June
Issue No: 1857
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Adapting to COVID-19


A strategic guide: Working towards food security in the drylands through COVID-19 and beyond

ICRISAT is well positioned to significantly contribute to efforts towards restoring food security in the drylands, while combating the COVID-19 pandemic-related impacts and beyond. Here is a quick guide outlining ways in which we can collaborate with our partners and influence positive outcomes for smallholder farmers.

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Background

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused phenomenal disruptions in the food system – a major contributor to global livelihoods and health. Such major disruptions typically impact vulnerable geographies the most, such as the semi-arid tropics or drylands. Smallholder farmers are particularly at risk because of pre-existing lags in nutrition, health, and income goals.

Our strengths:

  • Extensive network of staff and partners on the ground, across sub-Saharan Africa and Asia
  • Technical and scientific knowledge to partner with development teams
  • Specialization in the drylands
  • A wide range of scientific tools – from GIS and remote sensing to genomics, modeling and social tools
  • Nutrient-dense and drought-tolerant mandate crops – millets, sorghum, groundnut, chickpea and pigeonpea
  • Scaling expertise for a range of solutions
  • Agribusiness innovation platform to support agri-entrepreneurs with product development and market analysis
  • Digital solutions across the whole value chain

Eastern and Southern Africa: Equipping smallholders with tools to combat COVID-19

A 3-point strategy for getting agriculture back on its feet

A field in Malawi with groundnut/pigeonpea intercrop before COVID-19 hit the region. Photo: L Lazarus, ICRISAT

Addressing the food systems disruption in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA), due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will require collective action. ICRISAT reaffirms its commitment to work with our partners to help the semi-arid tropical (SAT) communities in the region in the recovery efforts and to build resilience capacities in the medium and long terms.

Over the last five years, the ESA region agriculture has faced shocks and stresses ranging from cyclic floods and droughts, fall armyworm (Spodoptera frugiperda) and the recent desert locust (Schistocerca gregaria) infestation and diseases such as maize lethal necrosis in Eastern Africa. The COVID-19 crisis further compounds this food crisis.

We propose a plan to work along with our partners to mitigate these challenges. Broadly, the plan covers three critical phases:

Phase 1: Recovery and Coping Phase

Availing baseline and decision-making data for recovery interventions: Our social scientists can work remotely to analyze food delivery and market logistics in conventional value chains. We can provide science-based evidence to policy makers and decision makers to help inform their deliberations on strategies and options including:

  • Vulnerability analyses to identify those who are most likely to suffer and ensure that they receive the most intensive assistance;
  • Preparatory, preventive and coping measures, such as early-warning systems and insurance; and
  • Safety nets such as grain, fodder, and seed banks and emergency food reserves.

Technical advice on non-perishable and nutritious food grains: The technical advice on locally/regionally sourced sorghum, millets, pigeonpea, groundnut and chickpea focuses on best management practices on post-harvest activities, food safety and nutritional quality of grain legumes (aflatoxin, beta-carotene, iron, zinc, oil), food storage and processing to reduce food loss and aflatoxin. This knowledge will be critical to stakeholders managing food banks and Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) involved in food distributions.

Providing small packs of drought-tolerant, short-duration and nutrient-rich cereal and grain legume crops through our innovative informal and formal seed delivery models that involve communities and private seed companies. These models can also be used for delivery of seeds for other crops including vegetables.

Digital platforms: For example, cell phones for information and cash transfers services, online advisory services and communities of practice for knowledge sharing.

Phase 2: Adaptive Phase

Development of adaptation strategies: We have longstanding experience developing strategies for coping with stresses, and in modeling future scenarios of change. They include:

  • Genetic improvement strategies for critical traits, such as tolerance of drought and heat;
  • Natural resource management strategies to improve supplies of water and nutrient resources and to increase system resilience (ability to withstand and recover from stress);
  • Farm management strategies – such as agricultural diversification and affordable, efficient and sustainable small-scale irrigation – that hedge risks and broaden opportunities; and
  • Capacity-strengthening strategies that improve knowledge flows; to monitor and reduce aflatoxin contamination in groundnut and other grains.

Development of Geospatial maps: These are powerful aids for visualizing the driving forces associated with poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation in different geographic areas in the tropical drylands.

Sustainable systems for multiplying and disseminating high-quality seed: We have extensive knowledge and experience in approaches and toolkits for sustainable high-quality seed production: designing tailor-made seed delivery models from community seed banks, quality declared seed and private sector led systems with clear forward linkages to grain demand and backward linkages to early generation seeds (breeder, foundation).

Promotion of integrated farm and landscape management: ICRISAT is implementing an array of scalable, integrated farm and landscape management models e.g. soil health and water management practices, watershed management, crop-livestock integrated systems, etc.

Phase 3: Transformative Phase

Collaborating with partners to increase the resilience of dryland farming by developing system, policy and technology options and building capacities.

Deploy our research-for-development technical capacities to generate products and innovations: These include:

  • Our ongoing genomic and genetic research using modern molecular methods to rapidly transfer desirable traits such as resistance to new pests and diseases; drought tolerance and drought avoidance (short-duration to medium-duration varieties); nutrition-dense and other traits demanded by market or processors.
  • Development of innovative mechanization tools to reduce postharvest losses, reduce drudgery, especially oriented towards women’s needs; improve fertilizer use efficiency e.g. microdosing technology.
  • Investigation of last-mile delivery bottlenecks of improved soil management options, water harvesting technologies and sustainable smallholder irrigation.

Promotion of public-private sector partnership to facilitate technology adoption: Our Hybrid Parents Research Consortium (HPRC) is a good example. We can also develop a wide range of partnerships with NARES (National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems), community-based and private sectors, both within and beyond the realm of agricultural research-for-development.

Develop evidence-based risk-reducing policies: For example, crop insurance, early warning systems, joint landscape management, crop-tree-livestock systems, seed systems and policy research on grain legume, blending of cereal flour.

Promote agro-enterprise incubation, digital agriculture platforms using experiences from ICRISAT Asia region: These initiatives will target women and youth in SAT.

West and Central Africa: From recovery to transformation via adaptation in a COVID-19 scenario

A stepwise plan for farmers to cope with COVID-19 in West and Central Africa

Malian farmers during a field visit before COVID-19-mandated lockdown. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Taking our mission statement: ‘…to reduce poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation in the dryland tropics’ as a framework, in collaboration with our partners, we aim to assist rural and urban communities in West and Central Africa (WCA) to become more self-reliant through a three-step process.

As on 15 May, the COVID-19 outbreak has hit 54 African countries, among which 27 are in WCA. It is expected that both rural populations on the brink of subsistence farming, and urban populations that form the market for agricultural products, will be most affected. This crisis, combined with climate change, recurrent droughts, and fall armyworm (FAW) and locust infestations, will be challenging for the very fragile food security and livelihoods in the WCA region.

The following three-step plan is proposed.

Step 1: Recovery and Coping Phase

  • To support production of quality certified seed, interventions in partnership with seed companies and farmers’ cooperatives will prioritize adequate warehousing and supply of targeted breeder seed.
  • Helping development/food aid programs through digital platforms that remotely monitor crop/environmental conditions, farming activity, commodity prices and supply chain transactions.
  • Making our mandate crops available for WCA countries can ease difficulty in securing food due to COVID-related lockdowns.
  • Using warrantage and other extension systems to mobilize funds and services for agricultural risk management.
  • Providing yield forecasting support to operational early warning systems.
  • Monitoring seed voucher usage to enable smallholder farmers’ access to quality seed of improved varieties.
  • Studying the impact of climate change as a compounding risk factor on farmers livelihoods, and using the lessons learned to design adaptation measures in the context of COVID-19.

Step 2: Adaptive Phase

Going beyond specific interventions, we can design solutions for the pandemic’s impacts in gender- and location-neutral ways.

  • Developing crop varieties and hybrids more resilient to climate change and responding to high-nutrition needs (to strengthen general immunity against the virus). Nutritionally rich varieties of millet such as CHAKTI and some varieties of sorghum to be promoted and made available to smallholder farmers.
  • Using blockchain approach to bring together input supply, market linkages for agricultural produce, and field-level agronomic and performance monitoring, while ensuring complete traceability.
  • Encouraging and promoting a system diversification approach to provide alternative sources of food and income to rural communities.
  • Building on adaptive scaling models to strengthen agricultural service extension through virtual tools. For instance, online meetings between farmers and extension workers, training seed companies and farmer organizations to produce certified seed through virtual meetings, radio and TV communication campaigns to inform availability of seed sources and agronomic practices, etc.

Step 3: Transformative Phase

  • A long-term response to current and post-COVID-19 periods require improved investment in domestic production of highly nutritious food crops such as millet, sorghum and groundnut through breeding modernization.
  • Modern plant breeding tools to rapidly develop high-yielding, climate-resilient, drought-tolerant, disease/pest-resistant, and farmer/market-preferred improved sorghum, pearl millet and groundnut varieties.
  • Making make national value chains more competitive by:
    1) Promoting industrial/private sector financing of agricultural research;
    2) Supporting national policies that favor rebalancing of supply chains through multi-stakeholder PPPs that cover the entire value chain;
    3) Promoting  inclusive contractual agriculture schemes that ensure safe participation of smallholders into market-driven agriculture;
    4) Developing vocational training infrastructure that catalyzes the rural job market for youth employment.
  • Conducting cost-benefit analysis to determine value of digital solutions introduced in the wake of the pandemic-necessitated lockdowns.
  • Considering gender-specific constraints regarding access to land and finance, and increasing advocacy on increased access to land, finance and productive resources for women.
  • Assessing extent of price/changes in agricultural trade and market.

As a CGIAR research institution working towards better livelihoods for smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tropics, we are aware that now, more than ever, it is important to support them with mechanisms to ensure nutrition, food security and livelihoods. With our modern breeding programs and knowhow related to nutrition and climate-smart agriculture, we are ready with immediate as well as longer-term solutions to rebuild impacted food value chains.

We thank our partners and funders for their support, as we continue to push, as OneCGIAR, towards food and nutrition security across Africa and Asia.


Photo: F Fiondella, CCAFS

Photo: F Fiondella, CCAFS

Leveraging digital tools for adaptive food systems in India during the COVID-19 lockdown

A look at how digital tools and technologies have been and could be used to overcome coronavirus-related challenges to agricultural supply chains.

Despite many exemptions from lockdown, the agricultural sector in India has experienced major disruptions due to the COVID-19 crisis. Agriculture in India employs about 55% of the population and contributes roughly 17% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Therefore, functioning agricultural supply chains are necessary for the food and nutritional security of India.

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Furthermore, agriculture is a key engine that, alongside health and education, has the power to propel India and other developing countries toward reaching a number of the lofty Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030. The question then is, how can India and the governments, in particular, intervene in agricultural value chains to help cope with the shocks caused by the coronavirus pandemic?

Agricultural extension via mobile phones

The agricultural sector relies on a cadre of people who play key roles in technology transfer. These specialists are often referred to as field extension workers or agriculture extension officers, and, in most Indian states, they are employed by the Department of Agriculture.

Extension workers are typically assigned to a cluster of villages and responsible for undertaking workshops, training programs, or field demonstrations on good agriculture practices and technologies. Recently, a number of development agencies have also been appointing extension officers to cover areas that, until now, have not been reached by the government extension system.

Stringent physical distancing measures could adversely impact the functioning agriculture extension systems; extension workers might find it challenging to move across villages and gather farmers for trainings or other capacity building activities. However, in the immediate future, agricultural extension work can be done via mobile phones. Recent data on mobile phone penetration and network coverage is encouraging. While e-Extension has been happening in India for some time, the efforts have been exploratory in nature and never positioned as the sole method for transferring information and conducting trainings. In the current situation, phones and mobile networks might be the only means through which farmers can access meaningful advisory.

New models for contracting labor, accessing machinery, and soliciting services

Food supply chains from farm to fork are complex webs that involve producers, consumers, agriculture and fishery inputs, processors, transporters, and more. In a country like India, where over 80% of farmers are smallholders (owning less than two acres of land), both the input supply chains that cater to farmers’ input needs (seed, fertilizer, agro-chemicals) and the output supply chains that link farmers’ produce to consumer demands are highly intermediated.

Because food supply chains have traditionally been constrained for capital, there has been little automation or mechanization at various nodes along food value chains. Consequently, most activities are manual and labor intensive, and, therefore, dependent on local labor markets.

“While the system of food distribution and retailing in rich nations is organized and automated, systems in developing countries are ‘labor intensive,’ making these supply chains much more vulnerable to COVID-19 and social distancing regulations,” said Johan Swinnen, Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in the New York Times article “Instead of Coronavirus, the Hunger Will Kill Us.’ A Global Food Crisis Looms.”

With the breakdown of informal labor markets, it is not uncommon to hear of instances where farmers are unable to harvest their produce due to labor shortages. Both large-scale returns of migrant agricultural workers to their native villages and the restrictions placed on local workers are reasons for labor disruptions.

Over the past few years, Uber-style models of providing machinery as a service have emerged in a few pockets of the country. These startups were using digital platforms to aggregate demand and mobilize machinery in order to cost-effectively cater to the needs of farmers. There are also some encouraging machine-service model cases using drones to perform tasks like pesticide spraying.

These models have not yet out-performed the economic logic and convenience of local labor from the perspective of the smallholder farmer, but, as informal labor markets shrink, farmers might be more inclined to explore the Uber-style model of mechanization.

Further, governments and the development sector could explore the use of digital platforms to enable labor market functioning. For example, a digital platform could connect farmers and labor, minimizing the physical contact and crowding and, therefore, reducing the spread of the virus in informal labor markets.

An unintended positive outcome of digitizing aspects of the agricultural sector could be the formalization of informal economies, thereby providing governments with better data and the means to roll out targeted social interventions to protect farm labor.

Using digital platforms to decentralize markets and reduce contact

Labor issues are not only impacting the production side of agriculture but logistics and marketing activities as well. Nowhere is this more evident than at the critical nodes in the food supply chains like the spot markets or mandis.

Because Indian spot markets typically convene large crowds, especially during harvest times, governments are designing ad hoc measures to curb large gathering of farmers, traders, and shoppers. For instance, mandis in Punjab and Haryana are issuing tokens that indicate a specific time for the farmers to bring produce to market. There is also a cap on the quantity of produce they can sell. Farmers, however, are struggling to find workers to help load, transport, and unload produce at the mandi, therefore disrupting the efficiency of the spot markets.

When aggregated and considered in the longer term, these seemingly minor challenges could become serious threats to food security.

