Issue No: 1831
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From ICRISAT Governing Board Chair

Announcing incoming Director General

After a thorough and rigorous search and selection process, where several outstanding candidates were considered, it is with pleasure that I announce Dr Rachel Chikwamba as the Director General elect of ICRISAT. It is anticipated that Dr Chikwamba will join us on or before 1 April 2020.

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A researcher at heart, Dr Chikwamba has progressed to management of increasingly significant portfolios, with the most senior positions being at Group Executive/Vice President level at Africa’s premier research and development institution, CSIR, which has a mandate to improve the quality of life of people in Africa and beyond. Dr Chikwamba’s leadership of research for development spans many disciplines, particularly life sciences application across many market segments. In her various organizational roles and assignments, she has gained a sound understanding of the business of research, development and innovation for impact across many technical disciplines including agriculture, environment, health and nutrition. She has led research programs and participated in global research consortia funded by African Union, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the European commission, the Rockefeller Foundation, among others. Dr Chikwamba’s full bio is available here.

Her excellent organizational leadership experience, strategic capability, energy and vitality will help take ICRISAT to the next level of development and will position the Institution and its team favorably in the context of the One CGIAR.

I am personally very pleased that we have been able to attract someone of her caliber, track record and further potential to lead the Institution as Director General. I look forward to working with her and the wider team over the next few years to continue to fulfil our vision of creating prosperous, food-secure and resilient dryland tropics.

Sincere thanks to all.
Dr Paco Sereme
ICRISAT Governing Board Chair

Speeding up chickpea breeding

Chickpea plants grown through RGA in a glasshouse at ICRISAT. Photo: Srinivasan Samineni, ICRISAT

Chickpea plants grown through RGA in a glasshouse at ICRISAT. Photo: Srinivasan Samineni, ICRISAT

New chickpea breeding protocol promises to bring down varietal development time from 12 years to 6 years

Rapid Generation Advancement promises to be a simple yet cost effective solution

ICRISAT’s chickpea researchers have developed a breeding protocol that holds the potential to create new varieties of chickpea in half-time.

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The Rapid Generation Advancement (RGA) protocol allows production of six to seven generations of chickpea in a year under controlled greenhouse conditions. The protocol has been standardized through a series of experiments conducted over two years, using six cultivated chickpea varieties -early, medium and late maturity groups.

Generation time is a game changer for achieving maximum genetic gains in crop plants. Generally, it takes seven to eight years to develop homozygous (identical) lines after hybridization with one crop generation produced per year. Given the growing need for food and nutrition, and the mounting pressures of climate change, the demand for improved varieties is more pressing today than ever.

“RGA can significantly reduce the number of years required to reach homozygosity and develop a cultivar or material for research purposes,” said Dr Pooran Gaur, Director for the Asia Research Program at ICRISAT.

Before the development of the new protocol, ICRISAT’s chickpea breeding program was producing three generations per year; first crop in the field during the crop season (October – February), second crop in the field under late-sown conditions with irrigation (February – April) and the third crop in an off-season nursery (May – July) at Hiriyur in Karnataka, south India.

Now, generation advancement can quickly be achieved by providing extra source of light (60W incandescent bulb) in greenhouses, explains Dr Srinivasan Samineni, Chickpea Scientist at ICRISAT. Extended photoperiod (light) during seedling stage induces early flowering within 20-25 days after sowing, against normal flowering duration of 40-50 days. The duration of crop cycle is further reduced by germinating immature green seeds.

During the experiments, the team found that the mean total number of generations produced per year during the experiments were 7, 6.2, and 6 in early, medium and late-maturing genotypes, respectively. The findings were described in a publication in The Crop Journal.

“This will be a game changer for fast-tracked development of chickpea varieties globally, meeting the ever-changing market needs. Varietal development with conventional breeding methods takes nearly 12 years, which is long enough for markets to change and render a variety under development unattractive to demand forces. Hastening breeding is the way ahead,” Dr Samineni said.

Additionally, the chickpea RGA protocol developed is significantly less resource intensive than RGA protocols developed for other crops such as wheat, faba bean and lentil, which requires exposure of seed to stress treatment, adjustment in wavelength of light source and application of chemicals and hormones, thus requiring specialized operations and controlled growing conditions.

