The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has officially commenced its golden jubilee marking 50 years of scientific innovation and impact since its establishment on the 28th March 1972.
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The 50th anniversary celebrations build upon the inauguration of the occasion by the Honourable Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi and the Hon’ble Union Minister of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare Shri Narendra Singh Tomar among other dignitaries, who visited the Institute’s global headquarters in early February.
The official celebration was marked by a distinguished gathering of global agricultural institutions and financing leaders to members of the diplomatic corps, ICRISAT’s Governing Board, the Director General Dr. Jacqueline Hughes and staff from across India and Africa.
The 50th milestone was framed by the challenges and opportunities facing the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, with a series of roundtable discussions on ‘Partnerships and Funding for Sustainable Agriculture in the Drylands’.
ICRISAT Director General Dr. Jacqueline Hughes said that while the Institute’s 50th anniversary was an opportunity to reflect on the organisation’s illustrious history, it was also a defining moment to coalesce new and innovative approaches to funding scientific innovation to address the challenges facing dryland agri-food systems.
“While the word grapples with evolving climate change, environmental degradation and geo-political shifts there tragically remains one constant for dryland farming communities, and that is food insecurity and hunger” said Dr. Hughes.
“With our deep expertise in dryland farming and recent advances in research, ICRISAT will continue to serve as a global research and thought leader to reduce poverty, hunger, malnutrition, environmental degradation in the semi-arid tropics while making farming profitable.
“We will also augment our scientific advances by working to influence good public policy with a focus on gender and social inclusion as but some cross-cutting themes especially relevant to developing a more equitable and sustainable agricultural sector.
“Our strength, has been built upon the diversity of our public and private sector partnerships and our inspiration, remains the 2.1 billion people who call the drylands home.
“ICRISAT is well positioned to now build upon its past successes as an autonomous, independent organisation which will be further strengthened by a deepening of our South-South collaboration.
“Our 50th Anniversary celebrations will segue the Institute into the International Year of Millets in 2023 in which ICRISAT will be a key actor. As a specialty crop of the Institute, we look forward to collaborating with partners to enhance nutritional security in India and Africa” said Dr. Hughes.
Governing Board meetings were held between 29th March and 1st April 2022 to discuss the future plans of ICRISAT.
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ICRISAT partnered with UNWFP-India to study the effects of climate change on food security & nutrition. UNWFP Country Director, Dr Bishow Parajuli and Dr Jacqueline Hughes signed a MoU to undertake this research on 29 March 2022.
ICRISAT and MANAGE, Hyderabad signed a MoU to encourage the exchange of scientific materials, publications and information on 24 March 2022.
ICRISAT and CORAF entered into a MoU to strength ICRISATs outreach and impacts in Africa. Dr Jacqueline Hughes and Dr Abdou Tenkouano, Executive Director, West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF) signed the MoU at ICRISAT 50th anniversary celebration.
ICRISAT and APAARI entered into a MoU to strength ICRISATs outreach and impacts in Asia Pacific region. Dr Jacqueline Hughes and Executive Secretary, Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), Dr Ravi Khetarpal signed the MoU at ICRISAT 50th anniversary celebration.
My seven years at ICRISAT have been transformational. I have witnessed a reflective change not only in the management but also in the organisation. Particularly, when we decided that ICRISAT will be better served as an independent, autonomous organisation with strong partnerships. This was a crucial decision.
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After 50 years, it’s time to highlight ICRISAT and portray how the institute will be in the forefront of seed systems, nutrition and global food security.
Everyone working at ICRISAT is a specialist in different areas and all of you will have to contribute to take ICRISAT forward and build a better future in health and nutrition.
I will always continue to follow ICRISAT and look for opportunities to help the organization.”
Prof Sisselle Rogne joined ICRISAT as the Governing Board Member in 2015 and retires after serving seven years at the Institute. She has a PhD in Genetics/Cell Biology and has been Professor in gene technology since 1992. She was awarded the Norwegian Academic Prize in 2012 for her work to promote academic freedom and dissemination of knowledge. She is former Managing Director of the Institute of Marine Research and has also served as the CEO of Norwegian Biotechnology Advisory Board.