Dr Ramesh Chand, a prominent Indian agricultural economist and a policy maker, advised the government to relax the Agricultural Produce Market Committee (APMC) Act, which could legalize the sale of agri-produce at the farm gate. The stated objective of this recommendation was to minimize food supply chain disruptions in light of the subdued spot market functioning and reduce crowding at mandis.

If the APMC Act was altered in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, digital platforms could be an effective means to facilitate decentralized marketing and sale of agri-produce from the farm gate. For example, digital platforms could be designed to facilitate contract-farming arrangements and remotely monitor and control for quality. Activities like aggregation, packaging, transportation, and delivery could be scheduled in a way that minimizes contact in order to protect workers. These digital platforms could open digital sale opportunities for farmers who typically depend on spot markets to sell.

The shift to digital quality assessment, grading, assaying, and trust in procurement present bigger challenges. Quality assaying and grading of agri-produce is largely subjective, and although governments have been investing in assaying labs at mandis to gradually reduce human subjectivity, most traders prefer to physically inspect their produce. If markets were decentralized to the farm gate, there would also need to be a mechanism in place to remotely grade commodities and reduce the need for physical inspection. There is some promising imagine recognition technology that is viable for a few commodities, and work is ongoing to address challenges in a several other commodities where grades are dependent on the chemical composition of the product. Until a solution is found, blended digital platform models facilitate these activities at the farm gate.

Another emerging model of interest is farmers striking direct transactions with urban communities. A number of urban AgTech startups have leveraged this model, enabling farmers growing fresh produce within urban halos to find demand in city centers. In one instance, a group of 100 farmers in Siddipet, Telangana used WhatsApp, a digital messaging platform, to reach potential consumers in Hyderabad. The group of farmers was anchored by a key member who disseminated the message widely, compiled the orders, and ensured their deliveries. An in-depth look into how such a loose alliance of farmers leveraged simple tools to address supply and demand issues would be worthwhile. This could be an opportunity to templatize such initiatives through simple standard operating procedures so that other struggling farmers could be empowered by the same mechanisms.

Further, the crisis also gives government an opportunity to deploy warehouse-based sales through eNAM, a pan-India electronic trading portal. The concept of rural godowns, large warehouses within APMC premises, have been part of many government policies and plans of the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development. However, rural godowns have yet to gain momentum.

Due to the limited number of buyers and traders in the spot markets, farmers have to undertake distress sale to minimize their losses during the pandemic, but, if they had access to warehouses and godowns, they could store excess product and document the storage of their assets with electronic negotiable warehouse receipts. This receipt could be pledged by the farmer for immediate liquidity without the need to undertake a distress sale, and the produce sold once market demand returns. Digitally-enabled godowns would also have enhanced governments’ ability to procure goods at Minimum Support Price (MSP) and allowed for the transfer of funds directly into farmers’ bank accounts.

Digitizing input supply chains

The input supply chains which provide farmers access to seeds, fertilizers, chemicals, etc. could also see a mini digital revolution due to the consequences of COVID-19. Similar to the farm-to-fork supply chains, input supply chains are highly intermediated. There is a strong informal seed sector through which farmers access seeds. Though the sub-sectors of the agri-input value chains were exempt from lockdown measures, restrictions on labor and transportation could pose challenges. e-Commerce platforms that offer farm inputs could potentially reduce the impact of these disruptions, and the data made available by digitizing the market would be an added benefit.

Additionally, a whole host of other services and e-Extension could be provided to farmers utilizing e-Commerce platforms. These platforms could also be integrated with financial institutions to enable institutional credit access for smallholder farmers.

To conclude, digital tools and technologies pose viable methods for addressing some of the disruptions currently experienced by the agricultural sector. A number of the recommendations are largely applicable to other developing regions where agriculture is also characterized by a large number of smallholder farmers.

Although agriculture cannot do away with grassroots institutions and human interventions, digital technologies can play an important role in helping the sector overcome specific challenges posed by the pandemic.

And, faced with the possibility of extended lockdown measures, there couldn’t be a more opportune time for stakeholders to explore digital agricultural solutions.

Originally published on CGIAR Platform for Big Data

About the author:

Ram Dhulipala
Theme Leader,
Digital Agriculture & Youth
ICRISAT


 Left: Vegetable packing at Palacode Primary Processing Center (PPC), Krishnagiri district, Tamil Nadu Right: Banana cleaning and packing at Cumbum PPC, Theni district, Tamil Nadu.

Left: Vegetable packing at Palacode Primary Processing Center (PPC), Krishnagiri district, Tamil Nadu Right: Banana cleaning and packing at Cumbum PPC, Theni district, Tamil Nadu.

Finding the silver lining: Interesting supply chain models emerging during lockdown in Tamil Nadu, India

In a collaborative effort, ICRISAT, with the Department of Agriculture Marketing and Agribusiness, Government of Tamil Nadu, has overseen the implementation of the Tamil Nadu Supply Chain Management (TNSCM) project. Recently, they designed and executed initiatives to connect farmers, processors, retailers and consumers directly and swiftly in Tamil Nadu state. This could serve as a model to be scaled up in other regions too as India tries to assist farmers during the nationwide lockdown due to COVID-19.

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Under lockdown conditions, supply chains for fresh and perishable commodities are being adversely affected. Though the government has allowed traders and bulk buyers to buy perishable commodities like fruits and vegetables at farm gates to ease procurement, farmers are being offered very low prices for their produce.

On the other hand, consumers resorting to panic buying of large quantities of products has led to inconsistent supply, enabling intermediaries to exploit the situation, resulting in 30-40% higher price for the consumers. Establishing a direct linkage between farmers and consumers, which would ensure consistent supply and competitive prices to the consumers at their doorstep, would be ideal.

ICRISAT and Tamil Nadu government collaborative initiative

Over the past two years, TNSCM has established 64 Primary Processing Centers (PPCs) for fruits, vegetables and other perishables across 10 districts of Tamil Nadu.

On our recommendation, established PPCs were handed over to local Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) for their operations and management. As a result, FPOs are aggregating produce from their member farmers through PPCs and producer networks, selling directly to consumers through mobile shops and to private food marketing companies and HoReCa (Hotels; Restaurants; Café). For instance, the FPO Tamil Nadu Banana Producer Company Ltd. procures and packs vegetables at Pochampalli in Krishnagiri district, supplying 5-6 tons of fresh vegetables to Tamil Nadu Horticulture Development Authority’s (TANHODA), Adyar Ananda Bhavan, etc. It also manages the Cumbum PPC, exporting 100 tons of G9 Banana to Iran, Dubai and Saudi Arabia.

Totally, about 27 FPOs are aggregating almost 120 tons/day of fruits and vegetables directly from farmers.

Proactive initiatives to encourage new interventions

To create an enabling market and policy environment of business during these challenging times, the Tamil Nadu government passed a Government Order (GO) in April 2020 to facilitate the following:

  • A revolving fund of ₹ 3-5 lakhs (≈US$ 4000-6600) per FPO to eight FPOs with a total outlay of ₹ 32 lakhs (≈USD 42,250) from the Market Committee Funds for three months.
  • ₹ 10 lakhs (≈13,200 USD) under Mezzanine Capital Assistance Scheme for each eligible FPO involved in supply of fruits, vegetables and other essential commodities. The Capital Assistance provided in the first year can be redeemed at the end of the fifth year.
  • Waiver on rents for fruits and vegetables stored in the government-operated cold storage during the lockdown duration.
  • Waived market fees for transactions through government-regulated wholesale markets until the end of May 2020.

Emerging opportunities for inclusive, competitive supply chain models

Potential models to scale up from the current situation in Tamil Nadu have been presented here.

Case I: FPO-Retail-Consumer linkage

Ahimsa Agritech Producer Company Limited partnered with Vetri Farmers Producer Company Limited (Vetri FPCL) in Palacode. Vetri FPCL purchased fresh produce from local farmers. Produce was washed, sorted, graded and packed at the Palacode PPC facility. Ahimsa provided safe and hygienic delivery of fruits and vegetables to consumers, ensuring better prices to the farmers, even packing assorted vegetable combinations in cloth bags as per the consumer needs. These packs were door-delivered to consumers by retail partners e.g. Maasilla, Sowkea Agro. Ahimsa has been successful in packing and selling around 1500 combos of assorted vegetables and fruits per day. A delighted customer from Coimbatore, Mr Natarajan, said, “I booked fruits and vegetable combo pack through a mobile number given by Coimbatore corporation, made the payment online, and got good quality products the next day.”

Case II: Collective effort of FPOs

In Tiruchirapalli region, there are two shining cases of successful partnerships between FPOs:

Agathiar Farmer Producer Company Limited, which operates Manachanallur PPC, has partnered with Sri Suriyaa Vegetables and Fruits Farmers Producer Company Limited, for the purchase, aggregation and packaging of different vegetables to form combinations. Combo packs of 6-6.5 kg were packed and sold door-to-door in the region.

Anaimalais Coconut Producer Company Limited and Sri Suriyaa FPC came together for sourcing, primary processing, packaging two different kinds of combo packs such as fruit and vegetable baskets and supply to online orders of the Coimbatore City Municipal Corporation.

Case III: FPO-Zomato linkage

Apart from the regular mobile shops to reach households, the team from ICRISAT initiated the process of connecting FPOs involved in the packing/sales of vegetable combos to the online food delivery platform Zomato, with two possible models that can be used (yet to be tested on the ground).

Model A: The FPO’s offering will be listed on the Zomato app at the specified location. While Zomato will serve as a facilitator to aggregate orders, the FPOs will carry out deliveries, with Zomato’s delivery module serving as a local guide to reach customers free of cost. This model will have only cash on delivery orders.

Model B: FPOs list themselves as sellers on Zomato (like any restaurant), and start selling their offerings as per their rate list. Zomato executives pick up, deliver and collect payments in real time.  This model has got a highly positive reception as it reduces field exposure of retailing FPOs’ sales force. The ICRISAT team trained FPOs on how to run business in the app, including receiving orders and delivering them to Zomato executives within five minutes or fewer.

Case IV: Government e-commerce initiative for fresh produce

The Government of Tamil Nadu has set up a portal, www.ethottam.com, (Thottam = Garden in Tamil) managed by TANHODA, for online sale of retail combo packs to consumers in Chennai. FPOs in the TNSCM project for fruits, vegetables, and other perishables are doing the sourcing, consolidation, and supply for e-thottam. Anaimalais Coconut Producer Company Limited supplied about 5100 packs – about 35 tons – to the portal in just a week since the launch.

Post-lockdown interventions assessment

Once the lockdown is removed, we will analyze the above initiatives. Competitive supply chains that were successful in connecting farmers to consumers without intermediaries may be robust enough for continued use, with research to support scaling up strategies. Successful FPOs may be supported through special incentives to capitalize on their experiences.

Zomato team pick up the order for delivery in Coimbatore. Photo: T Muthukumar, ICRISAT

Zomato team pick up the order for delivery in Coimbatore. Photo: T Muthukumar, ICRISAT

Further, the Ministry of Agriculture and Farmer’s Welfare has taken steps to promote FPOs across the country to streamline the consolidation of land as well as the integration of smallholders into the agricultural value chain. Currently, more than 6500 FPOs (including 3000 registered) are operating across the country. The success of any FPO is dependent on many factors, including prevailing policy and business environment in specific states. Therefore, we need to collate success stories of FPOs from different states emerging from the pandemic so as to analyze and create effective scale-up strategies for the future.

About the authors:

Dr S Nedumaran
Senior Economist,
Innovation Systems for the Drylands,
ICRISAT

Mr S Aravazhi
COO,
Agribusiness and Innovation Platform,
ICRISAT

Dr Ravi Nandi
Agricultural Economist,
Innovation Systems for the Drylands,
ICRISAT

with support from ground team of AIP-ICRISAT based in Chennai (Mr T Muthukumar, Mr Suriya Kiran and Mrs Pratibha Bisht)

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
2-zero-hunger 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals 


Photo: T Smith, TIGR2ESS

Photo: T Smith, TIGR2ESS

Double burden of COVID-19: Declining livelihood opportunities and aspiration failure among poor people

The COVID-19 pandemic is not only a health crisis but an economic crisis too. In particular, the anxiety and fear COVID-19 has created among the poor is unprecedented. It has also created a double burden for this group; loss of income now and loss of hope, or aspirations, for the future. Here, Dr Ravi Nandi and Dr S. Nedumaran from Flagship Project 1 at ICRISAT examine the evidence for policies to improve aspirations in times of crisis.

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In India about 91% of the total 465 million workers work in the informal sector. These groups have irregular incomes and are highly vulnerable to economic slowdown and health crisis. In the past two years, the Indian economy has been slowing down and the current COVID-19 pandemic crisis is compounding the impact. Millions of people now fear losing their jobs due to the extra pressure COVID-19 is placing on India’s economy.

The crisis is affecting different regions of India disproportionately due to regional differences in resource endowments, unemployment levels, and agrarian distress. Currently, of the 739 districts in the country, around 300 districts are unaffected by COVID-19 and another 300 reported only a few cases.

Notably, in rural areas, seasonal migrants, smallholder farmers, the landless, and daily wage labourers are being severely affected as most of them depend on additional income from the informal sector. Many of these workers take on jobs in construction, as taxi and auto rickshaw drivers, or in petty shops etc. The central and various state governments have announced relief to support the poor, but the measures are not adequate. To make matters worse, many of the millions of migrant labourers who returned back to their villages from major cities have not received any relief at all, and have started competing with local daily wage labourers for work amidst uncertainty of returning back to cities.

Untold economic damage

During the extended country wide lockdown many medium and small industries were closed. Employees do not know whether these businesses will reopen and if so, how many of them will then lose their jobs. Due to the wider global economic crisis, several industries and multi national companies in India have scaled down their operations, meaning many development projects may not take off or may be delayed due to budget reallocation to manage the pandemic.

Assessing the economic damage is very difficult as no one knows how long the lockdown will last. Several predictions suggest that the pandemic may last for few months to a year in many countries, and that there could be one or a series of waves of infection. The lockdown has already created a lot of pressure on India’s economy. Prolongation of lockdown may further accelerate economic slowdown and so push the poor into a vicious cycle of poverty. It is this uncertainty that is causing a sense of no hope for the future among the poor.

Communities are losing hope

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic the TIGR2ESS team at ICRISAT spoke with many people in our research site villages over the phone. We spoke with people engaged in the informal sector who had returned recently to their village from urban areas and asked the following two questions:

What is the most important thing that you wished to attain in the next two years?

