Issue No: 1867
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Virtual launch of Tata-Cornell Institute report

Save the date for the virtual launch of the Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition‘s new report on Tuesday, 4 August, from 8-9:30 AM EDT / 5:30-7 PM IST. The institute will host a special event featuring a panel of some of the foremost experts on food systems and agriculture in India, including Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT. Dr Prabhu Pingali, ICRISAT Governing Board member, will also be part of the event.

To watch the launch, visit https://lnkd.in/enPDz4W to view the live stream.

Governing Board meeting

Screenshot of one of the sessions of the virtual meeting.

Screenshot of one of the sessions of the virtual meeting.

ICRISAT Governing Board members meet remotely to forge forward-looking plans

The first-ever virtual meeting of ICRISAT Governing Board was conducted recently where many opportunities were discussed to enhance ICRISAT’s capacity to develop in areas of research. The Board appreciated the mechanisms put forward to co-create initiatives that build impact and to stay agile and ambitious to be well positioned for the future.

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The Board carried out the proceedings remotely due to the current travel restrictions and to fulfil the requirement of social distancing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Board Secretary, Ms Renerose Tan-Ng, an interesting result of holding the virtual meeting topped a US$ 60,000 cost-savings and conserved 63 metric tons of carbon emissions.

Dr Paco Sereme, Board Chair, welcomed Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, to her first Governing Board meeting at ICRISAT, mentioning that they were together working towards the approaching One CGIAR initiative. The ICRISAT budget for 2020 and the annual report of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) were approved.

Dr Hughes highlighted the significance of institutional culture being oriented towards ’working as one’, saying, “As we move towards One CGIAR, we need to communicate the message of being the organization that empowers people in the semi-arid tropics by its cutting-edge research for development in the regions.”

At the Program Committee meeting, Program Heads presented key highlights of their work.

Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director, West and Central Africa (WCA), presented highlights from his region, including those in Crop Improvement, Integrated Crop Management, Partnerships and Gender Mainstreaming. Among other things, key points were the evaluation of 20 sorghum varieties in WCA and identification of 10 groundnut varieties in Burkina Faso.

Salient achievements of Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) were elaborated on by Dr Rebbie Harawa, Regional Director, ESA, among which were better food/nutritional security for farmers, enhanced production of sorghum and pearl millet hybrids and improved seed delivery of dryland cereal hybrids.

The success of ICT-enabled agro-advisories, agriculture innovation platforms and rural food processing units was underscored by Dr Anthony Whitbread, Director, Research Program Innovation Systems for the Drylands. He also announced the publication of the program’s first article in the journal Nature.

Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, addresses the Board Members.

Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, addresses the Board Members.

The Rapid Generation Advancement (RapidGen) facility and protocols, reference genome sequencing of two groundnut species, and genome characterization of thousands of pearl millet and sorghum lines, were some of the leading points described by Dr Rajeev Varshney, Director, Research Program Genetic Gains.

Dr Pooran Gaur, Director, Research Program Asia, informed the Board that 90% of the chickpea varieties in Myanmar today were ICRISAT varieties, which were performing very well, with almost a five-fold increase in production. He also highlighted several ‘first-ever’ releases of certain crop varieties such as chickpea and groundnut, and also informed the board about the accomplishments of the ICRISAT Development Center, the Plant Quarantine Unit and others.

Dr Harish Gandhi, Global Head, Breeding, presented the latest progress in the breeding modernization efforts, touching upon the key gains made, viz. infrastructure (Regional Crop Improvement Hubs), organization (Crop Improvement Operations Team), processes and approaches.

Dr Hughes reported the latest on the Smart Food initiative, mentioning the strong support of the Executive Council for the initiative and also that a new business plan was in the offing.

Dr Kiran Sharma, Deputy Director General-Research, presented a summary of the work done by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) during the period since the last Governing Board meeting. Covering key areas from impact assessment and capacity building to gender mainstreaming, systems modelling, nutrition-oriented crop design and seed delivery systems, Dr Sharma remarked that partnerships with the public and private sectors were expected to further enhance the outcomes of the CRP going forward.

Key strategies for resource mobilization, communication and marketing, especially with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic situation, were discussed by Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General.

Dr Nigel Poole, former ICRISAT Board Chair and Ambassador of Goodwill was recognized for his major efforts in helping ICRISAT build partnerships in the UK and globally.

Mr Sanjay Agarwal, Board Member, noted that with the increased interest in nutritious foods, the COVID-19 outbreak had opened an opportunity for ICRISAT’s mandate crops which are hardy and nutritious.

Prof Wendy Umberger, Chair of Program Committee, and Prof Prabhu Pingali, Board Chair Elect, highlighted key strategies and upfront socioeconomics analysis for future opportunities as ICRISAT continuously positions our scientific delivery to greater heights in collaboration with other partners. The need for a response to uplift the socioeconomic status of smallholder farmers is greater than ever, considering the effects of COVID-19.

An optimistic and dynamic re-strategizing of human resources, as well as the aspects around compensation and benefits, was discussed by the Governing Board as part of the ongoing change process towards aligning ICRISAT’s talents to be more competitive in the global scale.

The Governing Board meeting concluded with a call for the next ICRISAT Strategic Plan – a 5-year-plan – to be presented at the next Board meeting in September.

New varieties

Dr Shrikant L Sawargonkar, IGKV, observing state multilocation trials in Raipur (2019).

Dr Shrikant L Sawargonkar, IGKV, observing state multilocation trials in Raipur (2019).

New groundnut variety with high oil, high pod yields released in Central India

A new groundnut variety, with 28% higher yields of oil and pods compared to zonal checks, has been released in Chhattisgarh state, India. This variety, Chhattisgarh Mungfali-1 (CGM-1), is the first ever groundnut variety released by Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya (IGKV) in the new state which came into being in the year 2000.

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At state-level multi-location trials conducted during 2018 and 2019, CGM-1 (ICGV 06420) recorded a mean pod yield of 4,200 kg/ha, which is 28% pod yield superiority over the Zonal checks TAG 24 and GG 8; and 14% superiority over JL 776.

In the national trials conducted in 2013 and 2014 under the All India Coordinated Groundnut Project on Groundnut (AICRP-G), it recorded an oil yield superiority of 28% over the best check GG 8, with an average oil content of 52% and a shelling outturn of 69%. It also recorded 27% higher pod yield over the zonal check in Zone 3 (which includes Chhattisgarh state).

Pedigree tree of the new groundnut variety.

Pedigree tree of the new groundnut variety.

CGM-1 is resistant to leaf rust and moderately resistant to late leaf spot (LLS) – two important biotic factors affecting pod yield in rainy season cultivation in the state. Under national testing in AICRP-G trials, a disease score of 2 to 4 was recorded for leaf rust, whereas a disease score of 2 to 6 was recorded for LLS on a scale of 1 to 9. The variety is derived from a cross between two elite parents, one of which is ICGV 87846, which has an interspecific derivative as one of its parents, derived from a cross between cultivated Arachis hypogeaa and a wild diploid species Arachis cardinasii, the latter being the source of resistance to rust and LLS. The other parent, ICGV 99240 has a popular early-maturing variety, Chico, in the pedigree. The variety matures in 114 days in Chhattisgarh state during rainy season.

CGM-1 is suitable for cultivation in three Agro-climatic Zones of the Chhattisgarh state, namely, Chhattisgarh plains, Northern Hills Zone and Bastar Plateau region of Chhattisgarh.

CGM-1 was released for cultivation in Chhattisgarh at the State Variety Release Committee (SVRC) meeting held on 12 June 2020. The variety was identified from extensive testing conducted during 2011-15 to identify stable high-oil-yielding groundnut lines under a project supported by National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP) of the Department of Agriculture, Co-operation & Farmers’ Welfare (DoAC&FW) of the Government of India. This extensive study identified ICGVs 05155, 06049, 06041, 06420 and 03043 as stable high-oil-yielding lines (Janila et al., 2016). Subsequently, on-station and state-level multi-location trials were conducted under the project supported by The OPEC Fund for International Development, resulting in release of CGM-1 in 2020. The collaboration was ably supported by Dr SK Patil, Vice Chancellor, IGKV, Raipur who has been instrumental in testing and release of the variety.

In 2018, ICGV 03043 was released as GJG 32 for Zone 5 of India by Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU), Junagadh, Gujarat, which is gaining popularity.

For more on our work in groundnut, click here

Click here to see how ICRISAT can help in the COVID-19 environment in the short, medium and long term.


  • Enhancing groundnut productivity and profitability for smallholder farmers in Asia through varietal technologies
  • Development and promotion of promising varieties/ lines with high yield and high oil content with enhanced O/L ratio for enhancing production and quality of groundnut oil in drought-prone environments to boost the income of small and marginal groundnut farmers in India


  • The OPEC Fund for International Development;
  • National Mission on Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP); Dept of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers Welfare, Govt of India.

Partners: Indira Gandhi Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Raipur, Chhattisgarh; and ICRISAT

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 

Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Legume farmer fab labs design seeds that work for family farms, women and the market

Protein and micronutrient-packed legumes like cowpea, groundnut, beans or chickpea are important crops for small farmers in developing countries to improve family diets and soils. Yet for years, legume cultivation has been hampered by poor yields and returns. Engaging farmers in legume research may hold the clue to boost pulse productivity.

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Adamu Nyerenda is not an ordinary legume researcher. A four-acre groundnut farmer from Maugura village, Masasi district in Tanzania, he has participated over the past decade in developing better high-yielding groundnut varieties as part of the international legume research collaboration Tropical Legumes (TL).

‘’By working with TL researchers, I was taught how to grow seeds, carry out disease diagnosis, and how to store the grain. This year, Naliendele Institute has given me 20 groundnut lines to test. I am fully involved in the development of the Nachingwea variety”, he explains.

Adopting a new seed is not a straightforward decision to make for smallholder farmers whose livelihoods depend so much on their grain harvests. Involving farmers like Nyerenda in participatory legume breeding means research embeds farmers’ preference at the early stage, ensuring new TL varieties are adapted to their farming conditions and needs.

To pin down the right research priorities, the TL project made sure all voices were heard and taken into account, starting with the farmers.

Setting up a successful collaborative research agenda for greater impact

If you ask a legume breeder, a farmer or a pulse grain trader what they want in a grain, responses will differ. Even within farming households, perspectives vary widely, and that is why crop improvement has to be gender-sensitive.

Yield is not the only factor, as some would look for particular tastes or shorter cooking time, while others look at storability, or specific crop duration to fit with their farm calendar.

Weighing the trade-offs between agronomic performance, marketability and profitability and assessing the demand is a complex exercise and success relies on strong public-private partnerships and scientific rigor.

Multi-stakeholder public private platforms like the Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA) bring together researchers, farmers, grain traders, seed grower associations and private seed and food companies to agree what characteristics the new legume variety should have.

This process called participatory product profiling ensures that the new varieties released respond to farmers’ and market needs and is validated by researchers who can define the most effective way to breed for this seed. As key stakeholders from lab to plate engage in legume research activities, there is increased transparency in research findings, which accelerate research impact. This type of public-private partnership in Ethiopia meant that it took less than three years for four common bean varieties released in 2014-2015 to reach farmers, when the time from variety release to use is usually over ten years.

