Issue No: 1913
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Millets can be prepared and eaten like rice. Shown here is proso millet cooked like rice in turmeric. Photo: Joanna Kane-Potaka

Millets can be prepared and eaten like rice. Shown here is proso millet cooked like rice in turmeric. Photo: Joanna Kane-Potaka

Millet-based diet can lower risk of type 2 diabetes and help manage blood glucose levels

A new study has shown that eating millets can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and helps manage blood glucose levels in people with diabetes, indicating the potential to design appropriate meals with millets for diabetic and pre-diabetic people as well as for non-diabetic people as a preventive approach.

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Drawing on research from 11 countries, the study published in Frontiers in Nutrition shows that diabetic people who consumed millet as part of their daily diet saw their blood glucose levels drop 12-15% (fasting and post-meal), and blood glucose levels went from diabetic to pre-diabetes levels. The HbA1c (blood glucose bound to hemoglobin) levels lowered on average 17% for pre-diabetic individuals, and the levels went from pre-diabetic to normal status. These findings affirm that eating millets can lead to a better glycemic response.

The authors reviewed 80 published studies on humans of which 65 were eligible for a meta-analysis involving about 1,000 human subjects, making this analysis the largest systematic review on the topic to date. “No one knew there were so many scientific studies undertaken on millets’ effect on diabetes and these benefits were often contested. This systematic review of the studies published in scientific journals has proven that millets can keep blood glucose levels in check and reduce the risk of diabetes. It has also shown just how well these smart foods do it,” said Dr. S Anitha, the study’s lead author and a Senior Nutrition Scientist at ICRISAT.

Millets, including sorghum, were consumed as staple cereals in many parts of the world until half a century ago. Investments in a few crops such as rice, wheat and maize, have edged nutritious and climate-smart crops like millets out of the plate.

“Awareness of this ancient grain is just starting to spread globally, and our review shows millets having a promising role in managing and preventing type 2 diabetes. In the largest review and analysis of research into different types of millet compared to other grains such as refined rice, maize and wheat we found that millets outperform their comparison crops with lower GI and lower blood glucose levels in participants,” observed Professor Ian Givens, a co-author of the study and Director at University of Reading’s Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health (IFNH) in the UK.

According to the International Diabetes Association, diabetes is increasing in all regions of the world. India, China and the USA have the highest numbers of people with diabetes. Africa has the largest forecasted increase of 143% from 2019 to 2045, the Middle East and North Africa 96% and South East Asia 74%. The authors urge the diversification of staples with millets to keep diabetes in check, especially across Asia and Africa.

Strengthening the case for reintroducing millets as staples, the study found that millets have a low average glycemic index (GI) of 52.7, about 36% lower GI than milled rice and refined wheat, and about 14-37 GI points lower compared to maize. All 11 types of millets studied could be defined as either low (<55) or medium (55-69) GI, with the GI as an indicator of how much and how soon a food increases blood sugar level. The review concluded that even after boiling, baking and steaming (most common ways of cooking grains) millets had lower GI than rice, wheat and maize.

“Millets are grown on all inhabited continents, yet they remain a ‘forgotten food’. We hope this will change from 2023, when the world observes the United Nations declared International Year of Millets, and with studies like this that show that millets outperform white rice, maize and wheat,” said Rosemary Botha, a co-author of the study who was based in Malawi at the time of the study, with the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Pearl millet and sorghum varieties and landraces. Photo: ICRISAT

Pearl millet and sorghum varieties and landraces. Photo: ICRISAT

“The global health crisis of undernutrition and over-nutrition coexisting is a sign that our food systems need fixing. Greater diversity both on-farm and on-plate is the key to transforming food systems. On-farm diversity is a risk mitigating strategy for farmers in the face of climate change while on-plate diversity helps counter lifestyle diseases such as diabetes. Millets are part of the solution to mitigate the challenges associated with malnutrition, human health, natural resource degradation, and climate change. Trans-disciplinary research involving multiple stakeholders is required to create resilient, sustainable and nutritious food systems,” said Dr. Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT.

Professor Paul Inman, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (International) of the University of Reading, stressed that “The rapidly accelerating threats of climate change and global health crises, including obesity and diabetes, require everyone to pull together in action. The partnership between ICRISAT and the University of Reading is doing exactly this, bringing together our world leading expertise in human nutrition with ICRISAT’s long established role as a leader in agricultural research for rural development.”

The study also identified information gaps and highlighted a need for collaborations to have one major diabetes study covering all types of millets and all major ways of processing with consistent testing methodologies. Structured comprehensive information will be highly valuable globally, taking the scientific knowledge in this area to the highest level.

“This study is first in a series of studies that has been worked on for the last four years as a part of the Smart Food initiative led by ICRISAT that will be progressively released in 2021. Included are systematic reviews with meta-analyses of the impacts of millets on: diabetes, anemia and iron requirements, cholesterol and cardiovascular diseases and calcium deficiencies as well as a review on zinc levels. As part of this, ICRISAT and the Institute for Food Nutrition and Health at the University of Reading have formed a strategic partnership to research and promote the Smart Food vision of making our diets healthier, more sustainable on the environment and good for those who produce it,” explained Ms. Joanna Kane-Potaka, a co-author from ICRISAT and Executive Director of the Smart Food initiative.

NOTE: This research is also part of a special edition and theme section in the Frontiers journal – Smart Food for Healthy, Sustainable and Resilient Food System.

For more information, please contact:

Dr S Anitha, Senior Scientist, Nutrition, ICRISAT S (dot) Anitha (at) cgiar (dot) org
Rohit Pillandi at +91 9949513812 or p (dot) rohit (at) cgiar (dot) org

New program, partnership, process and variety

Screenshot of the launch meeting.

Screenshot of the launch meeting.

Accelerated Crop Improvement program initiated: Breeding programs for dryland crops to get a boost

In order to enhance the annual rate of genetic gains in crop improvement programs, the Accelerated Crop Improvement initiative was recently unveiled at ICRISAT. It is expected that, with this, the efficiency of the crop improvement programs for crops grown in drylands will receive a boost.

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Inaugurating the program, Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, said, “For sustainable production, it is important to keep an eye on all components, including crop improvement, breeding trials, seed systems, market needs, production systems and nutrition needs, and I am happy that this initiative addresses all these areas.”

We aim to find answers to three key questions:Why?
To accelerate our efforts to reduce food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty. Although a lot of work has already been done, we must continue to explore avenues for further improvement by better integration across disciplines.When?
As quickly as possible! We are racing against time; critical issues like climate change and population will wait for none.


By building better crop improvement plans that address the specific needs across various crops and help to realize higher genetic gains in smallholder farmers’ field.

Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT

With an objective to assess the status of and streamline crop improvement programs for higher genetic gains, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation sponsored reviews and provided suggestions on using the Breeding Program Assessment Tool (BPAT) recommendations for ICRISAT breeding programs. During these reviews, the BPAT teams identified several key areas for improvement in crop breeding as well as other allied disciplines.

Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General – Research, ICRISAT, said, “ICRISAT has reorganized crop improvement programs with 15 crop teams, including six in Asia, six in East and Southern Africa (ESA) and three in West and Central Africa (WCA). We now have a comprehensive breeding strategy across all programs and regions and look forward to its 100% implementation.”

The 15 crop teams, through frequent interactions, have developed crop improvement plans – target product profiles, breeding schemes, trait pipeline, crop improvement plan addressing BPAT recommendations and resource mobilizations – across crops and regions. These plans have been reviewed and approved for each of 15 crop teams.

Three Regional Crop Improvement Hubs – one each in Hyderabad (India) for Asia, Matopos (Zimbabwe) for ESA and Bamako (Mali) for WCA – have been established and a Crop Improvement Operations Team (CIOT) has been created as well. ICRISAT has upgraded its existing research infrastructure and established new ones in Hyderabad, Matopos and Bamako. These include phenotyping platforms for drought, stem borer, disease, grain quality; irrigation; upgrading screenhouses; expanding seed processing facility for a centralized seed inventory system; mechanization tools (tractor with GPS capability, planters, threshers, etc.); and digitization tools (handheld tablets with software, barcode printer/reader, etc.).

The CIOT, by assembling a central team of technical staff, will provide services such as seed preparation, packing, seed shipment, planting, trial/nursery/seed multiplication management, data collection, harvesting and processing, post-harvest data collection and seed storage to the crop improvement team in each region. Similarly, Product Placement Leaders (PPLs) have identified representative testing sites and hubs in close collaboration with NARS partners guided by the modelling work. Several appropriate test sites, entries, checks and experimental designs, guided by the Data Management and Analytical Support (DMAS) services, are being adopted in all crop improvement programs. Efforts are underway to form crop testing networks in the region to facilitate multi-location testing (MLTs).

“I am happy to see the multidisciplinary teams coming together, and I wish to see the same zeal across regions for efficient implementation and delivery as intended through this initiative,” said Dr Rebbie Harawa, Regional Director, ESA, ICRISAT.

Significantly, crop improvement programs in all regions will now be guided by Target Product Profiles (TPPs) that delineate preferred attributes in products (crops) for various market segments, benchmark cultivars and track progress for various attributes vis-à-vis the benchmarks. The product development process deploys suitable germplasm, breeding methods, genomic and phenomic tools to develop putative products ready for multi-environment testing.

Going forward, crop breeding activities will be carried out with contributions from all related disciplines, and with the engagement of CIOT and other facilities including Sequencing and Genomics Services (SGS), RapidGen, Trait Phenotyping, Data Management and Analytical Support services (DMAS). For instance, SGS is already providing marker services and genotyping services for undertaking marker-assisted selection and genomic selection in crop improvement programs. RapidGen is used in some of the crops; protocol standardization, optimization and scale-up are ongoing for other crops.

Nutrition trait phenotyping (NIRS and XRF) is routinely used to assess grain and fodder nutrition quality and other quality parameters like oil, starch fatty acids to guide breeding decisions and more recently CT-imaging algorithms have been developed for assessing physical properties of grain and/or pods. The biotic stress phenotyping team is engaged with the crop breeding teams to screen breeding populations for resistance to various diseases, insects and pests. DMAS is working very closely with the breeding teams for estimating number of appropriate test sites, entries, checks and developing experimental designs for developing and testing breeding populations. Data received from partners are uploaded in ‘Data Verse’, subjected to quality checks, validated and uploaded BMS. Multi-model analysis for single and pooled analysis and pBLUPS are used in analyzing the data. Improved breeding operations, tools, protocols and services will be shared with the partners, both public and private sector, to deliver the research outputs in the target ecologies of three regions.

Crop improvement teams consisting of scientists from several disciplines are working together to contribute to enhance genetic gain. For instance, Genomics, Pre-Breeding and Bioinformatics (GPB) will develop and utilize forward and reverse genetics, pre-breeding, bioinformatics and other “omics” technologies to develop and optimize trait discovery pipeline aligned with TPPs. GPB is contributing in the development and use of quality control (QC)-, trait-associated SNPs panels, mid-density SNP arrays, and trait validation and introgression pipeline in each crop improvement program.

Similarly, Crop Physiology and Modeling (CPM) team is contributing towards developing an understanding of key drivers of crop production systems and related value chains in order to provide clear targets and focus to the crop improvement efforts. The team is also characterizing TPEs for multi-location testing of advanced breeding populations and providing nutrition trait phenotyping services to crop teams.

The Crop Protection and Seed Health (CPSH) team is contributing in identification of stable disease resistance sources, integrating them into breeding programs, and addressing the impacts of climate variability on pest and diseases as a key for preparedness in managing emerging pest and diseases. Microbiology research is contributing to optimizing crop resilience and performance by unlocking and harnessing microbiome functions such as biological nitrogen fixation, P solubilization, biological control and microbial imprinting.

The Entomology team assists in tackling pests and promoting integrated pest management solutions and good agricultural practices for developing climate-resilient cultivars for major insect pests under future climate change scenarios. The Cell, Molecular Biology and Trait Engineering (CMBTE) team is using advanced gene editing and associated enabling technologies e.g., allele replacement, DNA-free  editing, plant transformation, transfection, base substitutions, and transcriptional activation for native trait engineering, double haploidy to crop improvement teams.

Finally, the Seed Systems (SS) team is working as a vehicle to carry the improved genetics to farmers and other end users. It is involved in enabling the establishment of a robust system that quantitatively and qualitatively boosts the performance data substantiating varietal superiority; enhances the availability of early generation seeds (EGS) by strengthening the technical and business acumen of the public EGS systems, and establishes a clear path and handover process from the variety development through product placement and seed systems.

“The launch of Accelerated Crop Improvement initiative is a significant milestone in ICRISAT’s journey from the science of discovery to the science of delivery across all targeted regions. This amalgamation of multidisciplinary teams across all ICRISAT mandate crops would not have been possible without the guidance and support of the entire ICRISAT leadership and the dedicated work and contribution of Dr Harish Gandhi, Cluster Lead-Crop Breeding and Regional Breeding Lead (RBL)-Asia, Dr Hapson Mushoriwa, RBL-ESA and Dr Haile Desmae, RBL-WCA,” said Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director, Accelerated Crop Improvement.

