and the Government of Karnataka-funded Genomics Consortium. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-funded Tropical Legumes III and HOPE II projects also supported the trainings.

Over 270 participants mainly researchers, policymakers and private sector representatives, from 13 countries participated in the symposium. The training courses were attended by 83 trainees from across the world.

Dr Kiran K Sharma, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, speaking at the symposium. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT

Dr Kiran K Sharma, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, speaking at
the symposium. Photo: S Punna, ICRISAT


FAW feeding on sorghum in Niger. Photo: ICRISAT

FAW feeding on sorghum in Niger. Photo: ICRISAT

Can we beat the fall armyworm with lessons from India’s groundnut battle of the 80s?

In the mid-80s, scientists battling the pest Spolit (Spodoptera litura) in India chanced upon an unsprayed groundnut field where the invading moth’s eggs were shredded. A closer look revealed ladybugs as the predators. This finding led to a natural pest management approach which could have lessons for the ongoing battle against the Fall Armyworm (FAW).

URL for the story

Read more

Spodoptera frugiperda (FAW), a distant cousin of Spolit, has been laying waste to maize fields in Africa from 2016. Since then, FAW’s presence has been confirmed across the globe, including in India. An equal number of other plant species including sorghum, rice, sugarcane and cotton, are also now known to be susceptible, the Centre for Agriculture and Bioscience International (CABI), states. Nearly two dozen international organizations
have joined hands to combat FAW.

In a recently published article in ‘Outlook on Agriculture’, Dr John A Wightman, who led the Groundnut Group at ICRISAT, detailed the approach used to battle Spolit in India. Cattle egrets and King crows, were instrumental, he notes, while highlighting the scope of natural predators in pest management. The birds pecked adult caterpillars, significantly helping control pest numbers. Interspersed sunflower plants served as perches for the birds while serving the purpose of crop diversification.

Scientists also taught extension workers the use of Nuclear Polyhedrosis Virus (NPV) and the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis, Dr Wightman says, emphasizing the role extension played in tackling Spolit in pre-internet India.

To counter FAW, Dr Wightman calls for measuring its resistance to insecticides and more research to understand the moth’s survival during dry season when there are no crops. He suggests exploring pesticidal plants and entomopathogens like NPV to manage the pest, besides identifying natural predators. He wonders if land preparation after harvest can destroy FAW pupae when they burrow underground during the hot or dry season. He also states that a crop’s leaf damage does not necessarily indicate loss of yield.

“Approaches to FAW management need to be flexible and should respond to local situations, including or especially changes in weather patterns. Going into the fields with predetermined solutions ready to be implemented (perhaps because they work somewhere else) will probably not be of long-term benefit,” he says.

The publication that details ICRISAT’s work during the period can be accessed at: https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/10.1177/0030727018814849   


Mr Devashish Chobe, Research Scholar, ICRISAT, interacting with pigeonpea farmer Mr Basweshwara Patil of Gulbarga, Karnataka. Photo: A Tarafdar, ICRISAT

Mr Devashish Chobe, Research Scholar, ICRISAT, interacting with pigeonpea farmer Mr Basweshwara Patil of Gulbarga, Karnataka. Photo: A Tarafdar, ICRISAT

Decoding increased disease and insect-pest attacks on crops

ICRISAT reaches out to farmers in four Indian states

With an aim to record the occurrence and distribution of pests and diseases in chickpea and pigeonpea, a real-time survey of insect-pest incidences on these crops is being conducted in four Indian states – Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, and Karnataka – under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology (DST), Government of India,  - Center of Excellence on Climate Change Research for Plant Protection.

URL for the story

Read more

Challenged by the recent increase in insect pest attacks on staple crops, especially in the drylands, scientists are trying to map the incidence of such attacks to factors such as seasonal climate variability.

Dr Avijit Tarafdar, Visiting Scientist, ICRISAT, in conversation with chickpea farmer Mr Srinivasa Boreddy in Adilabad District, Telangana. Photo: D Chobe, ICRISAT

Dr Avijit Tarafdar, Visiting Scientist, ICRISAT, in conversation with chickpea farmer Mr Srinivasa Boreddy in Adilabad District, Telangana. Photo: D Chobe, ICRISAT

The Legumes Pathology team, guided by Dr Mamta Sharma, Theme Leader – Integrated Crop Management, ICRISAT, is gathering information on soil type, crop history, agronomic practices and more, by interacting with farmers in about 70 villages in 20 districts in the four states. They are, in the process, also visiting three agricultural universities and nine Krishi Vigyan Kendras (agriculture knowledge resource centers of the Government of India).

“This study will help to identify risk areas for mapping spatial and temporal distribution of diseases and insect-pests under a changing climate scenario,” says Dr Sharma. “In the long run, it will be helpful in the development of better, more accurate disease- and pest-prediction models.”

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 15-life-onland

Promoting ICRISAT mandate crops


ICRISAT staff along with students and staff of The Intercontinental Secondary School, Kano, Nigeria.

ICRISAT staff along with students and staff of The Intercontinental Secondary School, Kano, Nigeria.

Pop sorghum, doughnuts and hammer mills: Nigerian teens see the fun side of agriculture

If the teenagers studying in a secondary school in Nigeria ever thought that agriculture was not ‘a teen thing’, they were in for a surprise! A group of 133 students (75 girls and 58 boys), who signed up for a training session with experts from ICRISAT and other partners, got to use farm implements, create tasty sorghum-based dishes and learn about making profits in agriculture.

URL for the story

Read more

The students of The Intercontinental Secondary School, Kano, Nigeria, participated in a hands-on training program on producing and processing sorghum as a viable business venture, with inputs from several industry experts.

ICRISAT staff demonstrating recipes for snacks.

ICRISAT staff demonstrating recipes for snacks.

The special capacity-building program comprised three key activities:

  1. Talks on sorghum product development

Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe, Country Representative-Kenya, ICRISAT and Dr Ignatius Angarawai, Senior Scientist, Sorghum Breeding, ICRISAT, presented talks to the youngsters about sorghum processing and product development for better nutrition and higher incomes.

  1. Demonstration of small-scale agricultural machines to reduce drudgery and post-harvest losses

Dr Ajeigbe emphasized the importance of mechanization in agriculture, saying, “Mechanization will reduce the drudgery associated with agricultural activities; almost all activities can be mechanized even at a small scale.”

Also, Engr. Aliyu Adinoyi, Scientific Officer, ICRISAT, demonstrated the hammer mill with cyclone for income generation and food safety.

  1. Hands-on lessons on sorghum-related product preparations

Mrs Hafsat I Sulaiman, Ms Bilkisu Adeshina and Ms Shatinyan Christopher (ICRISAT extension officers) demonstrated the preparation of sorghum- and groundnut-based products such as pop sorghum, pap (Kunun Gyada), Hallaka Kobo, cakes, doughnuts, bread and crisps. The students also tried their hand at preparing some of the above recipes.

A young student tries his hand at making pop sorghum in a locally fabricated machine.

A young student tries his hand at making pop sorghum in a locally fabricated machine.

ICRISAT along with the ATASP-1* program and the Agricultural Promotion Policy (APP) of the Federal Government of Nigeria conducted this training program on 29 November 2018.

The main goal of the training session was to trigger interest  in youth and to get them to be more passionate about agriculture and related activities as viable business and livelihood options.

For more on ICRISAT’s work on sorghum, click here.

For more on ICRISAT’s work in Nigeria, click here.

Project: Agricultural Transformation Agenda Support Programme, Phase One (ATASP-1)

Funder: Federal Government of Nigeria through Africa Development Bank (AFDB)

Partners: Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (KNARDA), Zonal ATASP-1 offices, and sorghum processors.

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


Judging Panel Chef Anahita Dhondy (Top row - 6th from left), Chef Ramasamy Selvaraju (Top row - 5th from left) and Chef Vinod Bhatti (Top row - 4th from left) with Smart Food Culinary Challenge Finalists.

Judging Panel Chef Anahita Dhondy (Top row - 6th from left), Chef Ramasamy Selvaraju (Top row - 5th from left) and Chef Vinod Bhatti (Top row - 4th from left) with Smart Food Culinary Challenge Finalists.