Team ICRISAT wishes Prof Sissel Rogne a very happy and fulfilling life ahead
The FAO- The Global Soil Laboratory Network (GLOSOLAN) selected Charles Renard Analytical Laboratory (CRAL), ICRISAT’s soil laboratory to participate in the inter-laboratory proficiency test 2022.The objective of GLOSOLAN is to help soil laboratories produce analytical results that can be compared with results from other network laboratories across the globe. The proficiency test compares the quality of results for the same analysis from different laboratories and demonstrates acceptable variation around the consensus value.
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Dr Pushpajeet, Manager, CRAL, took the initiative of receiving PT samples from FAO and successfully submitted the analysed results for total nitrogen, total carbon, available phosphorus (Bray’s and Olsen’s method). FAO will collate all the obtained results across the globe for inter-laboratory comparison and statistical analysis. This data will be published online by FAO and the participating laboratories will receive individual feedback on their performance.
An innovative multi-institutional project titled “Multimodal data analysis for monitoring invasive aquatic weeds in India” involving ICRISAT; University of Stirling, Scotland; University of Strathclyde, Scotland; National Institute of Plant Health Management (NIPHM), Hyderabad, India; Sanatana Dharma College (SDC), Kerala, India and CSIR-Central Scientific Instruments Organization (CSIO) Chandigarh, India, is ongoing to address water hyacinth problems. Funded under UKRI Global Challenges Research Fund through grant (FF\1920\1\37) from the Royal Academy of Engineering, United Kingdom, the project investigates emergence or resurgence of water hyacinth in lakes using satellite data.
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Water hyacinth infestation in lakes poses environmental challenges and economic consequences for local community. At present, the use of satellite based data for monitoring water hyacinth poses limitations. Often these mats are present along with other floating, submerged, or semi-submerged macrophytes, making it difficult to monitor. Under this project, researchers interpret the satellite data further with increased accuracy to distinguish water hyacinth mat by collecting high-resolution data using drones equipped with multi-spectral data acquisition sensors, high-resolution satellite data, along with water quality analysis.
Co-Principal Investigator of this project, Dr Srikanth Rupavatharam, Senior Scientist (Digital Agriculture), ICRISAT says “Real-time monitoring and AI based estimation of water hyacinth biomass floating over large water bodies can significantly augment the efficiency of remediation strategies.”
Android application MPRO (ICRISAT-DAY) tool was also used to source ground truth images of water hyacinth from the banks of weed infested lakes. MPRO enables user to capture and upload images that are geo-time tagged to ICRISAT database. The multi-modal data acquisition, along with simultaneous water quality monitoring and citizen science, enables real-time accurate estimation. AI based forecasting of these mats further allows timely interventions.
This work is an attempt to make remediation less expensive through high-science driven decision making and revenue generation through efficient valorisation of the water hyacinth biomass.
ICRISAT’s sorghum breeding research is committed to strengthening breeding schemes, maximizing heterosis and enhancing genetic gains in the drylands.
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The Deputy Director General-Research (DDG-R), Dr Arvind Kumar participated in a field visit to discuss the ongoing open-field research in sorghum breeding at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics headquarters. The visit focused on sorghum breeding nurseries and crossing block, Leasy Scan facility, and entomology and phytopathology experiments.
ICRISAT’s sorghum breeding team aims at research to increase accuracy and genetic gain.
Breeding schemes are customized across all market segments (post-rain, rain, forage, sweet sorghum/high biomass sorghum) and hybridity testing (QC) is systematically performed in F1s, which helps discard false hybrids early on.
Testcross, early yield trial, disease and pest screening are systematically carried out in F6 to predict the performance per se and the values in hybrid combinations (GCA, SCA) of the future fixed inbred lines; for GCA, yield potential is the primary trait of interest. Dr Ephrem Habyarimana, principal scientist-sorghum breeding team, ICRISAT said, “Testing GCA in early generations helps in producing superior hybrids while saving time and money.”
Harnessing heterosis is another important factor for sorghum production. It is a known fact that performance of parental lines per se is not consistent with the hybrid performance i.e., elite parents don’t necessarily give rise to excellent hybrid varieties. ICRISAT’s Sorghum breeders therefore, judge parents by their potential to produce superior hybrids, not only by their performance per se.