The chickpea team put the RGA protocol to test on real-world breeding material by developing recombinant inbred line (RIL) mapping populations. Two RIL populations have just been developed following this protocol and have been advanced to F7 from F1 within a year.

“This RGA protocol developed for ICRISAT chickpea is very simple and cost-effective. It can be implemented easily by any breeding program with a greenhouse facility,” Dr Gaur added.

This work was taken up with support from CGIAR Research Program Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC).

Strengthening Seed systems in Asia and Africa

The training coordinators put in extra effort to increase women participation. Photo: ICRISAT

The training coordinators put in extra effort to increase women participation. Photo: ICRISAT

Modernizing NARS crop breeding programs for improved genetic gains in 14 countries

A course designed to modernize National Agricultural Research System (NARS) breeding programs for improving genetic gains of 9 dryland cereals and grain legumes and to strengthen seed systems in 14 African and Asian countries was held recently in Arusha, Tanzania. The training had 46% women participating and was facilitated by resource persons from 7 CGIAR centers; the Integrated Breeding Platform; a public institution and two private seed companies.

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“The course is designed to meet the knowledge needs/gaps of ‘Practicing Plant Breeders’ and is crafted to enhance operational efficiencies and rate of genetic gain for a unit cost. We expect NARS partners to adopt modern tools and techniques to be self-reliant in generating and testing improved germplasm,” said Dr Janila Pasupuleti, Leader of the Flagship Program on Variety and Hybrid Development program (FP4), CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC). The training focused on nine crops – chickpea, cowpea, pigeonpea, groundnut, lentil, soybean, sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet.

Plans are afoot to rope in national partners to host similar annual trainings in each of the regions – South Asia, Eastern and Southern Africa, and West and Central Africa.

Beyond breeding: Gaps identified in workshop discussions

Create greater access to genomic breeding tools: The need to bridge the huge gap between information on genomic resources published in high impact journals and its conversion into a tool for use in crop breeding was raised by Dr Joseph Ndunguru, Director, Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, Selian.

Develop high-yielding, stress-tolerant, climate-smart varieties: Prioritize on developing products that address the issues of increasing population, climate change and emerging stresses, said Dr Eric Manyasa, Regional Director for East and Southern Africa (acting), ICRISAT.

Engage policy makers, establish businesses: Dr Godfree Chigeza, Soybean Breeder, IITA, pointed out that the role of breeders shouldn’t be limited to dishing out new varieties and that it is essential to engage policy makers and serve farmers by identifying avenues for entrepreneurship to transform African agriculture.

Speed up seed variety registrations in sub-Saharan Africa:
Slow registration contributes to restricting smallholder farmers’ access to improved seeds, and therefore further limits their ability to increase yields, said Dr Chris Ojiewo, Theme Leader – Seed Systems, ICRISAT.  Regional integration would facilitate (i) common variety release procedures; (ii) free movement/exchange of varieties; (iii) economies of scale through common efforts in the seed business; (iv) expansion of investment in the seed business, thus increasing accessibility; (v) expanded efficiency in quality assurance through shared protocols; (vi) easy access to statistics and information on the value of seed markets (market information); (vii) availability of quality seed; and (viii) capacity enhancement.

Dr Ojiewo emphasized that effective genetic gains in the farmers’ fields requires a lot more than breeding. Improved genetics must be made available and accessible to the farmers in the form of high quality seeds in the most cost-effective way. Besides, the seed should be bundled with appropriate integrated crop management practices and necessary inputs such as seed treatment, fertilizers, fungicides and insecticides.

Participants at the workshop. Photo: ICRISAT

Participants at the workshop. Photo: ICRISAT

The training program was held during 10-18 October and was planned by the FP4 team of GLDC. The trainees were from 14 countries – Ethiopia, Myanmar, Tanzania, India, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Malawi, Uganda, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Sudan, Zimbabwe, and Egypt (12 women and 14 men). The resource persons were from seven CGIAR centers: CIMMYT, ICARDA, ICRISAT, IITA, CIAT, ICRAF, Excellence in Breeding (EiB); and Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP); Nelson Mandela-African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST); ADVANTA Seed Company and Neilsen Seeds.

The training was hosted at NM-AIST, organized by GLDC, IITA, ICARDA, ICRISAT and NM-AIST. The inaugural dinner was sponsored by ADVANTA.