Smart Food Culinary Challenge Finale leaves audience cheering

Flames flew off the pans at the finale cook-off between young chefs in the Smart Food Culinary Challenge.

Thousands of visitors of the trade fair, including kids, joined in for the countdown as the teams set off to plate their dishes to perfection. The chefs had to go bolder, bigger and better for the attention of the judges.

Read more

Celebrity chefs traded aprons for gavels, just for the day, to judge the finale of India’s first such Culinary Challenge. Chef Anahita Dhondy, Chef Manager, SodaBottleOpenerWala; Chef Ramasamy Selvaraju, Executive Chef, Vivanta by Taj and Chef Vinod Bhatti, Range and Commercial manager, IKEA Food, India, kept the budding chefs on their toes with constant inputs on using millets.

The electrifying finale cook-off between the top two teams was video documented as a reality show for a cause by ICRISAT. The gripping moments of the entire challenge were captured as a five-part documentary reality series that will be part of both national and international endeavors to give the image of millets a makeover. The winners of the culinary challenge will be announced in the video series to be released online soon. Sign up for updates at – http://www.smartfood.org/culinarychallenge/

The student chefs surprised the visitors of the Organic and Millet International Fair – 2019 by using millets as rice, as crust, as beverage, as dessert and even as fillings.

“I was amazed and pleased indeed to learn different ways of substituting rice and wheat for millets,” said Ms. Suchitra, a visitor cheering from the stands.

The live audience were exposed to innovative, healthy and easy-to-cook recipes such as the Jowar Crusted Pomfret, Barnyard Millet Vegetable Terrine, Kebabs with Millet Fillings, Proso Millet Paella, Deconstructed Ragi Carrot Cake, Foxtail Aam Royale Beverage and Coco-pearl smoothie.

“The first thing I shall do after I go home is cook up some of these recipes. The exciting part of this exercise is the cook off between young chefs, it’s quite a novel idea,” said Ms. Caroline Radhakrishnan, a food blogger.

Krishnappa, a young millet farmer from Karnataka brought along his two kids to the millet product showcase to share the excitement.

“This is very exciting. Wish there was a cook off for the visitors or farmers. Looking forward to more events such as these in the future,” he said.

The preliminary cook-off had 28 teams held at MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences, which were then reduced to six teams for the finale on 19 January. Watch the journey of finalists Deepa KM and Rohan Singh from NITTE Institute of Design and Culinary Art, Bangalore, here – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=c1Zn_rw0IUM

Each team cooked up one traditional and a one contemporary dish including recipes such as Biryani, Dal Bati Churma, Pooris, Noodles and Srilankan Hoppers made with millets.

The judges scored the preparations on the usage of millets, taste, portion size, platting and time management and selected the top two teams to compete in the finale round.

This live show of the Smart Food Culinary Challenge was organized through a partnership among Government of Karnataka, ICRISAT and MS Ramaiah University of Applied Sciences. Overseeing the live show were Dr. Shivashankara Reddy, Minister of Agriculture, Government of Karnataka, Ms. Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General, Strategic Marketing and Communication, ICRISAT, Dr. Vilas Tonapi, Director, IIMR and Dr. K G Jagadeesha, Commissioner for Agriculture, GoK.

The judging panel held a debriefing session at the end of the live show and encouraged the budding chefs to continue experimenting with millets. Concluding the event, Chef Vinod Bhatti said, “The challenge brought out the best in each chef, forced them to experiment. Here, today, we discovered the new future foods.”

Chef Anahita Dhondy @anahitadhondy – a food geek, a Smart Food Ambassador and a global advocate of millets.

“Millets are vital to sustainable food. The Smart Food Culinary Challenge is about teaching the young chefs how food and the industry around it should evolve for a better environment.”

Chef Ramasamy Selvaraju – a man on a mission, a pioneer in introducing millets to fine dining. He was awarded the title of Chef of the year by the ministry of tourism in 2014.

“It is common belief that millet are hard to cook and time consuming. For the finale, young chefs cooked two complex millet recipes in half an hour in the presence of a live audience. They are up for the challenge and you should be too.”

Chef Vinod Bhatti @chef_vinod_b – a top culinary critic and a masterchef pushing boundaries in culinary science.

“I am delighted to see student chefs enjoying while mastering the art of cooking millets. This effort will go a long way in pushing millets to be included in healthy yet tasty diets and daily consumption.”


Mr Fidel Yameogo and his wife in their field with improved sorghum variety. Photo: M Magassa, ICRISAT

Mr Fidel Yameogo and his wife in their field with improved sorghum variety. Photo: M Magassa, ICRISAT

Where agriculture is religion: Preaching about improved sorghum in Burkina Faso

Improved sorghum varieties are finding new champions in unusual places. In Andemtenga, a remote village about 150 km east of Ouagadougou (capital of Burkina Faso), Mr Fidel Yameogo, the local catechist, is famous for testing improved sorghum varieties. He is a staunch supporter of improved sorghum varieties and has persuaded many in his village to adopt the same for better harvests.

URL for the story

Read more

Over the past two years, Mr Yameogo planted three improved varieties: Sariaso 11, Sariaso 22 and ICSV 1049. “I tried a dozen varieties before choosing these,” he says. In this far-flung village, (as in many others in this region), soils are poor and rainfall is often inadequate. Despite these hardships, he remains confident about the current year’s harvest: “I sowed on 27 Juneand look at my field today (2 October)! Plants are growing well and grains are almost formed,” he explains, pointing at his 1.5-hectare field growing the three improved sorghum varieties.

Very influential among members of his church, the catechist doesn’t miss an opportunity to encourage the villagers to go for improved sorghum varieties, which he considers to be the future of agriculture in the area. Recently, when a church member asked him about his ‘secret’ to cope with the vagaries of climate change and drought, he responded, “Our local varieties are outdated. If you want to have food for your family, you must practice what modern agriculture recommends, including use of improved varieties”. Thanks to last year’s good harvest, Mr Yameogo was able to buy an ox for plowing his field and a dozen of goats for breeding. “After keeping enough for household consumption, I sold the surplus grain for more than CFA 650,000 (about USD 1,200),’’ he says. A pragmatic preacher, he is now using his knowledge to convince the most incredulous to adopt new sorghum varieties. “When the time to plow comes, I will not have to wait for anybody’s helping hand since I have my own ox. When we want to eat meat, we can kill a goat. Thanks to God and to new improved varieties, I am happy”, he tells his church members during field discussions with the HOPE project team.

Showing his good faith and willingness to help a large number of producers in the village, the catechist undertook to share seeds of improved varieties of Sariaso 11, Sariaso 22 and ICSV 1049 with the villagers. “I gave out more than 100 kg of seed to about 100 people,” he says. In July 2018, small quantities of seed of the improved sorghum varieties (1 kg per beneficiary) were distributed and planted for the first time by about 20 producers in Andemtenga. Mr Yameogo is a participant of the demonstrations and participatory variety trials implemented by “Association Minim Song Panga (AMSP)” in the area during the past six years.

Click here for more on ICRISAT’s work in Burkina Faso

Click here for more on ICRISAT’s work on sorghum

Project: Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE II) for Sorghum and Millets in sub-Saharan Africa
Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Partners: Institut de l’Environnement et Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso; Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali; Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) and Usmanu Danfodiyo University of Sokoto (UDUS), Nigeria; Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR), Ethiopia; Department of Research and Development (DRD), Tanzania; National Semi-Arid Resources Research Institute (NaSARRI) of the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO), Uganda.

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


A demonstration on mixing sorghum flour into cake batter in Adani-Omor Staple Crop Processing Zone (SCPZ) South-Eastern Nigeria.

A demonstration on mixing sorghum flour into cake batter in Adani-Omor Staple Crop Processing Zone (SCPZ) South-Eastern Nigeria.