In addition to test best bet varieties, TL involved farmers to co-design appropriate technologies to raise farming productivity. The low-cost groundnut sheller developed with Compatible Technologies International in Malawi which is 18 times faster than the painstaking hand shelling.

This collaborative research-into-use approach has also given the voice to women farmers.

Better understand gender issues and dynamics in legume seed systems

In many developing countries, a gender gap in agricultural productivity has been observed. This is up to a third in countries like Malawi or Nigeria, and unequal access to improved technologies like better seeds is one important driver.

Making sure legume seed markets work for women is crucial. “TL research over the years collected a wealth of high-quality data, including on gender dynamics in legume seed systems. These data and the testing of scalable models will help us understand what works for men and women farmers,” stresses Jeff Ehlers, TL Program Officer, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Many women farmers have benefited from better legume seeds like Leonora Okidi in Uganda who tested rosette-resistant groundnut varieties Serenut 5R and 9 and since is able to feed her large family. But there are many more opportunities for women all along the legume seed value chain, as researcher, seed grower, seed and food processing worker, or seed entrepreneurs like Janey Leakey, Director of Leldet Seed Company in Nakuru, Kenya, who markets small seed packs called Leldet bouquet, a mix of improved maize and legume seeds at the cost of a cup of tea, to enable women farmers test new varieties.

Gender-sensitive seed systems not only help women benefit from new legume employment opportunities, but drive legume cultivation. While women peasant associations in each woreda (district) of Ethiopia were trained in chickpea seed production to benefit from the pulse export market, a ‘Kindergarten’ policy in Ethiopia  has also boosted beans and chickpea production in the country. The Agricultural Commodity Supplies (ACOS), a major employer of Adama region in Ethiopia, set up child care facilities at the grain processing factory which improved the work-life balance of women workers and consequently boosted their productivity.

TL legume research has improved the livelihoods of millions smallholder farmers like Nyerenda and Okidi as its participatory research delivered better seeds that farmers and the markets want, across sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia.

About the author:
Alina Paul

A farmer ploughs his field in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. Photo: P Srujan, ICRISAT

A farmer ploughs his field in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh. Photo: P Srujan, ICRISAT

6 Ideas to transform food systems in a post-COVID-19 India

The ongoing health crisis around COVID-19 has raised global concerns on food and nutrition security. India has not seen immediate serious disruptions in the food system during the pandemic primarily because of good harvests in the previous crop seasons; sufficient buffer stock of grains, and a slew of welfare measures declared by the Government to protect vulnerable populations e.g. smallholder farmers, agricultural laborers, migrant workers, etc.

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Adapted from the author’s keynote speech at the Food Systems Dialogues 2020.

The impacts of climate change on the agriculture sector are profound. The challenge of malnutrition adds to that burden. These challenges are now exacerbated by the uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lockdown during the COVID pandemic has raised serious concerns on reduced access to nutritious foods by the vulnerable sections of the society. This calls for affirmative actions on making safe and nutritious food available, accessible and affordable.

In this context, the following pathways are suggested to transform the food systems to tackle the twin challenges of climate change and the burden of malnutrition:

1. Refocusing public policies and investments:

A food systems transformation in India requires repurposing of existing agricultural policies. Underlying policy regimes like the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the Public Distribution Systems (PDS), coupled with subsidies on irrigation, power, and farm inputs, are skewed in favor of staple crops like rice and wheat. Although MSP mechanisms exist for climate-resilient and more nutritious cereals like sorghum and millets, they are largely ineffective because of the policy bias in favor of the “big two” staples.

Crop diversification is often suggested to correct such legacy incentives, but unless farmers’ income from alternative crops is stabilized, they may not be willing to switch to a new crop production system. The shift in farmers’ behavior can only be possible with suitable financial incentives during the transition (making quality inputs, such as seeds affordable and available), value chain strengthening, and efforts to change consumer behavior.

Similarly, investments in the animal husbandry sector should be pursued considering the rising demand for meat, dairy products and eggs. Diversification to small ruminants, backyard poultry and aquaculture provide additional income to smallholder farmers and the landless poor.

The reverse migration that has been reported from the Green Revolution belt during the current COVID pandemic has offered a peculiar, yet unique opportunity. The movement of agricultural laborers from cities to their villages has now forced some states to promote crops such as maize, soybean, cotton, etc. in the ongoing rainy season.

2. Strengthening sustainable value chains:

Since Indian agriculture is dominated by smallholders, aggregating small farms (like small farm, large field concept in Vietnam) could help reduce transaction costs for accessing value chains. This will also offset scale disadvantages and benefit the farmers to access inputs, technology, and the market.

Agricultural production should focus on high-value agricultural products like fruits, vegetables and dairy products. As far as practicable, primary processing facilities should be established closer to the farm gates. Digital agriculture tools could assist producers to gather market intelligence and provide for better management of the entire value chain.

Government policies to incentivize agri-tech startups and the private sector, and to develop logistics to strengthen value chains should be prioritized. The inefficiencies noticed in the agricultural supply chains, particularly of perishables, during the lockdown period, can be suitably addressed by use of smart technologies (artificial intelligence; block chain, etc.) and encouraging e-commerce and delivery companies. Opportunities for smallholder farmers with a favorable market appetite must be harnessed. Operationalizing local procurement of cereals, pulses, millets, and other nutritious food items for government programs like the ICDS and MDM would not only help achieve nutritional outcomes, but also enhance livelihood opportunities for rural people engaged in the production, primary processing/value addition and supply of these items.

The Agriculture Infrastructure Funds committed by Government of India in its stimulus package under the Atmanirbhar Bharat, the recently promulgated Ordinances on agricultural trade and commerce (agricultural marketing) as well as price assurance and farm services agreement (contract farming) and promotion of FPOs would definitely be beneficial for farmers with effective implementation and cooperation by the States.

3. Consumer Behavior Change:

In the post-COVID period, consumers across the spectrum will want to adopt diets that can boost their immune systems.

To create consumer interest in a food system with low health risks, the government must create behavior change campaigns in rural and underserved populations. However, such campaigns may not be sufficient to achieve behavioral changes. Several other factors, like taste, affordability, convenience and knowing how to prepare the desired food items in a palatable way would influence the change process.

Government programs can be great delivery channels to leverage nutritious food products in India.

4. Investing in Research and Innovation:

Enhanced allocation for research exclusively devoted to nutrition-sensitive agriculture, would be a very productive investment. Expanding localized production of diverse and bio-fortified crops should be a priority item for the agricultural extension system. Moreover, climate change’s impacts on the nutritional content of food crops (including that of specific varieties) must be investigated in order to make the necessary corrections.

Of late, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), has developed and released a good number of bio-fortified varieties, such as zinc- and protein-rich rice and high-protein quality and vitamin A-rich maize. ICRISAT has developed and released India’s first bio-fortified sorghum variety, Parbhani Shakti, in Maharashtra. The research community should also pursue bio-fortification of non-staple crops, such as pulses and lentils. The CGIAR system in its new strategic reforms, the One CGIAR, has put nutrition at the forefront of its agenda.

While the COVID-19 pandemic will expectedly drive major public investments towards health infrastructure and related resources, we should not omit the under-invested agriculture research and innovation eco-system, as that would irreversibly damage the sector.

5. Empowerment of women:

Evidence suggests that women’s asset ownership (agricultural lands, dwelling house, etc.) is critical for their participation in decision making within households. State land policies must address this sensitive dimension to achieve positive nutritional outcomes. Education and empowerment of women is also positively correlated with reduced prevalence of anemia and malnutrition; therefore they must be included in policy-level strategies.

6. Inter-sectoral synergy:

Coordination between various government bodies is essential to achieve desired goals of nutrition-sensitive programs. While the national or state governments address larger policy-level issues, effective coordination at district and local levels (blocks or panchayats) should take care of operational issues. In the post-COVID scenario, removing the obstacles of siloed approach in public delivery system and governance will positively pay off.

Multiple dimensions of planning interventions and implementation are crucial for achieving sustainable and nutritious food systems. Agricultural policies must reorient towards sustainable food production systems that necessarily focus on climate-resilience and nutrition and minimize risks to the farmers, their families and communities.

About the author:

Dr Arabinda Kumar Padhee

Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs – New Delhi,

The author is grateful to Prof. Prabhu Pingali, Director, Tata-Cornell Institute for Agriculture and Nutrition (TCI) at Cornell University, USA, and Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT for their guidance in shaping these thoughts.

Informing policies

Screenshot of the panel discussion Photo: M Sharma, ICRISAT

Screenshot of the panel discussion Photo: M Sharma, ICRISAT

Weather and climate research gear up for innovation in India

High-level panel including ICRISAT scientist contributes expertise for policy making

The impact of climate variability on agriculture was highlighted in a panel discussion conducted under the aegis of the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India. Experts in weather and climate research sciences from across India participated in the discussion, contributing their ideas towards the Science and Technology Innovation Policy 2020 (STIP 2020). The online event Across the Table - Weather and Climate Research Services in India, saw the experts weigh in on the best ways to deal with extreme climate events, variability with respect to forecasting, infrastructure, agriculture and so on.

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Dr Mamta Sharma, Theme Leader, Integrated Crop Management, ICRISAT, especially underlined the effects, mitigation methods and the way forward for extreme weather-related impacts on crops.

Speaking about the adverse effects of climate change on agriculture, Dr Sharma said that despite high-yielding varieties and infrastructure such as advanced irrigation facilities, several challenges have arisen in the past decade – rising temperatures, increasing incidences of drought, erratic rainfall distribution, soil moisture stress, increasing greenhouse gas emissions – which directly and indirectly impact crop production. However, she remained positive as there was a lot of research in progress thanks to the impetus received from the Govt of India and due to the synergistic efforts of several research institutions to find solutions.

“Preparedness is the key,” said Dr Sharma, referring to ways in which Indian agriculture could combat the adverse climate. “There is a need to reorient our cropping systems towards more climate-resilient crops such as millets and sorghum. Also, we need investment support to conduct advanced research in these crops, and we need to build the required infrastructure to support such research.”

She also mentioned that weather forecasting systems are of prime importance as they spanned the gamut from ‘what the weather will be’ to ‘what the weather will do’. “Climatologists, modelers, agricultural scientists. all need to work together to find innovative solutions to the impact of climate variability in plants.” she said.

Highlighting the need for capacity building, Dr Sharma said, “We have a long way to go before technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning can reach farmers. The government can play a key role in facilitating training programs for these stakeholders – right from scientists to the extension personnel and farmers.” She remarked that international research organizations such as ICRISAT could act in an interconnecting capacity – connecting various stakeholders to technology disseminators.

Conducted by the Science Policy Forum in partnership with Gubbi Labs, the online event Across the Table – Weather and Climate Research Services in India was livestreamed on YouTube to thousands of viewers on 11 July. Click here for the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0h7TbcMirzM

The discussion was moderated by Dr Akhilesh Gupta, Head, Policy Coordination and Program Management Division, DST, STIP2020 Secretariat, and Dr Nimita Pandey, STIP 2020 Secretariat. Other panelists were Prof SK Dash, President, Indian Meteorological Society; Dr M Mohapatra, Director General, Indian Meteorological Department, Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India; Mr Vinson Kurian, Senior Deputy Editor, The Hindu Business Line; and Prof Anamika Barua, Professor, Indian Institute of Technology, Guwahati.

To know more about our work done in the field of climate change, click here.