“I learned about product profile development for delivering profitable products to farmers and how speed breeding techniques reduce the breeding cycle.”

Dr Dramane Sako,
Head, Groundnut Breeding Program, Institut d’Economie Rurale, Mali

“This training has provided a platform for collaboration, networking and sharing best practices on crop breeding.”

Prof Anthony Mshandete,
Deputy Vice Chancellor for Academics, Research and Innovation, Nelson Mandela African Institution of Agriculture and Technology

“The training timing is right for Africa as it is looking at increasing the contribution of the agricultural sector to national GDPs, which currently is very low.”

Dr Joseph Ndunguru,
Director, Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute, Selian

“For breeders’ work to be relevant, there is a need to align products in the pipeline to country needs. This requires well-trained staff. This training is timely and very much welcome.”

Dr Victor Manyong,
Director R4D, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture – Eastern Africa Hub

Cowpea boost for Ghana

Members of the AVISA and Bayers project team walking through a cowpea breeder seed field in Nyankpala, Ghana, West Africa. Photo: M Magassa, ICRISAT

Members of the AVISA and Bayers project team walking through a cowpea breeder seed field in Nyankpala, Ghana, West Africa. Photo: M Magassa, ICRISAT

Consolidated efforts to modernize crop improvement in Ghana

A Regional Coordinated Trial (RCT) is helping Cowpea Improvement Program in Ghana, thanks to Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA) and Bayer projects in West Africa. The regional trials involve genetic materials contributed by various research institutes and cross learning experience gleaned from testing and demonstrations.

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In Ghana, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research-Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (CSIR-SARI) is evaluating 198 genotypes including checks contributed by five institutions from major cowpea producing countries in West Africa. The institute contributed its 20 best genotypes (11 early maturing lines and 9 medium maturing lines) to the trial. International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR) of Ahmadu Bello University (ABU) in Nigeria contributed 80 genotypes (40 early and 40 medium) and 23 genotypes (10 early and 13 medium) respectively. INERA in Burkina Faso contributed 33 genotypes (19 early and 14 medium), while IER in Mali contributed 28 genotypes (14 early and 14 medium) to the RCT.

Additionally, each participating institution provided a check variety. In Ghana, Kirkhouse Benga (an early maturing variety) and Padi-Tuya (a medium maturing variety) were used as check. Evaluations were done in three locations in each country. In Ghana, trials were conducted in Nyankpala (Guinea Savanna), Yendi (Guinea savanna) and Manga (Sudan Savanna) which fall within the mandate agroecologies of the CSIR-SARI.

The main objective of this field experiment, as explained by the SARI cowpea breeder Dr Tengey, is “to increase the genetic variability available to breeders through exchange of germplasm while using a commonly agreed experimental design and statistical analysis”.

“Best performing genotypes will be selected for further evaluations and release or incorporated into elite cultivars through crosses after the evaluations,” he said.

Increasing the number of generations of germplasm evaluated in a year can increase genetic gains from cowpea research. This is a forward looking goal of the CSIR-SARI cowpea research team. Owing to the Tropical Legumes III (TL III) Project, which ended this year, CSIR-SARI was able to produce and advance several segregating populations. The capacity of the team was further expanded with the advent of AVISA and Bayer projects. “We have been able to plant 100 genotypes, each coming from 20 populations (originating from 20 crosses),” Dr Tengey explained.

These populations have resistance to Aphids, flower bud thrips, Striga, and they display improved seed coat color, large seed size and yield among others. By using the single seed-descent approach these populations will be quickly advanced to F6 generation at which point phenotyping will be done under different stress conditions and selections made. Funds from the two projects have been used to support these trials.

To modernize infrastructure, the seed storage house of the cowpea improvement program of the CSIR-SARI has been renovated with support from Bayer project. The AVISA project is expected to extend electricity to the facility and provide refrigerators for cold storage.
Dr Tengey is also expecting his institute to acquire four more polytanks for water storage and to be able to establish a rainwater harvesting system to store more water for dry season trials.

AVISA aims to modernize breeding programs and strengthen the seed production and delivery systems by accelerating genetic gain for target traits in cowpea to at least 1.5% annually. It also aims at deployment of a breeding decision and informatics support system for assessing reliable performance information of products and provide feedback for the development of data-driven product profiles.