Women and youth in Nigeria turn to sorghum processing for better incomes

Over 300 women and youth in Nigeria discovered recently that the humble, environment-friendly sorghum can be made into delicious products and, in the process, earn them a better income. These aspiring farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs were trying to make the most of a trend of rising demand for processed sorghum products. They found that training in sorghum production and processing techniques could give them an edge in income generation and employment.

URL for the story

Read more

Over 300 women and youth in Nigeria discovered recently that the humble, environment-friendly sorghum can be made into delicious products and, in the process, earn them a better income. These aspiring farmers and agricultural entrepreneurs were trying to make the most of a trend of rising demand for processed sorghum products. They found that training in sorghum production and processing techniques could give them an edge in income generation and employment.

A young man mixes batter before pouring into moulds for sorghum cakes in Bida-Badeggi SCPZ, Northern Nigeria. Photo: F Akinseye, ICRISAT

A young man mixes batter before pouring into moulds for sorghum cakes in Bida-Badeggi SCPZ, Northern Nigeria.
Photo: F Akinseye, ICRISAT

Since 2015, several training programs, conducted by ICRISAT along with ATASP-1* and other partners, have trained over 10,000 youth and women in seven participating states and four Staple Crop Processing Zones (SCPZs) in Nigeria.

Industrial demand for sorghum is growing in Nigeria, with about 20% of the total sorghum produced being taken up by industries. This increased demand is because of rising awareness about sorghum’s health benefits and the government’s policy of high import prices.

A woman extracts juice from sweet sorghum using an extractor in Kebbi-Sokoto SCPZ, Northern Nigeria. Photo: F Akinseye, ICRISAT

A woman extracts juice from sweet sorghum using an extractor in Kebbi-Sokoto SCPZ, Northern Nigeria. Photo: F Akinseye, ICRISAT

The recently conducted training program for women and youth strategically focused on wealth generation through business development, with interactive sessions on micro and small business enterprises, fundamentals of business proposal and business plan development, record keeping, report writing and group formation and development. Experts also delivered special lectures on sorghum production and processing for household use.

The trainees learnt how to prepare processed sorghum products such as composite sorghum flour, kunu drink, sorghum noodles, popped sorghum, cookies, cakes, bread, doughnuts and crisps (with groundnut).

This training, conducted during 29 October–23 November 2018, began in Kano-Jigawa SCPZ and ended at Adani-Omor SCPZ. A total of 329 participants (155 male; 174 female) attended the training which also covered health issues as well as demonstration on storage, cleaning, drying and packaging of sorghum.

Participants to the training in Sorghum processing in Kebbi-Sokoto SCPZ, Northern Nigeria. Photo: F Akinseye, ICRISAT

Participants to the training in Sorghum processing in Kebbi-Sokoto SCPZ, Northern Nigeria. Photo: F Akinseye, ICRISAT

Project: Agricultural Transformation Agenda Support Programme, Phase One (ATASP-1)
Funder: African Development Bank (AfDB)
Partners: Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development (FMARD); International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA); Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice); ATASP-1 National Office, Abuja; and ATASP-1 Zonal Offices in Adani-Omor, Awka Anambra State; Bida-Badeggi, Bida Niger State; Kano-Jigawa, Kano State; and Kebbi-Sokoto, Kebbi State.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals 


Few alternative thoughts to farm loan waivers

A big development in the run-up to the General Elections to the Lok Sabha later this year has been around the announcements by few political parties to waive off farm loans if they are voted to power. I have no intention whatsoever to discuss the political dynamics of these poll promises. However, someone having an interest in agriculture policy space, I am happy to note that political parties are increasingly talking about the ongoing agrarian crisis. Farm loan waivers, though put a heavy strain on the state finances, are often preferred as a populist and politically rewarding solution to divert attention from the core issues of farm distress. Majority of agricultural economists, however, have not arguably aligned their considered viewpoints to such political manoeuvers. The central bank too has cautioned governments propagating these easy political options and has underlined the concerns that this may impact credit culture in the country.

URL for the story

Read more

Original post on

Small size of land holdings; land degradation and depletion of ground water affecting natural resources, especially soil and water; multiple risks from increasing cost of inputs to vacillating prices for produce and volatility of markets and above all, the weather variabilities have put Indian agriculture at crossroads. There is no gainsaying the fact that tillers tilling hard to feed the nation need all required support to make farming viable and sustainable, both economically and environmentally. It is in this backdrop, I wish to offer few viable alternative thoughts to the farm loan waivers, keeping in view the crying needs of Indian farming at these critical times and to invest money from the same resource envelope ‘productively and purposefully’.

Expansion of Institutional lending:

Political parties are not talking of loan waivers for the first time. In the past, interest subventions and debt relief through waivers of loans and/or interest have been implemented with limited success. Empirical evidences and studies have clearly established the fact that it is not the majority in the lower rungs of farming community, who benefitted from such waiver schemes. As per available statistics, small and marginal farmers (owning arable lands of 2 hectares or less) amongst the 14 crores farm households in India constitute about 86% with an average land holding size of 1.15 hectares (2016 data). NABARD All India Rural Financial Inclusion Survey (NAFIS) 2016-17 reveals that only 43.5 % agricultural households borrowed any money in the previous year (2015-16) from some source or the other. Out of these, 60.4% agricultural households borrowed from institutional sources and 30.3% of the agricultural households borrowed from informal sources. The All India Debt and Investment survey (AIDIS) 70th round (2017) too reveals that institutional credit (cooperative societies/Banks; Commercial Banks) from amongst the total borrowers in agriculture is only 64%.

Loan waivers, benefitting mostly the institutional borrowers, will thus leave a significant part of agriculturist community, who are equally vulnerable. Loan waivers, as apprehended, would also affect future credit behavior of the borrowers and thus, adversely affect the agricultural credit culture altogether. In such a scenario, enhancing credit flow to agriculture sector and expansion of institutional finance seem to be a long-term solution. Interest subventions and incentivizing timely repayments would make better options than loan waiver by not destroying the credit repayment behavior of the borrowing farmers. It will also make the liquidity situation better.

Income Support to Farmers:

Income/investment support to farmers has recently been tried by few state governments. The Rythu Bandhu scheme of Telangana and KALIA (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) of Odisha are setting trends through direct government payments to the farmers. The Odisha model seems to be an improved version that addresses the needs of even lessee farmers and has incorporated a package of other services like insurance products and exclusion criteria of non-poor farmers. Prima-facie, income-support to farmers, if implemented with transparency, seem to be a good alternative to the Loan-waiver proposition. However, availability of quality agro-inputs at the time of need will make proper use of the assistance, lest the support money should end up for consumption expenses of farmers.

Enhanced investments in agricultural research and education:

Evidence-based research has shown that it is prudent to raise investments in agricultural R&D so as to reap benefits in future. In a changing climate, challenges to the agriculture sector has increased. To counter all such adverse impacts, it is advisable to spend more on research and innovation in agriculture sector (present level of expenditure is only 0.3% of agricultural GDP). A recent study has pointed out that marginal returns on investment in agricultural R&D, irrigation and roads are 5 to 10 times higher than on input subsidies like fertilizers, power, etc. (ICRIER, 2018). We only wish, people at the helm make decisions with such solid evidences and not, with the sole aim to gain political dividends.

Targeting subsidies:

Economists across the spectrum have always advocated to reform the input subsidy regime prevailing in the country. Not defining entitlements or quantum of subsidy in inputs such as fertilizers and power has led to environmental problems like declining soil health and depleting ground water table. There have been studies which point out that input subsidies have largely benefitted the big farmers at the cost of small and marginal ones. I don’t advocate to do away with the subsidies for the marginalized; what I suggest is to ensure efficient and equitable use of the resources to ensure environmental sustainability. While the soil health card scheme of government aims to ensure balanced fertilization to raise crop productivity, it is mired with the excessive use of Urea (the price is comparatively very less vis-a-vis the P&K fertilizers) and non-availability of customized fertilizers. Subsidies on irrigation, agro-chemicals, etc. have also led to undesirable situations of environmental pollution and degradation. The need of the hour is to define eligibility for subsidies in agro-inputs and provision of adequate information for correct usages. Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) of the subsidies, wherever possible, will lead to prevention of leakages, thus making precious resources available for benefit of needy farmers. A farmer wanting to irrigate his/her crop fields needs water and not, free power. Balancing all these dynamics will need great amount of political will and not just freebies that mostly drain out resources with plethora of alternative usages. Productive investments in agriculture sector would be rewarding for the economy in the long run.