ICRISAT thanks the reviewers of BPAT, the Excellence in Breeding Platform and other collaborators and colleagues who helped ICRISAT develop this initiative for millets and legumes of the dryland regions of Africa and Asia.

File photo of a pearl millet farmer. Photo: ICRISAT

File photo of a pearl millet farmer. Photo: ICRISAT

ICRISAT and HarvestPlus to collaborate on mainstreaming nutrition research and upscaling of biofortified cultivars

ICRISAT and HarvestPlus signed an agreement for scientific and technical collaboration between the two global organizations. Mr Arun Baral, CEO, HarvestPlus, and Dr Jacqueline d'Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, signed the Memorandum of Understanding, which is made and entered into by IFPRI on behalf of its HarvestPlus Program. On the occasion, Dr Hughes said, “After 17 years of fruitful collaboration on biofortification research, we have now decided to elevate this partnership. ICRISAT and HarvestPlus will work together more closely, making available micronutrient-rich varieties, high-quality seed and related technologies to the farming communities and consumers. This will contribute to eliminating micronutrient malnutrition in the drylands.”

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Mr Baral asserted, “Mainstreaming nutritional traits in crop development is a key element in scaling up biofortification globally to help end the epidemic of hidden hunger. HarvestPlus looks forward to partnering and working hand in hand with ICRISAT to ensure that the benefits of nutrient-rich staple crops extend to farming families in dryland communities.”

Dr Wolfgang H Pfeiffer, Director Research and Development, HarvestPlus, expressed happiness that the partnership will further boost variety development for African growing zones, particularly the Sahel, and accelerate a shift to high-iron pearl millet hybrids.’

Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General – Research, ICRISAT, said, “Under this agreement, HarvestPlus and ICRISAT will join forces to advance mainstreaming and scaling up of nutritional traits by ensuring adequate resources for this critical work to help smallholder farmers access to essential nutrition.”

ICRISAT and HarvestPlus have broadly agreed to carry out the following collaborative activities:

  • Promote nutrition research in crop development on ICRISAT mandate crops in Asia and Africa
  • Jointly advocate biofortification at the international level
  • Mobilize resources for mainstreaming and targeted breeding of nutritional traits in crop breeding programs
  • Support public and private sector institutions for mainstreaming nutrient traits into their crop development programs
  • Promote research on enhancing nutrient bioavailability, retention, anti-nutrients, processing, etc.
  • Upscale biofortified cultivars at farmers’ fields according to rules and regulations of the national agricultural research systems of identified countries.

This agreement will be a big step towards mainstreaming of nutritional traits in the breeding program of ICRISAT and NARS, which will lead to release of cultivars with grains rich in micronutrient traits in the future to mitigate the micronutrient malnutrition in dryland crops.

Flowchart showing comparison of seed-based genotyping (orange arrows) and leaf-based genotyping (green arrow).

Flowchart showing comparison of seed-based genotyping (orange arrows) and leaf-based genotyping (green arrow).

ICRISAT optimizes seed-chip genotyping in groundnut

Chips away time and cost from groundnut breeding.

Researchers at ICRISAT have established seed-chip genotyping for groundnut as a significantly faster and cheaper method for genotyping than the oft-used leaf-disc technique. In a recent research publication, they have also shown that the former can be easily integrated with rapid generation advancement (RGA) to hasten groundnut research by six to eight months.

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In single seed chipping method, about 20 mg is chipped off from the posterior of a seed cotyledon (embryonic leaf) using a scalpel. The DNA in this chip is comparable in quality and quantity to the DNA from punched leaf samples. The results of genotyping are clear by 15 days as against 40 days that it takes through the leaf-disc technique. It was also found that chipping does not affect seed germination as both chipped and non-chipped seeds showed similar germination percentage after 30 days of storage at 4˚C. Following the efficiency gains the ICRISAT team has witnessed, an optimized seed-chip based genotyping (shown in the image) has replaced the leaf-disc-based genotyping in ICRISAT’s groundnut breeding program.

Rationale for single chip genotyping at ICRISAT

Genotyping (determining gene-level differences in an individual compared to rest of the population) is used for various purposes in breeding programs, such as the selection of desirable lines in large segregation population, identification of duplicates in germplasm, estimation of genetic purity of available varieties and confirmation of hybrids derived from two-parent or multi-parent crosses.

At ICRISAT, the groundnut breeding program has, for a decade, been using marker-assisted selection (MAS) for developing high-oleic, rust and late leaf spot diseases-resistant groundnuts.

The existing process using leaf-disc genotyping involves planting seeds in pots or in the field, label preparation and printing, tagging individual plants with labels, collecting the punched leaf discs from the individual plants, discarding the plants based on the genotype result and harvesting the genotype-confirmed plants while following the results sheet with the labels on the plants. This is a laborious and expensive process.  Genotyping using leaf-punching costs US$7.76 per sample and takes about 40 days, which can be reduced to US$2.5 with a 15 days’ time duration by deploying the new seed-chipping based genotyping.

“Seed-chip-based genotyping allows selection without the need for growing plants; which reduces the expenses required during maintenance of undesired and desired lines/accessions in the field during leaf-based genotyping methods,” said Dr Manish Pandey, Senior Scientist -Groundnut Genomics and corresponding author of the paper published in Agronomy.

Single seed chipping proves most advantageous when the proportion of selectable candidates is about 10-20% of the total candidates from which selections need to be made.

Researchers say that when combined with RGA, single seed-chip genotyping can significantly reduce research duration and increase genetic gain. At ICRISAT’s semi-controlled RGA greenhouse in Hyderabad, India, three-and-a-half generations of groundnut has been achieved per year. Researchers are now working on designing a fully controlled RGA facility to optimize and scale-up RGA to churn out at least 50% of groundnut breeding populations.

“The application of seed chipping technology complements low cost rapid generation advancement for cost effective development of high oleic groundnut line breeding and cultivar improvement with an enhanced rate of genetic gain. The Breeding Schema for groundnut integrates single seed-based genotyping in F4 and rapid generation advancement (RGA) to advance F2 to F3 and F3 to F4 Single Seed Descents are advanced,” said Dr P Janila, Principal Scientist-Groundnut Breeding and co-corresponding author of the study.

According to Dr Rajeev Varshney, Global Program Director, Accelerated Crop Improvement, seed-chip genotyping can be used for several purposes in breeding programs and can help significantly help accelerate crop improvement.

“Reducing the time taken for every breeding cycle is a significant way of enhancing genetic gain in crop research. If we are to continue feeding a growing world and meet the nutritional demands while besting the climate crisis, all means to accelerate genetic gains have to be embraced. Seed-chip genotyping and RGA are two of the most potent tools available,” said Dr Varshney.

The authors of the paper, Single Seed-Based High-Throughput Genotyping and Rapid Generation Advancement for Accelerated Groundnut Genetics and Breeding Research, are Parmar S, Deshmukh DB, Kumar R, Manohar SS, Joshi P, Sharma V, Chaudhari S, Variath MT, Gangurde SS, Bohar R, Singam P, Varshney RK, Janila P and Pandey MK (2021).

The scientific work described here has been supported by the National Agricultural Science Fund (NASF) of Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), Department of Biotechnology (DBT), India, and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (High Throughput Genotyping Project—HTPG (OPP1130244), and OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) and CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals.

Researchers from ARS Tandur, IIPR Kanpur and ICRISAT monitoring progress in collaborative projects. Photo: C Sudhakar, ARS-Tandur

Researchers from ARS Tandur, IIPR Kanpur and ICRISAT monitoring progress in collaborative projects. Photo: C Sudhakar, ARS-Tandur

New high-yielding pigeonpea variety set for release in India, more to come

TDRG 59, a high-yielding variety of pigeonpea resistant to Fusarium wilt and sterility mosaic diseases, has been identified for cultivation in India’s south zone. The new variety produced 23.13% higher yield than the national check in three-year trials conducted by the All India Coordinated Research Project (AICRP) on pigeonpea.

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Developed by ICRISAT and Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University’s (PJTSAU) Agricultural Research Station in Tandur, TDRG 59 was identified by AICRP in June 2021. Also known as ICPL 99050, the variety produced an average yield of 1719 kg/ha or 23.13% higher than ICPL 8863 (national check) and 26.21% higher than CO 8 (local check) in multi-location trials. The fungal disease Fusarium wilt and the viral disease caused by the sterility mosaic virus are two diseases that significantly lower pigeonpea yields. ICRISAT developed the line which was taken up for testing and evaluation by the research station.

“After nine years in the making, TDRG 59 is ready for release. It is a medium-duration variety and matures within 170 days. The variety will become available to farmers after the Central Varietal Release Committee (CVRC) notifies it,” said Dr Rachit Saxena, Senior Scientist, Applied Genomics, ICRISAT. The south zone for pigeonpea cultivation covers the Indian states of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.

Bheema (GRG-152), a high-yielding disease-resistant variety released for cultivation in central zone of India. The images depict field view, seed color, dhal color and the variety’s superiority when under disease pressure. Photo: S Muniswamy, ZARS-Kalaburagi

Bheema (GRG-152), a high-yielding disease-resistant variety released for cultivation in central zone of India. The images depict field view, seed color, dhal color and the variety’s superiority when under disease pressure. Photo: S Muniswamy, ZARS-Kalaburagi

Some more pigeonpea

Bheema, a pigeonpea variety that resulted from ICRISAT’s collaboration with University of Agricultural Sciences Raichur’s Zonal Agricultural Research Station (ZARS) in Kalaburagi (Karnataka state) was among the recent varieties notified by the CVRC. Bheema was identified for release in India’s central zone covering the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat and Chhattisgarh. Bheema matures in 165 days and has high resistance to Fusarium wilt and sterility mosaic virus.

ICRISAT and ZARS-Kalaburagi are also using genomics to improve pigeonpea in a first-of-its-kind effort for this crop. Three advanced breeding lines (NAM88, NAM92 and NAM151) that were developed by ICRISAT through a technique called Nested Association Mapping (NAM) were evaluated for two years by ZARS at Kalaburagi. Subsequently, they were picked up for AICRP’s Initial Varietal Trails (IVT) in 2021.

“These lines were found to have high yield potential, good seed size and adaptation. The three lines have the potential to fulfill the need for good cultivars in early (NAM88) and mid-early (NAM92 and NAM151) maturity groups,” said Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director for Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT.

For more on our work on pigeonpea, click here.


  • Delivering more produce and income to farmers through enhancing genetic gains for chickpea and pigeonpea
  • Pigeonpea improvement using molecular breeding
  • Genomics-assisted breeding for high yielding and climate resilient pigeonpea varieties/hybrids and promotion of best suitable cultivars for food and nutritional security in Karnataka state of India

Funders: Department of Agriculture Cooperation & Farmers Welfare, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Government of India; United States Agency for International Development (USAID); Ministry of Agriculture, Government of Karnataka.

Partners: Agricultural Research Station, Tandur, Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University; Zonal Agricultural Research Station, Kalaburagi (UAS, Raichur)

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC)

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

Ensuring nutrition through agri-business

Food products created by ICRISAT for Giri Poshana for Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). From L to R: Priyanka Durgalla, Senior Scientific Officer, ICRISAT; Aravazhi Selvaraj, COO, Innovation and Partnership Program, ICRISAT; Bhavesh Mishra, IAS, Project Officer, ITDA – Utnoor; Smt D Divya, IAS, Commissioner and Special Secretary to Government, Department of Women Development and Child Welfare; Smt Satyavathi Rathod, Minister for Scheduled Tribes Welfare, Women and Child Welfare, Telangana State; Dr Christina Z Chongthu, IAS, Commissioner and Secretary to Government, Tribal Welfare Department; Sri V Sarveshwar Reddy, Additional Director, Tribal Welfare Department; Sri P Kalyan Reddy, Joint Director, Tribal Welfare Department. Photo: Rajesh, Tribal Welfare Department

Food products created by ICRISAT for Giri Poshana for Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). From L to R: Priyanka Durgalla, Senior Scientific Officer, ICRISAT; Aravazhi Selvaraj, COO, Innovation and Partnership Program, ICRISAT; Bhavesh Mishra, IAS, Project Officer, ITDA – Utnoor; Smt D Divya, IAS, Commissioner and Special Secretary to Government, Department of Women Development and Child Welfare; Smt Satyavathi Rathod, Minister for Scheduled Tribes Welfare, Women and Child Welfare, Telangana State; Dr Christina Z Chongthu, IAS, Commissioner and Secretary to Government, Tribal Welfare Department; Sri V Sarveshwar Reddy, Additional Director, Tribal Welfare Department; Sri P Kalyan Reddy, Joint Director, Tribal Welfare Department. Photo: Rajesh, Tribal Welfare Department

ICRISAT-led nutrition enhancement program to reach more vulnerable groups

Over 16,000 children, adolescent girls, pregnant women, and lactating mothers from tribal communities are set to benefit from a nutrition intervention in Telangana, India. ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) has formulated nutritionally balanced food products from local crops, which will be manufactured at food processing facilities owned by tribal women.