Will you able to attain what you had planned? If no, why do you think you could not attain it?

Our interviews with the villagers revealed that COVID-19 shocks on economic activities and the labour market have led to uncertainities about the future. In response to our questions, one farmer from Warangal rural district of Telangana told us:

“I had a plan to invest in a micro irrigation system in my farm to expand the area under irrigation to grow high-value crops. However, due to the lockdown I left two acres of tomato crop unharvested and now I cannot even think of my planned investment in irrigation for next two years.”

Many newly graduated youths in the villages, who had been waiting to get their dream job, now find their dreams shattered. Many others may lose their hopes of persuing higher education altogether. A migrant factory worker who returned to the village from Hyderabad city, said:

“My son is a bright student and completing his 10th exams this year in my village. I had a plan to take him to Hyderabad for pre-university education. However, due to the current pandemic crisis and lockdown, I didn’t receive my last month’s salary. Now I cannot dare to take my son to the city as I’m not sure how long this situation will continue and even not sure I will have a job.”

Building aspirations is key

The lack of hope in the future and low aspirations are typical characteristics of poor people. ‘Aspiration’ is a psychological concept but empirical evidences demonstrate that poverty analysis is incomplete if it does not consider the aspirations of the poor and analyze the challenges they face in attaining these aspirations.

The 2019 Noble laureate Esther Duflo reported that low aspirations among the poor result in fewer investments to bring about a more prosperous future; if the poor don’t see a tomorrow in which their well-being can be better than today, they do not make an effort to improve it. As a result, they become trapped in poverty. A growing body of literature also reveals that sudden shocks such as the COVID-19 pandemic could hamper the long term economic prospects of the poor.

Evidence suggests that the development of social safety programmes could build the resilience of the poor and help people to recover from the shocks . Further, various IFPRI studies in rural Pakistan and Ethiopia suggested that having higher aspirations helps build resilience through greater productive investments in their livelihoods. When people believe that they have no control over what is happening in their lives, they aspire to achieve less. This suggests that public policies and governance aimed at boosting aspirations during times of crisis could support people to achieve better outcomes.

How to boost individual’s aspirations?

To raise the aspirations of poor who are badly affected by the pandemic, efforts must essentially focus on social protection programmes covering all those affected in the informal sector. In particular, the livelihood and material well-being of the most affected people during the crisis. The Government’s current relief schemes, which are one size fits all, do not address the underlying regional differences outlined above, instead need for programs according to local conditions.

One effective way of raising aspirations is to quickly analyze the benefits and drawbacks of existing programmes or relief schemes and fix the gaps with appropriate social protection programs. Bring the confidence and hope among the poor in their future by communicating that government is with them in a difficult time.

The Indian government, through addressing the nation at regular intervals and announcing relief measures, is making an effort to bring hope and confidence to those affected. In an unprecented move, Prime Minister Modi spoke with several Gram Panchayat Sarpach (Chairman) across the country; this never happened before in this world’s largest democracy.

But how much information from government is reaching the poor? Could more be done at a household level? Existing networks could be used much more extensively to reach households to distribute aid and create awareness about the welfare programmes available to workers during this pandemic. Such activities would bring much clarity for the poor about their future.

Policy must be evidence-based

To better inform policymakers on appropriate programmes which can build resilience in aspirations, more research within communities is needed. Such research could help create new effective development programmes and social protection policies for use during any future natural disaster.

Our work at ICRISAT, for the TIGR2ESS programme, is well placed to understand the effects of COVID-19 on the aspirations of rural communities. We are planning a follow up survey at our research sites in the rural, peri-urban and tribal areas of Telangana to understand how aspirations have changed among those who received government relief and those who did not. With this work, we are hoping to provide evidence-based policy advice to government or development agencies to design appropriate programmes to improve the well-being of the poor.

Originally published on the TIGR2ESS blog.

About the Authors

Dr S Nedumaran
Senior Scientist – Economics
Markets, Institutions, Nutrition & Diversity,
Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program,
ICRISAT

Dr Ravi Nandi
Associate Scientist (Agricultural Economics),
Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program
ICRISAT

Views expressed are authors own.


A technician inspecting a sorghum/pigeonpea intercrop trial in Salima district, Malawi. Photo: L Lazarus, ICRISAT

A technician inspecting a sorghum/pigeonpea intercrop trial in Salima district, Malawi. Photo: L Lazarus, ICRISAT

A four-pronged plan to secure farming communities in Eastern and Southern Africa

ICRISAT is working with an array of development partners in Eastern and Southern Africa to build resilient and sustainable farming systems in the region in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. It presents a four-dimensional plan – diversification of farming systems, seed accessibility, capacity building and gender integration – through which it aims to continue supporting vulnerable farming communities.

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Building on its experience with its existing partner networks, ICRISAT’s market-oriented and partnership-based projects can alleviate the pandemic-related stresses on communities through these four interventions:

Diversification of farming systems for improved resilience and profitability

Over the years, ICRISAT has developed an array of technologies suitable for sustainable intensification. These technologies, including multiple cropping combinations such as groundnut/pigeonpea to targeted cereal-based farming systems, can help build smallholder farmers’ resilience to climate variability and post-pandemic shocks, making farming more profitable. These diversification efforts can be re-packaged to enhance adaptation to shocks.

Enhancing access to seed at scale of grain legumes and dryland cereals

Through community seed banks and other tested approaches, ICRISAT is scaling out quality declared seed of legume and dryland cereals that improve smallholder farmers reliance at this time of crisis. The seed bank model also supports grain aggregation, which is key to market integration, towards supporting the farmers to grow their incomes as they deliver food to their community.

Building capacity of partners to promote technologies in a participatory manner

A multi-level strategy to build the capacity of different partners – including government officers, community-based organizations, and local leaders including women – has been instrumental in the partners now supporting operations in areas that have now become beyond reach, due to COVID-19.

Gender integration and empowerment to engage actively in agribusinesses

The COVID-19 pandemic has further aggravated challenges faced by women, youth and other vulnerable groups. ICRISAT programs are helping improve the resilience of such vulnerable groups by ensuring their participation in livelihood-strengthening activities, such training on climate-smart agriculture, engaging them in seed production as a business, and targeting them for training in business development. This has helped increase their asset base and improve their access and control over productive resources.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nation, COVID-19-induced breakdowns in the food supply chain represent serious concerns for food and nutrition security in Africa. In Malawi, 1.9 million people are already in need of food assistance, despite experiencing a good growing season, with maize, the staple crop, project to yield 25% above the previous five-year average. Ensuring food and nutrition security for a growing population while adjusting to an overall net increase of pandemics and disasters is a major global challenge.

ICRISAT’s efforts are a step in the direction of meeting this challenge.

For more on our work in seed systems, click here.

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


Millet processing facility at Terra Green, a millet enterprise

Millet processing facility at Terra Green, a millet enterprise

Let’s not forget the quality of food in crisis, millet entrepreneurs speak out

Pan-India survey highlights areas for government intervention

A recent survey of millet entrepreneurs across India has revealed challenges and areas of intervention for the government including promoting healthy foods, GST exemption, more options for online selling among others, during and post lockdown.

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The highest priority help the millet entrepreneurs requested both during and post lockdown was for the government to promote and support healthy food, which includes millet. Nearly 80% requested this for post lockdown, some suggesting programs like the government runs for eggs and milk. A few suggestions made for promoting millet and supporting millet enterprises were inclusion of millet in the mid-day meal schemes and allow Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) to play a role in providing the food for mid-day meals and to poor sections of the community.

About 70% of the companies expressed the need for ensuring the economic stimulus includes entrepreneurs and exempting SMEs from Goods and Services Tax (GST). An additional suggestion to support healthy and sustainable foods was “exempt [from GST] all millet based products if millet content more than say 40%”.

Another priority request was to help provide more online selling options. Though nearly half the respondents said they had fewer channels to sell through during the lockdown, the survey clearly showed that the SMEs would vest faith in e-commerce after lockdown. Over 50% of the respondents sought more options for online sale while 66% said they will explore new online channels post lockdown.

The biggest challenge identified during lockdown was supply chain and logistics related issues, which are consistent across all industries. But surprisingly, even post-lockdown about 80% of the entrepreneurs expected supply chain logistics continuing to be the biggest challenge. Close to this was the challenge of availability of funds/working capital.

Priority identified for the government to help, after promotion and support of healthy food, were both to simplify/assist the process of obtaining permission to operate and allowing more transportation (prioritized by over 60% of companies).

For the survey, responses from SMEs in 11 cities having business operations in 24 states and Union Territories was collected as part of the Smart Food initiative, founded by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). The results are being discussed with the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), which is working to address challenges faced by the industry.

“Post COVID, millet as a healthy alternative option will grow in demand. Also, millet does not consume fresh water to the extent rice does, making its cultivation a sustainable food alternative,” said Mr P Ravichandran, Chairman of the Agriculture and Food Processing Sub-Committee, CII Southern Region.

Union and state governments across India have been recognizing the value of millets, especially since 2018, when a National Year of Millets was declared followed by establishment of a Millet Mission.

Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, emphasizes, “Agribusiness is important to ensure agriculture is successful and profitable. Agribusiness and agriculture go together and support for both is important. With COVID-19, we are recognizing this even more through challenges across the value chain.”

Green Revolution halted starvation but brought nutritional and environmental concerns with it. During the COVID-19 crisis, supporting sustainable practices, healthy food and its producers, and the entrepreneurs who are pioneers in bringing healthy, convenient and tasty food to the table is essential.

In the media – about COVID-19


DNN Africa: Africa’s most vulnerable are called to bear the brunt of a pandemic

Securing farming communities through and after COVID-19 is a priority

One of world’s harshest terrains for farming threatens to crumble under COVID-19. West Africa’s farmer collectives, small businesses and other stakeholders in agriculture reveal their plight as rains approach and call out for support through logistics facilitation, digital extension, awareness creation and financial backstopping to prevent food, nutrition security and livelihoods going downhill.

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“It is real” – the need for awareness

“Farmers have varying perceptions about the pandemic. While some believe it is real, others believe it is a doing of governments. However, they all agree on one thing: the response to the pandemic has affected everybody because all activities have slowed down,” notes Yalaly Traore, a member of Local Union of Cereal Producers in Dioila, Mali.

“We initiated awareness campaigns for preventive measures because we noticed that our producers were not informed adequately,” says Nasser Aichatou Salifou of Ainoma Seed Farm in Niger. “Currently, farmers’’ concern is whether they can go to the field when the rains come. Awareness campaigns should be increased to educate farmers are they are not adequately informed and then those who have access to social media have wrong information.”

Logistics – the seed of hardship

Farmer cooperatives are among the worst hit as they are unable to dispose of their seed stock, which they produced with borrowed capital.

“We cannot go to market to sell our seeds and it is difficult to reach our farmers. Also, because of social distancing, we cannot engage sufficiently big workforce for weeding or applying fertilizers. If this continues, we may have to decrease our acreage in production,” says a worried El Hadj Abdul Razak of Heritage Seeds Company, a farmer-centric organization in Ghana.

Suddenly, without flights, orders for inputs including seeds, sprayers and pesticides that are usually imported to countries like Mali are now not possible. Restrictions in transport makes any local procurement of inputs difficult.

“Rising cost of haulage and cost of inputs have doubled due to non-availability of labor. We are trying to create an online presence for sales and increase machines to reduce human labor. It takes almost two weeks to move goods from Kano to Ibadan in Nigeria due to interstate issues and bad vehicles,” Stella Thomas of Techni Seeds Limited in Nigeria points out.

Among the implications are a costly delay in certification of seeds, explains Coulibaly Maimouna Sidibe of Faso Kaba Seed Company, a predominantly women-run seed organization in Mali. “This will lead to a lack of availability of seed for the production of certified seeds by individual farmers, associations and cooperatives,” she adds. Any dip in quality of seeds entering farms can jeopardize incomes and food security.

The pandemic has also hit seed systems in Senegal, according to El Hadj Ibrahima Diouf of Jambar, an economic interest group or Groupe d’Interet Economique. “The seeds we produced last year still need to be certified, packaged and distributed to farmers. All the processes has been stopped due to the pandemic, while the rainy season is about to start,” he said.

Recently, the international non-profit association, CORAF, called for a concerted effort to ensure access to certified seeds of major staple food crops in the West Africa and Sahel region to soften the impact of the pandemic on agriculture.

Digital Extension – the elephant in the room

“About 80% of smallholder farmers we work with are at risk of losing their dry season investments as a result of the lockdown. Farmers are left without field demonstrations as skeletal visit-and-train extension services is all there is. They are unable to apply critical second-phase urea fertilizers and necessary pesticides. We fear they cannot feed their families or the nation,” rues Hajia Salamatu Garba of the Women Farmers Advancement Network in Nigeria.

Digital extension services are yet to come of age in rural Africa, even as rest of the world accustoms itself to a new norm – social distancing and increasing reliance on digital technologies.

“Most farmers like me do not have smartphones and other virtual platforms that those in the cities are using to connect. Therefore, we are very concerned about missing the season’s activities,” Fanta Diamoutene, of a women farmers group in Mali’s Farakala says echoing the concerns of farmers.

Financial backstopping

As the rainy season approaches, farmers’ collectives and small seed enterprises cannot weather the pandemic without financial support, the stakeholders say, and Ms Garba adds support is needed for six months post lockdown. The price of agricultural inputs like fertilizers and herbicides is increasing, and an impending shortage is likely to further limit availability and drive costs up.

Funding support is key to help African food producers adjust to the new norm by taking precautions to prevent contamination. Many of the stakeholders interviewed said they are not in a position to make prevention kits – masks, sanitizers or handwashing soaps, available to all their members. Seeing how most countries in the region are affected, NGOs like Malian Awakening Association for Sustainable Development look hopefully beyond the region to mitigate the fallout from the pandemic. He thinks this pandemic is also an opportunity to explore new ideas such as the use of digital solutions. “We must use this crisis as an opportunity to refresh our approaches and technologies” he concludes.

A three stage robust plan to secure farming communities through and after COVID-19

Recently ICRISAT has developed a three stage robust plan to secure farming communities through and after COVID-19 in for West and Central Africa. Taking on ICRISAT’s mission to “reduce poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation in the dryland tropics” as framework, our investments in agricultural programmes will assist rural and urban communities to become more self-reliant, mitigate the impact of covid-19 sanitary shock by contributing to ensure more sustainable food systems and food security.