The Bayer project being implemented since 2015 in Ghana by CSIR-SARI aims at increasing genetic gain of existing cowpea breeding lines and enhancing effectiveness of the cowpea-breeding program. It also seeks to increase the competitiveness of cowpea for enhancing income and nutrition security of smallholder farmers in the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa. The project specifically focuses on establishing a functional breeding program for identifying and prioritizing farmer preferred traits and, increasing and improving efficiency of breeding approaches using modern breeding methods for cultivar development.

CSIR SARI’s storage house. Photo: M Magassa, ICRISAT

CSIR SARI’s storage house. Photo: M Magassa, ICRISAT

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

Donor: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals.

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

Partnerships for sustainable farming

Children in Tanzania being served finger millet porridge as part of the Smart Food initiative in Africa

Children in Tanzania being served finger millet porridge as part of the Smart Food initiative in Africa

How do you provide healthy, sustainable food for world of the future?

New partnership with global agriculture research giant to focus on tackling challenge of health, environmental and social sustainability in food

Farmers around the world can be helped to grow the best food that is fit for future generations with help from a new development in the partnership between the University of Reading and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).

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A sorghum farmer in Mali displaying his crop.

A sorghum farmer in Mali displaying his crop.

Researchers from both institutions will be working together to develop scientific understanding and training resources to address key questions on the value of food crops. Through ICRISAT’s expertise working in the toughest and driest zones across the world, the work will look to address key food system questions in places that are worst hit by water shortages, degraded soils and poverty and also those hardest hit by climate change.

Professor Ian Givens, Director of the Institute of Food, Nutrition and Health at the University of Reading said:

“We are excited about this new partnership that will provide opportunities to tackle the biggest questions in global food production and are delighted that ICRISAT has chosen to work with us on this challenge.

“For many years now the University of Reading has pioneered new and important research on the relationship between diet and chronic disorders such as cardiovascular disease. More recently, this has extended into the relationship between diet and more detailed predictors of disease risk including effects on brain function, a complex story also involving the gut microbiota.

Prof Rajeev Varshney of ICRISAT (left) and Prof Professor Robert Van de Noort, Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading, at the signing of the MoU.

Prof Rajeev Varshney of ICRISAT (left) and Prof Professor Robert Van de Noort, Vice-Chancellor, University of Reading, at the signing of the MoU.

“An important aspect of modern nutrition is obtaining a clear understanding of the nutritional characteristics of foods, both in terms of traditional nutrients and their impact on our physiology e.g. cognition.

“This approach to modern nutrition is one of the key areas that we will be working with ICRISAT in their fight to provide food fit for future generations.”

The role of gut microbiome in human nutrition, the effect of diet on human health and the implications for plant breeding are among a series of topics that the partnership will begin to focus on. Research will concentrate on crops called ‘Smart Foods’, such as the millets, sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnuts.

The development of research into these crops grown in drylands of Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa could see breakthroughs that support new, more resilient crops grown alongside traditional staples to feed more than two billion people living in these areas. The new work will also ensure that research into these crops will address the fact that more than 650 million in such areas are at the highest risk of malnutrition and food scarcity, while also meeting a growing consumer demand around the world for more nutritious foods.

Prof. Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director for Genetic Gains and Director of Centre of Excellence in Genomics and Systems Biology, ICRISAT, said:

Children during a meal at a school in India.

Children during a meal at a school in India.

“We are very excited to have this partnership with IFNH, University of Reading. With their expertise in cutting-edge areas of microbiome and nutrition research, and our research experience in genomics and modern breeding of Smart Food crops, ICRISAT, with its partners, is well positioned to contribute to improving nutrition in India and Sub-Saharan Africa, and support countries that provide a major proportion of food to the rest of the world.”

Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General of External Relations at ICRISAT and Executive Director of Smart Food said:

“Sustainable food and health solutions will need to ensure a three-fold purpose—that they are good for you, good for the planet and good for the farmer.

“Such solutions are enabled by moving away from working in silos and finding answers to challenges together. We have a vision to bring these Smart Foods into mainstream diets. This is vital if we are to have a lasting positive impact on health, the environment and the farmers.”