Capacity building

Oumar Koné took advantage of USAID funded training in microdosing to create his own technology and is using the profits to help his community. Photo: N.Diakité, ICRISAT

Oumar Koné took advantage of USAID funded training in microdosing to create his own technology and is using the profits to help his community. Photo: N.Diakité, ICRISAT

We have talented farmers!

Innovator, champion and change leader

Oumar Koné is not only a seed producer and a farmer, he is an innovator. When Koné joined USAID’s Feed the Future-funded Farmers’ Field School he put all his energy and ability into learning. Very focused and detail-oriented, Koné did not limit himself to fertilizer microdosing technology. Like all good students, he went above and beyond to do more with the knowledge acquired.

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Fertilizer microdosing is not a new technology in West Africa and Mali. Although results show consistent yield increases, farmers report that microdosing is time consuming and laborious. Researchers have looked at packaging the correct dose of fertilizer to address these concerns. Koné found his own way to adapt the technology. “I thought of a mechanical seed drill with nine hoppers for the placement of fertilizer along with millet, sorghum and cotton seeds,” explains Koné. 

Koné shared his idea with a blacksmith in his village of Diambala, Sikasso Region, and they refined the concept through testing. “We kept trying until we got a good model for the seed drill. It is a multifunctional seed drill that can cultivate up to five hectares per day. Using this machine, I have reduced the quantity of fertilizer applied per hectare, manpower employed, and time dedicated to sowing. As a result, I have increased our household cultivated area from 20 hectares to 40 hectares. I also rented the machine to other producers during the following cropping seasons.”

Innovation led to improvement in Sorghum production

starting with a simple training and demonstration plot, Koné innovated in fertilizer application and doubled his production with improved varieties of sorghum (Grinkan, Sewa and Fadda.) He has earned up to US,200 in the past three years. Koné is helping others while he helps himself. He has become an improved seed supplier to his fellow farmers and has used US,645 in profits from renting the seed drill to build a well for his village.

Several households in the village benefit from potable water.

“Before, women and girls in the village had to walk long distances away from the village in search of water. During certain times in the year this pond used to be completely dry,” said Koné. Thanks to the well, nearly 30 households in his village have benefited from potable water since 2017. Koné has also purchased a thresher for US,100, which he rents to other cereal producers for threshing millet, sorghum, and maize.

Farmer Field Schools like the one Koné attended are part of Africa RISING’s large-scale Diffusion of Technologies for Sorghum and Millet Production Systems (ARDT_SMS) activity. From 2014 to 2019, seed multipliers under USAID Feed the Future ARDTM_SMS supervision have produced more than 403 tons of certified seeds. The Farmer Field Schools approach was used for dissemination of improved millet and sorghum varieties. Many farmers were able to increase their farm yield (51% for Sorghum and 72% for pearl millet), household food and nutritional intake, and income. In total, 261,197 farmers were trained and about 242,348 farmers have applied improved technologies, including fertilizer micro dosing technologies.

About the author:

Agathe Diama
Head-Regional Information – WCA
West & Central Africa Program

Originally published by USAID

Mr Surya Pratap Shahi, Minister of Agriculture, Uttar Pradesh, reviews DFI project and visits project site in Chitrakoot. Photo: ICRISAT Development Center

Mr Surya Pratap Shahi, Minister of Agriculture, Uttar Pradesh, reviews DFI project and visits project site in Chitrakoot. Photo: ICRISAT Development Center

Doubling Farmers’ Income project gets boost from Agriculture Minister

Strategies to harvest rainwater in drought-prone regions, through the collaborative Doubling Farmers’ Income project, received a boost with inputs from the state Agriculture Minister of Uttar Pradesh, India, recently. Focusing on the renovation of the ‘Haveli’ water structures in Chitrakoot, Mr Surya Pratap Shahi, Minister of Agriculture, Uttar Pradesh, discussed scaling out of the watershed interventions across the Bundelkhand region as a drought-proofing strategy for the state.

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In the Doubling Farmers’ Income project in Bundelkhand region, ICRISAT along with the Central Agroforestry Research Institute and Banda University of Agriculture and Technology (BUAT), is stepping up its efforts towards rainwater harvesting through the construction of check dams and farm ponds, renovation of traditional tanks (Havelis), desilting of water harvesting bodies and large-scale field bundings in all seven pilot sites of Bundelkhand region. The project has also introduced new varieties of wheat, chickpea, mustard, agroforestry interventions and agronomic techniques such as laser land levelling, zero-till method etc.

Mr Shahi encouraged the project team to carry out activities related to natural resources management at the earliest. After his visit, the team developed a strategy to strengthen existing rainwater harvesting interventions. Also it was found that there was scope for construction of more than 10 haveli structures within Chitrakoot pilot site.

Click here to read more about this project:




For more on our work in the area of Natural Resource Management, click here.

Click here to see how ICRISAT can help in the COVID-19 environment in the short, medium and long term

Project: Doubling farmers’ income in Bundelkhand Region, Uttar Pradesh
Funder: Government of Uttar Pradesh
Partners: Central Agroforestry Research Institute (CAFRI), Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute (ICAR-IGFRI), Banda University of Agriculture and Technology,  BAIF, Bharat Agriculture, Lakshya Seva Samiti, Gram Unnati, Samarpan, Jan Kalyan Samiti, Samarth Foundation, Gram Unmesh Sansthan, Gramin Vikas Kendra, Upman Mahila Samstan

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

Mr Fousseyni Mariko, seed producer, President of the Cooperative Djiguifa in Solabougouda with his wife, Mrs Diala Sangare, in Sikasso region, Mali.

Farmer cooperatives across West and Central Africa help expand access to improved seeds, boosting yields

A farmers’ cooperative in Mali has experienced a significant increase in production of quality seeds, setting an example for other farmer organizations in Mali and neighboring countries. They are using both rainy season and dry season varieties to enhance their yields remarkably increasing resilience and farm incomes. On the occasion of the International Day of Cooperatives 2020 (4 July), we highlight how farmer cooperatives and organizations are enhancing access to quality seeds of drought-tolerant crops in Africa.

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COPROSEM (Cooperative des Producteurs de Semences Maraicheres du Mali) from Mali is encouraging farmers to grow drought-tolerant crops suited to local environments, which is a key way to boost their resilience. The potential contribution of improved seed varieties to mitigate climate change impacts is well demonstrated by COPROSEM, which is being emulated by other farmer cooperatives and organizations in and around Mali. COPROSEM was founded by farmers who participated in testing research-bred varieties and wanted to produce new seed.

Mr Tenemakan Konate, marketing and sales manager of COPROSEM, says that the cooperative has diversified its cropping activities. In addition to cereal production in the rainy season, members are involved in dry season production and gardening. “Our focus has been on producing quality seeds, including early-maturing and drought-tolerant sorghum varieties most suited for our agro-ecology. This has facilitated access to improved seeds and provided the community with a range of very productive varieties,” he says. “Sale of these seeds have enabled many to buy agricultural equipment and inputs, to build houses, and more importantly, to achieve food security and self-sufficiency.”

On the International Day of Cooperatives, I would like to make a call for a greater support to farmer cooperatives because working collectively is more impactful. As the saying goes: If you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together.

– Mr Tenemakan Konate, COPROSEM

From development of varieties to their adoption, ICRISAT works intensively with smallholder farmers and cooperatives to develop solutions adapted to overcome adverse climatic and agricultural conditions. Mr Balla Berthe previously only grew cotton but now is in favor of climate-smart sorghum which is better suited to drought conditions and unstable rainfall. When asked about the learnings from farmer fields schools and the participatory varietal selection (PVS) process, he says, “Knowledge of, and attention to knowing the origin and purity of seed, and thus being able to bring in more diversity of seed varieties was good learning.”

Mr Namakan Keita, a farmer from Kéniéro, says that as a member of a cooperative, he belongs to a knowledge-sharing community where he has learnt many things about crop management options and improved seed varieties (Soumalemba, Grinkan, Soumba and Lata).

“PVS trials are regularly organized for farmers in various agro-ecological zones to select the best varieties of sorghum resistant to climate change and drought,” says Mr Denis Yameogo, President of the Departmental Union of Cereals Producers (UDPC), who have adopted Jakunbe, an early-maturing and drought-tolerant sorghum variety. (In Bambara language, spoken in many West African countries, Jakunbe means the variety that is resistant to drought).

With improved seeds and techniques of production and management of soil fertilization, my sorghum yield on half a hectare in previous years has doubled.

– Mr Oumou Keita, Guena village

In Niger, the Made Bane Farmers’ Union of Falwell has improved access to quality seeds, created inputs shops and grain banks to prevent food insecurity and crises in villages. The Union’s members were selected and trained to participate in testing and demonstration trials of improved varieties of millet adapted to Falwell conditions. After successful tests, some members of the Union were accredited as Certified Seed Producers, and can now supply to other unions.

In Nigeria, Mrs Hadja Talatu Idrissa of Bunkure, near Kano, Nigeria, is the leader of a 25-women group in groundnut production and processing. In 2017, the Bunkure women’s group produced about 3.5 tons of groundnut. As grain was used primarily for family consumption, the group sold groundnut haulms and used the money to start dry season groundnut production in 2018. “We don’t sell our grain produce. We keep it and process part of it into oil and many sub-products, which we sell,” says Mrs Idrissa.

In Kulkpanga, Northern Ghana, Mr Iddrisu Dokurugu is the chairman of a multi-stakeholder platform. ‘Earlier, we had zero knowledge about and no access to improved varieties. We knew and used only the recycled seed of one local variety,” he says. “The yield has increased from 40 kg to 0.1 ton on 1 hectare since using improved seed.”

Increased productivity and crop performance cannot be attributed solely to dissemination of improved seed varieties. Farmer cooperatives have also been trained on organizational management. After several such trainings, a group of farmers in Kolokani, Mali, took the initiative to organize themselves in a cooperative called Yeleton. They then accessed financing from banks and support of the government, to obtain a tractor to cultivate their collective farms as well as individual farms of the cooperative members. This has contributed to their resilience.

“I’ve opted for dual-purpose, drought-tolerant, early-maturing and high-yielding sorghum varieties. These varieties are profitable for both human consumption and livestock feeding. I particularly like to cultivate the Pablo variety which is more resistant in low/irregular rainfall conditions. It is productive and has a much better yield of up to 2 to 3.5 tons per hectare against only 400 to 500 kg,” says Mr Mamoutou Diakité, village of Darabougou, Sikasso, Mali.

“The cultivation of millet and sorghum is more profitable because they require less fertilizer compared to the production of maize. Before, I did not produce millet or sorghum. Now, my wife and I have a 5-hectare plot entirely devoted to the production of sorghum,” concludes Mr Fousseyni Mariko, President of farmers’ cooperative Djiguifa.

About the author:
Ms Agathe Diama
Head – Regional Information
ICRISAT-West and Central Africa

Read more about ICRISAT work in Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Ghana on EXPLOREit.
Click here to see how ICRISAT can help in the COVID-19 environment in the short, medium and long term.