Mrs Satyavathi Rathod, Minister for Scheduled Tribes Welfare, Women and Child Welfare, Telangana, recently launched the next phase of the tribal diet diversification program titled Giri Poshana for Particularly Vulnerable Tribal Groups (PVTGs). A total of 16,389 beneficiaries from the Integrated Tribal Development Areas (ITDAs) of Utnoor, Bhadrachalam and Mannanur in Telangana will receive the nutritious food products. The food processing facilities are licensed by FSSAI and established in the ITDA areas by the Tribal Welfare Department with support from ICRISAT.

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Although Telangana has made significant progress in addressing malnutrition among tribal communities, significant gaps still exist. As per National Family Health Survey 5 (NFHS-5), in Bhadrachalam, Utnoor and Mannanur respectively, 28.4%, 35.4% and 35.9% of children under the age of 5 years are stunted; 25.3%, 38.5%, and 31.7% of children are underweight. Moreover, 21.8%, 26.4% and 21.8% of children in these respective areas are wasted and 69.3%, 67.8% and 75.6% of children are anemic. 68.7%, 60.7% and 55.4% of women in the respective areas are also anemic.

“The Tribal Welfare Department (TWD) and Department of Women Development and Child Welfare (DWDCW) together have launched Giri Poshana for PVTGs. We launched this program to improve the health status of over 16,000 children, pregnant women, lactating mothers and adolescent girls. Local food crops like millets have been used by ICRISAT to create nutritionally rich food products.  With the establishment of MSME processing units in ITDA areas by tribal women, we expect the health of our tribal communities to be on par with everyone else in the state,” Mrs Rathod said.

Under this program, the food products are made from locally grown millets and pulses to meet nutrition needs of the target population. AIP-ICRISAT has formulated a variety of products including Multigrain Meal, Multigrain Sweet Meal, Jowar Meal, Jowar Bytes, Peanut Fried Gram Chikki and Peanut Sesame Chikki. These products will be made by the tribal-women-led food processing units in ITDAs of Utnoor, Bhadrachalam and Eturnagaram who have been trained by ICRISAT in food safety management systems, machine operations and maintenance, financial management and quality control. These units will hygienically pack and supply the nutritious food products to the beneficiaries at 495 anganwadi centers in ITDA areas.

The need to address nutritional challenges through local foods is at the heart of ICRISAT’s vision and mission. ICRISAT’s partnership with the Department of Tribal Welfare began with the first phase of the called ‘Nutri-Food Basket’. It continued in the second phase with Giri Poshana. The nutritionally rich food products created by ICRISAT for young children, adolescent girls and pregnant women and lactating mothers are a game-changer in India’s quest to prevent malnutrition.

Dignitaries present on this occasion on 5 July 2021 included Dr Christina Z Chongthu, IAS, Secretary and Commissioner, Tribal Welfare Department, Telangana State and Smt D Divya, IAS, Special Secretary and Commissioner, Department of Women Development and Child Welfare and ICRISAT officials.

Partners: Integrated Tribal Development Agencies, Tribal Women Led-Joint Liability Groups, Girijan Cooperative Society and Anganwadis (Ministry of Women and Child Development)

Funders: Tribal Welfare Department, Telangana State; Department of Women Development and Child Welfare, Government of Telangana

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC)

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 4-gender-equality 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 9-reduced-inequalities 12-responisible-consumtion 17-partnerships-goals 


Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Sustainable food production and agriculture key to better nutrition and incomes in Africa

The conventional approaches of agriculture, with industrial systems of production, specialization in few commodities, mechanization and economies of scale, may not necessarily work for Africa due to its unique settings and contexts. Experts in African agriculture recently got together to re-examine this approach, considering the broader challenges of the environment, food security and socio-economics in Africa, in a webinar organized by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA).

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The objective of the webinar was to share experiences on sustainable farming methods and approaches and debate on the African narrative that would satisfy the multiple objectives of small-scale farmers, namely productivity, profitability and resilience.

Dr Tilahun Amede, Head of Resilience, Climate and Soils, AGRA, highlighted the issues facing African agriculture in his inaugural presentation. “Against the background of food insecurity, a changing climate, dwindling natural resources and increasing social and economic inequalities, concerns for more healthy food systems and the ecosystem services that support them have been gaining momentum, particularly as more scientific evidence becomes available,” he said, asking for the participants to share ideas on context-specific solutions tailored for Africa.

How can we employ an African model of sustainable farming, recognizing the diversity of farming systems, agroecology, resources, food habits and other external drivers? 

Responding to this main question, Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director, West and Central Africa, ICRISAT, said, “We need external inputs at a moderate level (e.g., fertilizer micro-dosing with small doses of fertilizer, spraying legumes with organic insecticides, etc.). We also need to increase crop densities by intercropping leguminous crops such as groundnut, cowpea, soybean, pigeonpea etc. with cereal crops, thereby increasing atmospheric nitrogen fixation that can be beneficial to cereal crops. Crop rotations of cereals and legumes should be promoted to enhance soil fertility and reduce pest incidence.”

In addition, Dr Tabo emphasized the need to grow nutritious and water-efficient crops such as sorghum and millet, which have climate-smart varieties and hybrids high in iron and zinc. In his intervention, he recalled the first millet hybrids released in Burkina Faso in 2021 which recorded 40% more yield than the best high-yielding Open Pollinated Variety. He also advised on intensifying the integration of crop-livestock-tree systems, integrated water management, restoration and reclaiming of degraded lands, and increasing mechanization (for preparing land and soils, for planting, applying fertilizers, harvesting crops, etc.).

Another remarkable initiative mentioned by Dr Tabo is the African Market Garden – the concept of fast-growing trees grown with vegetable (tomatoes, cabbage, lettuce, etc.) and legume crops. ICRISAT’s Regional Director also emphasized the use of new ICT/decision-support tools as well as Climate Information Services (CIS) for informed decision making by farmers to prevent crop losses. Access to market information on prices, adding value to agricultural products through processing through agri-business etc. were also mentioned by Dr Tabo.

He mentioned ICRISAT’s Smart Food campaign as a good approach to promote the use of sorghum and millet that have low carbon footprints and are high in iron, zinc, calcium and protein. “The year 2023 being declared the International Year of Millets by the United Nations will hopefully attract more funding to further improve productivity of millets,” he said.

How can we employ the models for sustainable farming without external drivers?

“We believe we have enough knowledge to increase productivity sustainably,” said Dr Aggie Konde, Vice President, Program Development & Innovation, AGRA.

“One system will not be practical in all agro-ecologies. We need to find the healthy middle,” said Dr Kwesi Atta-Krah, Director, Advocacy and Country Alignment, IITA.

“We need to become outcome-oriented regarding promotion of farming systems. We’ve been good in getting technologies to farmers but we need to try again a more farmer-centric approach and opportunities, moving back to soil health while intensifying the agriculture,” said Prof Sieglinde Snapp, Michigan State University.

“We need to be judicious in the use of external inputs to prevent soil degradation. Sustainable intensification is about producing more food in a more efficient and durable way while reducing environmental damage and building resilience. It is about preserving our natural ecosystem with a small environmental footprint. Therefore, we need options that are specific to the environment in which we are working,” said Dr Tabo, explaining the major aspects of intensification including ecological and genetic intensification.

Professor Ken Giller, Wageningen University, highlighted the uniqueness of the African green revolution. “We should be able to embrace all progressive technologies available to farmers. We need to differentiate between nutrients and pesticides which are designed to kill things. Soil fertility is a problem in most parts of Africa and we need inputs from fertilizers,” he said. He also emphasized the importance of policy interventions and investment in rural areas and infrastructure.

According to Professor Christogonus Daudu, Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services, Ahmadu Bello University, Nigeria, the lack of advisory services has been a limiting factor to advancing farming in Africa. “At one time, Nigeria was part of the green revolution with the support of extension services. Now with the lack of funding, grassroots extension has collapsed. The best-bet resilient technologies are there but we need someone to help farmers take advantages of these options. We need stronger public-private extension services to address this and to integrate new means of communication about these technologies available to farmers,” said Professor Daudu.

“Many things are not negotiable for Africa-based farming systems,” said Dr Susan Chomba, Director, Vital Landscapes, World Resources Institute (WRI-Africa). “Prosperity is an aspect of resilience that the African farming system needs to embrace. We should be able to look for integrated management to impact livelihoods as well as look at the social aspect by integrating the youth. Look at infrastructure along with the extension system.”

“Integration is key but we need a balance between ‘protect’ and ‘provide’,” said Dr Michael Misiko, Anthropologist and Agriculture Director, Africa, at The Nature Conservancy. “Innovation is important but the key thing is how this can lead towards businesses models. We need to enable farmers to produce in a way that is climate-smart, equitable and favorable to entrepreneurship that is good for Africa.”

Prof Snapp said, “The rural-urban linkages can affect sustainability. There is a growing middle class looking to diversify their source of proteins. We could build the diversification using this urban-rural linkages.”

In his final comments, Professor Giller, who was the moderator of the panel, advised to get away from ideologies. “We see agriculture expanding into very fragile lands. There is a definitive need for intensification in Africa for national food security. We need to look for local solutions that are best for the environment, nutrition and diet.”

“Building on the success on the ground, strengthening mechanisms for regional sharing of successful innovations and approaches in different settings, is very important. As we go from diversification to flexible intensification, we need to build capacities at all levels,” said Dr John Dixon, Adjunct Professor, University of Queensland.

Dr Krah reiterated, “We have to recognize that in the case of a farmer in his farm, there is a whole range of things that can be practiced to face a particular situation. It is important to show how things are sustainable over the long term and go through intensification with consciousness.”

“The issue of sustainable intensification is also defined by on our own experience in the field. We cannot do without inputs. We have to go back to some of the forgotten crops and see how their use can help to combat the whole issue of hunger,” concluded Dr Tabo.

The speakers were part of the panel discussion ‘Can we produce enough food and income for the current and growing population of Africa without using critical external inputs?’ on 13 July 2021. This was part of the overall webinar ‘Sustainable Farming: Transforming Africa’s Landscapes and Livelihoods’, a side event to the United Nations Food Systems Summit.

Reported by Ms Agathe Diama, Head, Regional Information, ICRISAT-WCA.

Dr Varshney, delivering an online lecture as part of Bharat Ka Amrut Mahotsav ICAR Lecture Series. Screenshot: N Mishra, ICRISAT

Dr Varshney, delivering an online lecture as part of Bharat Ka Amrut Mahotsav ICAR Lecture Series. Screenshot: N Mishra, ICRISAT

Genomics and breeding innovations in agriculture

Celebrating 75 years of India’s Independence: Bharat Ka Amrut Mahotsav - ICAR Lecture Series.

Our scientists should work on short-duration, multiple stress-tolerant, nutritionally rich crop varieties that are suitable for mechanical harvesting,” Mr Narendra Modi, Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, had once suggested to Dr T Mohapatra, DG ICAR & Secretary DARE, Government of India. Dr Rajeev K Varshney, in a recent ICAR Lecture Series, covered the technological advances in agricultural science, especially in the area of crop improvement, which has played a significant role in the success of Indian agriculture.

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Dr TR Sharma, DDG-Crop Sciences, ICAR, had brought up the Prime Minister’s quote while chairing the virtual lecture “Genomics and breeding innovation in agriculture”, by Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director, Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT.

While presenting the success stories from Indian agriculture since independence, Dr Varshney presented the comparative progress of how the country has excelled in terms of food production i.e. today India harvests about 100 million tons wheat and is one of the lead exporters in the world; however, in 1965 this was only 12 million tons. In terms of per capita net availability of food grains, it has increased from 312 grams/day in 1950 to 512 grams/day today, in spite of the increase in population. Similarly, the rate of malnutrition and poverty in India has declined from approximately 90% at the time of India’s independence, to less than 40% today.

He highlighted release of several high-yielding, stress-tolerant and disease-resistant varieties together with national partners, including those developed through genomics-assisted breeding in several crops including rice, maize, wheat, chickpea and groundnut. To name a few, drought-tolerant Pusa Chickpea 10216 (BGM 10216), fusarium wilt -resistant Super Annigeri 1 (MABC-WR-SA-1) and Pusa Chickpea Manav (BGM 20211) with enhanced fusarium wilt resistance are success stories of genomics-assisted breeding in chickpea. In the case of groundnut, Girnar 4 and Girnar 5, the first set of high-oleic groundnut varieties were released in India with joint efforts of ICRISAT and the Directorate of Groundnut Research, while foliar disease-resistant lines were developed with UAS-Dharwad. “All this has been possible with the advent of scientific advancements, the prerequisite for such achievements,” said Dr Varshney.