“Keeping a loop the comparative advantage of crop improvement programs, in the recovery phase, ICRISAT’s interventions  in West and Central Africa will prioritize on increasing of agricultural production through adequate warehousing and supply of targeted breeder seed to ensure continued support in production of quality certified seed in partnership with selected Seed Companies and Farmers’ cooperatives. The institute is also ready to provide assistance to development and food aid programs targeting relief interventions through digital platforms that can remotely monitor crop and environmental conditions, farming activity, commodity prices and supply chain transactions from remote” says Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional and Research Program Director of ICRISAT in West and Central Africa.

About the Author:  

Agathe Diama,
Head – Regional Information,
ICRISAT – West and Central Africa

This article also appeared in the following publications:


A farmer applies micronutrients to the soil in Nabarangpur district, Odisha. Photo: ICRISAT

A farmer applies micronutrients to the soil in Nabarangpur district, Odisha. Photo: ICRISAT

The Pioneer: Successful partnership with Odisha Government for effective agri strategy in times of COVID-19

Working closely with the Government of Odisha, ICRISAT has helped develop a mitigation strategy for agriculture for COVID-19-related challenges. It involves safeguarding harvest-ready crops, arranging for distribution of perishables and preparing for the next crop season.

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COVID-19 could not have caught India at a more vulnerable moment. Starting April, Indian farms go into mission mode to be able to feed a billion plus people within and millions more outside for the rest of the year. That COVID-19 may compromise the mission warrants strategies extraordinaire.

Odisha’s response plan is to meet the virus head-on despite being spared of its wrath; it had reported just 160 positive cases and one death at the time of writing this. That, however, has not left it complacent. For, Odisha, an agrarian state that witnessed impressive growth in crop productivity and farm income in recent years while being disproportionately affected by extreme weather, disparity in farm incomes and high dependence on labor intensive crop production, has much at stake. Agriculture engages nearly two-thirds of the state’s workforce and is worth ` 75,800 crore annually.

Given the stakes, ICRISAT, which is working with Odisha Government to help farmers recover from the cyclone Fani, and boost crop productivity as well as farm incomes by improving the state’s soils, developed a COVID-19 response strategy. The strategy is going into action in parts of Odisha and may have lessons for the rest of India.

To outline it, the strategy aims to secure Odisha’s Rabi crop, help perishable produce continuously find takers and ensure Kharif preparation progresses unhindered.

Securing the standing crop

As COVID-19 reduced workforce availability and mandates physical distancing to lower risk of spread, machines had to be efficiently pressed into service. With efficient deployment of machines and where available, human workforce, harvesting of Rabi crop has been near complete.

After harvesting and primary processing at the farm gate, procurement of the produce is to begin with the state’s efforts, mainly in transportation to secondary processing units. It was suggested that railway wagons be converted into mobile procurement centers and run through major railway stations at district and block levels to augment road transport. It was estimated that 450 trains of 30 wagons each would be needed to procure 7.5 lakh tons of paddy from just 38 critical blocks of the 295 paddy-producing blocks.

These blocks were mapped with Odisha’s railway network to plan procurement routes. The critical blocks were further classified as high, medium and low criticality depending on their produce estimates. Further mapping revealed that these critical blocks clustered around districts like Bargarh, Subarnapur, Baleswar, Kalahandi and Koraput. Criticality was attributed to these blocks as it was estimated that they can produce a surplus of 90% over local consumption, which, if not procured on priority basis, can lead to distress sale.

If enough railway wagons can’t be arranged in time, the state could consider procuring the marketable surplus at doorsteps of farmers or call them to designated procurement centers (say, through SMS alerts) to avoid crowding. Decentralized procurement beyond mandis may require suitable amendments to the Odisha Agricultural Produce Marketing Act. Returnee migrants as well as local agricultural labourers could assist in these operations while following COVID-19 risk management guidelines.

Vitally, the Government has to permit functioning of processing units with distancing and sanitization measures, besides providing health insurance cover to those involved in the operations at this time.

Maintaining supply chains for perishable commodities

Bottlenecks in supply are severely affecting producers even as consumers are distressed by having to pay more and make do with reduced availability of fruit and vegetable. Perishable commodities will have to be aggregated at the village level or by FPOs (and by large number of self-help groups, promoted under the Mission Shakti in Odisha) with a view to target local promotion of 50% of the produce.

Air-conditioned railway coaches/refrigerated transport can be used to ferry remaining produce to distant markets, besides activating local cold storage units for temporary storage. It was shown that one AC train with 14 coaches would be required to lift around 177 tonnes of vegetables and 457 tons of mango every day from Koraput, which is one of the major producers in the state. Permitting secondary food processing units can further help the produce find takers.

Facilitating Kharif preparations

Like in Rabi, there is a heightened need for mechanization to complete ploughing, seed bed preparation and seeding or transplantation for Kharif. An inventory of machinery at the block level based on the requirement was suggested. Estimates were drawn up for Cuttack to show that 5,350 tractor equivalents for ploughing and 5,618 for puddling were required for a total of 2.2 lakh hectares in the district. Similarly, 3,219 and 3,380 tractor equivalents for ploughing and puddling respectively would be required in Bargarh.

Estimates for requirement of high-yielding varieties of seeds of paddy, groundnut, green gram, black gram and pigeonpea were also provided for Bargarh. For paddy alone, based on recommended seed rate and area sown during Kharif 2019, 14,045 tons would be required. Similar recommendations were made for paddy and chillies in Cuttack.

The two districts were also used as examples to demonstrate fertilizer requirement based on area sown during last Kharif and recommended doses for nitrogen, phosphorus, potash, boron, zinc and sulphur. ICRISAT was able to make dose recommendations as it had analyzed around 40,000 soil samples in the state over the last two years.

The COVID-19 strategy made use of cloud-based applications to draw up farm-level inventories for equipment, labor requirement, seed and fertilizer requirement aggregation as well as output aggregation with market linkages. Its success hinges on the Government ’s ability to coordinate the response bottom-up – from village to the state-level.

For a state with a record in efficient handling of natural calamities, the COVID-19 should be just another challenge to repeating its success.

Click here for the complete report on this initiative.

We thank Dr Moses Shyam D, Dr Mukund Patil, Dr Gajanan Sawargaonkar, Dr Girish Chander, Dr Aviraj Datta, Dr Rohan Khopade, Dr Venkataradha Akuraju, Dr Mahadeva Reddy K and Dr PK Mishra for preparing the strategy plan.

Read more in this article, originally published in The Pioneer.

About the authors:

Dr AK Padhee
Director – Country Relations and Business Affairs
ICRISAT

Dr Sreenath Dixit
Head, ICRISAT Development Center (IDC)
ICRISAT

Mr Rohit Pillandi
Senior Communications Officer
ICRISAT

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
2-zero-hunger 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals 


Women winnowing wheat in a Punjab village. Photo: AV Jakhar

Women winnowing wheat in a Punjab village. Photo: AV Jakhar

Nature India: Lessons from a pandemic to repurpose India’s agricultural policy

As the coronavirus crisis triggers a large-scale exodus of migrant agricultural workers from India’s food basket, it’s time the country diversified beyond labor- and water-intensive crops, say Dr Arabinda K Padhee and Prof Prabhu Pingali.

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Television footages of hundreds of migrant laborers walking for thousands of kilometres amidst India’s country-wide lockdown shook the collective conscience of a nation this April. In the absence of livelihoods, shelters and square meals, these laborers desperately wanting to get back to their home states portrayed the vulnerability of India’s massive unorganised agricultural workforce.

Agriculture, food and nutrition have come into sharp focus as a fallout of the COVID-19 crisis in India. Though the pandemic may not have caused serious disruption to the food system, thanks to good harvests in the previous crop seasons and sufficient buffers of rice and wheat, this is as good a time as any to reboot the country’s agricultural policy, already facing the traditional twin challenges of climate change and malnutrition.

India’s nine-week-long lockdown has raised serious concerns about the reduced access to nutritious food by those living in the fringes. Agricultural operations have remained out of the purview of the lockdown restrictions,which started on 25 March 2020. A couple of days into the lockdown, India declared a slew of welfare measures to protect vulnerable people, including smallholder farmers, agricultural laborers and migrant workers. However, to make food accessible and affordable to the poor, the government will need to step up its game many folds.

In the last couple of decades, climate change – extreme weather events, loss of biodiversity, diminishing natural resources, land degradation and desertification – has impacted the agriculture sector profoundly. Add to that the burden of malnutrition. These challenges have now been exacerbated by the uncertainties around how the COVID-19 pandemic will finally play out.

Tweaking policy and investments

To transform the food systems in India following the COVID-19 pandemic, the government will urgently need to repurpose existing agricultural policies.

India’s policy regimes like the Minimum Support Price (MSP) and the Public Distribution Systems (PDS), coupled with subsidies on irrigation, power, and farm inputs, are skewed in favor of staple crops like rice and wheat. Even though some climate-resilient and nutritious cereals like sorghum and millets get some support pricing, this seems ineffective as the policy is biased in favor of the “big two” staples.

In the past, policy watchers have suggested crop diversification to correct such legacy incentives. But how do you convince farmers to switch to a new production system without the promise of a stable income, however environmentally sustainable or nutrition-laden the proposed new regime may be? Farmers will make the transition only with suitable financial incentives, a strong value chain and new consumer behavior. COVID-19 may have opened up an opportunity to effect these changes as the country emerges out history’s biggest lockdown.

In fact, before the pandemic, India had a solid case for increasing investments in the animal husbandry sector, given the rising domestic demand for meat, dairy products and eggs.

In these uncertain times, it makes double the sense for smallholder farmers, landless poor and jobless agricultural laborers who have found their way back home to rear small ruminants, backyard poultry, and aquaculture for additional income.

The reverse migration of laborers from states like Haryana and Punjab during the current COVID pandemic offers a unique opportunity for these states to undo the historical wrong of supporting unsustainable, water- and labour-intensive cropping patterns. The good news amidst the crisis is that these states have started promoting non-paddy crops with lesser water footprints like maize and cotton for the forthcoming rainy season. This should also help bypass experienced labour-intensive farm operations such as transplanting paddy.

About the authors:

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


Prof Prabhu Pingali
Member, Governing Board
ICRISAT


Photo: Liam Wright, ICRISAT

Down to Earth: COVID-19 calls for renewed focus on eating right and natural

Post-COVID-19 scenario offers a unique opportunity to seize the moment and repurpose policies towards a food system that is resilient and sustainable.

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India has achieved significant poverty reduction in the last couple of years and the middle-class has burgeoned considerably.

World Economic Forum research and consumer survey predicted that by 2030, India will no longer be an economy led by the bottom of the pyramid, but by the midlle-class. It stated that 80 per cent of Indian households will be middle-income and will drive 75 per cent of consumer spending.

There is need to boost our immune systems, especially in the wake of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. Medicines can’t fix our immune systems; our lifestyle and what we eat will only help. Several new initiatives such as Eat Right and Smart Food have enhanced demand for healthier and nutritious foods.

India is a nutri-basket of nutri-dense plant-based foods. We need to ensure these are safe, accessible and affordable to all.

Even before the present pandemic, demand for natural and organic products in India was on the rise. Availability of organic food stuff and products grown under natural systems (of agriculture) has increased manifold. This is manifested by very steep growth in market share of natural (and ayurvedic) products and a corresponding alignment to the trend by competing with multinational companies.

The general observation is that the aspirational consumers are going back to nature and natural products to live healthier and longer.

The prevalence of malnutrition in India as revealed from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS) and the latest Comprehensive National Nutrition Survey (CNNS) needs special attention from policymakers to address the complex challenge. Empirical studies indicate that malnutrition contributes to most of the country’s child deaths, as well as disability in adults.

The CNNS data showed that overweight, obesity, and even early non-communicable diseases, are no longer confined to the adult population.  Saving the productive populations of the future requires a serious focus on nutrition. The lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic has raised serious concerns on reduced access to nutritious foods by the vulnerable sections of the society.

The environmental trade-offs from agricultural intensification through green revolution technologies are now well-recognised.  Depleting water resources; loss of biodiversity and soil degradation / desertification are immediate concerns in the food production systems.

With the climate change looming large, now exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the government needs to reorient agriculture policies to make the food systems sustainable, while meeting the food security and nutrition challenges for a growing population.

What could drive such a change? How could public policies ensure that safe and nutritious foods are made available, accessible and affordable to the vulnerable sections of the society? How can public policies in unison ensure the farming of more nutritious and safe foods while also sustainably managing the environment’s natural resources? What could be the pathways to incentivise this food systems transformation?

As mentioned earlier, post-COVID-19 offers a unique opportunity to seize the moment and repurpose policies towards a food system that is resilient and sustainable.

The growing consumer demand for healthier and nutritious food has to be intensified through consumer awareness programmes, respecting the culture, taste, food preference, etc.  Food safety standards through food labelling and incentives have to be built in the government schemes and programmes. POSHAN Abhiyaan (National Nutrition Mission); Eat Right India; Millet Mission and Swachch Bharat Abhiyaan are examples for convergence of relevant activities aimed at creating a mass movement towards good nutrition outcomes.

Businesses need to also be encouraged to make responsible investments to transform food systems.

Even though many staple and non-staple food crops are long known to be nutritious and good for growth of individuals, food and agriculture policies in many parts of the world are stuck in the ‘Big3’ staples (rice, wheat and maize).

In India, for decades, the Minimum Support Price and public procurement policies have ignored the diversity of crops and skewed in favour of staples such as rice and wheat. The enhanced production of these food crops might have taken care of the calorie requirements, but the double-burden of under-nutrition and micro-nutrient deficiency has risen further.

Crops such as sorghum, millets and pulses not only have less water demand in comparison to rice and wheat, they also have significant benefits owing to higher percentage of micro-nutrients and protein.

A woman farmer carries soghum.

A woman farmer carries soghum.

Moreover, millet grains have a low glycemic index, particularly compared to staples like refined rice, that makes them a good alternative staple for managing or preventing diabetes.

Richness of millets in micro-nutrients can be gauged from the fact that few of them could be natural substitutes to correct micro-nutrient deficiencies in an individual.   For example, finger millet (ragi) has three times more calcium than milk; and pearl millet, another popular nutri-cereal, has highest amount of folate amongst cereals.

Similarly, kodo millet is high in dietary fibres — thrice as much as in wheat or maize and ten times than in rice. Additionally, sorghum and millets are gluten-free. They are often termed as smart food being “good for you, the planet and the farmer” and are fast becoming food choices for aspiring and health-conscious consumers.