Ahead of the formal signing of the MOU, representatives from both institutions joined a prestigious lecture event held by the Tropical Agriculture Association. Lectures, delivered by Professors Julie Lovegrove and Chris Reynolds from the University of Reading and Prof. Varshney, outlined the need for “smarter foods” which provide healthy diets for humanity and the environment.

For more information, please contact:

Tim Mayo at +44 (0)118 378 7110 or t (dot) p (dot) mayo (at) reading (dot) ac (dot) .uk
Prof. Ian Givens at +44(0)118 378 8491 or d (dot) i (dot) givens (dot) reading (dot) ac (dot) uk
Prof. Rajeev K. Varshney at +91 40 3071 3305 or R (dot) K (dot) Varshney (dot) CGIAR (dot) ORG
Rohit Pillandi at +91 9949513812 or p (dot) rohit (dot) cgiar (dot) org

Workshop at Arusha, Tanzania Photo: ICRISAT

Workshop at Arusha, Tanzania Photo: ICRISAT

Mobile-based monitoring tool rolled out for national partners in 7 African countries

To track project activities and implementation, a mobile web-based platform designed to collect real-time, geo-tagged data about farmers, farmland, livestock, on-field interventions, and other key indicators of agricultural research and extension was rolled out for use by AVISA project’s national partners in 7 countries.

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“The MLE [Monitoring, Learning and Evaluation] tool MEASURE (Monitoring and Evaluation of Agri-Science Uptake in Research & Extension) is not just for survey/data collection, but also a management, insights and reporting tool. On the platform, activity owners can create data collection templates online. It allows users to save data and syncs automatically to create reports with enhanced visualization in the form of dashboards and graphs,” said Mr Satish Nagaraji, ICRISAT Senior Manager – Digital Agriculture (M&E and Tools). Learning from challenges faced in the Tropical Legumes project, a modern version of the MLE platform was created for the AVISA project, he said. The tool was co-developed by ICRISAT and VERDENTUM.

Dr Geoffrey Muricho, ICRISAT MLE Specialist, reminded the participants about the primary outcomes of the project namely, breeding, data and bioinformatics, gender and socioeconomics, seed systems, and project management. He added that the MLE plan will use Theory of Change; Key Performance Indicators; data collection, management, analysis, interpretation and reporting; and reflection and drawing of lessons (learning).

Workshop at Accra, Ghana. Photo: ICRISAT

Workshop at Accra, Ghana. Photo: ICRISAT

The tool was demonstrated to partners and changes were made, where necessary, according to the partners’ needs and available resources. The teams from ESA and WCA also appointed MLE focal persons for each crop in each country. AVISA focuses on sorghum, pearl millet, groundnut, common bean and cowpea in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda.

Mr Joseph Minja, a groundnut breeder from TARI-Naliendele said, “MEASURE is a good tool for management, reporting and for collection and sharing data. It is time-saving too. In the past, it would take months just searching for data from individual files. It required a lot of paperwork and data accuracy would often be compromised.”

The roll-out training in Arusha, Tanzania from 3-4 September was hosted by Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI) for partners in East and Southern Africa. The training from 9-10 September in Accra-Ghana for West and Central Africa (WCA) partners was hosted by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research—Savanna Agricultural Research Institute. The training workshops were organized by ICRISAT and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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

Funder: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Partners: ICRISAT (lead), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and National Agricultural Research Systems partners (NARS) from 7 African countries (Ethiopia; Tanzania; Uganda; Burkina Faso; Ghana; Mali; Nigeria)

CRP: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals


A checkdam constructed in Ukkali to harvest water. Photo: ICRISAT

A checkdam constructed in Ukkali to harvest water. Photo: ICRISAT

Most prestigious CSR award given for integrated watershed management

The President of India recognized the Power Grid Corporation of India (POWERGRID) with the highest CSR award for bettering the lives of nearly 30,000 farmers through an integrated watershed management project executed in partnership with ICRISAT.

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President Mr Ram Nath Kovind and Ms Nirmala Sitharaman, Minister of Finance and Minister of Corporate Affairs, India, on October 29 presented the  National CSR Awards that seek to recognize outstanding CSR efforts that have resulted in positive impact.