Single Seed Descent Selection (SSD) is also implemented in order to speed up breeding cycles. This is one possible way of alleviating food scarcity problems and enhancing food security. This is the only method where only one seed from F2 population grows on to F3 and the process is repeated in the next generations and up to F5/6, when plants approach a high level of homozygosity.
Interestingly, as a single seed per plant is required in early generations, these can be grown in a small area i.e., greenhouses and rapid generation cycling facilities, which shortens time from seed to seed, allowing to produce more than one generation in a year.
At F6 several research events are simultaneously handled.
The information gathered during the above steps cannot be overemphasized. It allows discarding poor materials prior to producing F1 hybrids and conducting the multilocation trials (MLTs). Elite RILs with high performance per se are considered for further testing through MLTs for developing superior line varieties, while selected lines with high combining ability are used in “A x R” crosses to develop F1 hybrids that undergo planned testing in collaboration with our partners in the process of hybrid cultivar development. The evaluated General Combining ability (GCA) is also used to build heterotic groups for downstream breeding applications.
Ahead of International Year of Millets 2023, Niger’s International Millet Festival hails the crop as beneficiary for farmers community and consumers amid climate change.
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The 3rd edition of the International Millet Festival (FESTIMIL) was held at the Academy of Martial Arts in Niamey, Niger between 28th February – 1st March 2022.
The event was organized by the Ministry of Agriculture under the leadership of Mrs Hadiza Bazoum, First Lady of Niger and President of the NOOR Foundation in partnership with ICRISAT and the National Institute of Agronomic Research of Niger (INRAN). The two-day event gathered key stakeholders for exhibitions, conference and debates around ‘Adaptation of Millet to the Context of Climate Change’ and to create awareness about nutritional and health benefits of millet.
Apart from culinary competitions, food tastings, cultural performances, FESTIMIL hosted two engaging panel discussions with agri-food experts to highlight concerns over ‘Improving millet production in Sahel in the context of climate change: prospects and recommendations’ and ‘Development of markets millet-based processed products: prospects and recommendations.
In his opening remarks at the festival, Dr Alambedji Abba Issa, the Minister of Agriculture, emphasized on the nutritional values of millet and its key role in ensuring food security in Niger and beyond. Dr Issa said, “Millet is a crop with multiple advantages. It is nutritious, economical and integral part of our cultural heritage. It is also a climate-smart crop adapted to the Sahelian environment because of its tolerance to high temperatures and its low water requirements.”
Dr Alambedji Abba Issa also highlighted concerns over challenges in production, consumption and development of millet, which includes climate change, limited consumption of millet in urban areas and introduction of new foods consumption in rural areas.
The food festival dedicated to millets also offered solutions to tackle recent agricultural production being highly deficient in grain yield and fodder. “This 3rd edition of FESTIMIL is an opportunity to introduce other varieties of millet, with techniques and technologies that can allow improve varieties to contribute effectively to a sufficient production towards food security,” said Mrs Aïchatou Foumakoye, Executive Secretary of Noor Foundation. She also reiterated the commitments of the Noor Foundation to promote equal opportunities, empower women and youth, ensure access and retention of all to quality education, promote peace and human rights, strengthen the resilience of communities, preserve and restore the environment.
Sahel region’s push to promote traditional food
Mr Yacouba Bouda, Director General of the National Directorate of Agriculture and Rapporteur of the Organizing Committee, said that the event reflects upon all the issues around millet production: “FESTIMIL is presented as a platform for exchange where producers, processors and researchers can meet, each in its sphere of competence, to develop their creative genius in the face of the challenge of climate change. Our efforts to enhance production of millet should go along with the promoting of the whole value chain, including processing and consumption,” he said. At the end of the festival, many exhibitors expressed their wish to see the development of these initiatives as a tradition in Niger.
Millet is consumed daily by 50 million inhabitants of the Sahel region. Extremely resistant to drought and well adapted to poor soils, it remains the only crop that truly corresponds to the conditions of the environment and to traditional food habits. In Niger, the second largest producer in Africa after Nigeria, millets cover more than 65% of the cultivated area and accounts for nearly three quarters of the country’s cereal production. It is indeed the crop best adapted to arid and semi-arid zones and it remains a staple food for 80% of Nigerians, especially those living in rural areas of the country.