Promotion of organic farming and agro-ecological approach:

Excessive use of chemicals and its adverse effects on agri-food system and the ecology and environment has already led to awareness to promote organic agriculture. The Zero budget natural farming (ZBNF) is being seen as an alternative to high input intensive agriculture. Ensuring proper certification and premium price for such farm produce would sustain ecological farming, which are environmentally sustainable. Growing awareness amongst consumers in upper middle class and urban dwellers is a positive development in creation of demand for organic produce. Integrated nutrient and pest management, conservation agriculture, etc. have been gaining momentum in recent years. Low external input sustainable agriculture using the eco-system services is expected to make the agri-food value chain more robust. Reducing cost of inputs and ensuring proper price for produce obviously would lead to enhanced farm income and thus, expected to reduce agrarian distress.

Linking Farmers to the Markets:

Policy instruments like MSP (Minimum Support Price) have not fully addressed the issues concerning better price realization of marketable surplus because of inadequate and much-desired implementation. Collectivization of farmers (FPOs/FPCs); private sector participation in the entire value chain, etc. have often been advocated to raise farm incomes. It is to be borne in mind that till we come to a good shape of organized marketing structure through retail chains or private mandis or enhanced role of e-NAM, APMCs can’t be wished away. Modernization of APMC markets would thus be an imperative for the present. Farmers must be connected with the consumers with less and less role for the middle men. We must bear in mind that a farmer with remunerative returns would never hanker for political allurements.

Digital Agriculture:

Use of mobile telephony; internet of things (IOTs); drones; advanced analytics, etc. have shown great potential in revolutionizing the agriculture sector in several countries as a whole with positive impact on farmers’ incomes. Weather and crop advisories; market intelligence by using smart phones have already proven beneficial to farmers in many parts of the country. At a time when the traditional agricultural extension system is not in proper shape (due to large scale vacancies; inadequate training and capacity building of existing personnels, etc.), digital means to transfer farm knowledge to crop fields would be desirable. This would lessen the burden of farm distress indirectly.

As clearly established through empirical studies, large chunk of farmers don’t get relief from loan-waivers. Moreover, after-effects of such populist schemes have adverse consequences on the sector itself and on the economy as a whole. Thus, it is worthwhile to make productive investments that would raise and stabilize income of farmers. The income-support schemes like Rythu Bandhu and KALIA seem to be better options to stabilize farm incomes in the short to medium term. States should endeavor to shift significant number of cultivators to non-farm jobs through creation of opportunities in other sectors. The surplus farmers moving into other professions would offer a long-term solution for the ongoing agriculture crisis. Productive investments in Agri R&D; rural infrastructure including roads, irrigation, etc. can only sustain growth of the agriculture sector. The only worrisome fact is that good economics is often bad politics in Indian agriculture.

About the author:

Dr Arabinda Kumar Padhee
Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs
ICRISAT,


Dr. Esther Njuguna-Mungai, ICRISAT Gender Scientist, giving remarks during the opening of the GREAT/TLII Customised Gender Training in Kampala. Photo: GREAT

Dr. Esther Njuguna-Mungai, ICRISAT Gender Scientist, giving remarks during the opening of the GREAT/TLII Customised Gender Training in Kampala. Photo: GREAT

Misuse of the term ‘empowerment’ in daily conversations

In a world where ‘gender integration’ or ‘gender mainstreaming’ is prioritised and practiced, actors from different backgrounds come together in a ‘marriage’ arrangement of sorts, aimed at a joint objective. One outcome of this endeavor is that  participants start learning new words from other disciplines. The new terms learnt in this process can become exciting and they easily permeate daily conversations. These cross discipline interactions can also lead to formation of new terms and acronyms.  It is not uncommon to attend a workshop and think speakers are not even speaking in ‘English’ – especially in global partnerships like the CGIAR, where acronyms get formed and used until they become familiar terms in daily conversations.

URL for the story

Read more

Original post on

In a world where ‘gender integration’ or ‘gender mainstreaming’ is prioritised and practiced, actors from different backgrounds come together in a ‘marriage’ arrangement of sorts, aimed at a joint objective. One outcome of this endeavor is that  participants start learning new words from other disciplines. The new terms learnt in this process can become exciting and they easily permeate daily conversations. These cross discipline interactions can also lead to formation of new terms and acronyms.  It is not uncommon to attend a workshop and think speakers are not even speaking in ‘English’ – especially in global partnerships like the CGIAR, where acronyms get formed and used until they become familiar terms in daily conversations.

Some of new terms are only ‘known and understood’ in the small working teams where they are used often, but others have evolved to be internationally accepted terms that most people know, understand and use often. For example, as a gender scientist working in agriculture and specifically in crop breeding programs, I start learning about breeding terms like ‘traits,’ ‘trait preferences,’ and ‘hereditability.’  Soon these terms start emerging in my conversations when I talk to my colleagues, when I present my work and when I bargain for different roles.  Does the ‘deeper meaning’ of such terms remains the same whenever it is used?  In some cases, perhaps, but every time it is used across disciplines is another game all together.

One term that caught my attention during the customised GREAT-TLIII training in Makerere is the term ‘empowerment’. Since this was the first time the training was being implemented, the topic ‘Women’s empowerment: Introduction and issues in agricultural development’ was not on the initial program.  As the 9-country teams of social scientist and breeders in attendance worked on their assignment, by day 3, it was evident that most of them were ‘working towards empowerment.’  The term was floating in the room and in many of the discussions and country plans. The contexts were different, the approaches were different and even the use of the term was different every time it was mentioned.  In my mind, I could see almost 30 differently positioned interpretations of the term every time it was mentioned, as each person (facilitators and participants) in the room interpreted the use of the term from their own perspective and experiences. During the breaks, the focus on the term was a running theme by the facilitators of the training, as well as the participants in the training.

Prof. Margaret Mangheni and Dr. Brenda Boonabaana agreed that it was time to create a session on empowerment in the rolling program. Going back to the basics. In my mind I thought, ‘Oh, we know this term – maybe we should focus on tougher things like ‘the breeding strategies, product profiles, customer segments’ – all the amazing terms were engaged with during the week.’ But deferring to the wisdom of the GREAT trainers, the session was agreed on and delivered; and it made me laugh and appreciate the new learning even more.

Dr. Boonabaana introduced the topic and went through all the usual matters, It was when she began talking about the Reach, Benefit, Empowerment framework: clarifying gender strategies of development projects’ by IFPRI team (that I would recommend for all to read) that my understanding of the term ‘empowerment’ was challenged.

The framework identifies a need for projects and programs to distinguish between approaches that ‘reach’ women as participants, those that actually ‘benefit’ women and finally those that ‘empower’ them. These terms refer not only to the ‘objectives’ of a project or a program but also the set of activities the project undertakes and the way impact of those activities is measured.  Reaching women does not ensure they will benefit from a project and even if women benefit from a project, that does not ensure that they will be empowered if we take the definition ‘empowerment is the process by which those who have been denied the ability to make strategic life choices acquire such ability and transform those choices into desired actions and outcomes’ (Kabeer 1999 and Narayan 2015).

Sharing examples of life situations, Dr Boonabaana drove a point home that led to all of us appreciating that in some of the programs we have been involved in, we have not always offered insight into what changes we intended, how we attempted to achieve those changes and how those changes were measured. We had misused the term empowerment, and in doing so, we lost sight of what we were actually trying to achieve. This is why we should use words wisely. If we are not careful and get caught up in the excitement of learning something new, we may not realize that we are no longer speaking ‘English’ too. New terms are useful for framing new ideas, but we should not focus on the term at the expense of appreciating its meaning and achieving the objective of our work.