In fact, Indian agriculture has been a bright spot even during the pandemic due to the resilience and hard work of our farmers. However, going forward there is a need for accelerated effort towards building capacities and empowering our national programs to meet the food and nutritional needs of the growing population. As per NITI Aayog’s report, to meet the estimated demand by 2033, production of major crops will need to be significantly increased, i.e. 35.23 million tons for pulses, 337.01 million tons for food grains, 301.78 million tons for cereals, and 99.59 million tons for oilseeds, from the current production of 25.28, 305.44, 279.87 and 36.57 million tons respectively. “To achieve this, adoption of advanced genomic technologies like Genomics-assisted breeding 2.0 (GAB 2.0), will be key, along with conducive policies and enhanced spending on R&D,” emphasized Dr Varshney in his talk.

Dr Varshney, ICRISAT, Dr RC Agrawal and Dr TR Sharma, ICAR, during the online lecture. Screenshot: N Mishra, ICRISAT

Dr Varshney, ICRISAT, Dr RC Agrawal and Dr TR Sharma, ICAR, during the online
lecture. Screenshot: N Mishra, ICRISAT

GAB 2.0, a suite of new approaches like haplotype-based breeding, genomic selection and gene editing along with speed breeding, are expected to accelerate varietal development process further and to fast-track our efforts towards crop improvement programs for designing future-ready crops. In addition, Dr Varshney sensitized the participants on the potential role of new approaches, like single cell sequencing, systems biology and synthetic biology that will be future of crop improvement efforts.

Quoting Dr Mohapatra on India’s remarkable progress in enhancing pulses production, Dr TR Sharma said, “After the Green Revolution, if any revolution has happened, it is pulses revolution, where we saw an increase of more than 7-8 million tons in production within 3-4 years’ time. The credit for this achievement of making India self-sustainable in pulses production goes to the enabling environment, technological interventions, policy support, and the hard work of our scientists and the farming community, along with several other factors.”

“Currently, many crop varieties are available in the public domain including more than 71 biofortified varieties, and around 55 varieties across eight crops, developed through marker-assisted selection, which underlines the importance of genome sequencing and genome-editing technologies,” said Dr Sharma. However, we need to apply these in other crops as well and diversify our crop breeding practices. In addition, “Capacity building of our next-generation scientists will be another critical area to adopt and utilize such technologies in our national crop breeding programs,” he added in his concluding remarks.

Dr RC Agrawal, Deputy Director General-Education, ICAR, and the coordinator of this 75-lecture series, appreciated the thought-provoking lecture and for highlighting the key areas that need urgent attention for advancing crop productivity and yield towards achieving the goal of food and nutrition security for all.

This was the 14th lecture in the ICAR’s Lecture Series of ICAR’s ‘Bharat Ka Amrut Mahotsav’ – a massive outreach campaign titled ’75 lecture series’ taken up by the ICAR, the apex body for coordinating, guiding, and managing research and education in agriculture including horticulture, fisheries and animal sciences in the entire country. These 75 lectures will be delivered by experts in various domains related to agriculture and by eminent scientists, journalists, spiritual leaders, motivational speakers and successful entrepreneurs. So far, eminent personalities like Mr Pratap Chandra Sarangi, Union Minister of State, Animal Husbandry, Dairying and Fisheries & Micro, Small & Medium Enterprises; Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar; Dr Steve Goss, Independent Consultant for the World Bank and FAO;
Dr Anil Prakash Joshi, Environmentalist, some DDGs from ICAR institutes, Director of IITs and others have delivered lecture in this series.

Watch the recorded lecture here:

Reported by: Mr Nilesh Mishra, Senior Scientific Officer, ICRISAT.

Screenshot of the event. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Screenshot of the event. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Scaling up innovation and partnerships to modernize African food systems

Pearl millet and sorghum are the staple food crops in Sahelian countries with 80% of cultivated area and more than 49% of food consumption needs being covered by these crops. “Putting the required tools and technologies in the hands of farmers to achieve food security has already led to increased supplies of valuable goods and services, higher cash incomes and better employment opportunities for youth and women,” according to Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director, West and Central Africa, ICRISAT.

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The enormous contribution of sorghum and millet crops and latest agricultural technologies towards food security in Africa was highlighted at a recent event. Attending the event as a panelist, Dr Tabo said, “Millets and sorghum are the food crops of the future, especially considering climate change–related challenges. We have the opportunity and responsibility to contribute towards the transformation of Africa into a food-sufficient continent that produces nutritious by-products from climate-resilient crops.”

Dr Tabo was speaking about the Sorghum and Millets Compact of the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) program of the African Development Bank (AfDB), at a side event of the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) organized by TAAT.

In three years, the Sorghum and Millets Compact helped produce:

  • Breeder seeds (8.58 t sorghum; 4.04 t millet)
  • Foundation seeds (261 t sorghum; 157 t millet)
  • Certified seeds (1,448 t sorghum; 828 t millet)
  •     and execute capacity building:
  • Training in agricultural enterprise development for 12,657 beneficiaries (25% women, 19% youth);
  • Training in improved post-harvest technologies for 5,072 beneficiaries (37% women);
  • Linkage of farmers and their organizations to input and output markets facilitated for 51,442 farmers and primary processors.

“One of the achievements of the Sorghum and Millets Compact towards strengthening food systems is the enhancement of the seed sector through best genotypes.”

The contribution of the Sorghum and Millets Compact included building farmers’ capacities with proven technologies to overcome the challenges of low productivity and production. As a consequence, it has helped increase value chain efficiency through the reduction of post-harvest losses as well higher product quality, aggregation, traceability and transformation in sorghum and millet value chains. The Compact helped strengthen the seed sector in collaboration with research institutions, seed companies and seed producers. (See box)

To face challenges of worsening climatic conditions and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr Tabo emphasized that millet and sorghum value chains represent substantial opportunities to take to scale climate-smart solutions for more balanced diets, increased food and nutrition security, sustainable food systems and resilience among the rural population.

“This summit is an opportunity to showcase what we have achieved in the last three years with limited funds and to build momentum towards more concerted action at the local, national and global levels. We are using the scope of this event to release information about the UN International Year of Millets in 2023. We hope this framework will help to support and upscale action of agricultural stakeholders in agri-food recovery phase. It will also give voice to a wide range of agricultural stakeholders and be a platform where lessons learned and good practices recommendations will be shared,” said Dr Tabo.

Other panelists in the side event were Prof Bernadette Fregene, TAAT’s Aquaculture Compact Leader, WorldFish, and Dr Robin Buchara, Senior Advisor, Pan-African Bean Research Alliance (PABRA).

“The Aquaculture Compact of TAAT aims at increasing fish production and productivity through identification and deployment of proven aquaculture technologies to ensure self-sufficiency in fish production and a reduction in fish imports. This is achieved through sustainable intensification of existing small and medium enterprises and large-scale aquaculture businesses in 12 African countries,” said Prof Fregene.

“In order to tackle iron deficiency in women and children, the Iron-Bean Compact leverages the partnerships of PABRA to mobilize different actors, the private sector and development partners to scale up and deliver some of the technologies associated with iron and beans,” explained Dr Buchara.

The highly interactive event had strong participant engagement through sharing of ideas on critical elements for addressing agricultural transformation in Africa, as well as research and innovation themes crucial for moving towards resilient food systems.

“A systems approach to address the challenges facing agricultural production, nutrition and market; scaling approaches for technological solutions through public-private partnerships, household nutrition through improved job creation; greater emphasis on the role of women and youth as well as improved agro-industrialization and trade will lead to wealth generation in various components of millet and sorghum value chains,” concluded Dr Tabo.

Prior to the panel discussion, in his opening remarks, Dr Alfred Dixon, Director of Development and Delivery, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), and Representative of the Director of IITA, said, “It is becoming clear to all of us that Africa’s food systems are on a shaky foundation that requires urgent attention. The impact of the coronavirus in recent times has demonstrated the need for Africa to fortify its food systems. This meeting must come up with urgent and dramatic steps to salvage the food systems and put Africa on the path of self-sustenance and prosperity. For too long Africa has suffered from the vagaries of climate change, pests and diseases and ineffective food and market systems.”

“The bottlenecks are numerous,” said Dr Dixon. “On the flip side, there are also several innovations on the continent. This is the time to harness those innovations for Africa’s shared prosperity. TAAT is a classic example of the trajectory that Africa needs to take to address its food challenges. In a very short period, TAAT’s interventions in several African countries have lifted millions out of poverty, creating jobs and wealth, and more importantly, addressing the question of hunger and malnutrition. As we deliberate on this subject, I urge you to identify partnership models for modernization of Africa’s food systems.”

Dr Martin Fregene, Director of Agriculture and Agro-industry, AfDB, made a keynote presentation on innovative pathways and partnerships for modernizing African food systems. “The topic of innovative pathways and partnerships for modernizing African food systems couldn’t have come at a better time. COVID-19 has really convulsed Africa’s food systems, wherein restriction of movement has led to farmers being unable to get inputs to their farms, to aggregation, and processing,” he said. “A lot of perishable food like vegetables and fruits have been lost in the farms, all the way to distribution and marketing. Therefore, we need to focus on modernizing processing, clustering production and value-addition. These agricultural agro-processing clusters include clustering farmers and processors along the infrastructure backbone.

Dr Fregene also emphasized the need to modernize consumption (nutrition), “We have to emphasize things like fish, vegetables and fruits to modernize consumption. Countries which are making efforts to diversify food, ensuring proper nutrition for mothers and lactating women, have witnessed a big reduction in malnutrition among children.”

Dr Kenton Dashiell, Deputy Director General for Partnerships, IITA, explained the two main roles of TAAT: a) to significantly raise agricultural productivity and b) to move African production much higher on the value chain, with agribusinesses producing and selling processed goods and not simply basic commodities. “TAAT uses value chain approaches to solve real-life problems to increase productivity and incomes to farming communities,” he said.

The closing remarks of the event were given by
Dr Innocent Musabyimana, Head of the TAAT Clearinghouse, responsible of vetting and profiling technologies and packaging them appropriately so that the government and end users can take them to the farmers. “Achieving sustainable food systems on the continent will only happen through a strong partnership. Working with the CG centers and other specialized institutions, the Clearinghouse supports the governments to formulate their programs by integrating proven technologies that counter the different challenges they are facing.”

The overall event was moderated by Dr Kwesi Atta Krah, Director, Advocacy and Country Alignment, IITA.

The event mentioned in this article, the talk: ‘Scaling up innovation and partnerships to modernize African food systems’ was held on 7 July 2021 for the Independent Food Systems Dialogue.

Reported by:

Ms Agathe Diama, Head Regional Information,

With inputs from

Ms Rajani Kumar, Sr Communication Officer, ICRISAT.

(L) Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director-Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT, delivering plenary lecture at the International Symposium; (R) Team members (From left, Dr Dorin Gupta, Dr Surinder Singh Chauhan and other team members) from The University of Melbourne. Photo: University of Melbourne

(L) Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director-Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT, delivering plenary lecture at the International Symposium; (R) Team members (From left, Dr Dorin Gupta, Dr Surinder Singh Chauhan and other team members) from The University of Melbourne. Photo: University of Melbourne

Genomics will increasingly play a key role in crop breeding programs

University of Melbourne India Engagement Seed Grant International Symposium 2021.

Along with advanced genomics-assisted breeding technology, development of better crop varieties need attention on other aspects such as better crop management and agronomic practices on the farm, market access to farmers, conducive policies and support from local, national and international agencies. This message was delivered by Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT during the plenary talk at The University of Melbourne India Engagement Seed Grant (IESG) 2020 – International Symposium.

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“Genomics intervention has significantly enhanced the precision and efficiency of crop improvement programs. From the time Genomics-Assisted Breeding (GAB) was introduced in 2005, to now, adoption of GAB has delivered improved cultivars of several crops including rice, wheat, pearl millet, barley, soybean, groundnut, chickpea, maize etc., that are resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses,” said Dr Varshney.

“Going forward, advanced ‘GAB 2.0’ approaches like haplotype-based breeding and genomic selection, along with rapid generation advancement, are expected to accelerate varietal development process even further. However, to realize the full potential of all this, better agronomic practices, market access, support of international, national and local government agencies and conducive policy environment will be key,” he added.

The symposium, focused on Sustainable intensification of Integrated Crop-Livestock (ICL) farming system for enhancing productivity and improving smallholder livelihoods, was held during 24-25 June 2021.

“This symposium aims to strengthening India-Australia collaborations in agricultural research to promote integrated crop-livestock farming system for enhancing productivity and improving livelihoods of smallholder farmers”, said Dr Dorin Gupta, Faculty of Veterinary and Agricultural Science, University of Melbourne, who co-convened the symposium with Dr Surinder Chauhan.

“Australia, and in particular, the University of Melbourne, is very keen on increasing engagement in education, research collaborations, knowledge exchange and building bridges between the peoples of Australia and India,” said Dr Surinder Chauhan. He mentioned that the symposium was a unique platform where Indian and Australian crop and animal scientists exchanged ideas and identified key areas of common interest for potential joint research projects to implement sustainable and environmentally robust integrated-crop livestock farming system for enhancing productivity and improving smallholder livelihoods.