This article was initially published in french Le Sahel: 3ème Edition du Festival International du Mil (FESTIMIL) 2022 : Le mil, un aliment du futur dans les pays du Sahel – Le Sahel
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is pleased to announce the award of a five-year cooperative agreement by USAID to implement the second phase of SERVIR West Africa.
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SERVIR West Africa forms one of five hubs globally. SERVIR connects space to village by helping developing countries use satellite data to address critical challenges in food security, water resources, weather and climate, land use, and disasters. SERVIR is a joint initiative of NASA, USAID, and leading geospatial organizations in Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
The SERVIR West Africa Hub was established in 2016 and the second phase will continue the next five years of operations in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal as well as opening activities in other West African States. The hub enjoys a productive partnership with several West African institutions as well as international universities and organizations. The consortium is comprised of the African Regional Institute for Geospatial Information Science and Technology (AFRIGIST, Ile-Ife, Nigeria), the Agrometeorology, Hydrology, Meteorology Regional Center (AGRHYMET, Niamey, Niger), the Centre for Remote Sensing and Geographic Information Services (CERSGIS, Accra, Ghana), the Centre de Suivi Écologique (CSE, Dakar, Senegal), the Institut Supérieur d’Études Spatiales et des Télécommunications (Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso), and the African Institute of Mathematical Sciences (AIMS, Mbour, Senegal and Cape Coast, Ghana) as well as partnership with the Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, both at Columbia University, and with the University of Florida.
ICRISAT is an International non-profit agricultural research institute with state-of-the-art agro-biotechnology research facilities supporting innovation, development, and applications of broad range of biotechnological solutions spreading across various domains from basic research to product translation.
The Centre for Dryland Agriculture (CDA), a World Bank-supported Africa Centre of Excellence (ACE) has recognized ICRISAT as an outstanding international partner. The award was presented to ICRISAT on 16 February 2022, at an event commemorating the 10th year anniversary of CDA. The award was received by Dr Hakeem A Ajeigbe, Country Representative, Nigeria.
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CDA served as a regional training hub for the West and Central Africa (WCA) sub-region. The centre was set up in Bayero University, Kano (BUK) in 2012 as part the university’s effort towards addressing the development challenges of the dryland areas. CDA established through a competitively won take-off grant from MacArthur Foundation, won USD 7.8m Africa Centre of Excellence (ACE) grant from the World Bank in 2014 to become a regional Centre of Excellence specialising in dryland agriculture. In 2019, the Centre won another 5-year grant (USD 5m) from the World Bank to further the research and positively influence the development of the region. The centre runs MSc and PhD programmes in Agronomy, Agricultural Technology, Natural Resources Management and Climate Change, Agricultural Economics and Animal Science,
CDA recognized ICRISAT as an outstanding international partner for its contribution to the research on seeds, seedlings and farming machineries. The award was presented during a ceremony presided by Prof Sagir Adamu Abbas, Vice Chancellor of the University. Attended by many dignitaries, including Dr Nasiru Yusuf Gawuna, Deputy Governor of Kano State, and Hon Munir Babba Dan Agundi, Member, House of Representatives, Federal Republic of Nigeria, the event also received participation from the university staffs, NGOs, executives from processing companies, seed companies, international research institutes and farmers.
In his welcome address, Prof Jubrin M Jubrin, Director of CDA said, “The centre aims to reduce poverty, improve agricultural productivity, enhance food and nutrition security, improve natural resources and ecosystem services, mitigate the effects of climate change, and reduce conflicts and human migration.”
In his goodwill message, Dr Hakeem A Ajeigbe, Country Representative, ICRISAT-Nigeria, recalled the fruitful partnership between ICRISAT and CDA in implementing projects such as HOPE, STAR, NADiRA, TRIMMING, TAAT. He also touched upon various other areas of collaboration such as joint proposals, supervision of post-graduate research projects by ICRISAT Scientists from Nigeria and other capacity building programs for students and researchers of the Centre.