Farmers at their farm pond in the Kurnool watershed. Photo: ICRISAT Development Center

Farmers at their farm pond in the Kurnool watershed. Photo: ICRISAT Development Center

Low-cost drought-proofing strategies help farmers in southern India

Collaborative project with Power Grid Corp of India has significant scale-out potential

Technologies developed in a national CSR award-winning watershed project in India have helped over 20,000 farmers in southern India conserve 200,000 m3 of water and earn higher incomes through alternate livelihood options. The project has a scale-out potential of more than 45 million ha in rainfed regions and can double the incomes of more than 70 million farmers in India using a holistic and sustainable model. The approach works across the agriculture for development value chain and was tested in some of the most challenging environments and situations.

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In the Rayalaseema region in Andhra Pradesh, India, frequent spells of drought and erratic rainfall have often hampered crop productivity and caused land degradation. Farmers of this region struggle with inconsistent income levels, fluctuating produce prices, and unavailable or costly labor.

The Power Grid Corporation of India, as part of its corporate social responsibility, supported ICRISAT in an initiative to improve productivity and livelihoods of farmers in the watershed at Bethamcherla mandal in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh and develop it as an exemplar site for replication.

The gains recorded from the project listed below give an idea of the extent of benefits and its replication potential in similar agro-ecologies that face frequent spells of drought and erratic rainfall.

Reducing yield losses by increasing rain water storage capacity:

  • More than 150 small farm ponds effectively provide easy water access to smallholders
  • Additional water storage capacity of >200,000 m3 generated
  • Yield losses reduced by 30-60%
  • Risk-taking abilities of smallholders improved
  • Increased investments in intensification and diversification, vegetable cultivation and planting fruit plants on marginal lands
  • Cultivation of second crop now possible, compared to the single harvest practice earlier.

Effective low-cost water-harvesting structures

Low cost of ponds can help a maximum number of farmers with limited resources (tandfonline). Apart from the farm ponds, big community ponds and other water harvesting structures including check dams, percolation tanks, rock-filled dams, loose boulder structures proved effective in increasing water availability and irrigation area by around 25%, which not only increased productivity, but also the area under high-value crops such as vegetables and fruit plants.

Holistic approach

The diagnosis of widespread micronutrient deficiencies in farmers’ fields (Figure 2) helped to promote need-based inputs with benefits of 10-50%, and similarly, productivity improvement with improved crop varieties. With the strengthened water and soil resources, farmers were able to improve livelihoods through other activities such as fodder cultivation, livestock-related activities and kitchen gardens for household nutrition and income-generation activities. http://oar.icrisat.org/10951/1/Chapter%2010_CSR-Book-Published-2018.pdf

Doubled incomes

Map of the watershed location and interventions

Map of the watershed location and interventions

On an average, farmer incomes in the watershed increased by more than 60% (and doubled for around 25-30% farmers) in the post-watershed scenario after six years.

The watershed region comprising of four villages, is home to around 20,000 people (4,100 households) with 71% of them being small farmers, 20% medium farmers and only 9% of them large landholding farmers. The average annual rainfall in the watershed area is about 675 mm. Out of a total geographical area of about 6,500 ha, around 3,000 ha is under cultivation. Farmers primarily grow maize, groundnut, pigeonpea and sorghum.

Results from this project have underlined the effectiveness of the strategies and call out for a scaling out to greater numbers of farmers in larger regions with the same strategies and technologies so successfully employed here.

Scaling-out potential of the current project in dryland states across India

Scaling-out potential of the current project in dryland states across India

For more on our work in the area of Natural Resource Management, click here.

Click here to see how ICRISAT can help in the COVID-19 environment in the short, medium and long term

Project Title: Improving Rural Livelihoods through Farmer-centric Integrated Watershed Management

Funder: Power Grid Corporation of India Limited, Gurgaon, India

Partners: Rural Studies & Development Society, Department of Agriculture, Andhra Pradesh and ICRISAT

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
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Mrs Aminata Diawara and her daughter showing samples of their sorghum produce.

Malian farmer sets an example as a successful seed producereeding agricultural growth: Optimal support goes beyond MSP

Farmer field schools in Mali are not only training local farmers in best practices for optimum crop yields, they’re also providing improved variety seeds to them, encouraging them to become seed producers themselves.  Africa RISING’s large-scale Diffusion of Technologies for Sorghum and Millet Production Systems (ARDT_SMS) Farmer Field Schools in West and Central Africa are game-changers on their farms and in their villages.

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Meet Mrs Aminata Diawara, an entrepreneur driving a thriving seed production model, who is contributing to her family and community in a big way since 2014.

Mrs Aminata Diawara took up seed production, inspired by the success of a group of pilot seed multipliers. “One day as I was passing by the road that leads to our farm, I saw a beautiful field of sorghum. The crop in that field was so impressive that I went and met the owner who informed me that it was a demonstration plot carried out in the village by a Farmer Field School group.” Before the start of the next cropping season, Aminata went back to the farmer. He introduced her to other members of the cooperative and she too joined the group.

In 2017, Aminata experimented with the Tiandougou coura sorghum variety on half a hectare. The next year, she opted for Grinkan Yerewolo variety and in 2019 increased her plot size to one hectare. “In 2019, I harvested 900 kg of seed, part of which (400 kg) was sold to a farmer’s organization in Sierra Leone for FCFA 200,000 (US$ 332). My seeds have traveled to places I had never heard about! With money earned in this operation, I have purchased animals for fattening at FCFA 125,000 (US$ 205). I paid off some debts and contributed to the children’s school fees. I bought two plow oxen and invested in composting. I have joined a women’s group where I am building up my savings little by little, up to FCFA 750 (about US$ 2) per month,”  says Aminata.

Aminata’s husband, Mr Souleymane Diawara, too, has participated in several trials and demonstrations of improved sorghum varieties and hybrids. The couple is now a model in quality seed production. There is a recognition about their work, and a change in their image and social status in their community. “Thanks to ARDT-SMS project, we’re consulted and our opinions count in decision-making for this village,” says Souleymane. “My wife is an improved seed producer and important personalities visit the plots she runs, that makes me even more proud of her.”

Souleymane and Aminata have bought a motorbike at FCFA 365,000 (US$ 600) and acquired land for house construction for FCFA 250,000 (US$ 415) in the urban center of Bougouni, near Bamako, Mali’s capital city. A huge financial breakthrough for a small farming family!

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

To read this in French, click here: (see page 18)

About the author:
Agathe Diama
Head – Regional Information
ICRISAT – West and Central Africa

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

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

Funder: USAID Feed the Future

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

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

A field demonstration in Boudh district, Odisha. Photo: ICRISAT Development Center

A field demonstration in Boudh district, Odisha. Photo: ICRISAT Development Center

Soil health key priority for better livelihoods of Odisha farmers

Under an extensive soil health mapping program in Odisha state, India, over 40,200 soil samples from farmers’ fields across 309 blocks in 30 districts were collected and analyzed, and recommendations made in response to the micronutrient deficiencies in the soil. Also, best management practices for increasing crop productivity were shared via 8,000 demonstrations, and two soil testing laboratories were upgraded into referral laboratories for the entire state. Based on the learnings from the pilots in the state, it is estimated that if improved nutrient management is scaled out in even 50% of the cultivated areas, the state’s agricultural productivity will increase by at least 10%.

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All this was done under the project Bhoochetana – a multi-stakeholder project with more than 20 local NGO partners, the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT), the state’s Department of Agriculture, and ICRISAT. It has a mandate of improving crop productivity and rural livelihoods through scientific natural resource management.

Soil mapping and identification of nutrient deficiencies

The soil health mapping initiative revealed widespread deficiencies of micronutrients and secondary nutrients; about 80% fields were deficient in boron, 42% in zinc, 51% in sulphur, 28% in magnesium and 43% in carbon (Figure 1). Therefore, recommendations were developed to include deficient micronutrients and secondary nutrients, and optimize macronutrients. This information was shared with agriculture officials, who, in turn shared it with farmers through Soil Health Cards.

Moreover, tools such as online GIS maps along with block-level inputs, relevant calculations and tablets loaded with analysis and recommendations are ready for handing over to officials for effective decision making.  (http://odmaps.s3.ap-south-1.amazonaws.com/map.html;

Figure 1. Soil fertility status of farmers’ fields.

Figure 1. Soil fertility status of farmers’ fields.

Farm demonstrations of best practices

Additionally, over 8,000 demonstrations were carried out in 30 pilot sites (each site comprising 500-1000 ha in each district) to highlight that the adoption of need-based input management or improved varieties can help increase crop productivity by 20-50%, resulting in higher profits for smallholder farmers (Figure 2). In the process, more than 25,000 farmers were taught how to implement the code of fertilizers.

Figure 2. Response of crops to improved technologies in pilot sites in Odisha during rainy 2019 season

Figure 2. Response of crops to improved technologies in pilot sites in Odisha during rainy 2019 season

Development of referral labs

The Odisha state government reviewed the status of the soil testing laboratories in the state and collaborated with ICRISAT to transform two identified laboratories in Bhubaneswar and Sambalpur respectively into referral laboratories. This will empower these labs to validate the data generated by district-level soil laboratories, thereby building a centralized database. These labs will also cater to the state’s need for precision analysis for a large number of soil, water, fertilizer and plant samples in a short time. Also, the laboratory staff will be trained according to international guidelines, as per a long-term development plan for the entire soil health management system.

To implement this scaling out, more than 2,600 officers in the Department of Agriculture have been informed about the above learnings and the process to be followed for impacts in the state. This program is a way forward to improve crop productivity and profitability by gainfully employing the smallholder farmers and also to lessen their migration to urban areas.

To know more about our work in Natural Resource Management, click here.

Project: Enhancing Agricultural Productivity and Rural Livelihoods through Scaling-up of Science-led Development in Odisha: Bhoochetana

Funder: Department of Agriculture, Government of Odisha (India)

Partners: Odisha University of Agriculture & Technology; NGOs (CARR, Abhyudaya, HAVL, NJS, Sambandh, APOWA, Triranga Yubak Sangha, SEWAK, Mahashakti Foundation, Pragati, Parivartan, Loksevak, Harsha Trust, Foundation for Ecological Security, UDYAMA, NIRMAN, SGF, NIRDES, Jankalyan Pratishthan, Lokadrushti); and ICRISAT

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 15-life-onland 17-partnerships-goals 

Coconut plantation drive in Badalasasan, Khorda District, Odisha, India.

Coconut plantation drive in Badalasasan, Khorda District, Odisha, India.

Reviving a coconut-based livelihood program for farmers in Odisha, India

As a key partner in the Odisha Livelihood Mission, ICRISAT recently initiated a Coconut Plantation Drive in Odisha, India, in bid to provide more livelihood options in the state, which was battered by a cyclone last year and the COVID-19 pandemic this year, witnessing extreme loss of crops and vegetation in recent times. Providing livelihood options for the populace, especially farmers, is a major step towards mitigating the loss.

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The coconut plantation program in Badalasasan village, Khorda district in Odisha was preceded by activities such as soil sampling, pit area measurement, mechanical pit digging/filling, and usage of the MSoil application (which generates QR code-based data about location, cropping pattern, irrigation source etc.) as demonstrated by
Drs PK Mishra and PC Lenka.

After Mrs Binita Pradhan, the Sarpanch (Village Head) inaugurated the drive, Dr PK Mishra, Consultant, ICRISAT Development Center (IDC), elaborated on future plans including capacity building and training on best practices for farmers and OLM and further, to create value addition to coconut-based products to help increase net income of the farmers.