Various kinds of daal have been the main source of protein intake in India besides fish and meat for the non-vegetarian segment of the population. Legumes are also an affordable protein source; however, many are not a complete protein source as they are low in one of the essential amino acids methionine.

A recent study showed that millets and legumes combined provide a complete protein, highly digestible and power-packed nutrients. The recent growth in production of major pulse crops is indeed a significant achievement and government must sustain this near self-sufficiency through specific policies and research breakthroughs.

Plant-based protein and meat alternatives are fast catching up in the West. In India, too, consumption of fruits and vegetables and dairy products is growing and this is a good indication on the nutrition sensitivity of Indian agriculture.

Bio-fortification of food crops is now employed to enrich the nutrient profile. Zinc- and protein-rich rice and high protein quality and vitamin-A rich maize varieties have been developed and released by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRSAT) has developed and released India’s first bio-fortified sorghum variety, Parbhani Shakti in Maharashtra.  In Post-COVID-19 scenario, enhanced investments on research and innovation in this sector could be an effective pathway to boost the health and immune systems of the citizens.

Research efforts in major crops including non-staples would prove very cost-effective and sustainable solution to address micro-nutrient deficiencies in the population. Government programs like PDS, MDM, and ICDS are the best possible delivery channels to leverage healthier and nutritious food products in India.

A recent scientific study has shown that mid-day-meals served with millet-based products found 50 per cent faster growth in children in comparison to those eating the usual rice-based meals.

Interestingly, as often referred to by economists in food and nutrition discourses, Bennett’s law seems to be very much operating right now for most Indians — as proportion of starchy staples in their diets is going down while income levels are rising.

Post-COVID-19 pandemic is the right time to seize the opportunity and push policies that promote nutritious and sustainable food systems and value chains and create adequate demand for healthy, nutritious, qualitative and safe food, through consumer behaviour change.

About the authors:

Joanna Kane-Potaka
Assistant Director General – External Relations
ICRISAT

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

Views expressed are authors’ own


AESA: Preparing for the ‘New Normal’ – Agriculture amid the COVID-19 pandemic

COVID-19 continues to claim lives and disrupt livelihoods around the world. While strengthening immediate relief activities Arun Balamatti recommends a few priorities for the future to the government of Karnataka, specifically for irrigated and dry land areas. He outlines a three-pronged strategy for dry land areas – reducing migration of small and marginal farmers to urban areas, keeping them productively engaged in their villages, and strengthening the seed system in favour of food and nutrition security.

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Corona virus alters the world

Just four months ago, in December 2019 to be precise, no one imagined that a trivial virus would shake the morale of almost every country in the world and that economies would take a beating. The speed with which the Corona virus is spreading and the pace at which the key sectors of the economy is tumbling is very disconcerting. Industries have shut down leading to loss of employment in the millions; surface, air and sea transport have come to a standstill severely jolting service sectors such as tourism and hospitality. The impact is global and phenomenal.

Impact on agriculture will be far-ranging

Predictably, COVID-19 hasn’t spared agriculture. Make no mistake, the impact on agriculture is likely to be much worse than on the other sectors. While losses in the secondary and tertiary sectors are being keenly debated in Europe and the USA, we in India are even more concerned about the implications on the primary sector. Since a vaccine to combat COVID-19 remains elusive, the discussions and debates at the moment, are centred around how long? what next? what should governments do? how should industries be responding? how many lives will be affected? and how hard will  livelihoods be affected? and so on. Serious efforts on rebuilding are yet to commence. Those of us who have learnt one important lesson in the last two months – that our health depends on what we eat and not on doctors’ prescriptions – have every reason to believe that there is going to be a significant shift in agriculture, globally.

Farming can neither halt nor wait

The immediate concern, however, is that once the measures of rebuilding are initiated the revival of industry and service sectors is likely to be much faster than of the agricultural sector for the simple reason that agriculture largely plays out at the mercy of the weather. On the other hand, although current losses in other sectors are enormous, the impact on agriculture is quite likely to be both in the near future as well as in the long run. The analogy in agriculture is not to a train, which stops when there is no driver or fuel and begins moving the moment you have both, but rather to time, which just must keep on moving. Lockdown or otherwise, everyone needs food at least twice a day, every day. More importantly, for farming to sustain, one needs to keep nurturing precious natural resources – soil, water and biodiversity. Farmers and farming have no choice but to keep going. Should COVID-19 continue to play havoc beyond June 2020 the impact is unlikely to remain limited to the economy alone. Our social and cultural foundations will also experience the tremors. Social media is already abuzz with messages announcing that the human race is not really indispensable to Nature.

Currently, farming is facing two challenges on account of the national lockdown. One, the farmers are struggling to harvest their Rabi crop due to shortage of labour and the uncertainty of marketing. The panic is especially among those farmers who have grown highly perishable fruits and vegetables. Two, for the government, if this has to do with the challenge of ‘aggregation’ the other challenge is about ‘distribution’. Despite the existing supply and demand the restrictions on traders and the movement of vehicles have become hurdles affecting smooth distribution. The government, of course, has recognized these challenges and has swiftly moved into action on a war footing by listing farm produce as essential goods. The concern and proactive measures taken by the government are laudable.

The Present must not Eat into the Future

Just as it happens during every calamity – whether it be an earthquake or a flood – the commotion and shock following the calamity demand full attention and drain out resources. The immediate ‘relief’ works jeopardise the government’s ability to deal with post-calamity challenges viz., ‘rehabilitation’ and ‘reconstruction’. Therefore, to be able to effectively deal with both the short-term and the long-term impacts, the government should focus on planning and preparing for both these situations.

The Immediate Priorities

In the short run, the government should aim at strengthening its efforts of aggregation and distribution by roping in traders, transporters, Farmer Producer Companies (FPCs), software experts and start-ups. The government should address the immediate relief work through its ‘facilitation’ role by bringing together the various players ensuring maximum attention and minimum use of resources. The next priority should be on simultaneously initiating preparations for the coming Kharif and Rabi seasons.

What Lies Ahead

COVID-19 has come as a total surprise. The effects are expected to be widespread and unimaginable at this stage. In the middle of national lockdown 3.0, it is hard to predict the precise nature and scale of impact on agriculture. Two episodes in the recent past nevertheless offer some clues as to what could possibly be in store. One is the heart-wrenching image of migrant labourers walking  from many cities back to their villages, and two, the anguish with which many farmers are either letting their crop rot in the fields or throwing it away on the streets. Both these incidents are bound to influence agriculture in different ways.

Agriculture is Multi-dimensional

The long-term implications of these two incidents are multiple. If our future plans are to be relevant and if those plans are to succeed, we must avoid one cardinal mistake, that of considering agriculture as uni-dimensional. A ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to planning just doesn’t work in agriculture. Agriculture has two major dimensions: irrigated and dry land. They are two different forms that demand different sensitivities, strategies and plans.

Under irrigated agriculture a farmer is certain of one of the most critical resources – water. This very fact enables the farmer to look for technologies, urges him to invest, compels him to take regular care of the crop, and often assures him of a decent return. Therefore, there is scope for use of high yielding varieties and hybrids, mineral fertilizers and plant protection chemicals (PPC) in irrigated agriculture. ‘Wealth creation’ through high investment and returns are but natural expectations.

On the contrary, the often uncertain and ill-distributed rains are the only source for meeting the moisture requirement of the crops in dry land farming. Since rainfall is uncertain the farmer is always hesitant to accept technologies and invest in high-cost inputs. Under these circumstances farmers tend to look for crops and varieties that can be grown with minimum investment and care. Wealth creation, hence, is a distant possibility here. However, it is wrong to consider farming and farmers in dry lands as a drag on the economy. After all, it is the dry land farmers who generate their own employment and produce their own food.

Priorities for the present and plans for the immediate future: prospects for Karnataka

In the context of the impact of dreadful COVID-19 here is an indication of how agriculture might unfold in two different situations based on which the Karnataka government could begin preparations to meet the challenges arising in the seasons ahead.

Irrigated agriculture

Karnataka has about 13 million hectares of arable land of which a mere 30 per cent is irrigated. Yet, the state has made a mark for itself nationally and internationally in coconut, banana, dairy, poultry, sericulture and vegetable production. The financial and the resulting psychological setback suffered by farmers on account of the national lockdown is bound to shrink the area and production of seasonal fruits and vegetables, especially the crops requiring expensive inputs. The possible reduction in area and production of fruits and vegetables, major sources of protein and vitamins, could affect nutrition security, more so among the poor; this is apart from the serious setback to the incomes of both the farmers and the State. The government should therefore plan a special package for farmers – providing critical inputs like seeds/seedlings, fertilizers and Plant Protection Chemicals (PPCs) on subsidy – and also announce encouraging procurement prices ahead of the season.

This is the most opportune time for the government to revisit the Horticultural Producers Cooperative Marketing and Processing Society (HOPCOMS). While the cooperative needs to be strengthened and geared up to play a major role in aggregation and distribution, the State appears to be reluctant to visualise such an opportunity. Being a typical cooperative, HOPCOMS is bogged down by issues such as lack of entrepreneurship, political interference and favouritism. Its infrastructure, such as ripening chambers, cold storages and the network of retail outlets, is selectively active and often underutilized. Waiting for the farmers to bring their produce to the designated procurement centres and procuring only part of the farmers’ produce has been a deterrent; the disconnect between the agency and farmers is only growing. It is an irony that the same Department of Horticulture, which is promoting FPCs throughout the State, is also running the HOPCOMS. The simplest way to turn the problem into an opportunity is to let some of the FPCs run the HOPCOMS in a few districts as pilots, and also experiment with outsourcing district units to start-ups. The worst thing to allow at this point is letting the production in irrigated areas decline – not on account of the challenges being faced by the farmers – but because of poor support systems. The situation calls for innovations in crop choices, production technologies, linking producers to consumers, and value addition.

The government, at the moment, although appearing concerned and showing the inclination to walk the extra mile, is doing little. Except for allowing the farmers to sell their produce directly to consumers (which is not really possible and feasible for all farmers, and there shouldn’t really be a prohibition on such a practice in the first place) and pressing municipal corporations into door-to-door delivery of fruits and vegetables, there aren’t any impact-making policy shifts on the cards.

Dry land agriculture

As always, the enormity of challenges under any crisis is most severe in dry land areas. Harsh agro climatic conditions, lack of access to resources, and poverty are but a few reasons. The challenges in dry land areas will be more demanding due to its sheer magnitude. Of the 60 million total population in Karnataka 40 percent are farmers and farm labourers (24 m). About 70 percent of these are dependent on dry farming (nearly 17 m). The State has about 7.2 million landholdings of which 92 percent are below 4 ha (small and marginal holdings). Majority of the food crops such as coarse cereals, minor millets and pulses are grown in dry lands.

There should be a three-pronged strategy for dryland areas:

Reducing Migration: Cash-starved small and marginal farmers would prefer migrating to urban areas in search of wage employment at the immediately available opportunity leaving their farms fallow. But, since the construction, travel, tourism and hospitality industries in urban areas have been severely affected by COVID-19 and are unlikely to resume and reach ‘normal’ in the near future, most of the farmers exiting agriculture are unlikely to get gainful employment. There is a serious threat to income and food security in dry land areas.

Productively engaging farmers in the villages: The only means of easing this impending crisis is for the government to find ways of ensuring that farmers remain in their villages. This could be done by intensifying soil and water conservation activities in the next three months under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) and encouraging farmers to grow hardy crops as the Kharif season commences. The government has earnestly initiated works under MGNREGS.

Strengthening seed systems: The next step is ensuring availability of adequate quantity of seeds of those crops that thrive in dry lands, such as sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, minor millets, and many pulses. Although the government claims there is enough seed in stock, it was in anticipation of a normal season. There is now a ‘new normal’ where more area and most of the farmers need to be engaged in farming.

Final words

Crises not only create problems but also throw up many opportunities. There are opportunities that could be turned into solutions. Thanks to research in dry land agriculture, there are resilient crops and varieties that promise both food as well as nutrition security. What is more, there are varieties that grow in 2-3 months. The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad, in partnership with state agricultural universities (SAUs), has developed super short-duration varieties of pearl millet, chickpea and pigeonpea. The government could encourage these institutions to pool the available seed material and immediately initiate large scale seed multiplication programme by SAUs, KVKs and farmers, so that the actual seed availability by July 2020 is a lot more than what it is now. The MGNREGS works for the immediate three months and the seeds made available for the following 3-6 months should ensure that farmers stay in villages where they belong, and do what they are best at – farming.

Originally published on Agricultural Extension in South Asia.

About the author:

Arun Balamatti
Senior Manager
Visitor Services and Protocol Management,
ICRISAT

Views expressed are authors own.

Impacts


Farmer Bourama Bougodogo with his mother outside their home. Photo: N Diakite and S Touré, ICRISAT

Farmer Bourama Bougodogo with his mother outside their home. Photo: N Diakite and S Touré, ICRISAT

Better seeds and best practices enhance incomes for smallholder farmers in Mali

Farmers in Mali are improving their incomes , earning better livelihoods and enjoying more fulfilling lives through interventions that provide improved varieties of sorghum as well as training in good agriculture practices. Particularly encouraging are the case studies of two farmers from Djirikorola, Mali, who are leading the way in adoption of improved seeds and post-harvest technologies.

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In 2014, farmer Bourama Bougodogo of Djirikorola village of Sikasso region in Mali, joined a Farmer Field School (FFS) under the project Africa RISING’s large-scale Diffusion of Technologies for Sorghum and Millet Systems (ARDT_SMS). He and other farmer trainees from his village learnt integrated Striga and soil fertility management, intercropping (cereal + legumes) and other techniques previously unknown to them.

Mr Bourama produced the very popular improved sorghum variety Tiandougou coura on his plot, which gave him a spectacular harvest of about 3 tons tons/ha. whereas earlier he could barely harvest 1 ton/ha. “With the revenue earned from the sales, I bought a thresher, which I now rent out to other seed producers in 20 surrounding villages,” he says. “As they often pay me in kind, I earned 45 bags of rice in 15 working days in 2018, and about 2,150,000 FCFA (US$ 3540) with the thresher rental service. This money helped him build a new house for his family. In 2018, Bourama also acquired a huller.

Farmer Bourama with his thresher. Photos: N Diakite and S Touré, ICRISAT

Farmer Bourama with his thresher. Photos: N Diakite and S Touré, ICRISAT

This success was repeated in 2018, when he harvested 4.2 tons over 2 hectares of the same variety, against 2 tons on the same area cultivated with the local variety Soumale.