ICRISAT’s Regional Director, Dr Ramadjita Tabo is a member of CDA Advisory Board while the Country Representative Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe is a member of its Technical Committee.
“ICRISAT is well-positioned to serve as a global leader for research in the dryland regions, and a partner of choice for the international development agencies to deliver on the SDGs”- underlined Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT during her inaugural remarks at ICRISAT’s Annual Research Review and Planning Meeting-2022.
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Highlighting the importance of ICRISAT’s work in creating the world of tomorrow, especially in addressing extreme poverty, food, nutrient security, and climate change, she emphasized five decades of ICRISAT’s expertise, experience, and capabilities in developing and delivering technologies and innovation in the interest of smallholder farmers. Our work is important and exactly what is needed for the future of tomorrow. The recent visit of Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Shri Narendra Modi to launch ICRISAT’s yearlong golden jubilee celebrations is an endorsement to it. “Now is the time for accelerated scaling up of our tools and technologies for greater impact”- she further added.
Defining the future roadmap, Dr Hughes put forward seven priority areas where urgent interventions for accelerated delivery of our vision and mission are required:
Reviewing the research progress during the last 2 years, Deputy Director General- Research, Dr Arvind Kumar, commended the efforts and commitment of all the global and regional research programs for their dedication and perseverance in delivering on ICRISAT’s mission, even during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This being my first global research review and planning meeting at ICRISAT, I am happy to note that, apart from delivering on the research front we have been able to put in place a reinvigorated more efficient, cohesive, and interconnected research structure that aims to seamlessly integrate and deliver agricultural research outputs across the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, guided by ICRISAT Strategic Plan (2021-2025) and ICRISAT Medium Term Plan (2021-2023) – said Dr Kumar. “We have the deliverables and now we should communicate our stories of success to the world, weaved around all the elements of the science of discovery to the science of delivery”, he added. Complimenting the future roadmap, DDG-R further highlighted that our research should aspire to deliver on climate resilience, nutrition, and address environmental degradation by undertaking output-driven translational research.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, ICRISAT has significantly delivered on both upstream and translational research, catering to the needs of the global scientific community and smallholder farmers. Some of the significant highlights from the last 2 years across regions are testament to ICRISAT’s position in delivering results even in adverse situations.
Global Research Program-Accelerated Crop Improvement’s efforts led to the commercialization of 37 crop varieties in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, this includes two high oleic groundnut varieties that are among the 17 biofortified crop varieties dedicated by Hon’ble PM of India in 2020 and 2 Chickpea and 1 Pearl millet cultivar, in 2021. Modernizing the crop breeding efforts, speed breeding deployed in chickpea and the Rapid Generation Advancement facilities expanded from a capacity of 35,000 plants per cycle to 70,000 plants per cycle. Several new resistance sources were identified and QTLs mapped for biotic and abiotic stresses and nutritionally important traits. In the area of gene editing: CRISPR constructs for TAG Lipase genes for leaf and immature embryo-based Agrobacterium methods developed. Securing the germplasm, several accessions were deposited at Svalbard Global Seed Vault as first level and second level safety duplication, in 2020 and 2021. The “GxM toolbox” was drafted to enhance the crop fitness to abiotic conditions of environments prevailing in TPE, in addition, the LeasyScan HighThroughput Phenotyping Platform was upgraded with PE F600 scanners. Advanced our efforts to harness AI for UAV field phenotyping to support crop improvement programs. Enabling access of improved seed varieties by the smallholder farmers, developed 2399.5.4 MT Early generation seed; and the evidence suggested that farmers adopting improved groundnut, sorghum, and pigeonpea, experienced increased grain yield by 40.6, 54.9, 51.9% respectively.
Some of the key interventions by the Global Research Program- Resilient Farm and Food Systems (RFFS) includes climate adaptation and mitigation efforts, where over 5,600 farm households (40% women) applied doubled-up legume technology on 1,668 ha in central and southern districts of Malawi. RFFS efforts led to grain yield (1275 kg/ha) increase by 30% compared to farmers’ practice in Pearl millet in Niger. ICRISAT Development Center demonstrated that shared resource use could help diversify cropping, promote high-value crops, and aid collective marketing. Deployed digital tools across several projects for efficient delivery and monitoring of activities across regions. Facilitated market linkages with an online market linkage system based on yield estimation and by connecting farmers with potential traders.