Dr Sreenath Dixit, Head, IDC; Dr Gajanan Sawargaonkar, Senior Scientist (Agronomy), IDC; Dr Rohan Khopade, Consultant, IDC; and Dr Mahadeva Reddy, Consultant, IDC also participated in the program virtually. Several simultaneous plantations were also conducted at Dugal village of Puri district in presence of local Sarpanch, OLM officials, NGO officials and village coordinators.

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
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Digital agriculture

File photo: ICRISAT

File photo: ICRISAT

Taking technology to farmer collectives in India, the startup way

Eight ICRISAT-incubated startups recently showcased their technologies to support farm livelihoods as part of a larger effort to bridge the technology gap for farmer collectives. The Indian government’s Invest India, through the Accelerating Growth of New India’s Innovations (AGNIi) program and the National Association for Farmer Producer Organisations (NAFPO), is bringing FPOs and agri-tech startups together.

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Incubated at the Agri-Business Incubator (ABI) and the iHub at ICRISAT, the startups recently showcased technology-backed solutions for Farmer Producer Organization (FPO) management systems, last-mile digital learning and extension services, personalized crop advisories and management, agribusiness convergence platforms, on-demand farm machinery and service management, optimized fertilizer application units to reduce input costs and impact on the environment, deep learning solutions for quality check at farm-gate and low-cost community-owned post-harvest processing units for value addition. The technologies and business ideas were presented through an online showcase event, which had 68 participants including Chief Executive Officers of FPOs, agencies promoting FPOs, civil society organizations, banking institutions and corporates from 17 states of India.

With their forays into new technologies, startups are favorably positioned to help farmers and farmer collectives, and with the right support, FPOs can significantly benefit their members. AGNIi is looking to bringing the two together in a relevant and timely manner, providing institutional support and ensuring sustained connect. AGNIi is India’s Technology Commercialization Initiative and is executed by Invest India, the India’s Investment Promotion Agency.

Collectivization models such as FPOs have long been considered a potential solution for addressing challenges such as low rate of technology adoption, lack of access to quality inputs, inadequate farming and extension services, lack of capital and business avenues, poor post-harvest infrastructure, and low market efficiency.

India’s National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD) notes that there are over 6,000 FPOs in India. However, there are challenges with the FPO model and, as noted by NABARD, most of them need extensive handholding of its management teams, improved access to capital and infrastructure, risk mitigation strategies as well as continuous market support to take off and sustain operations to benefit its farmer members. These issues need to be addressed quickly, given the government’s plans for setting up another 10,000 FPOs in the coming five years. In the short term, functioning FPOs are better poised to scale up operations through the recently announced major agricultural market reforms and the US$ 14 billion funding to support infrastructure development at the farm-gate and aggregation points.

“Effective solutions to the troubles of small farms like lack of mechanization support, access to credit or markets, extension services and other support services like access to quality inputs, is easier to provide to farmer collectives. However, FPOs need help and at scale to avail such support,” said Ms Aneesha Bali, Lead – Institutions & Partnerships at NAFPO, a non-profit, multi-stakeholder owned platform that supports institutional development and business stabilization of FPOs.

“FPOs and startups have gained a lot of attention, especially in the past few months, for their potential to address smallholder farm challenges and spur rural economic growth,” said Mr Jonathan Philroy, Manager at ABI-ICRISAT, which has supported 104 ag-tech startups so far.

“COVID-19 has been a test for both sets of organizations. However, in the present crisis, startups have shown that they can contribute to making the value chain more resilient. Our incubatees have already provided FPOs and their members in Telangana with affordable solutions to their problems. Connecting them with FPOs and FPO-promoting agencies across India was the next step, which was made possible with the support of AGNIi-Invest India and NAFPO,” Mr Jonathan added.

In the recent event, each startup received, on an average, 17 expressions of interest, mainly for product orders, pilots in new locations, business development and funding, and rural development project partnerships. Discussions are underway to cement collaborations and deploy technology solutions in the field. Another event is expected to be held later this year featuring a second set of incubatees.

Featured startups

  • BharatAgri: Supporting farmers with customized advisory solutions
  • Distinct Horizon: Fertilizer deep placement to reduce costs and improve the environment
  • Intello Labs: Deep learning solutions to assess the quality of farm produce
  • Farmringg: SMART platform offering a one-stop solution for all farming needs
  • Kalgudi: Agribusiness convergence platform
  • Kuza: Taking digital agri-extension to the last mile
  • Perfura: Creating value-addition opportunities at the farm-gate
  • eFresh: Digital transformation for efficient management of FPOs

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

Focus on Malawi

Farmers like Elinati Mbewe from Dedza will see their sorghum productivity increase, as a result of the new varieties. Photo, ICRISAT

Farmers like Elinati Mbewe from Dedza will see their sorghum productivity increase, as a result of the new varieties. Photo, ICRISAT

New highly productive sorghum varieties released

Three improved sorghum varieties with a yield potential of approximately 4 tons per hectare and tolerant to grey leaf spot, rust and other common diseases were released in Malawi early this year. These new varieties replace two varieties released in 1993, and have since been the only improved sorghum varieties available in Malawi.

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ICRISAT Country Representative for Malawi, Dr Patrick Okori, said ICRISAT and government are keen to replace the old varieties because they no longer meet today’s production needs, leading to a significant decline in yield from three tons per hectare, at the time of release to an average of two tons per hectare, today.”

“As farmers diversify their production systems to meet their livelihood needs, including food and household income, agricultural research remains pivotal for development of technologies that secure productivity,” Okori said.

ICRISAT and the Department of Agricultural Research Services developed the new sorghum varieties (Pilira 3, 4 and 5) to replace the old varieties (Pilira 1 and 2). The Agricultural Technology Clearing Committee of the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Malawi, officiated the release.

Brief history

During its formative phase, the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP) investments increased adoption of improved varieties, an essential trigger for unlocking crop productivity and livelihood opportunities in agriculture. An impact study conducted in 2016, reported high use of improved varieties of different crops, positively affecting livelihoods with –

  • 35% increase in the use of improved groundnut varieties at national level and 62% in project impact areas;
  • 46% increase in productivity for groundnut, 43% for pigeonpea and 86% for rice in project impact districts;
  • 45% increase in farmer income associated with groundnut, 66% for pigeonpea and
  • 60% for rice;

An estimated US$ 40 million per annum, up from US$ 17 million in 2009, was infused into Malawi’s economy during Phase I, from legume export.

Thus far, the project has contributed significantly to improving smallholder farmer livelihoods in Malawi, as shown in the following tables.

Quick Stat:

Through the project, €843,000 (USD 1,006,945) has been transferred to farmers mostly through seed related initiatives. Beneficiary farmers generated €72,000 (USD 86,000) from grain sales in the 2017- 2018 cropping season.

Read more about ICRISAT work in Malawi on EXPLOREit




Project: Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (Phase II) (Phase I: 1 2008 – 2016; Phase II: 2016 – 2021)

Funder: Irish Aid

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

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

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

A chickpea crop in fruit at a demonstration field in Phalombe district.

New chickpea varieties on the way

Three new improved varieties of chickpea – adapted to local conditions – have been identified for release in Malawi, following farmer participatory research, by the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP).

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Chickpea is an important cash crop grown mostly in the shire highlands of Malawi. Major chickpea-producing districts include Phalombe, Chiradzulo, Mulanje and Thyolo. Despite being one of the smallest countries in Africa, Malawi is ranked 14th among the world’s 58 major chickpea producers. A key challenge has been the absence of improved varieties.

ICRISAT Malawi aims to develop new adapted and productive chickpea varieties by 2020. To speed up the release process, the MSIDP, through ICRISAT, is introducing material bred at its other centers and conducts farmer participatory research to identify the best adapted materials for Malawi.

Along with the three varieties, a complete technology package for production is being tested alongside. After two years of experimentation, it is clear that women prefer early-maturing materials to bridge their household legume requirements, while men consider seed size as the most important quality, for increased grain weight at the market.

“We plant chickpea after harvesting other crops like sweet potato since it does not require a lot of water. This is good for farmers like us who own very small landholdings,” said Ms Emily Mateyu a smallholder farmer, who grows chickpea on a 0.3 ha piece of land, in Phalombe district.

Due to its short duration of growth and high adaptability, chickpea provides an option for farmers who own limited land. In Phalombe, most farmers own less than 0.5 ha of land, as tea plantations cover almost half of the total arable land. This technology will thus bridge the growing seasons while meeting food and income needs.

A high market value for chickpea, coupled with its ability to survive on residual soil moisture, is increasing demand for science to provide quick solutions. This effort by ICRISAT also fits well in government’s crop diversification agenda for food and income security.

Read more about ICRISAT’s work in Malawi on EXPLOREit

Project:Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (Phase II)(Phase I: 1 2008 – 2016; Phase II: 2016 – 2021)

Funder: Irish Aid

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

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

Mrs Juliana Maliro, third from left, during a cooking demonstration. Photo: MSIDP

Mrs Juliana Maliro, third from left, during a cooking demonstration. Photo: MSIDP

Better dietary options for healthier children

In rural Malawi, over 16,000 people, including young children, have benefited from 'Care Groups' that train people to prepare nutritious meals using local produce.

A 2018 integrated survey by the National Statistical Office of Malawi listed Dedza district among those with the highest malnutrition rates in Malawi. Ironically, Dedza is one of the major production hubs for legumes such as beans and groundnut in Malawi. The district is also popular for cereals such as maize, as well as root and tuber crops such as Irish potato. It was noted that many farmers in the district produce most of their crops for sale, using only maize and vegetables for their own consumption.

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It is against this background that the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (MSIDP) consortium started working with smallholder farmer groups in Dedza, to not only help them secure their harvests, but also to introduce them to new feeding systems that would enhance utilization of such crops. In partnership with government’s Nutrition Coordinating Committees, the project adopted the government-approved approach of the ‘Care Group’ model to train communities on different diets that incorporate crops like groundnut and beans in their recipes. In 2019 alone, 16,974 households were reached with nutrition training. This effort has now grown beyond Dedza district to other parts of Malawi.

Mrs Juliana Maliro, 57, from Mpenda village in Dowa district shares an interesting story about her grandson, Robert, who had been in and out of hospitals for the most part of his young life. His parents were told that the boy was constantly sick because he was malnourished. They did not know what to do, as they thought nutritious food was too expensive.

The worried grandmother took Robert into her care and fed him a diet based on a recipe she had learnt from a women’s care group in her village.

“After noticing how dire the situation was, I started feeding my grandson with this new porridge made from maize, beans and groundnut flour, and within a month, I saw a big change.” she beams.

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), through the MSIDP trains care groups on how to prepare nutritious recipes using locally available materials. In Dowa, CIAT collaborates with the Rhema Institute for Development, a nongovernmental organization that serves poor, vulnerable and marginalized communities around Lumbadzi in the district.

Through Rhema Institute, CIAT has trained 18 care group leaders, including Juliana, whose group is called Thandizo, on different food recipes that are based on locally available commodities. Some members of Thandizo have started small-scale businesses selling doughnuts made with recipes that CIAT introduced.

Read more about ICRISAT’s work in Malawi on EXPLOREit.