As we got into group activities for the next exercise, course facilitators were questioning their use of the term empowerment in programs they were involved in; where the goals and achievement on ‘reaching’ or ‘benefiting’ but were presented as ‘empowerment programs’.  The participants were editing their ‘empowerment’ statements in their country plans and I  found myself questioning my daily use of the term as well. I, too,  realised how often we misused the term empowerment, both in our conversations, in explaining the theory of change of our projects, and in strategizing in our program activities. I am positive that our teams will incorporate this knowledge and other lessons in the GREAT course into our activities to become better as we go forward.

About the author

Dr Esther Mwihaki Njuguna
Senior Scientist (Gender Research)


Thus, Rhythu Bandhu doesn’t directly benefit lessee cultivators or the landless agricultural labourers.

Thus, Rhythu Bandhu doesn’t directly benefit lessee cultivators or the landless agricultural labourers.

Budget and farm distress: Budget 2019 should be a balancing act

Though, in view of the impending elections, the Centre may get tempted to yield to populist demands, it must ensure that reforms

URL for the story

Read more

Original post on

Budget 2019 is just few days away, and as expected, farmers and people having interest in the agriculture sector are eagerly hoping to hear some good news. Measures to boost the already troubled agriculture sector are likely to get top priority across the spectrum in view of the sensitivity of Indian agriculture in the political economy. Debates and discussions around issues relating to farm distress throughout the country have heightened the expectations manifold.

In the run-up to the general elections later this year, and following the events in the aftermath of recently -concluded elections in a few states, the attention is on farm-loan waivers. However, agriculture-policy analysts, through empirical evidence, have opined that such ‘populist’ write-offs could be a temporary redressal, but not a permanent solution. However, considerations of quick political dividends are expected to dominate logical, evidence-based policy guidance, as has happened in the past.
Budget 2018 had a series of measures to boost the agriculture sector. Promising minimum support prices (MSP) of at least 50% higher than the cost of cultivation for major crops (both kharif and rabi) was a landmark decision of the Union government. However, the implementation of this has left much to be desired. The lack of procurement of crops other than paddy, wheat and, to some extent, cotton, is skewed against much-hyped boost to nutri-cereals like sorghum and millets (which saw the highest-ever increase in MSP). Operation Greens (to ensure remunerative prices for perishables like tomatoes, onions and potatoes), another much-hyped scheme, has also not taken off. The GrAM (Grameen Agricultural Markets) initiative, intended to develop and upgrade rural haats to benefit primary producers at the grassroots, has also not percolated to the ground. A slew of measures to promote FPOs and FPCs to de-intermediarise the agri value-chain are yet to bring desired results. Electronically linking the GrAMs to the e-NAM platform, and exempting them from the regulations of APMC Act, hasn’t happened, though such a move offers fantastic opportunities to both farmers and consumers/bulk-purchasers. Several announcements, like extending the facility of Kisan Credit Cards (KCC) to fisheries and animal husbandry farmers; setting up a Fisheries and Aquaculture Infrastructure Development Fund (FAIDF) for the fisheries sector and an Animal Husbandry Infrastructure Development Fund (AHIDF) for financing infrastructure requirement of the animal husbandry sector; setting up of state-of-the-art testing facilities in all the 42 Mega Food Parks, etc, are yet to see light of the day. All these are measures in the right direction. Agriculture being a state subject, proactive and enhanced participation of the states continues to be key for the success of any pro-farmer initiative. This must be kept in mind while declaring any stimulus for the agriculture sector in the forthcoming budget.

Going by political sentiments and consequent developments, a populist, pro-farmer budget this time seems a no-brainer. Our sensible expectations, however, would be to revitalise the stressed farm sector for the long-run, while offering ‘inevitable’ sops as a temporary measure.

Let’s discuss the obvious considerations of government of the day (at the Union level as well as in the states) for wooing the farming community, in view of the impending elections. Several studies hold that farm-loan waivers can’t be a sustainable solution, given the exclusion of a significant chunk of small and marginal farmers and agricultural labourers; it also puts a heavy burden on the public exchequer even as the money used to cover such waivers could have been invested in raising farm and rural productivity. However, political considerations may dominate logical, economically-sound recommendations, and therefore, an income-support scheme would be seen as advantageous in the medium-term. The KALIA (Krushak Assistance for Livelihood and Income Augmentation) scheme of Odisha that addresses the needs of small and marginal farmers (besides assisting the sharecroppers/lease-holders as well as landless labourers) seems to be an improved version of Telanagan’s Rhythu Bandhu. While KALIA offers a lump sum amount to small and marginal farmers/agricultural and agricultural labourers/lessee farmers, Rhythu Bandhu gives all farmers (irrespective of land-holding) a direct, per-acre support. Thus, Rhythu Bandhu doesn’t directly benefit lessee cultivators or the landless agricultural labourers. Moreover, input subsidies on seeds (from various government schemes) fertilisers and on power/irrigation continue, distorting the core objectives of such direct financial support initiatives.

It would be a challenge for the Union Finance Minister to strike a balance, if at all an income-support scheme for farmers is rolled out pan-India. The bottomline, however, would be to target existing subsidies, may be through DBT (Direct Benefit Transfer) and phasing out these subsidies with clear-cut policies on entitlements of the benefits (say, basing fertiliser subsidies on farmer-category and soil health). Enhancing the resource-use-efficiency will raise productivity.

In the short- to medium-term, the budget should also focus on building the capacity of institutions for enhanced procurement of the marketable surplus at MSP and also, linking the farmers to markets through alternative mechanisms such as price-deficiency schemes (AASHA has since been launched). Agri-market reforms should be the top the priority, including APMC reforms, promotion of contract farming and increased involvement of private sector in the procurement, processing and agri-logistics in the entire value-chain. High quality-standards for farm produce would raise income of farmers and, therefore, enhanced investments in this area will be rewarding. The Centre has recently declared a farm export policy; it’s stability and consistency would definitely be in the interest of those growing agri-commodities that conform to global standards. Necessary amendments in the Essential Commodities Act have often been suggested for positive gains for the farm sector. The Union Budget should focus on measures that will help implementation of already-declared schemes and policies. For example, women self-help groups (WSHGs) that are already active in many parts of the country, could be mobilized in a mission mode to link producers to markets through capacity building, financial literacy and managerial abilities. FPO penetration in rural areas is yet to make headway, and can’t bring immediate results everywhere.

Raising farm productivity through traditional technology transfer models has been the strategy of governments over the years. However, increased R&D spending is not commensurate to the desired benchmarks. To realise the goal of Doubling Farmers’ Income (DFI) by 2022-23 and to sustain satisfactory levels of agricultural production in a changing-climate scenario, enhanced investment in agricultural research and rural infrastructure is more desirable than ill-targeted input subsidies (including farm loan waivers). Reinvigorating the moribund agricultural extension system with infusion of digital-agriculture could also be a focus area that will have positive impact. Moreover, priority to nutrition-security over the food-security should be clearly addressed through a special mission. Modern agriculture is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions and, therefore, a well-designed initiative to sustain agricultural growth in the Anthropocene would make India a global leader in mitigating impacts of climate change. Whether the government pushes various pending reforms measures to boost the farm sector or plays to the gallery for political mileage, or strikes a balance in the interim Budget is something all stakeholders are looking at with much interest. We only wish that the measures that will be eventually announced benefit small and marginal farmers and don’t harm the agriculture sector structurally.

About the author:

Dr Arabinda Kumar Padhee
Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs
ICRISAT,

ICRISAT in the news


Seeding agricultural growth: Optimal support goes beyond MSP

There are 4 million people with limited access to food in Chad, which ranks as second hungriest of the 119 countries assessed in the 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI). Chad is also hotter and drier now than it was 40 years ago. The country is highly dependent on small-sized subsistence agriculture, but inadequate or maldistributed rainfalls have reduced crop production, resulting in food shortage and increased undernutrition. Now, the International Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) aims to provide food security and resilience for people in West and Central African drylands like Chad through more climate-smart crops.