In areas of landscapes, soil fertility & water management, ICRISAT’s efforts led to soil loss reduction, increased recharge of groundwater led to increase in the irrigable area from 200 ha to 970 ha in locations of Ethiopia, and increased yields of major crops: wheat by 142%, barley by 100% and faba bean by 66%.
Global Research Program- Enabling Systems Transformation includes a study on consumer behavior & preferences and improves them by introducing some innovative change campaigns like music videos and the photovoice approach. The team undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis to generate science-based evidence on how crops like millets are good for health and nutrition and contributed to addressing the impact of COVID-19 on food security, mostly to women and adolescent girls. Brought some policy recommendations on research influencing the nexus between agri-food value chains and nutrition in Malawi, like: Promote inclusive multi-stakeholder platforms, promote local value addition, and marketing and processing, mainstream nutrition awareness, budgeting for food purchases and nutrition programs, and develop self-regulatory quality-based pricing and quality control mechanism. Evaluation of a framework for measuring climate resilience of smallholder farm systems is another key area of intervention. In addition, provided insights on supporting policy response to Covid19 induced lockdowns and developed framework and tool for multi-dimensional assessment of farming systems sustainability.
Discussing the way forward, the group agreed on strengthening the strategic integration within clusters and programs across regions for sustainable scaling out of cross-region learnings and outputs. ICRISAT is equipped with cross-cutting tools, resources, and vehicles like digital agriculture, geospatial and big data sciences, natural resource and soil health management, agribusiness and incubation platforms, etc., for addressing transformative systems-level interventions. Effective communication strategies are a must for putting out our success stories in front of the world and for positioning ICRISAT in the new era. We need to harness every opportunity and the time ahead bring many prospects for ICRISAT, especially this year being the 50th anniversary of ICRISAT and the next year being the International Year of Millets.
The next green revolution or ever green revolution could come from the drylands. The slowing down of the progress of irrigated agriculture, the overemphasis on rice, wheat, and corn, depleted natural resources, particularly the near-exhaustive exploitation of water resources leave the drylands as the only other avenue to provide food, fodder, and nutrition security for the growing global population. Less attention paid to research for development (R4D) in the drylands relative to irrigated agriculture thus far, the vastness of dryland geographies and the escalating challenges posed by climate change imply that there is an untapped potential in dryland agriculture.
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While celebrating 50 years of its eminent contribution to dryland agriculture, ICRISAT is aware of the growing expectations in the R4 D space. With its vast experience and insights, accumulated over five decades, ICRISAT is prepared to proactively engage itself to bring prosperity to dryland regions in Asia and Africa.
Here is a brief list of ICRISAT’s commitments to future of drylands:
ICRISAT@50 Series Author:
Dr Arun Balamati
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) completed the sequencing of reference genome of pigeonpea (Varshney et al. 2012). Recently (V. Garg, O. Dudchenko, J. Wang et al. 2021) further improved this assembly using modern technologies and approaches such as Hi-C technology. The availability of these genomic resources enabled the scientific community, specifically pigeonpea community to advance their research for pigeonpea improvement. On the other hand, International Centre for Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology (ICGEB) has expertise in gene editing with proven record of accomplishments.
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To leverage their expertise, both the institutes joined hands to work on an important trait in pigeonpea, in this case herbicide tolerance. As weed infestation is one of the crucial biotic stress factors contributing to huge yield loss in crop plants, more so in pigeonpea. In this backdrop, both the institutes jointly submitted and won a competitive grant from Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India entitled “Developing double herbicide tolerant pigeonpea for improved Weed management employing two pronged approach: haplotype mining in native germplasm and CRISPR/Cas9 mediated genome editing”.