Project: Malawi Seed Industry Development Project (Phase II) (Phase I: 1 2008 – 2016; Phase II: 2016 – 2021)

Funder: Irish Aid

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

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

In the media



What African farmers and processors have to say

Farmers and agricultural stakeholders in Ghana, Niger, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal share the impact that the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has had and their concerns regarding the 2020-2021 cropping season with ICRISAT. The pandemic increases the risk of food insecurity and malnutrition of 50 million people between June and August 2020 according to the Economic Community of West African States estimates and adds to other threats including climate change and recurrent drought as well as Fall Armyworm and locust infestations in West Africa.

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Salamatu Garba, Executive Director, Women Farmers Advancement Network (WOFAN), Nigeria

“About 80 to 85 per cent of smallholder farmers whom we work with are at risk of losing all their dry season investments as a result of the lockdown due to COVID-19. More worryingly, there are almost no extension services, except for the skeletal visit-and-train system. Farmers and processors are left without field demonstrations. Farmers use old, traditional and obsolete farming methods that have further slowed down production. They’re disappointed that they cannot apply the second-phase urea fertilisers and appropriate pesticides, which are quite critical. Our fear is that the farmers will be able to feed neither their families nor the nation. The food security is dependent on their performance.

“Although the shutdown approach is a global strategy to break the deadly cycle of the disease, the impact on economies is devastating. In order to mitigate the shock of the pandemic and its related effects on smallholder farmers and processors, building capacities and providing financial and marketing support for the first six months of the closedown would be essential. “E-extension becomes very important as an innovative way of working with extension workers and farmers. Farming needs to be led by information and communications technology (ICT), and should turn into a demand-driven vocation. After the pandemic is over, the impact on the nation and the need for Nigeria to diversify from an oil-dependent country to one with an agriculture-led and technology-driven agribusiness systems will require a re-shaping and re-thinking of our agricultural models.”

Fanta Diamoutene, President of women farmers group in Farakala, Mali

“Most farmers like me do not have these smartphones and other virtual platforms that those in the cities are using to connect, and we do not have the knowledge to hold such virtual meetings. Therefore, we are very concerned about missing the season’s activities. We hope that partners will help us get some protection kits in the near future, pending a solution to this pandemic.”

Stella Thomas, Managing Director, Techni Seeds Limited, Nigeria

“At Techni Seeds we perceive COVID-19 as a setback for agricultural business. The pandemic is already affecting business because costs of haulage and inputs have doubled, with no availability of labour. So, we are trying to create an online presence for sales and increase machines to reduce human labour. It takes almost two weeks to move goods from Kano to Ibadan due to interstate issues and bad vehicles. It is a trying time for everyone, but it will pass. Let’s keep safe and keep looking out for new ways in seed agribusiness.”

Ibrahima Diouf, President of the GIE-Jambar (Groupe d’Interet Economique), Meouane, Senegal

“In Meouane, we are well aware that this is a global phenomenon and we are trying our best to keep ourselves safe with preventive measures such as lockdown and social distancing. We also perform prayers to ask for divine grace. Due to the geographic location of our village (about 150 km from Dakar) and the scattered distribution of the houses in the village, we strongly believe we will keep safe from the pandemic. “The GIE usually receives pre-basic seeds of millet and peanuts from ISRA, the Senegalese agricultural research institution. Due to the COVID-19 outbreak in Senegal in early March, we have not yet received the seeds. Also, the seeds we produced last year still need to be certified, packaged and distributed to farmers. All the processes have been stopped due to the pandemic, while the rainy season is about to start. Although the number of people tested positive has unprecedentedly increased – 100 people per day, on average, since the 1st of May – the government of Senegal has recently decided to unlock containment, allowing the seasonal workers to travel to rural areas. We are worried that this decision may favour the propagation of COVID-19 in rural areas.”

Nasser Aichatou Salifou, General Manager, Ainoma Seed Farm, Niger

“From the start, we initiated awareness campaigns on preventive measures because we noticed that our producers were not informed enough about the pandemic. Currently, their concern is whether they can go to the field when the rains come. In my opinion, awareness campaigns should be increased through community radios and posters / flyers to better inform farmers. There is still a lot of prejudice because producers are not informed enough about the disease, while those who have access to social media have wrong information or fake news.

“As for the pandemic, we are feeling the effects on marketing of our produce, and this could have an impact on our turnover. We have put some kits at our administration office and at our production site. However, our financial means do not allow us to reach producers or distributors with the kits. Although, right now, the marketing of food products is not too impacted by the pandemic, our worry is that the isolation of the city of Niamey prevents us from setting up inputs shops at our points of sales.

“Also, the training sessions that we generally offer our producers, agro dealers and technicians are being affected in particular because of the social distancing restrictions. We must continue to collaborate in order to adapt our solutions for meetings and training with farmers while respecting preventive measures. And, finally, we need our donors’ support to help raise more awareness about the pandemic.”

Coulibaly Maimouna Sidibe, CEO of Faso Kaba Seed Company, Mali

“COVID-19 has slowed down our activities and reduced our revenues enormously this year. With no flights, we have missed many orders of inputs, including seeds, sprayers, pesticides, etc. that we import from overseas, and due to restrictions in transport, it’s difficult to go into the field to buy inputs.

“We’ve had to cancel our annual meetings with  farmers as they do not have the means to hold virtual meetings and make online purchases. The process of certification and provision of seeds to be distributed to producers of certified seeds will be delayed this year. This will lead to a lack of availability of seed for the production of certified seeds by individual farmers, associations and cooperatives.

“While normally our seed shops are equipped at this time of the year, we are still in the process of collecting samples. We ask our donors to please facilitate access to basic inputs even at subsidised prices. We need support for paying salaries to our staff. We will also need more preventive kits for the farmers’ field demonstrations and trainings this year. Virtual meetings have become essential, and our farmers need to be there.”

Yalaly Traore, member of ULPC (Local Union of Cereal Producers), Dioila, Mali

“Farmers do not have the same perceptions about the pandemic. While some believe it does exist, others think it is a government policy to make money. However, they all agree on one thing: this pandemic is affecting us, because all activities – planning, meetings, training – have slowed down. “There has been an increase in the prices of agricultural inputs – fertilisers and herbicides – and a shortage of certain products on the market. Due to the closing of the borders, members of our cooperatives have not been able to sell their stocks, while these cooperatives have taken out loans to build up their stocks.”

Abdul Razak, Director General, Heritage Seeds Company, Ghana

“We cannot go to market to sell our seeds and it is difficult to reach our farmers. Also, because of social distancing, we cannot engage many workers for weeding and/or applying fertilisers, etc. If this continues, we may have to decrease our acreage in production. “Planning for the future is very difficult because we don’t know what will happen the next moment. We had clients coming from Accra city in the previous years but not this time, because of the lockdown in Accra. Everything else can wait, but production cannot. We need enough seed in the system. Even if there is only one man on Earth, he will still have to eat. Seed is food security. We need to maintain that.”

Bougouna Sogoba, Director General, Malian Awakening Association for Sustainable Development (AMEDD), Mali

“This pandemic is a major health and economic crisis that can have a negative impact on the rural economy, create a lack in manpower for cropping season activities and also cause difficulty in getting services to inputs by the private sector and extension services. The donor countries of most NGOs and foundations are being strongly impacted, and this could have repercussions on financing.

“For our NGO, the main challenge has been to carry out our activities while putting in place preventive measures against contamination. We hope that, in Mali, the cropping season and the production will not be much affected. However, this pandemic is also an opportunity to explore new ideas such as the use of digital solutions. We must use this crisis as an opportunity to refresh our approaches and technologies.”

About the author:

Agathe Diama
Head-Regional Information – WCA
West & Central Africa Program

Read more about ICRISAT work in Mali, Nigeria, Niger and Ghana on EXPLOREit

Click here to see how ICRISAT can help in the COVID-19 environment in the short, medium and long term

Pearl millet harvest from a field in Mali. Photo: Agathe Diama, ICRISAT

Pearl millet harvest from a field in Mali. Photo: Agathe Diama, ICRISAT

Africa is facing a food crisis due to COVID-19. These seeds could help prevent it

Sub-Saharan Africa is facing one of its biggest farming crises in living memory. COVID-19 is dealing a blow to farmers already struggling with floods, drought, pests and diseases. Emergency relief must provide high-quality seed for future harvests and not just food to be consumed now. Supplying certified seed for nutritious crops that are treasured in traditional African diets is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of achieving future food security says ICRISAT.

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Seed demand is expected to outstrip supply by nearly twice in the coming seasons, based on expert opinions from seven African countries compiled by the AVISA research project.

Floods, drought, devastating diseases such as maize lethal necrosis, and pests such as fall armyworm and desert locusts weakened sub-Saharan Africa’s food supply even before the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown measures. An even bigger problem is looming on the horizon. All these disastrous factors are not only hurting the current crop, but disrupting the supply of quality seed for future harvests. As a result, seed demand is expected to outstrip supply by nearly twice in the coming seasons, based on expert opinions from seven African countries compiled by the AVISA research project.

The challenge for relief organizations and governments will be to ensure availability and access to high-quality seed for the most nutritious crops, so farmers can feed themselves and their nations. Failure to do so could result in a vicious cycle of meagre harvests, malnutrition and poverty.

Here is what aid organizations, governments and research institutes can do to stave off the looming crisis and build a sustainable future for African farmers.

The seed challenge

Supplying certified, high-quality seed is one of the cheapest and most effective ways of achieving future food security.

Such quality seed has been selected, bred and treated for drought and disease resistance, high yields, and a short growing period from sowing to harvest. It can double the yield of legumes and cereals, all other things being equal.

In a crisis like the one we are facing right now, seed assistance programmes suddenly face a sharp rise in demand. However, it takes at least a season to produce and supply the required seed, once stocks are exhausted – meaning 3-9 months, depending on the crop. Meanwhile, farmers are likely to resort to sowing ordinary grain that was originally intended as food, not seed. To the naked eye, grain for consumption and high-quality seed for next year’s harvest look the same. A farmer will only know the difference days or weeks after planting, and sometimes not until it’s harvest time.

Many African farmers struggled to obtain quality seed even before the pandemic. There were instances where seed consignments of rice in Mali, sorghum in Burkina Faso and Maize in Uganda had lower germination capacity, vigor and genetic purity than expected of quality seed. One estimate suggests that more than 95% of legume and dryland cereal seeds in Africa are from sources of unknown quality. Such low-quality seed can lead to persistent food insecurity, as harvest after harvest yields disappointing results. The coronavirus crisis is likely to exacerbate this problem. Farm production in the upcoming crop season will probably be low across Africa owing to lockdowns and floods in East Africa.

Relief organizations and governments have recognized that they must step in to prevent a farming crisis that could result in famines, and are preparing to fill a massive seed shortage. They are currently the biggest procurers of seed in Africa, say partners working with the AVISA research project. Seed-producing organizations and agriculture research institutes across Africa have been asked to reserve their seed for relief orders after the pandemic.

In Nigeria, the government and ICRISAT are distributing seed to 10,000 farmers to shield them from the impact of COVID-19 and lockdown measures.

Any short-term efforts to boost seed supply must ensure quality if we don’t want to cause long-term problems. But how can we achieve this in the face of soaring demand and a global pandemic?

Beans and nuts for nutrition

One solution is better cooperation between development agencies, seed institutions – private, public and community – and agricultural research organizations at the national and international level. Such linkages exist, albeit in a limited way, and predate COVID-19. Governments and relief agencies could step in to strengthen these links, and facilitate seamless cooperation.