URL for the story

Read more

Amid growing homogeneity of crop species worldwide in the past 50 years, major crops like rice, wheat, and maize have dominated markets. But climate-smart crops like pearl millet and sorghum can be incredibly reliable in regions with high temperatures, poor soil fertility, and recurring droughts. They typically do not require as much water to grow as other crops and can grow under challenging conditions. Served mainly as porridge or flat-breads, in addition, pearl millet and sorghum can provide Chadians with energy and micronutrients such as zinc and iron. These nutrients are essential for child growth and development—the future of the country.

ICRISAT has been developing even more stress-tolerant hybrids with improved yields. These cultivars can be more productive than other varieties in unfavorable environments, and they are more resilient to high temperatures and droughts, increased stress length, greater stress intensity, and varying onset times. In Chad, farmers who planted the S35 variety of sorghum (developed by ICRISAT researchers) are decreasing resource inputs by 33 percent and increasing yields by 51 percent, compared to yields of other sorghum varieties.

Pearl millet and sorghum are also core crops in ICRISAT’s Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) framework in West and Central Africa, where the organization aims to end poverty instead of alleviate it. While the poorest farmers often lack access to markets, more wealthy farmers can use information and resources to generate more income. The poor will remain poor, and the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen without inclusive approaches, according to ICRISAT.

To help more farmers get involved in markets, the framework includes multidimensional actions. Subsistence farmers who grow just enough food for themselves often experience food shortages, but cultivating climate-resilient crops can put more surplus in the poorest farmers’ hands. Then they will be able to trade goods in the market and invest for better future production. While farmers themselves take a leading role in this process, ICRISAT supports them by providing them with access to innovations and by improving safety nets and livelihood capital. And as the process continues, the organization hopes for a shift from external relief aid towards self-reliance.


The ICRISAT gene bank holds around 126,000 seed accessions. Head of the genebank Dr. Vania Azevedo and Seed Lab Manager Dr. Peerzada Ovais showing around in the medium term seed storage. The long term collection is conserved at minus -18oC.

The ICRISAT gene bank holds around 126,000 seed accessions. Head of the genebank Dr. Vania Azevedo and Seed Lab Manager Dr. Peerzada Ovais showing around in the medium term seed storage. The long term collection is conserved at minus -18oC.

Close to 90% of the ICRISAT collection duplicated

ICRISAT is among the gene banks that have deposited the largest numbers of seed samples in the Seed Vault. “At the moment almost 90% of our seed collection is duplicated in the Seed Vault, and we will continue to ship seeds to Svalbard until copies of the entire collection is deposited there”, says Dr. Vania Azevedo, Head of ICRISAT Genebank.

URL for the story

Read more

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has in particular six mandate crops that are emphasized within research, development, pre-breeding and gene bank activities. These are sorghum, finger millet and pearl millet as staple crops and chickpea, pigeon pea and groundnuts as protein crops. “These are robust and less demanding crops that have the potential to improve food supplies and nutrition in our part of the world“, Dr. Azevedo is explaining.

Examining seed longevity

Pigeon pea (Cajanus) varieties and genotypes are multiplied under net cover. From the left Head of Gene Bank Vania Azevedo, ICRISAT, Åsmund Asdal, Svalbard Global Seed Vault/NordGen, Senior Scientist Mani Vetriventhan, ICRISAT, Gene Bank manager Senthil Ramachandran, ICRISAT and NordGen director Lise Lykke Steffensen. There are 13321 accessions of pigeon pea deposited in the Seed Vault. Most of them belong to ICRISAT.

Pigeon pea (Cajanus) varieties and genotypes are multiplied under net cover. From the left Head of Gene Bank Vania Azevedo, ICRISAT, Åsmund Asdal, Svalbard Global Seed Vault/NordGen, Senior Scientist Mani Vetriventhan, ICRISAT, Gene Bank manager Senthil Ramachandran, ICRISAT and NordGen director Lise Lykke Steffensen. There are 13321 accessions of pigeon pea deposited in the Seed Vault. Most of them belong to ICRISAT.

The seed collections comprise in total approximately 126,000 accessions. At the moment 111,173 accessions out of these are duplicated in the Seed Vault. ICRISAT is one of quite few Seed Vault depositor gene banks that in addition to regular duplicates, has deposited test samples for monitoring the longevity of own seeds in the Seed Vault. “We think it would be useful to continue and if possible, extend the examining of seed longevity in cooperation with the Svalbard Global Seed Vault”, says Dr. Azevedo.

By the end of 2018, representatives from NordGen and the Svalbard Global Seed Vault were welcomed at the huge ICRISAT campus in Patancheru outside Hyderabad in India. “This is the best region for agriculture and food production in India”, explains Dr. Muri M. Sharma, who has been employed at ICRISAT during 40 of the 45 years since ICRISAT was established in Patancheru. Overcoming poverty and hunger, reducing malnutrition and preventing environmental degradation, are the main ICRISAT objectives that also are manifested in separate R&D programs.

Centre of Excellence in Genomics

NordGen received comprehensive information about several of the ICRISAT departments and programs, among these the Centre of Excellence in Genomics (CEGSB) and Genetic Gains department, headed by Research Program Director Dr. Rajeev K. Varshney. The centre is very well equipped, conducts projects within genomics and molecular methods that are supportive to other ICRISAT R&D activities and is active in national Indian and international cooperation.

Dr. Varshney was recently awarded with the American Society of Agronomy prestigious fellowship. Genomic resources, tools and technologies developed by CEGSB in collaboration with several international partners have been successfully utilized in developing superior lines through molecular breeding products, not only at ICRISAT but also at several other institutes.

Smart food good for all

Dr Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General at ICRISAT explains about the ICRISAT Smart Food project and displays a large number of innovative food products made from the emphasized crops sorghum and millets.

Dr Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General at ICRISAT explains about the ICRISAT Smart Food project and displays a large number of innovative food products made from the emphasized crops sorghum and millets.

Another prosperous initiative is the ICRISAT Smart Food project. Under the slogan “Good for you, good for the globe and good for the farmer” the project is in particular promoting increased production and consumption of sorghum and millets. “These are hardy, nutritious, less water and fertilizer demanding plants and they have few serious pests”, says Dr Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General at ICRISAT.

“We believe that these plants have the potential to significantly increase food supplies in semi-arid parts of the world”, she explains. The project is looking at all parts of the food chain, from selecting good varieties and seed supplies, through farming, trade and marketing systems to development of new food products.

Huge campus

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is one of the 15 CGIAR centres (the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research). Other centres holding large gene bank collections and being major depositors of seeds to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault are ICARDA, IRRI, CIMMYT, IITA, CIAT, CIP, ILRI, ICRAF and Africa Rice Centre.

The ICRISAT wild groundnut collection is conserved as living plants in concrete cylinders, needed for avoiding runners from mixing and causing confusion about purity of species and genotypes.

The ICRISAT wild groundnut collection is conserved as living plants in concrete cylinders, needed for avoiding runners from mixing and causing confusion about purity of species and genotypes.

On its huge campus of about 1400 hectares, that even contain more lakes and an extensive bird-life, ICRISAT is also hosting departments and field trials for other agricultural research institutes, e.g. World Vegetable Center, CIMMYT, IRRI, ILRI and the Indian Centre for Agricultural Research (ICAR) in Dehli. ICRISAT itself has departments in several African countries, as Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Kenya, Malawi, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia.


Making waves: Ten Indians among global top 4000 scientists

Ten Indian scientists have made it to the list of the world’s top 4000 scientists. This list was released in November 2018 by Clarivate Analytics, a global organization providing analytics to aid research and innovation. ICRISAT’s Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director – Genetic Gains, is one of the ten Indian scientists.

URL for the story

Read more

This news has made waves in the media and was featured in several publications recently.
Read more at:


10 among the world’s top 4000 influential researchers are Indian: report

Only 10 Indians on list of world’s 4,000 top scientists, but this is double last year’s

Click here for our report on Dr Varshney being among the Highly Cited Researchers according to Clarivate Analytics.


Chickpea – one of the best sources of protein. Photo L. Vidyasagar, ICRISAT

Chickpea – one of the best sources of protein. Photo L. Vidyasagar, ICRISAT

Opinion: How smart are smart foods?