POWERGRID and ICRISAT initiated the project ‘Improving Rural Livelihoods through Farmer Centric Integrated Watershed Management’ in Kurnool district of Andhra Pradesh state and Vijayapura district of Karnataka State in 2014. In Ukkali village of Vijayapura, the watershed program has been focusing on improving water availability to around 10,000 residents in order to help diversify the livelihood systems by adopting on integrated water resource management approach.

Muktha Bai sells about 5000 rotis per month and makes a net income of ` 10,000 per month. Photo: ICRISAT

Muktha Bai sells about 5000 rotis per month and makes a net income of ` 10,000 per month. Photo: ICRISAT

“From 2014 onwards, nearly 150,000 m3 Rain Water Harvesting (RWH) capacity has been created with check dams, farm ponds, percolation tanks, gully checks, wastewater treatment plant and borewell recharge pits. Nearly 300,000 m3 runoff water has been harvested, facilitating groundwater recharge,” said Dr KH Anantha, Watershed Scientist at ICRISAT and the project’s Principal Investigator in Karnataka. These efforts enabled about 500 ha of additional area to be brought under supplemental irrigation with increased cropping intensity of 30-40%.

Climate resilient crop varieties, balanced nutrient management, crop diversification with high value crops and improved crop management on more than 1,000 ha helped achieve yield increases between 30% and 50%. These efforts increased incomes by ` 10,000 (US$ 140) –` 50,000 (US$ 704) per year per household. There has also been an increase in income of about ` 6,000 (US$ 84) per family through livelihood opportunities created specifically for women and the landless.

In 10 villages of Kurnool district, where 4,100 farm households were targeted in the watershed area, around 230 soil and water conservation structures were made. These structures have resulted in a net storage capacity of 200,000 m3 with a total conservation capacity of 500,000 m3. Around 20,000 farmers directly benefited from these efforts.

“Through various water structures in Kurnool, the surface and groundwater availability increased significantly as several borewells and open-wells which were dry have become functional. Constructing low-cost farm ponds has proven to be a suitable water storage solution to provide easy water access to smallholders and help them mitigate drought-related losses up to 30-60%,” said Dr Girish Chander, Soil Scientist at ICRISAT and the project’s Principal Investigator in Andhra Pradesh.

Soil testing in select villages revealed severe deficiency of organic carbon (17-85% deficiency), sulphur (36-100%), zinc (58-100%) and boron. Crop-specific fertilizer recommendations were then made to farmers. Further, around 1,000 demonstration plots were established to demonstrate the benefits of improved cultivars, seed treatment, soil test-based fertilizer application that included micro and secondary nutrient application, and integrated pest management practices.

Consequently, productivity improvement of 10-50% was reported in crops like maize, pigeonpea, groundnut, foxtail millet and paddy. The increase in income was ` 4,500 (US$ 63) per ha to ` 8,800 (US$ 124) in paddy, maize, pigeonpea and groundnut.

A low-cost cement-lined farm pond that was constructed in Kurnool. Photo: ICRISAT

A low-cost cement-lined farm pond that was constructed in Kurnool. Photo: ICRISAT

To support women farmers, small kitchen gardens or vegetable gardens were promoted.

Other income generating activities including vermicomposting, vegetable kits, distribution of horticulture plants to SHG members, besides provision of a revolving fund, have been undertaken.

The team also introduced composting with crop residues of pigeonpea, maize and pearl millet in Kurnool. To increase value in pigeonpea farming, a mini mill was set up which also provides employment. Several capacity building programs and public messaging initiatives were taken up to create awareness about the watershed project. Members of self-help groups that were engaged in goat rearing have reported increased incomes of ` 4,000 (US$ 57) in a year.

Dr Kiran Sharma, Deputy Director General–Research, and Jonathan Philroy, Manager, ABI, accepting the award from Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey, Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Photo: ICRISAT

Dr Kiran Sharma, Deputy Director General–Research, and Jonathan Philroy, Manager, ABI, accepting the award from Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey, Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship. Photo: ICRISAT

India confers top accolade on ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubator for fostering entrepreneurship

ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubator (ABI) was recently recognized by the Indian government with a top accolade for its contributions towards entrepreneurship promotion in India.

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The recognition came in the form of a National Entrepreneurship Award that is given annually by the Government of India’s Ministry of Skill Development and Entrepreneurship (MSDE). ABI was declared winner for this year’s award in the Ecosystems Builder category.