The other key organizations that participated in the event include the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Government of India; ICAR-Indian Veterinary Research Institute; ICAR-National Institute of Animal Nutrition and Physiology; Bihar Animal Sciences University; National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resource, India; Indian Grassland and Fodder Research Institute; International Livestock Research Institute; Harper Adams University, UK; and University of New England, Australia.

Screenshot of the panel discussion. Image: S Kumar, ICRISAT

Screenshot of the panel discussion. Image: S Kumar, ICRISAT

Monitoring and evaluation key steps for food system transformations

Monitoring and tracking of the key drivers as well as the outcomes of food systems transformation is critical for the transformation to be sustainable and inclusive. Due to close linkages among sectors, the risk levels on both supply and consumption sides also need to be evaluated. This message was delivered during an Independent Food Systems Dialogue last week in the run up to the UN Food Systems Summit.

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Dr Shalander Kumar, Principal Scientist and Agricultural Economist, ICRISAT, emphasized the importance of monitoring and evaluating a) drivers of agri-food systems transformation – e.g. carbon footprint and natural resource footprints across stages of the food value chain and b) outcomes of the transformation – e.g. improved and equitable access to nutritious and diverse foods, reduced food wastage etc.

“Although generally the focus is greater on the production stages, we, at ICRISAT, use ex-ante assessments and systems modeling tools to understand vulnerability and risk across all the different stages of the value chains,” he said. “We use foresight analysis to understand future impacts of innovations and policies.”

Explaining how ICRISAT’s longitudinal studies on farm households since 1975 has helped track some key elements of food systems in India, Dr Shalander explained that, going forward, appropriately framed and wider longitudinal studies could be an effective tool to track progress on food systems transformations.

“Through case studies using dynamic and economic modeling we try to understand the causal mechanisms, and feedback loops of various current practices and policies,” said Dr Shalander. “We map personal and external food environments to understand how various policies and interventions impact availability, accessibility, affordability, desirability and quality of the food, and also looking at a multidimensional assessment of farm sustainability.”

Mentioning the current gaps in understanding, he said, “There is a need for greater interaction among experts/academia, governments and the private sector to integrate monitoring at different stages of the food value chains in real time through digital tools. Information on benchmarking, monitoring and tracking progress would not only help governments prioritize their actions but may help build demand from consumers for the industry to follow and supply food products that align with system transformation goals. It would help inform multilateral agreements so that their actions also align with the same goals, contributing to multiple SDGs. Monitoring is also needed to promote green investments across value chains and to inform banks to integrate such criteria into their investment decisions.”

Dr Shalander also recommended incentives to promote digital technologies for greater awareness and felt that generating and sharing data transparently should become a norm for food value chain actors. He advocated more information of the tradeoffs available to evaluate the options of agro-ecological intensification approaches considering whole value chain and food systems perspective.

Other panelist at the discussion were Drs Maximo Torrero, FAO; Barend Erasmus, University of Pretoria; Nicole Blackstone, Tufts University; and Ken Strzepek, MIT. Prof Sheryl Hendriks, University of Pretoria, moderated the discussion.

The upcoming UN Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in September 2021 is part of the ‘Decade of Action’ to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. It has been accepted that harnessing innovation, science and technology is key to meeting the aspiration of sustainable, inclusive and resilient food systems.

Consequently, the UN has established a Scientific Group for the UN Food Systems Summit which organized the “Science Days for the UN Food Systems Summit 2021”, facilitated and hosted by FAO on 08-09 July 2021. In the lead-up to Science Days and the UN Food Systems Summit 2021, the side-events on 5-7 July offered an opportunity for partners to present their insights on science, technologies and innovations that can drive food systems transformation.

The event mentioned in this article, the talk: Monitoring and Evaluation for Food Systems Transformation, was held on 7 July 2021 for the Independent Food Systems Dialogue and UN Food Systems Summit Science Day Side Event hosted by the Alliance for Climate and Food Systems Transformation, MIT Abdul Latif Jameel Water & Food Systems Lab, World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), and University of Pretoria.

Reported by:

Ms Rajani Kumar, Sr Communications Officer

With inputs from

Dr Shalander Kumar, Principal Scientist and Agricultural Economist, ICRISAT.

Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director, Accelerated Crop Improvement Program, ICRISAT, chairing an experts’ panel in the webinar ‘A Multilateral Solution to the DSI Dilemma” Image: N Mishra, ICRISAT

Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director, Accelerated Crop Improvement Program, ICRISAT, chairing an experts’ panel in the webinar ‘A Multilateral Solution to the DSI Dilemma” Image: N Mishra, ICRISAT

Experts debate a multilateral solution to the DSI Dilemma, a ‘win-win’ solution balancing open access and access benefit sharing

Experts on Digital Sequence Information (DSI) debated the implications of an Access and Benefit Sharing (ABS) system for DSI in the context of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), reflecting on lessons learned from existing ABS arrangements, such as under the Nagoya Protocol and the ITPGRFA.

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Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director, Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT, chaired and moderated the Asia Pacific experts’ panel discussion in the webinar, “A Multilateral Solution to the DSI Dilemma?” focused on researchers’ experience and priorities regarding DSI. The panel included eminent scientists and thought leaders Drs Mutsuaki Suzuki, National Institute of Genetics, Japan; Charles Lawson, Griffith University, Australia; Eizadora T Yu, The Marine Science Institute, University of the Philippines, Philippines; Amber Scholz, DSMZ Leibniz Institute, Germany; and Yogesh Shouche, National Center for Microbial Resource, India.

The group shared a common view and highlighted that DSI and its free accessibility are essential for all areas of the life sciences, including biodiversity research, food security, human health, etc. If a benefit-sharing model is to be solely based on the country of origin of the DSI, this may benefit just a few countries. For example, while low- and middle-income countries may not be a significant contributor to the majority of DSI, scientists from these countries access the information just like researchers from other regions, and if this is restricted, it will hamper the progress of science.  “As the current model for DSI is ‘open-access’, it enables scientific reproducibility, enforces scientific integrity, and enables global non-monetary benefit sharing, including scientific capacity building in developing countries, precisely because everything is open, free and reusable,” said Dr Varshney.

The panel agreed that such webinars are very important for designing a multi-lateral system for ABS for DSI. To this end, capacity building of both public and private sectors will be crucial, and such webinars will play a very important role in sensitizing scientists and policymakers towards appreciating the role of DSI and ABS, to make an informed decision when addressing the challenges and considering options for developing a win-win system.

Key objectives of the webinar:


  • To launch the DSI Scientific Network through the event to promote its awareness and purpose among key stakeholders
  • To offer perspectives of researchers and users of DSI on their needs and priorities regarding an ABS system for DSI, with a focus on the need for a multilateral system
  • To provide policy makers and scientists with an understanding of the importance of this issue and the tangible impacts a CBD decision can have on how research takes place.

Dr Varshney called the webinar, which was held on 5 July 2021, a great learning experience and hoped that he would be able to contribute more towards this global cause for the benefit of science and the scientific community. He thanked the DSI Scientific Network, especially Ms Isabelle Coche and her team for organizing the highly topical webinar.

Focused on the Asia Pacific region, this was the first in a series of webinars, with others scheduled for Latin America, Africa, and Europe, and North America. For more details, visit the Digital Sequence Information (DSI) Scientific Network website.

Reported by:

Mr Nilesh Mishra, Senior Scientific Officer, ICRISAT,
Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director, Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT.

Food systems



Transforming dryland food systems

Challenges of the drylands

About 60% of the total arable land in South Asia is under dryland agriculture, while the corresponding figure for sub-Saharan Africa is around 70%. Drylands contribute more than half the food production in the world (crops, livestock and livestock products). Drylands are also home to the largest number of malnourished, and the poorest of the poor.

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Originally published on LinkedIn

Extreme poverty and hunger are predominantly rural, although poverty does exist in urban areas too. Smallholder farmers, their families and communities make up a very significant proportion of the poor and hungry. Thus, eradicating poverty and hunger are integrally linked with boosting food production, agricultural productivity and rural incomes.

To ensure all people have access to safe and nutritious diets, we require a fundamental transformation of the way food is currently grown or managed, transported, stored, processed and consumed. Not only are consumers becoming more informed and discerning, requiring standards to be met, but the food systems transformation is even more urgent in the face of climate change and the environmental impact of agriculture and our food systems. Food systems account for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions and consume 70% of the world’s freshwater resources.

The present pandemic has exposed the vulnerabilities and inequities of our current food systems and its impact on the most marginalized communities. It has exacerbated malnutrition and slowed progress towards achieving SDG 2 (Zero Hunger) as well as many of the other SDGs around gender, health and nutrition and beyond. The divide between the haves and the have-nots is getting bigger.

Sustainable changes are required to increase agricultural production, improve global supply chains and value webs, decrease food losses and waste, and to ensure that heathy and nutritious food is available and affordable for all.

Available opportunities

Healthy soils, adequate water and plant genetic resources are key inputs into food production. Their growing scarcity in many parts of the world makes it an imperative to use and manage them sustainably. We are looking at a combination of cropping systems, pastoralists with their livestock, fisheries, as well as forestry and forest products. One solution cannot solve the problems of our diverse and complex food systems. Boosting yields on existing agricultural lands, including restoration of degraded lands, through sustainable agriculture would also relieve the continuing pressure to clear forests for agriculture. Dryland crops, cereals (including millets) and grain legumes/pulses, are climate-tolerant, can grow with little moisture and are highly nutritious. Nonetheless, we need optimal water management through improved irrigation and storage technologies, managing the soil moisture content, combined with development of new drought-resistant crop varieties, and a diversification of our agricultural systems, to sustain the productivity of our drylands.

A transformation of our food systems requires bridging yield gaps (what the crop could yield as opposed to what is does yield in farmers’ fields), fixing long and inefficient supply chains where profits accrue to intermediaries who add little value, reducing food losses and waste, curbing greenhouse gas emissions, shifting and diversifying diets to eliminate under-nutrition, over-nourishment as well as the hidden hunger of micronutrient malnutrition.

Sustainability of global food systems also requires a halt of the expansion of agriculture into fragile ecosystems. We need to increase the fertility of our overused arable land and restore our degraded pasture lands and forests. Shifting to more sustainable consumption and production patterns, within planetary boundaries, will require efforts to influence food demand and diets, to diversify our food systems, judicious use of inputs and careful land and water management.

Integrative policies are required to ensure that food prices reflect real costs (including major externalities caused by climate change, land degradation and biodiversity loss and public health impacts of malnutrition). We must reduce food waste on farm, in the value web, and at home and, at the same time, ensure decent incomes and wages for farmers and those working in the food system.

Diets, and the food systems that deliver them, are at the intersection of the challenges associated with malnutrition, human health, natural resource degradation, and climate change. There is already high-quality research on various aspects of climate change, health and food and nutrition security. To transform food systems, inter-disciplinary research in support of policy makers facing difficult decisions at the intersection of human and planetary health is urgently required.

Policy makers are confronted with rapidly evolving, rapidly changing and sometimes even U-turns of scientific views across multiple disciplines. There is too much research that either fails to meet the most pressing needs of policy makers (especially in relation to managing policy trade-offs and costs) or to meet the needs of our farmers. Sometimes policies can more easily address short-term needs, but we need to look at longer-term sustainable actions. We need research with the interdisciplinary perspectives to fully address the diversity and complexity of global and local food systems.

More research needs to be driven by the specific needs of national governments and their policy makers. Research linkages across science, across disciplines – not intra-disciplinary sitting on one’s own area of interest to the exclusion of others, but inter-disciplinary/multi-disciplinary/transdisciplinary research – regarding climate, natural resources, food, health, and nutrition need to be streamlined and improved to focus on policy needs. This calls for an inter- or multi-disciplinary research approach to find the solutions we and our planet desperately need. The public sector, the private sector and all the participants and stakeholders at all levels in our agriculture and food systems need to be empowered, need to be listened to, and need to be heard.

Harnessing science and technology solutions and sharing actionable knowledge with all players in the food system offers many opportunities. Greater coordination of food system stakeholders is crucial for greater inclusion, greater transparency and greater accountability. Sharing experiences and solutions will foster adaptive learning and responsive actions.

The complexity of our food systems calls for the best minds of the public and private sectors, with research institutions, civil society think tanks and advocacy groups, to pool their skills and resources to transform our dryland food systems for the benefit of all.

ICRISAT and the Research and Innovation Circle of Hyderabad (RICH) have a catalytic role by bringing the appropriate stakeholders together, ensuring fair and equitable sharing of views and information, and collating the outputs for the greater local, regional and global good.

Food systems in Telangana, in India and Africa, and around the world, share similar constraints – among others, low volumes at individual farm gates, long and often inefficient value chains and value webs, inadequate storage capacities (especially cold storage for cold chains of perishable products), absence of efficient, transparent, well-regulated markets. We need consumer awareness at one end for the demand-pull, and the input supply at the other end.

Collaboration between India and Africa under the South-South Collaboration initiative of the Government of India can address some common challenges in transforming dryland food systems.