This project aims to deliver (a) Herbicides resistant superior haplotypes; (b) Identify and use of homologs in pigeonpea genome for genome editing; (c) Generation of constructs with promoters, terminators and vectors for expression of Cas9 cassettes that may be extrapolated for other legumes/dicots; (d) The genome-edited lines with double herbicide tolerant trait shall be made available to researchers for further use in their crop improvement programmes. Growers will use these new technologies in combinations to fill in efficacy gaps of diversified weeds. The main role of ICGEB will be to develop double herbicide tolerant pigeonpea using gene-editing technology while ICRISAT will be performing genome-wide haplotype discovery for targeted genes in diverse set of genotypes followed by phenotypic confirmation.
To mark the official launch of the project, a virtual meeting was held on 11 Feb 2022, where the project teams from both the institutes discussed the roadmap and way forward on project activities. Principal Investigator from ICGEB, Dr Tanushri Kaul and from ICRISAT, Dr Rajeev Varshney shared the background work done to secure this project, which has great potential to deliver solution to herbicides in pigeonpea. Dr Tanushri acknowledged how the sequence information for targeted genes from pigeonpea genome provided by ICRISAT helped in developing the guide RNA that is very crucial step in initiating the gene editing experiment.
This project provides a great opportunity to deploy genomics and gene editing approaches for bringing sustainable solution to herbicide problem in pigeonpea; said PI from ICGEB Dr Tanushri Kaul. In addition to developing herbicide tolerant products, this project will also demonstrate the power of genomics in fast pacing the genetic improvement of crops, in this case pigeonpea; said Dr Rajeev Varshney, PI from ICRISAT. Furthermore, Dr Rachit Saxena and Dr Manish Pandey from ICRISAT provided more insights on technical work and future directions to gain more by working together through discovery of additional such genes and make available for use in pigeonpea improvement.
The meeting was also attended by researchers from ICRISAT (Dr Damaris Odeny, Dr Prakash Gangashetty, Dr P. Sudhakareddy, Ms Anu Chitikineni, Mr Prasad Bajaj & Mr J. Harshvardhan and Mr Nilesh Mishra) and ICGEB (Dr Rachna Verma, Ms Jyotsna Bharti, Mr Arul Prakash, Mr Bhupendra Rawat and Ms Sonia Khan).
Project title: Developing double herbicide tolerant pigeonpea for improved Weed management employing two pronged approach: haplotype mining in native germplasm and CRISPR/Cas9 mediated genome editing
Principal Investigator: Dr Rajeev Varshney;
Duration: 3 Years
Funding Agency: Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India.
Increased production and marketing of dryland cereals (sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet) and legumes (pigeonpea, green gram, groundnut, and cowpea) in the Arid and Semi-arid Land (ASALs) of Kenya offers an important pathway to poverty reduction and improved food and nutrition security. Elizabeth Mwololo is among farmers who have benefitted from initiatives geared towards reducing poverty and improving food and nutrition security.
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Afterlife in Nairobi became unbearable due to high living expenses, Elizabeth moved to Makueni, one of the ASAL counties in Kenya, with her husband and six children in 2015. She was later introduced to new Drought Tolerant Crops (DTC) varieties alongside training on Good Agricultural Practices (GAPs) and Post-Harvest Handling (PHH) by ICRISAT through the Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) Program. Her fist attempt was cultivation of sorghum and green gram using the improved varieties. After a splendid performance, Elizabeth says that she was motivated to increase her farm size from 2 acres to 5 acres, which she acquired from her family. “Through DTCs like sorghum, I have been able to make money and have food for the family and the cattle. This is because sorghum matures faster and the yield is high, unlike maize which mostly fails when the rain is inadequate. Farming DTCs has helped me and my family to build 2 permanent houses, pay school fees for my children up to tertiary levels, among other investments,” says Elizabeth adding that she couldn’t have accomplished this if she continued staying in the city.
Once referred to as orphaned crops, climate smart crops or DTCs (sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, pigeonpea, cowpea, green gram, and groundnut) have become an income generating activity for farmers in ASAL areas especially Makueni, Kitui, and Taita Taveta Counties, and a huge contributor to national food and nutrition security. The three counties are part of the ASALs’ production that account for about 48% of sorghum, 60% of millets, 99% of pigeonpea, 95% of green gram and 93% of cowpea produced in Kenya.