Dr Mahendra Nath Pandey, Minister of State for Skill Development and Entrepreneurship, handed the award to Dr Kiran Sharma, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, and Jonathan Philroy, Manager, ABI. The incubator is a part of ICRISAT’s Agribusiness & Innovation Platform, which in turn is a part of ICRISAT’s Innovation Systems for the Drylands (ISD) Research Program.

“While recognizing the contributions of ABI to the agri-entrepreneurship ecosystem in India, the award also recognizes the longstanding commitment of ICRISAT and its partnering institutions to support agribusiness
in Asia and Africa, which eventually benefits the farmer,” Dr Sharma, who also heads the incubator, said about the award.

Recognized as the first agri-sector focused technology-based incubator in India, ABI was created in 2003 by ICRISAT with support from the Indian government’s Department of Science & Technology. Over the years, ABI has supported 103 ag-tech start-ups and enterprises from ag-biotechnology to food processing to digital agriculture domains across India.

Start-ups supported by ABI have been able to create over 2,500 direct jobs and mobilize more than US$ 25 million in funding, benefiting over three million farmers in 2018-19 alone. The incubator has helped its incubatees file for 12 patents and trademarks in the last three years. Over 5,000 individuals were trained in agribusiness promotion, skill development, technology commercialization, incubation management and other areas of agribusiness. A growing partner network of governments, mentors, investors and service providers help the incubator in its mandate.

To promote agri-focused enterprises by developing agribusiness incubator networks in India and Africa, ABI mentored 22 incubators in Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutions and State Agricultural Universities, and 11 agriculture value-chain and food processing incubators in eight African countries under initiatives of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA) and the Indian government respectively. These initiatives have since been scaled-up by ICAR, India’s Ministry of Agriculture & Farmers’ Welfare and the African Agribusiness Incubation Network.

ABI has also supported 16 Farmer Producer Organizations (FPO), comprising around 3,000 farmer members in Telangana, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu on business development models, besides training the FPO management on operations and sustainability. The incubator is also an outreach center to the Government of India’s initiatives on enterprise and innovation promotion.

“Given the focus on start-up promotion and skill development by the Government of India, ABI-ICRISAT is looking to support another 100 ag-tech start-ups in the coming five years to benefit 10 million farmers in dryland tropics and generate over 5,000 jobs in the non-farm sector,” Dr Sharma said while referring to the incubator’s objectives in the coming years.

Improving agricultural practices and farm livelihoods

A farmer during Tabaski festivities this year in Niger. Photo: Clarisse Umutoni, ICRISAT

A farmer during Tabaski festivities this year in Niger. Photo: Clarisse Umutoni, ICRISAT

Tabaski - an untapped market opportunity for small ruminants in Niger

Tabaski (or Aïd el-Kebir) is an Islamic tradition observed worldwide. An animal is sacrificed as part of the festivities. This year’s festivities in Niger, where 95% of the population is Muslim, has demonstrated how technical assistance days before the event can help farmers tap the increased demand for small ruminants during this time.

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To help farmers take advantage of the market conditions during the festivities, the LSIL (Livestock System Innovation Lab)-funded project backstopped them with technical assistance to produce and purchase feed in order to present good quality animals in time for Tabaski. One-ninety-one farmers owning 400 small ruminants (mostly sheep), volunteered to participate. Participant farmers were trained on fattening and animal health (feeding techniques, vaccination, deworming and administration of vitamins). A feed bank was established and managed by farmers to ensure availability of feed throughout the period leading up to Tabaski.

“We used to meet on Thursdays to discuss our issues in livestock production and to find solutions together. Following the meeting, members visited other members to witness different ways of raising animals. That is how I came to realize that what I was doing was wrong. When I have a concern, I share it with other farmers and they give me their perspective. I am getting better in managing sheep since I joined the program. The project has helped us to produce marketable and high value animals,” said Ms Hamsatou Harouni, a farmer based in Torodi.

About 5-10 days before Tabask, which was in August this year, the project investigated potential buyers, mainly from Niamey, the closest big city, and linked them to producers.

This first attempt was a real success for livestock farmers like Ms Harouni. She further said good market prices and savings on transportation costs helped earn more.