Next steps

Structural changes and a whole systems approach are required to create resilient, equitable and sustainable food systems, particularly for our drylands. Food systems worldwide must become more productive and less wasteful. Sustainable agricultural practices and food systems, including both production and consumption, must be pursued from a holistic and integrated perspective. We need transformative technologies, which must be tried and tested without adding to the risk that dryland smallholder farmers face daily.

Written by:

Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes
Director General, ICRISAT



ICRISAT to share expertise on sorghum production with farmers in Somalia

ICRISAT is collaborating with the Somali Agricultural Technical Group (SATG) to provide technical support for sorghum production in Somalia. The expertise provided includes identification of sorghum varieties suitable for Somalia, provision of breeder seed of the identified varieties and training of SATG staff and their partners in sorghum seed production.

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Since 2016, the SATG has been working closely with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in developing the capacity of cooperatives to improve food production by strengthening the regional staple seeds production sector. Out of 57 local agro cooperatives trained on bookkeeping, business management, application of good agriculture practices, and use of crop protection practices, 15 best performing cooperatives were selected for production of quality sorghum seed.

In response to SATG’s request for cooperation in April 2021, breeder seed of the identified varieties (Gadam el Hamam, IESV 92043 DL and CR:35:5) was delivered to SATG in early May 2021. Also, last month a training session was conducted virtually for capacity building in sorghum production.

The training, which was led by ICRISAT’s Sorghum Breeders Drs Eric Manyasa and MacDonald Jumbo, was virtually held during 29–30 June 2021. It was aimed at ensuring that the knowledge built, and measures applied by the lead farmers in seed production not only contribute to increased and improved sorghum seeds production but is passed to other farmers of the targeted cooperatives. The multiplier effect will largely contribute to increased capacity of sorghum production among the most vulnerable farmers through access of quality seed of sorghum. In addition, the application of good agronomic practices and safe storage will increase productivity and minimize post-harvest loses respectively. The cooperatives’ capacities are expected to strengthen to enable them to market their seed to other needy sorghum production areas in Somalia. The training was attended by participants drawn from SATG, lead farmers from Cooperative Societies, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation, and Universities.  It covered the following topics:

  • Sorghum improvement in Eastern and Southern Africa
  • Sorghum value chain and opportunities in the sorghum value chain
  • Sorghum agronomy and the application of good agriculture practices
  • Sorghum pests and diseases and their management
  • Sorghum post-harvest losses and use of good storage system
  • Sorghum seed production and quality maintenance

In his opening remarks, Dr Hussein Haji, Executive Director, SATG, intimated that agriculture is an important economic activity in Somalia not only for meeting the food needs of the population, but also for generating income through sale of harvests and agricultural labor opportunities. Among the staple foods grown in Somalia, sorghum is the most important cereal, occupying over 400,000 ha and comprising a significant fraction of Somalia’s domestic cereal production, despite the total production of the crop falling below the levels observed in the 1980s. There has been stagnant production against the rapidly increasing Somali population. The downscale has increased the need for cereal imports and aid to Somalia and has made the country vulnerable to disruptions in international cereal markets and foreign government policies. Since the collapse of the government in 1991, Somalia has been in a near-constant state of food insecurity and suffered two officially declared famines.

With support from the ICRC and others, SATG is dedicated to assisting with the reconstruction of Somalia and its agricultural heritage. Since its establishment in 2001, the group has been working on expanding its network of practitioners and professionals devoted to the building of sustainable agriculture in Somalia. SATG has been able to bring together stakeholders across the globe interested in improving agricultural processes in Somalia. One approach the group is using is tapping into expertise and adapting or facilitating solutions pertinent to the Somali agricultural industry through online training, discussions and documenting of the results and outcomes. Having been part of the Somalia research team before the collapse of the government and thus a member of the early sorghum and millets network coordinated by ICRISAT, Dr Haji underscored the value of ICRISAT in assisting Somalia revive its agricultural research.

Dr Rebbie Harawa, Regional Director, ICRISAT East and Southern Africa (ESA) noted that partnership is central to ICRISAT’s efforts towards overcoming challenges facing smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tropics. This is achieved through public-private partnerships working together from the planning through the execution and evaluation stages of the joint activities.

Dr John Karongo, ICRC Regional Agronomist emphasized the importance of sorghum as a food and fodder crop for the small-scale farmers in Somalia. He further stated that since 2016, ICRC has been in partnership with SATG to provide better support to small-scale farmers through cooperatives. “Linking SATG to ICRISAT was an important step that will significantly contribute to strengthening capacity and improve sorghum seeds production in Somalia. ICRC is open to more collaboration in future with ICRISAT and SATG to better support farmers and improve their production,” he added. The two-day training was a great opportunity for the cooperatives and Ministry of Agriculture to learn new technology.

According to Dr Manyasa, ICRISAT Principal Investigator for the collaboration, the training and other initiatives with the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and other NGOs based in Somalia are part of the activities towards reviving ICRISAT’s collaboration with the NARES in Somalia that was quite vibrant before the security lapse in the country in 1991. Even during the long period of insecurity in Somalia, ICRISAT continued backstopping the few international NGOs that engaged in sorghum seed relief and small-scale testing of improved varieties.

ICRISAT envisions a stronger and more vibrant smallholder farm sector where science is helping to win the war against poverty, farmers progress from subsistence agriculture to market participation, and manage land and water resources for long-term benefit. To realize this, the research institution will continue to work with Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation and key partners in Somalia. Discussions are underway to sign an MOU with the government of Somalia to formalize the collaboration.

Reported by Ms Grace Waithira, Communications Assistant, ICRISAT-East and Southern Africa.

Dr Jummai O Yila, Gender Scientist and main organizer of the event, making a point during the workshop. Photo: N Diakite, ICRISAT

Dr Jummai O Yila, Gender Scientist and main organizer of the event, making a point during the workshop. Photo: N Diakite, ICRISAT

Cereal-legume value chain stakeholders in WCA meet to develop demand-driven and gender-responsive product profiles

Under the AVISA project funded by the Gates Foundation and USAID, supported by CRP-GLDC

ICRISAT’s Gender Research Program recently brought together breeders, value chain stakeholders and social scientists from Mali, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Nigeria to define priority traits of cultivars of sorghum, millet and groundnut during a 4-day workshop. Prior to the workshop, studies were carried out with the national agricultural research systems (NARS) partners in the above countries, to examine and assess the trait preferences of key stakeholders, especially taking into account the specificity of traits with respect to gender-related needs. The results of these studies were presented during the workshop. The expected output is priority trait demands translated into new market-driven and gender-responsive product profiles for the breeding programs at ICRISAT and NARS.

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Highlights of the workshop

“Production, nutrition and market attributes must be taken into account for breeding improved cereal and legume varieties,” almost all participants strongly agreed on this one point. Particular emphasis was placed on nutrition security and gender equity as outcomes of strategic plans of ICRISAT and national programs. It was agreed that high productivity must be accompanied by the nutritional traits added in the cultivars and that they are adaptable to marginal production conditions (poor fertile soils that generally used by women for their own fields). For example, the northern states of Nigeria, Sahelian regions of Mali and the northern regions of Burkina Faso, which are the largest producers of millet, sorghum and groundnuts, are suffering from food insecurity due to the security crisis and terrorist attacks. As a result, women and children suffer from chronic malnutrition because the little millet and sorghum produced are often deficient in iron, zinc, and vitamin A. For this proportion of the population, the new varieties of millet to be developed must be on the one hand, rich in iron, zinc and vitamin A, and on the other hand, adapted to marginal production conditions and able to be used for multiple purposes (human and animal food, processing).

ICRISAT, through its crop improvement programs, has been working to develop crop varieties keeping in mind the priority needs of the farmers and other value chain actors, as these products are intended for users with different needs and preferences. At the workshop, ICRISAT’s gender research team brought together multidisciplinary research teams and various actors in the cereal-legume value chains such as traders, processors, producers, seed company managers and aggregators, who deliberated and exchanged information, data and learnings to define the priority traits of sorghum, millet and groundnut cultivars.

Dr Jummai O Yila, Gender Scientist, ICRISAT–West and Central Africa (WCA), who had examined and assessed the trait preferences of key stakeholders in the value chains of the above crops as part of the studies with NARS partners, said that a shift towards gender-responsiveness requires the understanding of needs and choices of both male and female key value chain actors and mainstreaming these into the crops’ breeding pipeline. While emphasizing the significance of collaboration, she noted, “Solutions to complex problems today often require a collaborative engagement with others, which will generate the best solution.”

Dr Aboubacar Toure, Sorghum Breeder, representing Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director, ICRISAT-WCA, said, “The findings of these studies are aimed at informing the development of product profiles to achieve market-driven and gender-driven product development. This workshop is held to improve our common understanding of the basics of product profiles and market segmentation principles.”

What the participants said

As a seed processor, I was able to share my concerns with breeders and other stakeholders, especially what we are looking for in terms of seed quality, size and color. These characteristics are very important, because our main objective is to get good quality products, process them and make profit.
Mrs Kabore Clarice
Seed Processor, Burkina Faso

We mainly discussed yield rate, quality and seed- and grain-saving approaches. These are some of the concerns that producers typically have. This workshop allowed us to learn more about the characteristics requested by our farmer and women communities as well their customers. The idea is to improve and adapt our production system based on external demands.
Mr Yalali Traoré
ULPC Dioila, Mali

Our mission is to promote the activities implemented by all actors of this meeting. Now that we have exchanged problems and defined product profiles for each crop and country, we will work to strengthen the collaborative links between all actors in the cereal-legume value chains. At AMASSA we are ready to contribute in developing new varieties that meet the needs of all stakeholders.
Mrs Sogoba Yah Diakité
AMASSA Afrique Verte, Mali

The purpose of this workshop is to change the way we do things. This means that we save time and make efficient use of the funds allocated for breeding. Knowing the characteristics requested by the users and stakeholders is a step forward that helps us to not worry about the adoption of the varieties we develop because they will already be expected by the different segments in the market. We have heard all the requests and are now better informed to meet everyone’s demand in terms of seeds and grains.
Dr Inoussa Drabo
Millet breeder, INERA, Burkina Faso

The world is a global village and seed production needs to go outside the immediate area. As a seed producer from Ghana, I can see that we need to develop our business with people involved in all the processes of the value chains. During this workshop, I met different stakeholders from several countries and I was able to discuss my expectations as a seed producer in Ghana. I am convinced that our concerns are taken into account by the researchers and I am happy I have developed my network.
Mr Alidu Abdul-Razak
Seed Producer, Ghana

The problem of malnutrition remains unresolved in our populations, especially in the rural areas. The problem being transversal, it is important for the researchers to integrate the nutrition aspect in the development of seed varieties. Such nutritional value could include vitamin A, protein, iron and zinc. During this workshop, we insisted on the need to strongly consider nutrition and to develop and make available seeds with high nutritional values.
Dr Fatoumata Hama Bah
Nutritionist, IRSAT, Burkina Faso

We are in production, processing and marketing of different type of crops. We came to this meeting to profile millet-, sorghum- and groundnut-based products. We are here to tell the breeders and even the socio-economists our real situation as an enterprise and how they, as scientists, can come out with very good varieties that will suit our purpose which is based on what our farmers need. Farmers have different needs and they come to us for particular varieties of crops. We are aware of several problems that each of these crops have and there are many inputs that we give to breeders on what they should look into in order to come out with varieties that will go a long way towards improving production and satisfying the needs of our farmers. We are an enterprise and everything that sells well is what we are looking for.
Mr Balarabe Shehu
Managing Director & Executive Director, Greenspore Agri Limited, Nigeria

The workshop on “Demand Driven and Gender Responsive Product Profile Development” was held during 21–24 June 2021 at the ICRISAT research station at Samanko in Mali.

Contributed by Mr Moussa Magassa, Communication Assistant, AVISA project in West Africa; Ms Agathe Diama, Head Regional Information, ICRISAT-WCA; Dr Jummai Yila, Gender Scientist, ICRISAT-WCA; and Dr Hailemichael Desmae, Regional Breeding Lead, ICRISAT-WCA.

For more on our work in markets and value chains, click here.

Participants to the workshop holding the messages on banners of the event. Photo: N Diakite, ICRISAT

Participants to the workshop holding the messages on banners of the event. Photo: N Diakite, ICRISAT

Project: Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA)

Funders: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and USAID

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

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

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

Awards and recognition

Mr Boukari Haraouna of Tera’s parasitoids production unit explaining the biological control program of millet head miner to fellow farmers. Photo: L Karimoune, ICRISAT

Mr Boukari Haraouna of Tera’s parasitoids production unit explaining the biological control program of millet head miner to fellow farmers. Photo: L Karimoune, ICRISAT

ICRISAT partners, farmer unions in Niger awarded Equator Prize 2021

The Equator Prize 2021 was presented to two farmer unions of Niger – Maddaben of Falwel and Hareyben of Tera – for contributing to improved food security, local livelihoods, and community adaptation to climate change through the promotion of agrobiodiversity in participatory research, etc. The UN Development Programme (UNDP) and partners award the Equator Prize to recognize local and Indigenous communities from around the world that demonstrate exceptional achievements in nature-based solutions for local sustainable development.