Coinciding with the launch of the EAT-Lancet  “Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems” report, Dr Colin Chartres, the Fund’s CEO, was invited to a workshop on Smart Food, which was discussed in the address by ICRISAT’s Joanna Kane-Potaka, Executive Director of Smart Food at our 2018 conference. In this blog, Colin discusses the importance of ‘smart foods’ and smart people for a healthy population and planet.

URL for the story

Read more

In late January the Eat-Lancet Foundation released its Healthy Diets from Sustainable Food Systems report. Its headline message is:

 “Transformation to healthy diets by 2050 will require substantial dietary shifts. Global consumption of fruits, vegetables, nuts and legumes will have to double, and consumption of foods such as red meat and sugar will have to be reduced by more than 50%. A diet rich in plant-based foods and with fewer animal source foods confers both improved health and environmental benefits.”

Whilst this message is not exactly new – the late Professor Tony McMichael from ANU had been a long-time advocate of the environmental benefits of healthier dietary habits for over four decades, in my mind the growing effects on individuals’ health from obesity related diseases perhaps make the current arguments even more compelling given the fact that there are now about 2 billion over-nourished individuals worldwide, not just in the developed countries.

Perhaps sheeting home the impacts of poor diet to the individual may have more influence on changing diets than previous concerns related to environmental degradation and health.  Nevertheless, the impact of feeding almost 10 billion people by 2050 an increasingly westernised diet, within planetary boundaries including freshwater, soils, biodiversity and greenhouse gas emissions will have devastating effects.

So just what is the EAT-Lancet Commission’s Healthy diet? To improve the health of people and the planet, they have developed a “planetary health diet” which they say is globally applicable – irrespective of your geographic, economic or cultural background – and locally adaptable.  It is based on the following recommendations:

Foxtail millet. Photo courtesy of ICRISAT

Foxtail millet. Photo courtesy of ICRISAT

  • vegetables and fruit (550g per day per day)
  • wholegrains (230 grams per day)
  • dairy products such as milk and cheese (250g per day)
  • protein sourced from plants, such as lentils, peas, nuts and soy foods (100 grams per day)
  • small quantities of fish (28 grams per day), chicken (25 grams per day) and red meat (14 grams per day)
  • eggs (1.5 per week)
  • small quantities of fats (50g per day) and sugar (30g per day).

However, to achieve these ambitious targets will require significant global and individual action based on:

  • Seeking international and national commitment to shift toward healthy diets
  • Reorienting agricultural priorities from producing high quantities of food to producing healthy foods
  • Sustainably intensifying food production to increase high-quality output
  • Strong and coordinated governance of land and oceans
  • At least halving food losses and waste, in line with UN Sustainable Development Goals
Groundnut – rich in protein, edible oil, essential nutrients and antioxidents. Photo L. Vidyasagar, ICRISAT

Groundnut – rich in protein, edible oil, essential nutrients and antioxidents. Photo L. Vidyasagar, ICRISAT

If adopted by 2050 it would mean a doubling of the intake of cereals, fruits, legumes and nuts and a 50% reduction in global consumption of less healthy foods such as added sugars and red meat, particularly in western countries.  The Eat-Lancet Commission argues that by adoption of a healthy diet, combined with halving food waste globally and more sustainable production practices we can reduce CO2 emissions by half to almost 100%, and reduce pressure from agriculture on land, water resources and biodiversity.

To a considerable extent the report ignores the significant role that income and protein from livestock plays for hundreds of millions of smallholder farmers. In many developing countries consumption of animal protein is already very limited due to cost and many women suffer from mild or moderate anaemia, and stunting in children is still common.  Red meat, eggs and dairy products are a vital source of iron and other critical nutrients in their diets.  The diets of the bottom billion of global society clearly need enhancing nutritionally and diversifying, and protein sourced from livestock is vital to them.

Given the importance of this overall issue, I was fortunate to have been invited to a “Smart Food” workshop organised by the International Crops Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics(ICRISAT) in Hyderabad, southern India, in mid-January this year. ICRISAT is looking at ways in which to promote the increased production of millet and sorghum.  As argued by ICRISAT’s Joanna Kane-Potaka, Executive Director of Smart Food, at our 2018 conference (full proceedings are here) this can help increase cereal production to meet increasing global demand in a way that is ‘smart for consumers, smart for farmers and smart for the planet’.

Young school children in rural India eating millet chappatis with rice and vegetable curry. Photo A. Paul-Bossuet, ICRASAT

Young school children in rural India eating millet chappatis with rice and vegetable curry. Photo A. Paul-Bossuet, ICRASAT

Some varieties of millet and sorghum are high in iron, zinc, folate, calcium, antioxidants, protein, and fibre and have moderate to low glycemic indices – this being smart for consumers.  Millets and sorghum generally grow faster and survive with less water have lower nutrient demands than other cereals and – this being good for the planet. For the farmer, their drought and heat tolerance of millets and sorghum provides insurance against production failure, can be used as fodder and feed, food, biofuels and in brewing.

Millet bread. Photo courtesy of ICRISAT

Millet bread. Photo courtesy of ICRISAT

To me, they seem a very sensible alternative to other cereals in environments becoming increasingly marginal as a result of climate change for the cultivation of wheat and maize.  However, there is certainly more work required to increase their yields, confirm their nutritional qualities when processed and develop value chains that provide a steady market and potential to add value through processing.  The fact that they are gluten free offers further niche markets in the west and they are about the only cereals that flourish across the Sahel, an area already suffering significant climate change impacts and human consequences.

Having read the EAT-Lancet Commission report and attended the ICRISAT workshop set me thinking about the daunting challenges of both saving the planet and preventing obesity related diseases.  Whilst changing human behaviour is difficult, it can be done based on sound continuing education from an early age.  In comparison, researching the improvements required in specific crops, sustainable intensification and developing value chains is somewhat easier, but does require ongoing public and private funding.

Recent cutbacks to the CG system and public sector, agricultural R&D across the world are an indication that policy makers have not yet grasped the seriousness of the food and associated planetary challenges ahead.  These challenges to the planet are daunting.  The challenges to public sector health budgets are only just beginning to be understood.

We need to foster a new generation willing to take these on.  Consequently, one area that the Crawford Fund will be focusing even more on in the next couple of years is demonstrating to the next generation that not only are careers in the agriculture- food continuum exciting, but that the work is vital to saving the planet!

So in answer to my question in the article title – smart foods are vital, but smart people even more so, if we are going to stay healthy and save the planet!


Cultivated soil. Photo by: Jan Kroon / CC0

Cultivated soil. Photo by: Jan Kroon / CC0

Amid global soil crisis, governments struggle to reach farmers

To help tackle nutrient deficiency and plastic pollution in India’s soils, the country has one of the best knowledge delivery systems and trained human resource power in agriculture research. And yet, over 59 percent of the farming households receive no assistance from either their government or the private sector, according to the 2013 National Sample Survey conducted by the Indian government, the latest and most authoritative of its kind.

URL for the story

Read more

“Farmers look for a holistic solution and we give them a compartmentalized solution.” — Suhas Wani, former director, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics

Armed with new technologies and guidance from state-run research institutes, Indian farmers could help battle soil depletion by undertaking a soil health assessment, adopting sustainable management practices of natural resources, and identifying the right marketing opportunities — but it’s simply not happening, said Suhas Wani, who worked with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics based in southern India for 36 years until he retired as its director in 2018.

“There has been no change from the 2003 to 2013 results and I don’t see much change happening since then. If that is the state of India, you can imagine [what’s happening in] other countries,” he added.

In 2015, the International Year of Soils, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization warned that we only have 60 years of farming left if soil degradation continues. Since then, outsized population growth, human-caused climate change, and industrial farming are among the many factors that have added heavy strain on soils.

Fertile soil — a non-renewable resource — is now being lost at an alarming rate of approximately 24 billion tons a year, according to the “Global Land Outlook” report launched in 2017 by the U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification.