Cooperation with research organizations and seed institutions can help relief agencies access high-quality seed sources. It can also tackle another challenge: helping farmers plant the most suitable crops for long-term food security.

In the present crisis, the most suitable crops are nutrient-dense cereals and legumes. African cereals such as sorghum, finger millet and pearl millet, and legumes such as groundnut, chickpea, common bean, cowpea and pigeonpea, can help tackle any threat to food and nutrition security in one go.

Chickpeas for example are high in iron, zinc and magnesium, and a portion of only 100-200g can meet an adult’s daily requirements of those nutrients. They are also high in protein and fiber. Varieties exist that can be sown and harvested within 90 days from sowing. These nutritious crops are treasured in many African diets, and are part of food systems that have sustained the continent generation after generation.

Chickpea, for instance, is commonly eaten in Ethiopia in the form of shiro, a stew paired with sourdough flatbread. Groundnut soup in Uganda is the main accompaniment of matoke (banana and plantain) staples. Chickpea, pigeonpea, common bean, cowpea and groundnuts are mixed in various proportions with maize to form githeri, a delicacy in many rural homes.

Growing such legumes alongside or in between cereals offers a whole range of benefits to farmers. Legumes help with crop rotation, fix nitrogen in the soil, cover and protect the soil and break the cycle of pest, disease and weed that afflicts monocultures. Cultivated mostly by women, legumes are typically consumed at home, balancing cereals with proteins, vitamins and micronutrients. Surplus is sold at high prices.

Sowing resilience

Producing and supplying seed to grow nutritious, suitable and vigorous crops requires agricultural research and development. Agriculture research institutions can help relief agencies promote the right crop and the right variety in the right place, all the way to supporting the best post-harvest management practices such as conditioning, cleaning, drying, storing, and processing the crops.

CGIAR, a global research partnership for a food-secure future, has worked with African governments through its centres, such as the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and ICRISAT, to support crisis-hit seed systems. In Ethiopia, a collaboration with the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture Research ensured access to quality chickpea seed after a drought. In Northern Uganda, post-war relief efforts focused on distributing quality groundnut seed.

If it endures beyond COVID-19, the region-wide cooperation described here could assume early warning capabilities to anticipate spikes in demand for high-quality seeds in certain areas. It would also build links with markets, which are necessary to create resilient supply chains after emergency relief.

A cooperative, connected system would be well-poised to stimulate demand for nutritious foods and promote nourishing diets based on people’s traditional preferences. Ultimately, a solid and well-considered seed system could not just help us respond to this pandemic. It could also help Africa reach its Sustainable Development Goals, and work towards a prosperous future.

About the authors  

Dr Christopher Ochieng Ojiewo
Principal Scientist & Project Coordinator-TL-III
& Theme leader, Seed System, ICRISAT
Rohit Pillandi 
Senior Communication Officer,

Read more about seed systems on EXPLOREit

Click here to see how ICRISAT can help in the COVID-19 environment in the short, medium and long term

Photo: Forbes India

Photo: Forbes India

An opportune time to digitize agriculture

If Indian agriculture aspires to be globally competitive and viable, the need for digitization is urgent now more than ever, and can help farmers lower costs, grade better quality and avoid distress sales.

Agriculture supports nearly half of India’s workforce despite its decreasing contribution to the country’s GDP (85-16.5% during 1950-2020). Upscaling promising digital solutions across the agricultural value chain can address pressing challenges, posed mainly by the pandemic in the present time and over the long-term by way of climate change and growing population. More importantly, such efforts will leave us with a stronger value chains and means to better welfare.

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The concern of getting infected with COVID-19 weighs heavily as the farm workforce engages in kharif to feed the country. Mechanizing more farms can reduce risk of infection while increasing farm efficiency. Just under 45% of Indian farms are mechanized. China and Brazil, India’s associates in BRICS, have managed to mechanize about 57% and 75% respectively. The US has mechanized 95% of its farms.

Digital farms: Workforce, inputs and resources

NABARD attributes India’s relatively low rate of mechanisation to small landholdings, poor access to electricity, credit cost, complicated procedures and low awareness. From driving creation of more Farmer Producer Organizations (FPO) to increasing Kisan Credit Card limits and insurance coverage through Prime Minister Fasal Bima Yojana, a conducive environment has been created to let digital in. Solutions exist for every stage of food production, including use of drones for spraying and minimising human hazard exposure, site and crop-specific nutrient or fertiliser application, soil and water management using IoT sensors, harvest and post-harvest digital solutions with quality assessment and marketing assistance that complement non-digital farm mechanization and reduce overall human involvement.

Low-cost access to capital is the key to the door separating the two sides. Capital support to upscale models like the Uber-style aggregation of farm machinery can bring machines to the farm-gate at affordable costs. The agriculture infrastructure component of Rs 1 lakh crore in the Atmanirbhar package is a first big step in that direction and is expected to set a precedent for more.

For governments, incentivizing market players, especially start-up communities, to promote quality inputs at competitive prices and conserve natural resources can be an area of focus within the realm of digital agriculture. Fertilizer response ratio in India shows a declining trend due to imbalanced application, lack of awareness, increasing multi-nutrient deficiencies and poor crop management. Remote-sensing, local and drone data can help reverse this trend by accurately identifying plant and soil needs. Digital platforms can facilitate economies of scale by aggregating demand and enabling access to quality inputs at low cost. This will help companies save on supply and distribution costs.

While advocating crop diversification, support can also be extended to solutions that attempt to make water-intensive crop production efficient. Such solutions rely on IoT devices to monitor water requirements and enable optimal use. Leveraging satellite-derived datasets to accurately estimate water requirements and remotely operating irrigation equipment is another promising area that deserves attention.

Extension and policy

Growing mobile and internet penetration can usher digital in extension services, which are now largely driven through extension officials. Some start-ups have demonstrated impressive results through digital extension via audio and video content, besides SMS in local languages. Many companies are combining datasets such as satellites, drones, weather and local conditions to generate farm-specific actionable intelligence.

A few companies have also set up call centers to facilitate two-way interaction and are co-opting farmers as co-producers of knowledge. Gaps in internet availability have not deterred solutions. The government can consider actively promoting partnerships between Krishi Vigyan Kendras, FPOs, progressive farmers and startups to scale such services across the country. Such partnerships are also crucial to earn the trust of local farming communities.

Mandis haven’t been successful in helping farmers receive more than a fraction of what the consumer pays. That apart, the absence of procurement centers in proximity, high transportation costs and reluctance from mill owners to buy in small quantities remains an obstacle for the realization of minimum support prices (MSP).

There now exist digital interventions to facilitate higher prices for farmers. In addition to traceability, image recognition is being used in quality grading post-harvests, thus removing human subjectivity. As was demonstrated during the lockdown, startups can facilitate aggregation of quality produce and link it to sellers across the country. With information on nearby market prices and MSP, farmers can minimise distress sales.

With more encouragement to collectivize small and marginal farmers as FPOs/cooperatives, governments can simplify procurement processes and lower technology access costs. Simplification of FPO reporting processes can lower cost of compliance. With amendments to Essential Commodities Act, 1955, and two central laws on inter-state trading and contract farming, a series of steps have been taken. Meanwhile, enterprises, both established players and startups, need to recognize gaps in digital literacy and develop solutions. The need for digitalization is now more than ever in Indian agriculture if it has to be globally competitive and viable.

About the authors:

Amitabh Kant

Venugopal Mothkoor
Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist
NITI Aayog

Ram Dhulipala
Theme Leader, Digital Agriculture


ICAR recognizes ICRISAT scientist with prestigious Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Director, ICRISAT’s Genetic Gains Research Program, was named a recipient of Indian Council of Agricultural Research’s Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award on 16 July. The award recognizes outstanding contributions to agriculture research.

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This award is for Dr Varshney’s research contributions to crop sciences. He is internationally renowned for work in the area of plant genomics and genomics-assisted crop breeding. At ICRISAT, he has led teams that have sequenced some of the most important dryland crops including pigeonpea, chickpea, groundnut and pearl millet.

Mr Narendra Singh Tomar, Minister of Agriculture and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India, presided over the virtual awards ceremony during ICAR’s 92nd Foundation Day.

“It is an acknowledgment of ICRISAT and its partners’ contributions to agriculture research. I thank my colleagues and collaborators at ICRISAT, ICAR, all institutes in India and in other parts of the world for their contributions and support,” Dr Varshney said.

The Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Award is given annually to individuals in recognition of research excellence in Crop & Horticultural Sciences, Natural Resources Management and Agricultural Engineering, Animal & Fisheries Sciences and Social Sciences. The award was instituted in 1956 and every category carries a ₹ 5 lakh prize.

To see Dr Varshney’s publications, click here.  A list of publications in Nature can be accessed here.

Esteemed MS Swaminathan Award for former ICRISAT Board member RS Paroda

Dr Raj Paroda, former member of the ICRISAT Governing Board, and current Chair, Trust for Advancement of Agricultural Sciences, has been bestowed the Dr MS Swaminathan Award for Environment Protection 2020, as announced recently by the Rotary Club of Madras East.

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The award is in recognition of Dr Paroda’s great contributions in the field of plant breeding and genetic resource management, as well as towards establishing several institutions in the sectors of crops, horticulture, livestock, natural resource management, fisheries, agricultural engineering, and social sciences.

Dr Paroda will be the first Indian scientist to receive this award. It is noteworthy that among the earlier recipients of this award is Dr David Bergvinson, former Director General of ICRISAT.

The Award Ceremony is planned to be held on the evening of 8 August 2020.

New publications

Genetic Variability for Yield, Physiological and Quality Traits in Novel Super-Early Pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan (L.) Millsp.)

Authors: Shruthi HB, Hingane AJ, Sekhar MR, Kumar CVS, Srivarsha J, Bhosle TM, Prashanthi L, Reddy BVB, Sudhakar P, Rathore A and Anil Kumar V

Published: Indian Journal of Pure & Applied Biosciences, 7 (6). pp. 378-385. ISSN 2582-2845

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11464/

Genetic Divergence for Yield, Physiological and Quality Traits in Super-Early Pigeon pea (Cajanus cajan. (L.) Millsp.)  