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As a long-time partner of Maddaben and Hareyben farmer unions, ICRISAT has collaborated on several activities with them, among which were the participatory selection of pearl millet varieties to test available improved varieties. ICRISAT germplasm was also introduced to the farmers’ local conditions to identify superior materials for direct adoption as well as for use in our breeding program.  This initiative has led to the development of two new pearl millet varieties PPBV-Falwel and PPBV-Tera which were released in 2016. These two varieties, in addition to four other varieties, were the first pearl millet varieties to be released in Niger after 15 years. Simultaneously, the two unions learnt how to produce certified seeds of improved varieties of pearl millet, sorghum and cowpea.

One of the awardees, the Maddaben union at Falwel has been particularly successful. “Although business of seed production is dominated by the private sector in Niger, the Falwel Maddaben union has managed to become a national reference for seed production,” said Dr Malick Ba, Country Representative of ICRISAT in Niger. “Moreover, the Maddaben and Hareyben farmer unions in Falwel and Tera respectively engaged with researchers to learn about biological control of the millet head miner, which is one of the most devastating insect pests of pearl millet in the region.”

“Initially, communities learnt how to release a beneficial insect (a parasitic wasp called Habrobracon hebetor) to control the insect pests. Next, they learnt how to raise the beneficial insect. Finally, supported by researchers, the communities established their own cottage production and learnt how to run the business and to supply the community,” said Dr Ba. “Both unions were able to raise the parasitic wasps themselves and supply neighboring communities and development projects. Especially in the Hareyben union at Tera, women are leading this process and are the most successful union in Niger, and have managed to maintain the business since its establishment in 2017.”

“When I started working as pearl millet breeder at ICRISAT in Niger in 2005, I had sound knowledge about breeding methodologies, but I would not know what ‘a good pearl millet variety’ actually means for Nigerien farmers. Therefore, there was a need to partner with farmer unions that were willing to share their knowledge with me and to help selecting varieties that correspond to the needs and preferences of different types of Nigerien farmers,” said Dr Bettina Haussmann, former millet breeder at ICRISAT in Niger (on behalf of the McKnight Foundation).

“The Mooriben Unions Hareyben in Tera and Maddaben in Falwel (in addition to the Farmer Federation FUMA Gaskiya in the Maradi region of Niger), were very generous in sharing their knowledge about pearl millet. Together, we engaged in participatory on-farm variety selection and participatory pearl millet breeding programs, as well as seed production activities. I am very thankful for these partnerships, which enabled us to complement our skills and to advance together. Our joint progress is reflected in the successful diversification of the pearl millet-based production systems on the ground and in this great recognition by the UNDP ” continued Dr. Haussmann.

Both the farmer unions were nominated by Dr Bettina Haussmann, former millet breeder at ICRISAT in Niger, on behalf of the McKnight Foundation. This is the 12th year of the Equator Prize, and the winners were selected from more than 600 nominations from 126 countries. According to the Equator Initiative website, “Equator Prize winners will receive US$ 10,000 and the opportunity to take part in a series of special virtual events associated with the UN General Assembly and the Nature for Life Hub later this year. They will join a network of 255 communities from over 80 countries that have received the Equator Prize since its inception in 2002. The Equator Prize 2021 Award Ceremony will take place virtually on 4 October 2021.”

For more details, click here

Reported by Ms Agathe Diama, Head Regional Information, ICRISAT-WCA with inputs from
Dr Malick Ba,
Country Representative-Niger, ICRISAT and
Dr Bettina Haussmann, McKnight Foundation.

A new percolation tank with a 3000 m3 capacity constructed in Patnikota, Andhra Pradesh, for storage of harvested rainwater.

A new percolation tank with a 3000 m3 capacity constructed in Patnikota, Andhra Pradesh, for storage of harvested rainwater.

ICRISAT Watershed project wins laurels for eco-restoration efforts

A case study about a watershed management initiative by UltraTech Cements Ltd (UTCL) and ICRISAT was recently named as one of the best case studies at a unit-level contest by the Aditya Birla Group (ABG).

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This initiative of UltraTech in partnership with ICRISAT is reviving livelihoods of more than 500 households in two villages – Patnikota in Kurnool district and Ayyavaripalli in Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh state. Water scarcity, low soil fertility, unemployment of landless laborers and low agricultural productivity are some of the issues that the project is addressing.

Watershed interventions have led to 1–2.5 meters higher groundwater levels, providing lifesaving irrigation to nearly 410 ha of cultivable area in both the villages and about three irrigations during the post-rainy season for about 137 ha of millets or short-duration vegetable crops. In 2020-21, a total of 121,500 m3 of rainwater was harvested through 24,150 m3 additional storage capacity that was created to meet crop needs during critical growth stages and to irrigate the post-rainy crops. Improved high-yielding and drought-tolerant crop varieties were introduced to farmers and crop diversification is being advocated. Soil health mapping has helped identify and rectify mineral deficiencies in the soil and eco-friendly pest management methods are also being disseminated.

The contest entry ‘Improving Livelihoods through Integrated Watershed Management Approach through UTCL & ICRISAT Watershed Project at Andhra Pradesh Cement Works’ is a unique initiative that stood out from 27 other entries received for the contest across the Aditya Birla Group. The contest was organized to celebrate the efforts made towards eco-restoration by individual ABG businesses as part of commemorating World Environment Day 2021.

The following criteria were taken into account for the analytical selection process before deciding the winning case studies:

  • The driving force behind the initiative (compliance or beyond compliance) and the process followed, including collaboration with partners, stakeholders, planning and long-term objective
  • Case study impact: a) Developing an ultimate eco-system – wetland, agricultural, forest, grassland b) Showcasing a mix of biodiversity
  • Scale of implementation

Congratulating the team behind this initiative, Mr MSRK Prasad, Senior Vice-President, HR, Andhra Pradesh Cement Works, said, “Once again, thanks to the ICRISAT team for the excellent support and efforts towards the Watershed Project development implemented at Patnikota and Ayyavaripalli villages of the Andhra Pradesh Cement Works Unit.”

Click here for a detailed account of this project: Changing rainfall erodes a landscape. Watershed interventions halt the downward spiral – ICRISAT

ICRISAT digital agriculture consultant inducted into Royal Entomological Society

Prof TVK Singh, a consultant for the Digital Agriculture team at ICRISAT has recently been chosen for fellowship of the Royal Entomological Society of London, honoring his contribution to agricultural entomology during his long career.

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Dr Srikanth Rupavatharam, Scientist, Digital Agricultural, who has closely worked with Prof Singh since February 2018, said, “Prof Singh has conducted about 147 training programs on ICRISAT mandate crops in themes including crop production, crop protection, digital ag tools etc. for 6,356 farmers in 13 districts of Andhra Pradesh. Additionally, through field demonstrations and interactions, it was possible for Prof TVK Singh to cover 92 Farmer Producer organizations (FPOs) and reach out to more than 20,000 farmers.”

“Prof Singh is also a major contributor in artificial intelligence-backed applications as an annotator for training data sets and as a content developer,” added Dr Rupavatharam. Read more here.

TVK Singh, who retired as Dean of Agriculture in Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU), has been selected for the fellowship of Royal Entomological Society of London.

The fellowship has been awarded in recognition of his contribution in the area of Agricultural Entomology. Mr. Singh secured his Ph.D. from the Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), New Delhi and has more than 150 research articles in his publication basket in reputed national and international journals.

As a consultant with ICRISAT he has trained more than 20,000 farmers on plant protection in major crops, according to a press release.

A cross-section of the students attending a virtual tour of ICRISAT during one of the sessions . Photo: A Balamatti, ICRISAT

A cross-section of the students attending a virtual tour of ICRISAT during one of the sessions. Photo: A Balamatti, ICRISAT

Students take virtual route to visit ICRISAT

Many students have been inspired by their visit to the ICRISAT Hyderabad campus in the past; the COVID-19 pandemic has come in as a big disappointment to many students aspiring to do so this year. Digital technology, however, has come to the rescue as a reasonable alternative to an actual visit to the campus. Students are now able to get know ICRISAT, its work and the world-class research facilities through virtual tours.

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Educational tours are an integral part of the course curriculum for students pursuing graduate studies in agriculture, horticulture, forestry and sericulture at the state agriculture universities (SAUs) in India. As the pandemic struck in March 2020, one ‘wave’ led to another, and now that the fear of third wave is looming large in India, the SAUs are compelled to stall the study tours for students. To fulfill their course completion requirements, the SAUs are now approaching various R & D institutions across the country seeking opportunity to visit them virtually.

When we started receiving such requests, we immediately responded to them. The University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences (UAHS), Shivamogga, and the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru, both in Karnataka, have taken lead in setting examples for other SAUs and educational institutions. So far, in a matter of two weeks, over 1000 students from seven campuses belonging to the two universities have already participated in the virtual tours offered by ICRISAT. While actual visits usually could accommodate about 50 to 60 students at a time when they visited the campus, today, thanks to technology, as many as 310 students could join the ‘tour’ in a single session.

A typical session on a virtual tour includes a screening of the corporate video, followed by a detailed presentation on ICRISAT’s vision, mission, approaches and activities, and also details on its world-class research facilities and services. Often, on request, ICRISAT scientists join the sessions to talk about our breeding programs etc.

Screenshot of the virtual tour of the campus. Photo: A Balamatti, ICRISAT

Screenshot of the virtual tour of the campus. Photo: A Balamatti, ICRISAT

It is important for ICRISAT to reach out to visitors, especially the student community, to educate them on the challenges and opportunities of improving livelihoods in the drylands as also the positive outcomes of research and development efforts through application of cutting-edge science. On the other hand, with frequent queries from students as to whether ICRISAT offers internship opportunities to student-researchers and how to make a career at ICRISAT, the virtual tours are certainly offering convenient means of connecting.

Despite the intermittent challenges of poor internet connectivity and power failures, the students are able to join the virtual tours from the comfort of their homes. They tell us that they enjoy the tours, get inspired and some even dream of making it to ICRISAT one day with a conviction to join its efforts of ensuring nutritious food and better livelihoods to billions of poor living in the drylands.

Contributed by
Dr Arun Balamatti
Senior Manager, Visitor Services and Protocol Management, ICRISAT

The CLIM2 Project

Chimtengo youth in Chiradzulu district, Malawi, fuel their hammer mill. Photo: L Suwedi

Chimtengo youth in Chiradzulu district, Malawi, fuel their hammer mill. Photo: L Suwedi

The hammer that mills: Boosting livestock production through local feed

His round face gave out an impression of a disconnecting human being and his heart, appeared to turning into a complete Chinese sensei somersault and plugging itself back into position.

The veins on his wrinkled forehead stood out as he enormously tried to chuckle. He then silently laid his index finger somewhat dexterous against a twitching muscle at the corner of his mouth.

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As originally published in Nyasa Times

For many farmers it is hard and a tad impossible to cope up with the incessant skyrocketing prices for domestic animal feed especially from the commercial feed producers.

Livestock farmers need affordable feed to be able smile across the miles.

It is tough.

“Most of our farmers cannot afford to buy the basic feed offered by the commercial feed producers and this affects productivity in the case of dairy cattle farmers,” says Lackson Kampunga, chairperson of Bvumbwe Dairy Cooperative.

For Malawi’s farmers livestock is an important source of income through selling and proteins as food 55% of them keep livestock mostly at a subsistence scale which is affected by many challenges, on top of which is feeding. Creating a new breed of agricultural entrepreneurs is one way of addressing this challenge as they will be able to support the livestock value chains with supply of low-cost feed. Efforts to support livestock farmers to more profitable business have often been thwarted by high feed costs, commercial stock feeds being unaffordable.

A number of farmer groups in the districts of Balaka, Chiradzulu and Thyolo in southern part of Malawi have embarked on the journey to create business out of local feed processing.

Family Support

The Crop Livestock Integration and Marketing in Malawi CLIM2 provided these groups with diesel operated hammer mills (locally known as Chigayo cha Dizilo). The project supported seven farmer business groups, with about 30 members, in the tree districts and five of them were registered as Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).

“With the hammer mill, we are processing livestock feed and providing grain milling services for food to surrounding communities,” says Monica Mapemba, a member of Chimtengo Youth Poultry Company in Chiradzulu District.

She adds: “This has improved our income levels and this has led to fulfilment of our goals as hammer mill and poultry rearing entrepreneurs.”

To ensure they move the path, the group has registered as a limited company with the 5 members as its shareholders and directors. With these hammer mills, farmers in the area are able to have their grains like pigeon peas, cow peas, sorghum and maize, milled into livestock feed. CLIM2 trained the farmer groups also in feed making “The hammer mills are helping farmers use available grains turn into low-cost nutrition rich feed, “says Lackson Kampunga.

While giving the company incomes, this has enhanced livestock productivity for local farmers who had nowhere to mill their feed.

“The cheaper locally made feed boosts income for smallholder producers when selling livestock. Through consumption of livestock products, households are also benefitting in terms of nutrition,” says Frank Matchado, CLIM2 District Officer for Chiradzulu.