In our field visits, we also met Ms. Catherine, a farmer who has embraced farming using DTCs and is now making better income than when she was farming maize. She cultivates sorghum, millet, and green grams on her two-acre farm in Makueni. Ms. Mbili who also trains farmers on farming the DTCs said in one acre of sorghum plantation, she is able to harvest between 15 to 20 bags of 100 Kgs with a bag selling at KES 3,000. This means that from one acre alone, she generates up to KES 60,000, more than twice of her income when she had previously put the land under maize where brokers used to buy the grain for as low as KES 1,200 per bag.
“Many of the farmers in this area used to rely on government relief food, but through improved varieties of DTCs they have been able to attain food security and generate income,” says Ms Mbili. “The AVCD program has incorporated the use of technology in training of farmers where we teach them the need and use of digital agricultural innovations to apply in their farming enterprises. So as not to leave anyone out, we have included the youth in the digital agriculture training so that they can help their elderly parents in accessing information on farming and marketing”, she added.
Elizabeth and Catherine’s households are among 163,000 households which have been provided with improved DTCs seed varieties through the AVCD program. This program was completed in 2021. Even though farmers like Elizabeth and Catherine continue reaping benefits brought about by use of improved varieties, there are still challenges across the value chain that impend optimization of the benefits. Lack of functional seed production and delivery systems, inadequate extension support, inadequate farmer coordination (Farmer Producer Organizations – FPOs), dysfunctional input and off-take markets are still a challenge.
To support small holder farmers like Elizabeth and Catherine, USAID through FTF-Kenya has funded a new program, Accelerated Institutional and funding Food Systems Development Program (AIFSD), to address the mentioned challenges by enhancing institutional capacity of actors across DTC value chain. One of the main component of the program is to strengthen the capacity of extension service providers in Kitui, Makueni and Taita Taveta. AIFSD conducted a three day workshop at the Agricultural Training Centre (ATC) in Makueni aimed at: enhancing capacity of extension officers to disseminate extension information on improved agricultural practices for increasing on-farm productivity of DTCs; Mainstreaming the use of digital technologies for the extension officers in providing accurate and timely information on production, post-harvest handling, nutrition and markets. The workshop which had 38 participants drawn from county agriculture, health and meteorological departments of Kitui, Makueni and Kitui was graced by Makueni County Executive Committee Member (CECM) for Agriculture, Mr Nzioki King’ola, County Director of Agriculture Mrs Mary Muteti, and Chief Officer Dr. Martin Mboloi as well as Dr. Romano Kiome, AIFSD Chief of Party, and Dr. Ganga Rao, AIFSD’s DTCs value chain manager.
Dr. Kiome called on the participants to embrace and empower farmers with modern digital agriculture knowledge and skills, noting that with the technological evolution, digital agriculture is the future. “This will not only enhance farming of DTCs where the farmers will be able to easily share and access information on GAPs, PHH and markets but will also attract the youth who have been reluctant to practice farming,” he added.
Dr. Ganga Rao highlighted that AIFSD which builds on achievements made by AVCD, is funded by USAID to a tune of USD 2.2 million for a three-year period. The program is informed by the need to reduce food imports brought about by poor performance of main staple grains like maize, wheat, and rice due to unfavorable weather patterns in ASALs, and to provide enough and more nutritious food, especially for the population in the ASALs.
ICRISAT-NAANDI partnership was forged in 2019 to study the impact of regenerative agriculture on soil heath across diverse agro-ecologies. As a part of this project, Dr. Pushpajeet Choudhari, Manager, Charles Renard Analytical Laboratory (CRAL) conducted a virtual training on standard operating procedures of geo-referenced soil , compost, water and leaf tissue sampling. Around 20 women field-level functionaries from the state of Punjab and Uttar Pradesh were trained during this session held on 24 Feb 2022.
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The training session started with a briefing on sampling techniques for soil, plant and compost, followed by a video demonstration on soil sampling. The session concluded with Q&A round.
This training has empowered the field-level functionaries with the technical know-hows of soil and plant sampling. This will help CRAL deliver accurate testing results and support the farmers with timely interventions. Trained women will be collecting around 2000 samples every year from the beneficiary farmers under the aegis of ICRISAT-NAANDI partnership.
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