Bourama is so happy with his success that he now encourages others in his community to become seed producers. “Earlier, there was no seed producer in our area. Following the training, we acquired the knowledge and experience to produce our own seeds.”

The ARDT_SMS project has also enabled the seed producers to obtain certification for their seeds.

“This certificate provides proof that these seeds were produced while following the standards in the Republic of Mali, and can be sold on the market without any quality problem,” says farmer Abdrahamane Bougodogo.

Abdrahamane has grown Tiandougou coura, Pablo and Soubatimi varieties of sorghum successfully, earning handsome returns on his investment. In 2017, he paid his children’s school fees without taking out a loan. “I’ve also helped my brother with the cost of building his house; he’s no longer a tenant but a home owner in Sikasso,” he relates proudly.

Abdrahamane also used part of the revenues from the sale of certified sorghum seeds to invest in a soybean grain trade. He buys soybean from farmers and sells to a processing company that also produces ‘Soumbala’, a soybean spice-based product very popular in the recipes of many sauces. In 2018, he earned a profit of 255,000 FCFA (US$ 419) with this enterprise.

Mr Abdrahamane Bougodogo shows off his certificate of certified seed production.

Mr Abdrahamane Bougodogo shows off his certificate of certified seed production.

“Of all the varieties tested in our FFS group, the Tiandougou coura variety is my favorite, followed by Soubatimi. These varieties not only have better yields compared to the local and other improved varieties, but also their grains are very attractive,” Abdrahamane says. “One day about 200 people visited my field and placed an order for all the produce even before harvest, because these varieties are really attractive and clean. Customers appreciate that a lot.”

Bourama and Abdrahamane have become well-known ambassadors of these two varieties in their region. They are a real source of motivation and inspiration among other producers because of their courage in applying good agronomic practices and the use of improved varieties. The increase in their profits as well as other achievements such as construction of their house, purchase of thresher and huller, etc. have convinced many other farmer/producers to adopt new technologies for sorghum and cowpea production.

For more on our work in Mali, click here.

For more on our work on sorghum, click here.

Also click here to read an interesting story on Mali farmers’ success with improved varieties that helped them send their children to school!

About the Author:

Agathe Diama
Head Regional Information
ICRISAT-West and Central Africa

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

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

Funder: USAID Feed the Future

CRP: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

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


Dr Baloua Nebie and Mr Leon Badiara in a ratooning field of Soubatimi in post-rainy season. Photo: M Nitiema, INERA

Dr Baloua Nebie and Mr Leon Badiara in a ratooning field of Soubatimi in post-rainy season. Photo: M Nitiema, INERA

New multipurpose sorghum variety captures attention in Burkina Faso

A new variety of sorghum that delivers high yields of grain and stover is gaining popularity in Burkina Faso, a region where livestock feed remains a challenge. The ICRISAT-developed variety, Soubatimi, can be grown in the rainy and post-rainy seasons, benefiting farmers and livestock owners alike.

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Mr Leon Badiara, from the Ministry of Animal and Fisheries Resources, and founder of Genetic Center, Burkina Faso, first heard about Soubatimi at the SAGE (Société Africaine de Génétique) launching conference in Ouagadougou, in November 2018. He visited the ICRISAT stall where Dr Baloua Nebie, sorghum breeder, was exhibiting a poster on multipurpose sweet sorghum varieties.

When he heard that Soubatimi combined high grain yield with high stover yield, and that it could be grown in rainy season as well as post-rainy season mainly for livestock feeding, Mr Badiara was immediately interested in testing Soubatimi in his field. The next year, he obtained the seed from ICRISAT and planted it at his Genetic Center in Ouagadougou.  He harvested 1.8 tons of grains and 8 tons of dry stover from 0.4 ha.  “After harvesting the grains and fodder, cut at 0.5 cm from the ground, I continued to irrigate the field once a week and that will be again harvested for animal feeding,” said Mr Badiara.

In order to popularize Soubatimi, the office of the National Direction of Animal Production organized a guided tour to the Genetic Center farm at Boulbi near Ouagadougou on 11 March 2020. Genetic Center, which specializes in dairy production, has a critical need of 30-50 tons of fodder yearly. This high-yielding variety, developed by ICRISAT and partners (Institute for Rural Economy (IER), CIRAD and Farmers organizations in Mali, with support from the McKnight foundation) was produced during the rainy season for the first time and the ratoons in dry season 2019/2020 showed good stover and grain yields.

Soubatimi – a star multipurpose sorghum variety
  • Grain for household consumption
  • Fodder for livestock feeding
  • Stover remains green until physiological maturity (stay-green).
  • Sweet stem juice with 16% Brix can be used to make sorghum syrup or bioethanol.
  • Possibility of off-season production.

The field visit got a lot of attention because sorghum production during off-season is uncommon in the region; most varieties grown in Burkina are photoperiod-sensitive and therefore produced during a specific period of time (June-October). Mr Badiara said, “We want more actors to take advantage of this new variety that will help better feeding of their livestock, as this variety produces stover of superior quality than what we usually cultivate.”

Participants of the field day also tasted dishes made from Soubatimi sorghum. “Generally the tô made from the grains of dual-purpose sorghum is not very appreciated for human consumption, but the dishes produced from this specific dual-purpose sorghum variety are very good,” said Mr Hamadou Bougoumpiga, fodder seed and dairy producer in Saaba.

Mr Issa Sawadogo, Director General of the Animal Production Service, said that the new variety should be popularized through more visits, field days and guided tours. Mr Badiara urged sorghum producers to adopt Soubatimi, saying, “There are very few and very poor pastures here to graze animals. If we want to produce milk or meat, it is in our interest to produce good quality fodder to feed our animals.”

Formally created since 2008, the Genetic Center is specialized in the production and sale of high-performing animals, artificial insemination, training of livestock value chain actors, advisory services in plant and dairy production.

In addition to high grain and stover yields (3.5 t/ha and >10 t/ha respectively), Soubatimi has sweet stem and the juice is used to produce sorghum syrup that can be used like honey in different diets. Due to its low photoperiod sensitivity, Soubatimi can be cultivated as an off-season crop, unlike most of other varieties of sorghum. Also, it is adapted in climatic zones receiving rainfall ranging from 600-1200 mm. The variety has good ratooning characteristics and at least two harvests can be obtained from only one sowing.

For more on our work in sorghum, click here

For more on our work in Burkina Faso, click here

Projects: (01) Networking4Seed, (2) Dual-Purpose Sorghum and Cowpeas Phase II, (03) Enhancing Smallholder farmers’ Productivity, food and nutrition security in West Africa using High-Yielding and nutritious sorghum and pearl millet hybrids and Varieties (ESPHYV)

Partners:

Research: Environment and Agricultural Research Institute (INERA), Institute for Rural Economy (IER), Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) and ICRISAT

Farmers organizations: AMSP,Burkina Faso; UGCPA/BM, Burkina Faso; ULPC,Mali; USCPMD, Mali; COOPROSEM, Mali; Djigiseme, Mali and Sene Yiriwaton, Mali

Funders: The McKnight foundation, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ)

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

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

ICRISAT in the news


"Installation

Flipping the script on rainfall data

In the last few hours before Covid-19 locked CGIAR centers staff into remote work, a handful of ICRISAT researchers traveled to Kenya’s Makueni County with a dozen seemingly innocuous devices, roughly packed inside plain A4 paper boxes. Virtually unnoticed, they were on a mission to plant what they hope will become a game changer in agricultural risk management: a set of unpretentious rain gauges.

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Outwardly old-fashioned if not outright obsolete, these minimalistic receptacles the size of a large mug however hid a powerful stunt: Internet-Of-Things at a very affordable price. And this is significant.

The number of operational ground observation stations decreased by 85% over the past 5 decades in Africa. This is a big issue, given the continent’s dependence on rainfed agriculture and the considerable spatial and temporal heterogeneity of tropical rainfall. Promising approaches that combine satellite rainfall estimates with scarce ground data have started addressing the problem to provide near real-time, continuous spatial and temporal coverage of weather conditions. Coopted by over 14 national hydrological and meteorological services (NHMS) across Africa, ENACTS is one such successful example of how the gridded data revolution can improve early warning systems and climate outlooks from regional to sub-national scales. Being deployed in Mali, Ethiopia and Ghana, CRAFT is yet another innovation to improve the skill, lead time and spatialization of seasonal production forecasts and food security outlooks, down to the district level.

The ubiquitous big data craze meanwhile lures many aspiring businesses into targeting smallholder farmers with ambitious agronomic advisory services, based likewise on satellite rainfall estimates or other elaborate combinations of remote observing systems and model outputs, some of which are offered as services by the private sector. Claiming to reach farmers by the hundreds of thousands or more, e.g. through SMS and community radios delivering tailored advice on optimal sowing dates and fertilization rates, such services offer rewarding dissemination metrics that tick all the boxes on benevolent donor dashboards. Yet, the relevance of these services for farm-level decision making, their uptake by farmers and impact on rural livelihoods remain euphemistically elusive.

The problem is that we are so consumed with fashionable technologies that we tend to lose sight of the actual value of the data they generate, and more generally of data fitness for purpose. Satellite rainfall estimates are notoriously unreliable at quantifying the highly localized rainfall events (and dry conditions in-between) that are meaningful for farm-level decision making at the tails of the growing season, when rainfall is most heterogeneous. They are equally known for systematic underestimation of high rainfall amounts, another significant peril to crops and rural dwellers. The disruptive innovation of measuring rainfall through mobile signal attenuation is still a distant prospect in a continent where mobile tower density is one order of magnitude lower than elsewhere. Restocking NHMS with automatic weather stations is useful but under no realistic scenario will it ever suffice in the medium term to yield skillful rainfall estimates for informed farm-level decisions at scale. Besides, it is rare that such publicly collected data becomes available in the spatial and temporal resolution it is needed for decision-making or for the provision of third-party services.

Enter cheap, recyclable IoT rain gauges. A brainchild concept of Manobi Africa targeting an industrial manufacturing cost of $50 a piece and purposefully limited to the sole measurement of daily rainfall as the single most important agro-meteorological variable under the Tropics, these no-frills gadgets should become a standard staple as part of the suite of inputs needed to de-risk agricultural investments.

Leveraging the steady penetration of LPWAN technologies such as NB-IoT and LoRa, they could provide the next building block of IoT mainstreaming in rural smallholder communities.

Of course, the purists may argue that such layman devices don’t meet rainfall measurement accuracy standards. That is true, but irrelevant. Because farmers and agricultural stakeholders don’t need accurate measurements 30km away. They need robust measurements that are just good enough, but on their farm.

Of course, it is highly doubtful a smallholder farmer would even consider paying for an IoT rain gauge anytime soon. But that’s a non-event. Because the bank will pay for it. And will lower interest rates on the farmer’s loan.

About the authors:

Pierre CS Traore

S Ndung’u

RK Kyalo

D Annerose

Anthony Whitbread

Ramadjita Tabo


Mrs Hadja Salame (second from left) with her family. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Mrs Hadja Salame (second from left) with her family. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Pulse champions and smart seed innovations boost farmers incomes and resilience

Cowpea and groundnut are considered ‘golden grains’ for many women farmers in West Africa, as they make decent money processing these pulse grains into oil or popular snacks, while the leaves are good fodder for their animals. Yet legume cultivation has been limited because of farmers’ poor access to good seeds and market opportunities. Small seed packs and farmer-centered seed innovation platforms have sparked a sustainable agricultural transformation in Africa and India.

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‘’It all started with a small seed pack of a new improved cowpea variety the extension agent gave me for testing,’’ explains Ms Hadja Salame, a smallholder farmer from Dawakin Tofa, in Kano State, Nigeria.

Cowpea is a popular legume crop cultivated by smallholder farmers across West Africa. However, local varieties are often hit by insect attacks and diseases, and yields are pretty low. ‘’I used to get a maximum of two bags (200 kg) of cowpea each year, which is barely
enough to feed my family. With the new variety, I get five bags (500 kg), I produce more flour and the grain taste is superior too. It is good for my business,’’ adds Salame.

In the last few years, Salame has been processing cowpea in many local dishes like accra, moi-moi (steamed pudding) and danwake (dumpling) to support her family. Her signature dish, a mix of pasta and cowpea is a success for her street food clients.  Discovering a new high-yielding cowpea variety has clearly transformed Salame’s life.

Local, participatory seed systems transform legume farming

Over the last twelve years, a pioneering legume research-for-development initiative called Tropical Legumes (TL) has produced more than 300 improved varieties of important legume crops (chickpea, groundnut, beans, cowpea, pigeonpea and soybean) across Africa and South Asia. These climate-resilient, disease- and pest-proof improved legumes (such as rosette disease resistant groundnut varieties Naliendele and Nachi recently released in Tanzania) outperform the local varieties farmers are used to growing, some as old as 40 years.

However, the impact of legume research has often been limited because most farmers could not access these improved seeds as legumes have been overlooked for years by the private seed sector. To reach out to farmers like Salame, the TL program’s work on building local sustainable seed systems with farmer groups has been a gamechanger.

TL uses farmer participatory breeding and varietal selection to design and test new legume varieties. This has enabled the research to integrate important farmer and market needs, like the importance of oil content of groundnut varieties for women’s groups in Nigeria or fast-cooking common bean for women in Eastern Africa.

The most dynamic farmer groups were trained in quality legume seed production and connected to market opportunities. Women seed farmer groups like Asawaba Farms in Ghana are empowered as they produce and sell quality declared seeds (QDS) of high-yielding groundnut varieties which are disease-tolerant, rich in oil and producing good fodder as well.

These seed scaling strategies worked because the right variety was brought to the right place and farmer groups. But for large-scale adoption of improved legume seeds, getting more private seed players on board is key.

Catalyzing legume seed investment for greater impact

The private seed sector has been less involved in legumes compared to maize or horticulture seeds because of assumed lower profitability. Legume seeds are bulkier and prone to pest attacks, making its seed production more expensive. Legume hybrid seed technology is also still rare, and farmers could replant their own seeds from previous harvests without losing too much genetic potential.

It is important to find ways to make legume seed production profitable and scalable. Affordable and scalable certification systems like the quality declared seeds (QDS) ensure local seed organizations like farmer seed cooperatives are not excluded from this new seed market by costly regulations.

Bundling seed with other services that lower risks of crop losses would incentivize private investments in the legume seed sector. Coating seeds with fungicide and growth inducer protect legume seedlings during the critical first few weeks and significantly increase bean yields up to 50%, for a minimal additional cost. It makes such seeds even more special compared to farmers’ own seed stock.