Natalia Eugenio, a soil scientist with the Global Soil Partnership, a multistakeholder initiative backed by UNFAO, said that while there is some improvement, “the truth is that we have to take action now. If we continue losing soils it’s going to be an irreversible problem.”

It’s not that there hasn’t been increased momentum. The Global Soil Partnership now has more than 500 partners from 196 countries; according to UNFAO data, there were roughly 300 registered events ranging from technical workshops to environmental quizzes that took place this World Soil Day on Dec. 5, up by almost 100 events from last year; and new soil initiatives continue to pop up throughout the world, including the Brazilian Soil Partnership, which was launched in August 2018 and joins other important resources, such as the African Soil Information Service and the Digital Soil Map of the World.

The challenge lies in overcoming the substandard infrastructure in middle- and low-income countries to generate credible targeted data sets. And even when such data sets are created, governments often struggle to present information in a way that will both reach and make sense to farmers and decision-makers.

Watch out for cracks

In 2015, India’s Ministry of Agriculture launched an $86 million Soil Health Card Scheme to provide nutrient and fertilizer recommendations to farmers based on local soil health tests. Roughly 100 million cards and counting have since been given to farmers across the country to help boost crop productivity, according to the Indian government.

But researchers at the Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia studied the program two years later and found several basic problems that made the Soil Health Card Scheme difficult to comprehend and implement, even for the most educated farmers. Twenty-one focus group discussions with more than 100 Indian farmers revealed that the cards were too scientific and not site-specific to their fields, undermining trust in the program’s recommendations. Acknowledging these issues, last February, the government launched a redesign of the scheme, but further research is needed to determine its effectiveness.

“We, as an agricultural community, as a global community, need many, many more credible soil analysis and a finer spatial grid than is typically the case,” Marco Ferroni, chair of the board at CGIAR, told Devex.

There are cost-effective ways to gather the required data, such as agricultural sensors, but it’s finances that are often the limitation.

“Farmers are willing to contribute [money] themselves because they know this is their livelihood, but it may exceed their means and there may be from a national food security perspective a case for public support,” Ferroni said. So, are countries taking note and contributing money to tackling their soil issues? “The broad answer is that countries are not doing enough of it. In fact, by far. Why? Because it’s a silent creeping problem. It’s not a big disaster that attracts everyone’s attention,” he said.

Even when there is credible information, it often doesn’t get disseminated effectively because there is a gap between the pilot phase and scaling up, Wani said. Scaling up involves a wide range of actors: policymakers, bureaucrats, extension agents, private company dealers, farmers, etcetera. And they don’t always work well together.

“The researchers think ‘that is not my job. My job is only to do the science.’ The bureaucrats think that they know everything and don’t need to consult anyone else. The private companies think they can have their own way of extension [services] and get their products sold. That’s how farmers end up getting contradictory messages,” Wani said, who added that it’s more or less the same case in the various countries he’s worked in throughout Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

These challenges are compounded by the tricky logistics involved in accommodating the roughly 513 million smallholder and family farmers that exist globally, which account for roughly 90 percent of the world’s farms. Wani said that the farmers have outsized expectations and look at researchers like him as the “messiah” for all their problems, whether it’s about soils or an unrelated topic, such as their children’s education.

“Farmers look for a holistic solution and we give them a compartmentalized solution,” he said, adding that while a researcher can tell a breeder which variety is best, researchers can’t determine other factors, such as what kind of fertilizer to apply, what sort of insect problems might arise, or whether there’s market demand for the product. “And then farmers don’t find that solution as solving their problems because you are only telling one part of the story and so the farmer doesn’t take the advice you give him or her,” he said.

Without easy access to essential, credible information about soils, farmers can easily fall prey to profit-hungry businesses. In order to create lasting effective change, Wani advised that the mindset of the various actors that make up the agricultural community have to change from working in their own compartments to building partnerships.

“This should be a win-win partnership,” Wani said, adding, “otherwise we write the prescription, but the medicine is not available in the store.”

The Thai example

One country that has been notable in advancing soil issues is Thailand. World Soil Day is held on Dec. 5, the birthday of the late Thai king and award-winning soil scientist, Bhumibol Adulyadej, in homage to his strong commitment to the cause both domestically and internationally.

During his 70-year reign, King Bhumibol created royal development projects and established six royal development study centers throughout the country, which among other things, tackled soil problems. His aim was to help Thailand’s mainly rural population learn the skills and adopt the technologies needed to earn a good living in an environmentally sustainable manner.

“Thailand has tried our best to preserve [the] quality of [our] soils,” Benjaporn Chakranon, director general in the Thai Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives, told Devex. “Farmers are encouraged to reduce chemicals and use more organic [matter] for manuring and weeding. We have also done several research studies on soil microorganisms for soil improvement and transferred those technologies to farmers.”

As the current chairman of the Asian Soil Partnership, Thailand is tapping into its personal experiences to help countries in Southeast Asia and Africa adopt better sustainable soil management practices. This includes elevating soil laboratory standards for more effective land use planning and promoting the concept of “Klaeng Din,” meaning “tricking the soil” in Thai, to be more productive in an effort to help farmers that are struggling with highly acidic soil. More recently, Thailand launched the Centre of Excellence for Soil Research in Asia last December. The Thai-based center will serve as the regional hub for advancing targeted soil research based on regional priorities to feed decision-making.

As the world continues to struggle with a complex soil crisis, Chakranon boiled it down to a simple clear message: “We need to maintain soil quality.”


Dr AK Padhee, Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs, ICRISAT (4th from left) with dignitaries of RCA Alumni Association, Udaipur.

Dr AK Padhee, Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs, ICRISAT (4th from left) with dignitaries of RCA Alumni Association, Udaipur.

Lecture on climate-smart policies emphasizes India’s efforts to combat climate change

Dr AK Padhee, Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs, ICRISAT, recently delivered a lecture on ‘Climate-smart Policies to Sustain Growth of Indian Agriculture’ at Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, Udaipur, Rajasthan.

URL for the story

Read more

Describing climate change as ‘perhaps the most extreme challenge agriculture in India and across the world is facing today and has to deal with in future’, Dr Padhee went on to highlight a couple of policy options.

“The institution of a Panchayat in the Indian context has the capacity to leverage funds from a plethora of schemes. Allocations under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) can be purposefully utilized in climate-proofing projects such as farm ponds; soil and water management… and many other eco-friendly activities that will adapt and build resilience to climate change,” he said.

“India has already submitted its Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) (as a part of its commitments to the Paris Agreement) that inter-alia include the adoption of climate friendly practices for a cleaner path of development. Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare has already delineated its intended climate actions in the agriculture sector, such as increasing water use efficiency; promoting organic farming; conservation agriculture practices and so on, with specific targets to be achieved by 2020.”

Dr Padhee had been invited to deliver the Dr A Rathore Memorial Lecture at an event organized by the Alumni Association of the Rajasthan College of Agriculture (RCA), Udaipur, on 19 January 2019.

Topical news and releases


Food in the Anthropocene: the EAT–Lancet Commission on healthy diets from sustainable food systems

Food systems have the potential to nurture human health and support environmental sustainability; however, they are currently threatening both. Providing a growing global population with healthy diets from sustainable food systems is an immediate challenge. Although global food production of calories has kept pace with population growth, more than 820 million people have insufficient food and many more consume low-quality diets that cause micronutrient deficiencies and contribute to a substantial rise in the incidence of diet-related obesity and diet-related non-communicable diseases, including coronary heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Unhealthy diets pose a greater risk to morbidity and mortality than does unsafe sex, and alcohol, drug, and tobacco use combined.

URL for the story


Global seed companies are addressing climate change and nutrition needs but reach only 10% of the world’s small farmers

Seed companies are a crucial partner in efforts to raise smallholder farmer productivity and achieve food and nutrition security. For the second time, the Access to Seeds Index shines a light on the global seed companies taking the lead in reaching smallholder farmers.

URL for the story

You are donating to : Science Info Platform

How much would you like to donate?
Would you like to make regular donations? I would like to make donation(s)
How many times would you like this to recur? (including this payment) *
Name *
Last Name *
Email *
Phone
Address
Additional Note
paypalstripe
Loading...