While supporting the livestock value chains, the hammer mills are also facilitating local trade in the locations they have been put.

“The hammer mills are installed amongst farming communities and are more accessible than the maize mills installed in designated trading centers. This saves time and transportation costs for both livestock producers and those seeking grain-flour milling services. This encourages processing of small quantities of small grains and legumes for more nutritious porridge,” explains Claire Mwamadi, CLIM2 Monitoring and Evaluation Officer.

She adds that hammer mills also attract vendors and farmers who come to sell their commodities outside like fruits, vegetables, fish and other basic necessities.

“People coming for the mill are able to buy other things sold outside by vendors who come following the mill. The community accesses their daily needs more easily and farmers and traders find a produce market and marketing place as hammer mill users are seen as potential buyers,” she says.

“At this initial stage, their monthly gross margins range between K52,950 to K114,000 per month. Indirectly the mills improve income by reducing feed costs, and increase production, widely accessible effects for chickens (women, youth),” explains Mwamadi.

Strengthened Diversification

In Balaka, Rose Smart, a widowed mother of 5, has seen her small business receiving more customers with the coming of the hammer mill. “I am now able to sell tomatoes, doughnuts, soya pieces, and beans near my homestead.”

“People who have their food processed at the mill, buy from me. This helps me to support my family. With the proceeds, as my business progresses, I plan to buy goats,” she narrates.

The project secured 12 hammer mills for farmer groups in Balaka, Chiradzulu and Thyolo Districts. It is expected that over 5000 households will benefit from the hammer mills. For the construction of the hammer mill shelters, security measures and to start running the hammer mills as working capital, the groups contributed funds and relied on their own labour.

Hammer mills bring a variety of trades together, people who sell commodities benefit from those that have their foods processed. Access to these hammer mill thereby improves access to nutritious food for the families in different ways.

They provide communities with a market for their farm produce and unveil the capacity to participate in trading opportunities.

Hammer mills operate almost every day as such they create a daily produce market in the community unlike the designated markets which have specific days in a week, and some are also far away from farming households.

The project has also built local capacity in business planning and management, group dynamics and record keeping, feed processing and market exploration skills.

In conjunction with government agriculture extension officers, this has improved farmers’ technical expertise, and the way they organise themselves around market opportunities.

The project on Improved livelihoods through sustainable intensification and diversification of market-oriented crop-livestock systems in southern Malawi (CLIM2) is working to strengthen diversification and integration in crop-livestock farming systems in three districts of Malawi.

The project is funded by the European Union under the Farm Income Diversification Programme (FIDP) Phase II – Agribusiness, and implemented by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropic (ICRISAT), Small Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Programme (SSLP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Written by:

Horace Nyaka

Farmers feeding their goats in Chiradzulu. Photo: ICRISAT

Farmers feeding their goats in Chiradzulu. Photo: ICRISAT

Diversifying food value chains

Most Malawians depend on agriculture for food and income, but the desired shift from subsistence to commercial farming remains challenging.

A project by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in partnership with Small-Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Programme has boosted farm income by stimulating diverse agri-food value chains in Balaka, Chiradzulu and Thyolo.

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This story was first published by The Nation

The Crop-Livestock Integration and Marketing in Malawi (CLIM2) project funded by the European Union under the second Farm Input Diversification Programme (FIDP) engaged farmers, traders, agricultural extension workers and business experts to improve crop and livestock value chains.

In Chiradzulu, a youth group has become a viable business bloc when it comes to crop and chicken production, including value addition. Chintengo Youth Club, which started with 30 members growing different crops in 2017, is now a limited company with five shareholders on the rise.

“We chose chicken rearing as our main business, but feed was expensive. We couldn’t afford it,” says Gladys Ndau.

The project gave the youth a hammer mill and trained them to process feed on the farm. The mill also grinds grain for surrounding households.

The project mostly targets women and youth, who are mostly excluded from value chains because they lack assets, including land, to obtain finances for business growth.

“We looked at entry points for women and youth. We came up with three targeted value chains—goats, chickens and dairy—knowing that women and youth could easily participate with limited resources,” says Professor Sikalazo Dube from ILRI.

He adds, “The big question was: How do we bring in mindset change so that more rural farmers move into commercial agriculture? How do we facilitate that change not only among farmers but other players in the value chains so that farmers move up the chain to processing and marketing.”

The project provided start-up capital to farmer groups and small and medium enterprises that contributed 10 percent in cash or manpower.

The groups received livestock, seeds and training.

“While we have crop production extension workers in the rural areas, we need to have more agri-business and livestock extension workers to support farmers,” Prof Dube explains.

The project also trialed Kuroiler chicken in partnership with farmers in the three districts.

Dr Patrick Chikhungwa, Director of Animal Health and Livestock Development in the Ministry of Agriculture, says scientific evidence is required to transform animal husbandry.

“We are working on reforming the vital sector to improve agriculture productivity and production. We need science-based evidence to support implementation of our programmes,” he explains.

The evaluation of the Kuroiler chicken has generated information for policy and strategic change, he states.

Dr Chikhungwa explains, “The country has been struggling to identify a breed that can be easily managed by smallholder farmers at local level.

“We have had other breeds, including the black Australop widely known as mikolongwe. The Kuroiler is a more productive, dual-purpose breed that provides farmers with meat and eggs. It can feed on locally produced feeds and is more diseases resistant, the studies show.”

To create more rewarding markets for the goat farmers and processors, the EU-funded project supported the establishment of sale pens and auction facilities in all the three districts.

It also refurbished the Phalula abattoir and butchery cold chain.

“The cold rooms provided safe and hygienic storage of meat. Previously, it wasn’t easy to keep meat that remained after sales. We had to pay shop owners to store it in their refrigerators,” recalls butcher Fannuel Moyo.

A perimeter fence has made the slaughterhouse secure, reducing the theft of goats tethered in the market.

Madalitso Mgombe, district agribusiness officer for Balaka, says farmers will profit as their goats will be auctioned using weighing scales.

“This brings competition and higher prices for quality,” he says. “It encourages farmers to produce quality goats.”

The project supported 45 goat business groups and 12 groups handling digital scales. Five groups are women-led and four youth-led.

Temwa Mvula, CLIM2 district officer in Balaka, put the new structure in context.

“Aggregating goats through sale pens, with transparent pricing through digital scales, rewards the efforts of feeding goats,” she says.

In Thyolo, the project has procured and rehabilitated micro-dairy processing equipment for three milk bulking groups and processors.

Bvumbwe Dairy Cooperative, which bulks milk from its members, struggled to sustain their business because raw milk sales are not rewarding.

“Low prices are a challenge. Processors give us quotas during the cold season and when there is over- production. Our farmers lose and look elsewhere for markets,” explains Laston Kampunga, leader of the cooperative.

The project supported the dairy farmers to achieve their aspirations to add value to their milk.

“They trained us in business administration, management of dairy cows and processing feed,” says Kampunga.

The group received machines for processing raw milk products and a hammer mill for making cattle feed for the benefit of cooperative members and other farmers in the vicinity.

“We will be buying more milk from our farmers and will not be throwing away milk since we will be processing all surplus milk here,” Kampunga states.

And Chikhungwa looks back with satisfaction, “Through the project, we have demonstrated the integration of crops and livestock.

“As we promote livestock production through improved value chains we are also promoting a wider range of crops and local feed processing.”

Dairy farmer in Thyolo District. Photo: Louis Suwedi

Dairy farmer in Thyolo District. Photo: Louis Suwedi

Pursuing money in milk

Joyce Ntikhe, 41, is a budding dairy farmer at Chipendo village in the area of Traditional Authority January in the southern district of Thyolo, Malawi. A few years ago, she invested in her first dairy cow as a way of making money for herself and her family. Today, Joyce has three cows and hopes to increase the size of the herd in the coming years. While dairy farming has helped support her household, it does not provide enough always.

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A version of this story first appeared in The Daily Times in Malawi

Cost of feed is high and efforts to get it are costing farmers a lot of time and money, especially during the dry season. Therefore, production is low and proceeds from milk are not adequate, and farmers cannot afford to drink milk themselves. Being a small farmer in a remote area, farmers like Joyce rely on established processors to sell the milk they produce. Like other small-scale dairy farmers in Malawi, markets remain a challenge.

“This area has many small-scale farmers but our challenge remains good markets. Some buyers offer us as little as MK 195 ($0.25) per liter. This is very little compared to how much we need to feed and treat the cows,” says the farmer, a mother of 5 children and owner of 3 dairy cows.

A group of entrepreneurs turned into a cooperative for farmers in the area to offer solutions to this challenge. Umodzi Milk Processors Cooperative, a group of 168 milk processors, is now creating a new market for farmers in the area.

Testing milk for quality at delivery, Bumbwe cooperative. Photo: Louis Suwedi

Testing milk for quality at delivery, Bumbwe cooperative. Photo: Louis Suwedi

With support from the European Union-funded Crop-Livestock Integration and Marketing in Malawi (CLIM2), a project implemented by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropic (ICRISAT), Small Scale Livestock and Livelihoods Programme (SSLP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), they have been organizing themselves to grow into a vibrant cooperative.

Sabine Homann-Kee Tui, Coordinator for the CLIM2 project, explains that the project’s goal is to increase income and livelihoods for small holders and rural business entities, rural poor and rural youth through sustainable intensification and diversification of affordable plant and animal-based food production and value chains.

Thyolo District is the largest producer of milk in Malawi. Despite this, communities are only selling raw milk which does not bring same returns as processed milk would. “We sell a lot of milk here yet we cannot get yoghurt or cheese in most shops. If we could start processing milk, we will improve nutrition as people will buy milk products and incomes would increase with higher prices for the value addition to the milk,” says Cresco Kwezembe, a local councilor and chairperson of the group.

To help the group start their milk processing businesses, CLIM2 has procured milk and yoghurt pasteurization and bottle packaging machines and sachet packaging machines for Bvumbwe Dairy Cooperative, Umodzi Milk Processors and Thunga Dairy Cooperative in Thyolo District.

“With these processing plants, farmers will have an alternate option to sell their milk, which will lead to better proceeds and livelihoods. With increased milk production, farmers are more likely to consume some of the milk themselves. Investing in local dairy processing companies not only creates local employment, it also contributes to make milk protein available to local consumers. Working through local Care Groups, and preferential procurement agreements with government offices, schools and hospitals are ways to promote local milk processing for improving nutrition locally,” explains Homann-Kee Tui.

Madalitso Namacha, one of the youth who started Umodzi group explains that in 2018 youth in the area began addressing some of the problems facing the residents. “We realized that our people are not being paid enough by milk buyers and decided that we needed to do something to help,” he explains adding, “We went to the district council who then linked us with CLIM2 who committed to support us. We plan to use this group as an avenue of development in the area and beyond, going beyond milk production”.

Chairperson of the group, Cresco Kwezembe, explains that with the coming of the processing machines, the group plans to buy milk from multiple bulking groups in the area at higher prices, a thing that will improve livelihoods for communities.

Bvumbwe dairy cooperative is the oldest dairy cooperative in Malawi. It has been affected by operational and administrative challenges. “Our biggest challenge has been the quota that processors have been giving us. Whenever processors have more supply, they do give us supply limits. We end up throwing away milk from our farmers just because the processors cannot buy more”, says Laston Kampunga, chairperson of Bvumbwe Cooperative.

“Whenever milk is returned by the processors we have to throw it away. The coming of this equipment means that milk will not be thrown away, we will be processing it and selling it ourselves,” he adds.

In trying to enhance farmers’ productivity and reducing the cost of production the project trained them in utilizing crop residues, own production of feed and processing, and provided farmers groups with  hammer mill, to reduce feed losses and increase feed intake.

”We have seen that local processing and marketing is a good avenue for a cooperation of farmers to increase income, if the profits can be shared with farmers,” explains Claire Mwamadi, CLIM2 Project Monitoring and Evaluation Officer.

Malawi now has four established milk processing companies; before 2016, one company monopolized the industry. It is hoped that with more local groups venturing into processing, farmers and processors will earn more through competitive selling prices and value addition proceeds.

Umodzi Dairy processor cooperative in Thyolo District. Sabine Homann-Kee Tui, ICRISAT

Umodzi Dairy processor cooperative in Thyolo District. Sabine Homann-Kee Tui, ICRISAT

CLIM2 has also procured a hammer mill for the cooperative to help them produce feed for cattle. “Nutrition for the cows has been another challenge; feed costs for cattle are very high. This mill will help us produce balanced diets for dairy cows so that we produce more milk. The project has also taught us how to use local crops and trees to make low cost but nutritious food for our cows,” Laston Kampunga explains.

As this story tells us, “local processing and marketing is a good avenue for a cooperation of farmers to increase income, if the profits can be shared with farmers. This will however require significant additional skills by the cooperatives and employees. At this level, the possible improvements are again, reducing the cost of production and losses of milk, and increasing value through processing”, Andre van Rooyen, ICRISAT.

Written by:
Horace Nyaka

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