Authors: Shruthi HB, Hingane AJ, Sekhar MR, Kumar CVS, Prashanthi L, Reddy BVB, Sudhakar P, Srivarsha J, Bhosle TM, Anil Kumar V and Rathore A

Published: International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences, 9 (1). pp. 2422-2433. ISSN 2319-7692

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11465/

Farmers’ perceived constraints to groundnut production, their variety choice and preferred traits in eastern Ethiopia: implications for drought-tolerance breeding

Authors: Abady S, Shimelis H and Janila P

Published: Journal of Crop Improvement, 33 (4). pp. 505-521. ISSN 1542-7528

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11466/

Identification of QTLs and candidate genes for high grain Fe and Zn concentration in sorghum [Sorghum bicolor (L.) Moench]  

Authors: Kotla A, Phuke R, Hariprasanna K, Mehtre SP, Rathore A, Gorthy S, Srivastava RK, Das R, Bhanu Prakash A,Radhika K, Hash CT, Reddy BVS, Patil JV, Jabeen F, Shashikanth D, Jaganathan J, Gaddameedi A, Subhasini V,Deshpande S and Kumar AA

Published: Journal of Cereal Science (TSI), 90. pp. 1-9. ISSN 0733-5210

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11467/

Strengthening Food Security through Technologies  

Authors: Wani SP, Patil MD and Singh D

Published:  National Security, 2 (2). pp. 170-190. ISSN 2581-9658

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11468/

Exploring combined stress incited disease dynamics of chickpea x dry root rot interation

Authors: Sharma M, Chandran S, Tarafdar A, Mahesha HS and Ghosh R

Published: XIX International Plant Protection Congress, 10-14 November 2019, Hyderabad, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11469/

Risk assessment and preparedness: an encounter to agricultural transboundary pests and diseases

Authors: Sharma M, Ramanagouda G, Jaba J, Ghosh R, Tarafdar A and Amendra AK

Published: In: XIX International Plant Protection Congress, Hyderabad, India, 10-14 November 2019

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11470/

Pathotype and racial diversity of Ascochyta rabiei isolates in the India

Authors: Manjunatha L, Upasana R, Shailendra S, Sharma M, Kumar K and Singh NP

Published: In: XIX International Plant Protection Congress, 10-14 November 2019, Hyderabad, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11471/

ICRISAT pests monitoring and surveillance at a glance and weather based forewarning models for chickpea and pigeonpea Helicoverpa armigera

Authors: Ramanagouda G, Jha A, Ranga Rao GV, Makanwar P, Jaba J and Sharma M

Published: In: XIX International Plant Protection Congress, 10-14 November 2019, Hyderabad, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11472/

Exploring combined effect of elevated CO2 and temperature on Fusarium wilt development of chickpea

Authors: Reddy S, Tarafdar A, Naik G and Sharma M

Published: In: XIX International Plant Protection Congress, 10-14 November 2019, Hyderabad, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11473/

Regional characterization of pigeonpea sterility mosaic disease and exploring broad-based resistance

Authors: Sayiprathap BR, Anil Kumar P, Sharma M, Kumari P and Hari Kishan S

Published: In: XIX International Plant Protection Congress, 10-14 November 2019, Hyderabad, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11474/

Catalysing the host plant resistance: An insight into phyto-hormone mediated ISR against dry root rot of chickpea  

Authors: Chobe DR, Tarafdar A, Sharath Chandran US, Singh R and Sharma M

Published: In: XIX International Plant Protection Congress, 10-14 November 2019, Hyderabad, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11475/

Diagnostic Techniques of Soil Borne Plant Diseases: Recent Advances and Next Generation Evolutionary Trends

Authors: Ghosh R, Tarafdar A, Chobe DR, Sharath Chandran US, Rani S and Sharma M

Published: Biological Forum – An International Journal, 11 (2). pp. 1-13. ISSN 2249-3239

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11476/

Climate change: Preparing for changes in occurrence and distribution of legumes disease  

Authors: Ghosh R and Sharma M

Published: In: National Symposium on Recent Challenges and Opportunities in Sustainable Plant Health Management, 26-28 February, 2019, Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11477/

Addressing Phytophthora blight disease: an emerging threat to pigeonpea expansion and production   

Authors: Ghosh R and Sharma M

Published:  In: XIX International Plant Protection Congress, 10-14 November 2019, Hyderabad, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11478/

Next-generation modelling approaches for sustainable crop protection

Authors: Sharma M, Ramanagouda G, Jha A, Jagdish J, Ghosh R, Sreenivas AG and Sharath Chandran US

Published: In: 5th Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture 2019 – Transforming food systems under a changing climate, 8-10 October 2019, Bali, Indonesia

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11479/

Target Population Environments and Pest Distribution Modelling: An Approach towards Pest Prioritization and Preparedness

Authors: Sharma M, Ramanagouda G, Sharath Chandran US, Kholova J and Irshad Ahmed M

Published: In: Annual Meeting of the International Pest Risk Research Group, Poznan, Poland,

3-6 September 2019

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11480/

Effets de l’engorgement du sol sur la croissance, le développement et la productivité du maïs

Authors: Daku EK, Dossoumou NIP, Worou ON and Salack S

Published: In: RIsques Climatiques : Outils et Recherches en Afrique. Récolte du niébé, fin de saison humide, Niakhar (Sénégal). pp. 55-73. ISBN 978-2-7099-2820-5

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11481/

Effets induits par les risques d’engorgement du sol en maïsiculture au Nord du Ghana

Authors: Dossoumou NIP, Daku EK, Worou ON, Salack S, Sanfo S, Tondoh JE and Agbossou EK

Published: In: Faire face aux risques en agriculture. L’Harmattan, 2019 , rue de l’École-Polytechnique,Paris, 57-75. ISBN 978-2-343-18139-4

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11482/

Towards estimating root‐zone soil moisture using surface multispectral and thermal sensing: A spectral and hydrometeorological dataset from the Dookie experiment site, Victoria, Australia

Authors: Akuraju VR, Ryu D, Western AW and Ian Young R

Published: Hydrological Processes (TSI), 33 (14). pp. 2037-2043. ISSN 0885-6087

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11483/

Genomic Designing of Pearl Millet: A Resilient Crop for Arid and Semi-arid Environments

Authors: Serba DD, Yadav RS, Varshney RK, Gupta SK, Govindaraj M, Srivastava RK, Gupta R, Perumal R and Tesso TT

Published: In: Genomic Designing of Climate-Smart Cereal Crops. Springer Nature Switzerland, Switzerland,

  1. 221-286. ISBN 978-3-319-93380-1

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11484/

A SWEET solution to rice blight

Authors: Varshney RK, Godwin ID, Mohapatra T, Jones JDG and McCouch SR

Published: Nature Biotechnology (TSI), 37 (11). pp. 1280-1282. ISSN 1087-0156

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11485/

Can a speed breeding approach accelerate genetic gain in pigeonpea?

Authors: Saxena KB, Saxena RK, Hickey LT and Varshney RK

Published: Euphytica (TSI), 215 (12). pp. 1-7. ISSN 0014-2336

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11486/

Super-Pangenome by Integrating the Wild Side of a Species for Accelerated Crop Improvement  

Authors: Khan AW, Garg V, Roorkiwal M, Golicz AA, Edwards D and Varshney RK

Published: Trends in Plant Science (TSI), 25 (2). pp. 148-158. ISSN 1360-1385

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11487/

Construction and comparison of three reference‐quality genome assemblies for soybean

Authors: Valliyodan B, Cannon SB, Bayer PE, Shu S, Brown AV, Ren L, Jenkins J, Chung CYL, Chan TF, Daum CG, Plott C, Hastie A, Baruch K, Barry KW, Huang W, Patil G, Varshney RK, Hu H, Batley J, Yuan Y, Song Q, Stupar RM, Goodstein DM, Stacey G, Lam HM, Jackson SA, Schmutz J, Grimwood J, Edwards D and Nguyen HT

Published:  The Plant Journal (TSI), 100 (5). pp. 1066-1082. ISSN 0960-7412

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11488/

Genomic Interventions to Improve Resilience of Pigeonpea in Changing Climate

Authors: Bohra A, Pareek S, Jones M, Jha UC, Naik SJS, Kaashyap M, Patil PG, Maurya AK, Saxena RK and Varshney RK

Published: In: Genomic Designing of Climate-Smart Pulse Crops. Springer Nature, Switzerland, pp. 107-134.   ISBN 978-3-319-96931-2

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11489/

Pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan L. Millsp.): An Ideal Crop for Sustainable Agriculture

Authors: Saxena RK, Saxena KB and Varshney RK

Published: In: Advances in Plant Breeding Strategies: Legumes. Springer Nature, Switzerland, pp. 409-429.

ISBN 978-3-030-23399-0

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11490/

Climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies for sustainable crop production

Authors: Kesava Rao AVR, Wani SP and Srinivas K

Published: In: Agricultural Extension and Sustainable Development Goals. S.B. Nangia A.P.H. Publishing Corporation, New Delhi, India, pp. 224-239

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11491/

Strategies for Effective Use of Genomic Information in Crop Breeding Programs Serving Africa and South Asia

Authors: Santantonio N, Atanda SA, Beyene Y, Varshney RK, Olsen M, Jones E, Roorkiwal M, Gowda M, Bharadwaj C, Gaur PM, Zhang X, Dreher K, Ayala-Hernández C, Crossa J, Pérez-Rodríguez P, Rathore A, Gao SY, McCouch S and Robbins KR

Published: Frontiers in Plant Science (TSI), 11. ISSN 1664-462X

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11492/

Effective and economic ecological weed management approaches for managing weeds in rice in the era of climate change

Authors: Rao AN, Dixit S, Gajanan S, Anantha KH and Singh VK

Published: XIX International Plant Protection Congress, 10-14 November 2019, Hyderabad, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11493/

Animal Grazing and Value Chain Integration for Small and Marginal Farmers

Authors: Ahuja R and Anantha KH

Published: FAO Representative in India, New Delhi, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11494/

Gender norms and relations in an agricultural watershed project in the Parasai-Sindh Watershed, Jhansi/India

Authors: Leder S, Padmaja R and Garg K

Published: CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystem (WLE)

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11495/

Agricultural water management interventions for enhancing water resources availability, cropping, intensity and various ecosystem services in Bundelkhand region of Central India

Authors: Garg KK, Singh R, Anantha KH, Dev I and Dixit S

Published: Drought Management: Future Challenges and Strategies, Proceedings of India Water Week, 25 September 2019, India

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11496/

Biofortified Pearl Millet Cultivars offer Potential Solution to Tackle Malnutrition in India  

Authors: Govindaraj M, Virk PS, Kannati A, Cherian B, Rai KN, Anderson MS and Pfeiffer WH

Published: Quantitative Genetics, Genomics and Plant Breeding. CAB International, pp. 385-396

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11497/

Facilitating livelihoods diversification through flood-based land restoration in pastoral systems of Afar, Ethiopia

Authors: Amede T, Van den Akker E, Berdel W, Keller C, Tilahun G, Dejen A, Legesse G and Abebe H

Published:  Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (TSI). pp. 1-12. ISSN 1742-1705

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11498/

Restoring degraded landscapes and fragile food systems in sub-Saharan Africa: synthesis of best practices

Authors: Amede T and Whitbread AM

Published: Renewable Agriculture and Food Systems (TSI). pp. 1-3. ISSN 1742-1705

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11499/

Regional Science Review and Planning Meeting 2020

Authors: Tabo R

Published: Regional Scientific Review and Planning Meeting for WCA, February 19-21, 2020, ICRISAT-Samanko

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11500/

Événements Bulletin

Authors: ICRISAT

Published: French Newsletter

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11501/


Genetic diversity in pearl millet inbred restorers for agro-morphological and grain quality traits

Authors: Sharma V, Sharma LD, Jakhar ML, Govindaraj M, Singh RV, Sharma SK, Get S, Parashar N and Solanki RK

Published Electronic Journal of Plant Breeding, 11 (01). pp. 310-313. ISSN 0975-928X

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11502/

Genetic Variability, Diversity and Interrelationship for Twelve Grain Minerals in 122 Commercial Pearl Millet Cultivars in India

Authors: Govindaraj M, Yadav OP, Rajpurohit BS, Kanatti A, Rai KN and Dwivedi SL

Published: Agricultural Research. ISSN 2249-720X

OAR Link: http://oar.icrisat.org/11503/

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