The TL research impact has been impressive since its inception in 2007, leading to millions of smallholder farmers like Hadja Salame planting TL-certified seeds over 4.4 million hectares.

With her additional cowpea incomes, Salame bought two bulls to plough more cropland. Her success has inspired other peer farmers, boosting the demand for improved cowpea seeds in Dawakin Tofa.

With the rise of pulse champions like Hadja Salame and new profitable legume seed businesses, the whole farming sector is rethinking the value of legumes. We are at the cusp of a sustainable farming and food revolution.

About the author:

Alina Paul
Consultant
ICRISAT


Photo: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

Photo: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

Crops, pollination, food: Why we need bees

One-third of the world’s crops need pollination to set seeds and fruits, and a majority of them are pollinated by bees. Along with other pollinators, bees are currently endangered by human activity. There is a global decline in bee population, due to reasons like excessive use of insecticides, habitat loss, habitat fragmentation, bee pests and diseases, and climate change. In order to raise awareness about their critical role in sustainable development, the United Nations has declared May 20 as World Bee Day.

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In order to raise awareness about their critical role in sustainable development, the United Nations has declared May 20 as World Bee Day.

There are nearly 25,000 species of bees: 70-80% of the world’s crops/plants are pollinated by wild bees while 15-20% are pollinated by honeybees. These pollinators also provide an important ecosystem service that is essential for sustaining the wild flora biodiversity. As an example in case of pigeonpea, Apis mellifera, A. dorsata, A indica (Pathak, 1970), Megachile spp. (Williams, 1977; Zeng-Hong et al. 2011), and Xylocopa spp. (Onim, 1981) are major sources of natural cross-pollination.

Effect of bee pollination on crop

  • It increases seed yield and fruit yield in many crops.
  • It improves quality of fruits and seeds.
  • Bee pollination increases oil content of seeds in sunflower.
  • Bee pollination is a must in some self-incompatible crops for seed setting.

Crops benefited by bee pollination  

  • Fruits and nuts:Almond, apple, apricot, peach, strawberry, citrus and litchi
  • Vegetable and Vegetable seed crops: Cabbage, cauliflower, carrot, coriander, cucumber, melon, onion, pumpkin, radish and turnip
  • Oil seed crops:Sunflower, niger, rapeseed, mustard, safflower, gingelly.
  • Forage seed crops:Lucerne, clover
  • Cultivated field crops: Pigeonpea, lentils, clovers, Lucerne, mustard, rape, linseed, sesame, gingelly, buck-wheat, Cambodia, safflower, millet and sunflower
  • Timber trees: Neem, Cassia fistula, Acacia, Albizzia , Kachnar (Bauhinia purpurea), eucalyptus, sandalwood, raintree, wild cherry
  • Natural and ornamental flowers: Cosmos, shoe flower, golden rod, cup & saucer, Tecoma stans, zinnia,
  • coral creeper (Antigonon leptopus), rose,Rangoon creeper, asterwild rose (kuja), hydrangea, violet, portulaca, poinsettia, honeysuckle, cornflower, coreopsis, dandelion etc.

What we must do:

  • Switch to eco-friendly pesticides
  • Minimize intensive agriculture
  • Maintain natural habitat within an agricultural mosaic

We hope that a dedicated World Bee Day helps in conservation of these industrious insects that greatly contribute to solving problems related to food and nutrition.

About the author:

Jaba Jagadish
Scientist, Integrated Crop Management
ICRISAT

Knowledge sharing during lockdown


The 5 G’s of genomics are vital to accelerate crop breeding

Genomics-assisted crop breeding technology can help advance crop improvement at an accelerated pace to ensure food security for a growing population and changing climate. This was emphasized during an online lecture: ‘5Gs for Climate Smart Agriculture’ during a recent webinar series.

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While the COVID-19 pandemic has brought most activities to a standstill, efforts towards lifelong learning and knowledge sharing still goes on, thanks to accessible and affordable internet and telecommunication technologies. The above presentation by Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director Genetic Gains, ICRISAT, was part of a webinar series on ‘Applications of Omics in climate smart agriculture’.

Correlating crop improvement technology to other modern technologies, Dr Varshney began by citing the rapid growth in the past few decades in mobile technology, going from from 1G (2.4 kbps, 1980) to 5G (10 Gbps, 2020) ultimately covering 66% of the total world population.

A similar acceleration in the pace of crop improvement is needed to meet the future demand to feed the ever-growing population. Food security has become a major challenge in the wake of climate change and burgeoning world population. Therefore, it is imperative to use advanced technologies in breeding as 5G is being used in cellular technologies..

Dr Varshney shared success stories from ICRISAT and its partner institutes on the release of 5 improved crop varieties as a result of genomics-assisted breeding. These varieties included: Chickpea: Geletu in Ethiopia and Pusa (BMG) 10216 and Super Annigeri-1 in India and Groundnut: 2 High oleic groundnut varieties.

Dr Varshney based his presentation on a recently published paper in Current Opinion in Plant Biotechnology Journal on “5G for crop genetic improvement” (Curr Opin Plant Biol (2020, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pbi.2019.12.0045), by him and his team from ICRISAT CEGSB together with partners. He highlighted the role of 5Gs: Genomes, Germplasm, Genes, Genomic breeding and Gene editing and their seamless integration into crop improvement programs to enhance the crop yield to feed the increasing population.

Dr Varshney delivering online lecture during webinar organized by MPKV, Rahuri. Photo: CEGSB

Dr Varshney delivering online lecture during webinar organized by MPKV, Rahuri. Photo: CEGSB

The key takeaway of the lecture was that a comprehensively applied ‘5G’ breeding plan can enhance the precision, efficiency and effectiveness of breeding programs to develop climate-resilient, high-yielding and nutritious varieties, while delivering a high rate of genetic gain, including in developing countries where these gains are most needed.

Dr Varshney’s lecture was part of the webinar series ‘Applications of Omics in climate smart agriculture’, organized by ICAR-National Agricultural Higher Education Project (NAHEP), Centre for Advanced Agricultural Science and Technology (CAAST) for Climate Smart Agriculture and Water Management (CSAWM), Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth, Rahuri, during 30 April 30–2 May 2020. Dr Varshney’s lecture was attended by over 700 participants spanning across India and from abroad. It was followed by a valedictory session attended by Chief Guest, Dr TR Sharma, Deputy Director General (Crop Science), ICAR, who appreciated the efforts of Dr K P Viswanatha, Vice Chancellor, MPKV, Rahuri, for training next-generations scientists, even during the lockdown period. He highlighted the role and evolution of genomic sequencing technologies for crop improvement.


Dr Varshney delivering an online lecture ‘Genomics for health and nutrition’. Photo: CEGSB, ICRISAT

Dr Varshney delivering an online lecture ‘Genomics for health and nutrition’. Photo: CEGSB, ICRISAT

Genomics closely linked not just to crop productivity but also to nutrition and health

Crop diversification, genomics-assisted breeding and understanding the role of the gut microbiome is crucial in lowering the risks of non-communicable diseases (NCDs), increasing crop productivity, transitioning from nutrition-relevant to nutrition-sensitive agronomy and improving overall immunity and health. These were the main takeaway messages from a recent online lecture ‘Genomics for nutrition and health’.

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Delivering the lecture, Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director, Genetic Gains, ICRISAT, shared an interesting fact, that of the 30,000 estimated plant species that can be used for food, just 30 provide most of the world’s calories and nutrients, and of these only three (rice, wheat and maize) provide 40% of the global daily calorie intake. Citing the multiple challenges of malnutrition across the world, Dr Varshney called for urgent interventions to diversify the staples and increase the intake of nutrient-rich food such as whole coarse grains and pulses. He highlighted the importance of ICRISAT’s Smart Food initiative (www.smartfood.org) in this regard.

Key pointsAgriculture is the key towards healthier diets and reducing non-communicable diseases.

Dietary diversification can lower the risk of non-communicable diseases and malnutrition.

Genomics-assisted breeding can successfully and substantially increase crop productivity and farmer income.

Understanding the role of gut microbiome corrective diets is crucial for curbing malnutrition and non-communicable diseases.

Human gut microbiota function is not only critical for nutrient absorption from food, but also for maintaining overall health.

Dr Varshney shared experiences and success stories on how genomics-assisted plant breeding increased the efficacy and speed of breeding programs, with greater pest and disease resistance and tolerance to environmental stresses, improved productivity, increased nutritional values and enhanced the sustainability of production systems. ICRISAT has excellent facilities for genotyping and genome sequencing to support genomic breeding programs, he said, stating that his team and partners had produced and published the genomes of pigeonpea (2012), chickpea (2013), pearl millet (2017), the wild ancestors and cultivated forms of groundnut (2016 and 2019) as well as haplotype maps of pigeonpea (2017) and chickpea (2019). The better understanding of functional genomics coupled with marker-assisted breeding techniques, greatly increases the efficiency of plant breeding in these crops and thereby its production and productivity.

Dr Varshney also highlighted ICRISAT’s work under strategic research initiative “Systems Biology” on studying iron deficiency in adolescent girls, severe and acute malnutrition in children under five, and Type-2 diabetes in adults and pre-diabetics. These studies would help to better understand the role of the gut microbiome on nutrition intake and better health.

The lecture was delivered as part of a webinar conducted by Amity Institute of Organic Agriculture, Amity University, Noida on 5 May 2020, which was attended by more than 570 participants.

Click here to watch the online session.


A screenshot of the participants at the GLFLive Q&A session.

A screenshot of the participants at the GLFLive Q&A session.

The work of genebanks can never stop

Genebanks have been and will continue to be vital for global biological diversity and food security in the long run, said genebank experts at a recent interview with the Global Landscapes Forum. The virtual session focused on how important it was for genebanks to carry out their work in the scenario of the COVID-19 crisis.

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Dr Vania Azevedo, Head, Genebank, ICRISAT, said, “Genebanks are the basis of all agricultural research. We ensure that from sowing and harvesting to processing, the seeds stay viable for years to come.”

Even during a crisis such as the present pandemic, genebanks cannot afford to completely shut down because they’re the first step towards development of varieties that ultimately end up as food on our plates, said Dr Vania. Especially now, with climate change and its related consequences of various pests (e.g. fall army worm, locusts) endangering crops, there is an increased urgency to diversify our crops, to develop crops that are resilient to such stresses.

She described how the ICRISAT genebank succeeded, with the help of volunteers, to harvest over 10 ha of seed accessions being regenerated in the fields, despite a lockdown being declared in India, while ensuring that the seeds were meticulously collected and stored. “Genebanks are dynamic and we never stop,” Dr Vania said.

Dr Lava Kumar, Head of Germplasm Health, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), said that while the reputation of CGIAR centers enabled seed samples to get through to appropriate locations with the right clearances despite port shutdowns etc., the continuous process of testing seed accessions to ensure non-contamination and viability has been hindered by the lockdown. This was especially important since 50,000-100,000 accessions are tested and validated across the 11 CGIAR centers annually.

Dr Charlotte Lusty, Head of Programs and Genebank Platform Coordinator, Crop Trust, said, “We consider the CGIAR genebank systems as the pillars of the global system of seed conservation because of the quality and diversity of their seed collections.” However, she said that seedlings of important crops like potato, sweet potato, banana, yam etc. also were much more vulnerable to lockdowns as they need more care; hence more support is needed to protect them from similar events in the future.

These were some of the key points made by the seed conservation champions who participated in a live interview that examined the relationship between COVID-19, genebanks and the conservation of seeds.  The interview was conducted on 13 May 2020 by Dr Tony Simons, Director General, World Agroforestry (ICRAF).

Click here for a recording of the interview.


Screenshot of Dr Lee Hickey, Dr Bin Han, Dr Kerstin Neumann and Dr Dil Thavarajah delivering their presentations at the webinar. Photo: CEGSB, ICRISAT

Screenshot of Dr Lee Hickey, Dr Bin Han, Dr Kerstin Neumann and Dr Dil Thavarajah delivering their presentations at the webinar. Photo: CEGSB, ICRISAT

Food Security, health and nutrition and critical goals for modern breeding programs focused on genomics

Scientists, researchers and policymakers endorsed the potential of genomics and other molecular breeding tools and approaches towards food, health, and nutrition security through agriculture. In a recent webinar presented by ‘agri-genomics’ scientists working on different crops around the world, they shared latest research in genomics, acknowledging the urgency for embracing modern genomics and plant breeding technologies to accelerate the rate of genetic gains and produce enough nutrition-rich crops to feed the world.

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Dr S K Malhotra, Agricultural Commissioner, Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers Welfare, Govt. of India highlighted India’s success story – of not only becoming self-sufficient in pulses production, but also being in a position to export it. Acknowledging ICRISAT’s key role in collaboration with ICAR and other national partners in this success story, Dr Malhotra mentioned the recently released marker-assisted improved varieties of chickpea and groundnut.

Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Director, Research Program Genetic Gains, ICRISAT, said, “The current COVID-19 pandemic has taught us that apart from the availability of enough food, better nutrition and health is also of paramount importance”.

In his presentation ‘Breeding crops to feed 10 billion’, Dr Lee Hickey from The University of Queensland, Australia, spoke about ‘Speed Breeding’, a set of techniques to accelerate plant growth in controlled environments. These techniques can help accomplish crossing and inbreeding in 1-2 years while it takes as long as seven years to achieve this with conventional practices, he said.

Dr Bin Han, Director, National Center for Gene Research & Center of Excellence for Molecular Plant Sciences, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China, shared learnings and experiences from his work on rice crop and acknowledged that hybrid breeding may still be a quick and efficient way to generate elite rice varieties.

In a session chaired by Dr C Tara Satyavathi, Coordinator, ICAR- AICRP-Pearl Millet, Dr Kerstin Neumann, IPK-Gatersleben, Germany, based on her work on barley crop, highlighted that growth and abiotic stress tolerance are traits that are influenced by more than one gene, and the environment. Precision phenotyping in controlled conditions allows to explore trait relationship during the life cycle; also, landraces harbor more diversity for drought tolerance.

Dr Dil Thavarajah, from Clemson University, USA outlined the importance of integrating nutritional traits into breeding programs.

“The overall objective of science should be to benefit consumers and the population at large. In current situations, like COVID-19 pandemic, it becomes even more important to hasten the rate of genetic gains in farmers’ field,” said Dr Kiran K Sharma, Deputy Director General- Research, ICRISAT.

Dr Arvind K Padhee, Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs, ICRISAT, called for regulatory reforms, based on scientific evidence, for embracing modern biotechnology-bred foods. He said that greater consumer education on safety was required to dispel distorted perceptions about these technologies.

This was in resonance with Dr Sanjay Kalia, Scientist-E, Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science & Technology, Government of India, who stated that it was now time to use genomics to address consumers’ needs and also to preserve diversity. He said that marker-assisted breeding could be an enabler for delivering nutrition-rich food to the consumers for better health.

The “Live Webinar in the series of Next Generation Genomics and Integrated Breeding for Crop Improvement (VII-NGGIBCI) Workshop on Genomics for food, health and nutrition”, organized by ICRISAT’s Center of Excellence in Genomics & Systems Biology (CEGSB) on 14 May 2020, was the first of its kind, receiving overwhelming participation, with 3388 registrations from 68 countries.

Click here for the video of the event: https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLivIo38xqmvkN27wN1fHExoJLQUbIWB2E

Author:

Nilesh Mishra
Senior Scientific Officer
ICRISAT


Making low-cost digital tools the critical solution to smallholder farmers needs during global crises

Digital information-sharing tools such as audio, text and video messaging through mobile phones can prove to be highly effective in disseminating critical information to smallholder farmers during times of limited physical access as seen in the present COVID-19 pandemic. In a recent webinar on using affordable mobile technologies to assist smallholder farmers during these adverse times, experts in digital technology in agriculture shared examples of current successes and ideas for potential scaling up.

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“Digital agriculture will play a key part in developing extension services across geographies, with extension workers connecting the community to knowledge management systems.” He recommended that, in partnership with national agri institutions, information about climate, finance, agronomy, pests/disease, etc. could be provided to extension workers, so that they could then pass it on to the farmers. “They can be assisted in this by apps such as Plantix. This is an incredible opportunity to bring these information systems together,” he said, emphasizing that digital tools should be used to disseminate scientific knowledge that is integrated with indigenous knowhow and adapted to local contexts.

Mr Ram Dhulipala, Theme Leader, Digital Agriculture and Youth Initiatives, ICRISAT, outlined four key areas in which digital tools supported by ICRISAT were making a big difference:

Extension services

Extension services – knowledge sharing through field demonstrations, farmer field days etc. – play a key role in supporting smallholder farmers. The pandemic-related social distancing has led to a big move towards to mainstreaming e-extension services – knowledge sharing through mobile phones, TV and social media. iSAT (Intelligent Systems Advisory Tool) is a good example, helping 8000 farmers in India by relaying essential weather-related agrometeorological advisory services. Recently, e-extension services have been set up for the Accelerated Value Chain Development project in Kenya, benefitting 20,000 farmers.

Input value chains

New self-service apps or agent-led e-commerce models for providing farmers with seeds, fertilizers, and other farm inputs have led to enhanced transparency and removal of intermediaries. Digitalization of existing structures and functions also pave the way for future easier access to institutional finance.

Agriculture marketing

Since the lockdown in India happened just as produce was ready for harvest and sale, several self-service portals or agent-led models stepped in to successfully link farm gate produce directly to consumers. Citizen-led approaches using social media platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook, Twitter etc. played a big role in this effort.

Collectivization of farmers

Digital tools help in collectivization of smallholder farmers, helping them pool resources and benefit from shared mechanized farm equipment rentals, drones (for spraying of pesticides), online aggregation and sale of produce etc.

Ms Erna Groudt, Client Relationship Manager at eProd, a Kenya-based ERP for agriculture supply chain management, spoke about how their product was working remotely to collect reliable farm data from farmers’ fields, share weather and other information with farmers through SMS etc., and relieve cashflow restraints by providing credit mobile payments and so on.

Mr Jonathan Lehe, Chief Development Officer of Precision Agriculture for Development, described how his company developed a two-way SMS platform to warn farmers of emergency fall armyworm outbreaks in partnership with the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture. Also, in Uganda, they provided two-way voice-based services of digital advice to smallholder coffee farmers.

The webinar – ‘Supporting farmers with low-cost digital tools during the COVID pandemic’ was conducted on 19 May as part of the ICT4D Conference
series, by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and NetHope. It was moderated by Sonja Ruetzel, CRS. The video of the session can be seen here.

About the author:

Rajani Kumar
Senior Communications Officer
ICRISAT


Investigating the impact of contour bunding technology in two agroecologies of southern Mali

Authors:  Sanogo, K and Traore, K and Zemadim, B and Fischer, G

Published: Project Report. IITA

http://oar.icrisat.org/11413/

Understanding soil fertility management under cereal cropping systems in southern Mali

Authors: Traore, B and Zemadim, B and Guindo, M

Published: Project Report. IITA

http://oar.icrisat.org/11414/

Improving crop-livestock productivity and household income through the use of contour bunding and agroforestry options

Authors:  Traore, K and Zemadim, B

Published: Technical Report. IITA

http://oar.icrisat.org/11415/

What unleashes innovations in the Legumes and Cereals farming Systems in the drylands: A gendered perspective

Authors:  Yila, J and Njuguna, E and Najjar, D and Liani, M and Bose, A and Sylla, A and Gohannes, E and Petesch, P

Published: Working Paper. MELSpace

http://oar.icrisat.org/11416/

Le Projet d’Appui à la Résilience Climatique pour un Développement Agricole Durable (PARC-DAD) au Niger est-il suffisamment climato-intelligent ? Résultats des analyses participatives des projets terrain du PARC-DAD au Niger

Authors:  Ouedraogo, M and Zougmore, R B and Larwanou, M and Houessionon, P

Published: Project Report. CGSpace

http://oar.icrisat.org/11417/

Evaluation of the feed quality of six dual purpose pearl millet varieties and growth performance of sheep fed their residues in Niger 

Authors: Umutoni, C and Bado, B V and Whitbread, A M and Ayantunde, A and Abdoussalam, I and Korombe, H S

Published: In: Tropentag 2019: Filling gaps and removing traps for sustainable resources management, 18-20 September 2019, University of Kassel, Germany

http://oar.icrisat.org/11418/

Adoption and impact of integrated Striga and soil fertility management strategy in Mali

Authors: Badolo, F and Nzungize, J and Diallo, S A

Published: 7th International Conference on Sustainable Development, 04-05 September 2019, Rome, Italy

http://oar.icrisat.org/11419/

Estimation of Soil Moisture in Bare Soils of the Northern Dry Zone of the Deccan Plateau, Karnataka, using Sentinel-1 Band C imagery

Authors: Anil Kumar, H and Irshad, M A and Whitbread, A M

Published: world soils user consultation meeting, 2-3 July 2019, Rome, Italy

http://oar.icrisat.org/11420/

Modeling the contribution of ecological agriculture for climate change mitigation in Cote d’Ivoire

Authors: Worou, O N and Kone, A W and Tondoh, J E and Guei, A M and Edoukou, F E

Published: 4th World Congress on Agroforestry, 20-22 May 2019, Montpellier, France

http://oar.icrisat.org/11421/

Wide variability in the ICRISAT germplasm collections as a source for genetic enhancement of crop cultivars

Authors: Azevedo, V C R and Vetriventhan, M and Ramachandran, S and Reddy, V G and Singh, P and Kumar, V and Babu, R and Naresh, D and Pawar, G and Mala, S R and Upadhyaya, H D

Published: First International Experts Workshop on Prebreeding utilizing Crop Wild Relatives, April 24-26, 2019, Rabat, Morocco

http://oar.icrisat.org/11422/

Jatropha curcas development as intervention potential to tackling land, energy and food challenges of rural communities in dryland sub-Saharan Africa

Authors:  Ogunwole, J and Kirchhof, G and Zemadim, B and Duiker, S and Pires, L F

Published: Third International Tropical Agriculture Conference (TROPAG 2019), 11–13 November 2019, Brisbane, Australia.

http://oar.icrisat.org/11423/

Legume seed production for sustainable seed supply and crop productivity: case of groundnut in Tanzania and Uganda

Authors: Akpo, E and Muricho, G and Lukurugu, G A and Opie, H and Ojiewo, C O and Varshney, R K

Published: Journal of Crop Improvement (TSI). pp. 1-22. ISSN 1542-7528

http://oar.icrisat.org/11424/

CGIAR modeling approaches for resource constrained scenarios: IV Models for analyzing socio‐economic factors to improve policy recommendations

Authors:  Kruseman, G and Bairagi, S and Komarek, A M and Milan, A M and Nedumaran, S and Petsakos, A and Prager, S and Yigezu, Y A

Published: Crop Science (TSI). pp. 1-14. ISSN 0011-183X

http://oar.icrisat.org/11425/

CGIAR modeling approaches for resource‐constrained scenarios: I. Accelerating crop breeding for a changing climate

Authors:  Ramirez‐Villegas, J and Molero Milan, A and Alexandrov, N and Asseng, S and Challinor, A J and Crossa, J and Eeuwijk, F and Ghanem, M E and Grenier, C and Heinemann, A B and Wang, J and Juliana, P and Kehel, Z and Kholova, J and Koo, J and Pequeno, D and Quiroz, R and Rebolledo, M C and Sukumaran, S and Vadez, V and White, J W and Reynolds, M

Published: Crop Science (TSI). pp. 1-21. ISSN 0011-183X

http://oar.icrisat.org/11426/

Sowing Legume Seeds, Reaping Cash

Authors:  Akpo, E and Ojiewo, C O and Omoigui, L O and Rubyogo, J C and Varshney, R K

Published: Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd, Singapore

http://oar.icrisat.org/11427/

Trait associations in the pangenome of pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan

Authors: Zhao, J and Bayer, P E and Ruperao, P and Saxena, R K and Khan, A W and Golicz, A A and Nguyen, H T and Batley, J and Edwards, D and Varshney, R K

Published: Plant Biotechnology Journal (TSI). pp. 1-9. ISSN 1467-7644

http://oar.icrisat.org/11428/

Crop-livestock integration to enhance ecosystem services in sustainable food systems

Authors: Homann-Kee Tui, S and Valdivia, R O and Descheemaeker, K and Senda, T and Masikati, P and Makumbe, M T and Van Rooyen, A F

Published: Charlotte Cockle, United Kingdom, pp. 141-169. ISBN 978-0-12-816436-5

http://oar.icrisat.org/11429/

As drought hits, Zimbabweans are going hungry

Authors: Homann-Kee Tui, S

Published: Thomson Reuters Foundation News

http://oar.icrisat.org/11431/

Integrated systems approach for enhancing resilience of arid farming systems in South Asia

Authors: Shalander, K and Bhati, T K and Whitbread, A M

Published: 13 th International Conference on Development of Drylands, Jodhpur

http://oar.icrisat.org/11432/

Multi-criteria analysis and ex-ante assessment to prioritize and scale up climate smart agriculture in semi-arid tropics, India

Authors: Shalander, K and Dakshinamurthy, K and Elias Khan, P and Gumma, M K and Khatri-Chhetri, A and Whitbread, A M

Published: INSEE-CESS-NIRDPR Intl Conference, 6-8 Nov 2019, Hyderabad

http://oar.icrisat.org/11433/

Dynamic modelling to help improve farm output

Authors: Shalander, K

Published: The Hindu Newsletter

http://oar.icrisat.org/11434/

Assessment of phenotypic and genetic variation against pod borer among a subset of elite pigeonpea (Cajanus cajan) genotypes in Kenya

Authors: Cheboi, J J and Kinyua, M G and Kimurto, P K and Kiplagat, O K and Gangarao, N V P R

Published: Australian Journal of Crop Science, 13 (02). pp. 221-227. ISSN 1835-2693

http://oar.icrisat.org/11435/

Morphological Diversity Assessment of Nigeria Sorghum Landraces for Utilization in Hybrid Parent Development 

Authors: Angarawai, I I and Leiser, W and Nebie, B and Mary, Y and Daniel, A and Lawali, A and Ajeigbe, H A and Jerome, J

Published: Universal Journal of Agricultural Research, 7 (6). pp. 221-227. ISSN 2332-2268  

http://oar.icrisat.org/11436/

Maize, sorghum, and pearl millet have highly contrasting species strategies to adapt to water stress and climate change-like conditions 

Authors: Choudhary, S and Guha, A and Kholova, J and Pandravada, A and Messina, C D and Cooper, M and Vadez, V

Published: Plant Science (TSI). p. 110297. ISSN 0168-9452

http://oar.icrisat.org/11437/

Identification of Micronutrients-Dense Sorghums for Better Health in Western and Central Africa (WCA) 

Authors: Angarawai, I I and Nebie, B

Published: Project Report. ICRISAT

http://oar.icrisat.org/11438/

Assessing the Climate-Smartness of the West Africa Agricultural Productivity Programme (WAAPP): What can we learn from Benin, Guinea, Niger, Togo and Chad projects? 

Authors: Ouedraogo, M and Zougmore, R B and Houessionon, P and Gnangle, C and Nadjiam, D and Diaby, M F and Basso, A and Sadate, A and Lamien, N

Published: Technical Report. CCAFS Info Note

http://oar.icrisat.org/11439/

Development of mobile sensors for estimation of grain qualities and contaminants to enhance nutrition and safety of grain-products in developing countries; current status 

Authors: Kholova, J and Chandalavada, K and Vadez, V and Choudhary, S and Govindaraj, M and Bagade, P and Smith, M and Lindsay, R and Gerth, S and Claussen, J and Palmer, W and Matheka, A and Cobb, J N and Enghwa, N G

Published: Near Infrared Spectroscopy 2019, 15-20 September, Gold Coast, Australia

http://oar.icrisat.org/11440/

Genetic Analysis of Grain Yield and Quality Traits in Sorghum (Sorghum bicolor L. Moench) Varieties 

Authors: Abdulmaliki, R O and Jonah, J and Yeye, M Y and Angarawai, I I

Published: African Plant Breeders Conference (APBA), 23-25 October 2019, Accra, Ghana

http://oar.icrisat.org/11441/

Identification of male sterility maintainers for hybrid parent development within genetically diverse landrace sorghum in Nigeria 

Authors: Angarawai, I I and Leiser, W and Nebie, B and Mary, Y Y and Daniel, A A and Jerome, J

Published: 13th ICDD: Converting Dryland areas from grey to green, 11-14 Feb 2019, Jodhpur, India

http://oar.icrisat.org/11442/

Landrace sorghum lines- potential sources for male sterility maintainers in hybrid parent development 

Authors: Angarawai, I I and Leiser, W and Nebie, B and Mary, Y Y and Daniel, A A and Abubakar, AA and Jerome, J

Published: African Plant Breeders conference, 23-25 October 2019, Accra Ghana.

http://oar.icrisat.org/11443/

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