“Normally, it is my husband who used to bring my animals to the market. He often did not give me money. Even when he did, he used to give me just around US$ 15 from the sale because I was not aware of the market price of sheep. Now, I am sell my animals. Tabaski is really a big market opportunity for livestock. I sold two sheep, one at US$ 200 and the other at US$ 120. This is an important income that will cover a lot of my family’s costs,” she says.

Farmers during the agronomy and entrepreneurial skills workshop at ICRISAT. Photo: ICRISAT

Farmers during the agronomy and entrepreneurial skills workshop at ICRISAT. Photo: ICRISAT

Putting new-age agronomy to test in Indian farms

A group of farmers in India’s Telangana state is breaking new ground in their farms with recently learnt scientific agronomic practices to improve crop productivity. The group of 36, from five villages in Warangal Rural district, has applied plant spacing, optimization of fertilizer use including split application, irrigation management and safe spraying among other practices in the ongoing crop season. These lessons were learnt during workshop demonstrations held in August at ICRISAT.

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“We saw that excess application of nitrogen (urea) 50 days after sowing delays reproductive stage, which lowers yield,” said Mr Koti, a farmer from Neredpalli village.

“Irrigation should be properly managed. We used to irrigate often, leading to water loss and sometimes water scarcity. We stopped doing that. We are now irrigating only if needed and in critical stages,” Mr Kumaraswamy, a farmer from Relakunta said about water use.

The group has also reported benefits from making draining channels in fields, application of micronutrients, importance of sowing date and gap filling and thinning.



The two-day workshop aimed to help farmers from five villages to enhance capacities and embrace innovative technologies in agriculture and allied activities, including entrepreneurship. Besides best agronomic practices, the farmers were briefed about marketing techniques and processing of agricultural produce.

During the workshop, ICRISAT’s agronomists shared improved practices for specific crops including pulses, cotton and maize, and integrated pest and weed management. Mulching practices were also demonstrated to prevent water evaporation and control weed growth.

To help them realize better prices for their produce, the farmers were taken to a pilot processing facility at ICRISAT’s Agribusiness Innovation Platform (AIP) where details about machinery for primary processing of millets and pulses were demonstrated. To avail support from the government, a former agricultural officer explained existing government support schemes for farmers. A visit to the farm and machinery department of the Professor Jayashankar Telangana State Agricultural University (PJTSAU) provided the essential technological learning that can cut cost and improve returns.

TIGR2ESS project (FP4), which is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), under ICRISAT’s Innovation Systems for the Drylands Research Program organized the two-day workshop ‘Agronomic & Entrepreneurial skills for smallholder farmers’ in partnership with AIP, ICRISAT.

Photo: S Arun, ICRISAT

Photo: S Arun, ICRISAT

India choking

Burning crop residue worsens air quality, damages health, disrupts lives and deprives farmers of opportunities to make alternate gains on farm. Recognizing factors that drive the practice and demonstrating proven solutions is the way ahead.

How long will Delhi gasp for breath?

Delhi is considered one of the most polluted cities in the world. Air pollution is caused due to rising number of vehicles, industrial pollution, construction activities and reducing green cover not commensurate with rapid urbanization. Air quality worsens from mid-October to mid-November, often slipping from severe to hazardous category.

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Adapted from original post on

A major reason ascribed to poor air quality is stubble burning in Punjab, Haryana and parts of UP. The situation gets compounded by lighting of firecrackers on Diwali. Regulatory actions in Delhi (odd-even scheme) or cajoling farmers through sops (or drastic actions) have not proved successful. The National Green Tribunal (NGT) and State Pollution Control Boards have issued several directions to states to control stubble burning, but without noticeable outcomes.

Are there no solutions to tackle stubble burning? Scientists working in this field, environmentalists, farmers’ organisations and agricultural economists have suggested responsible solutions. The authors have first-hand experience in the field; they interacted with scientists, policymakers, farmers adopting prescribed technological solutions, and analyzed the body of ‘limited’ literature on the subject in the past few years. Based on these, an actionable framework, in short and medium to long term, is suggested that needs political will and cooperation of all the stakeholders, mainly the farming community.

How did the problem start?

Earlier, farmers of Punjab and Haryana used to grow three crops in a year: short-duration paddy (termed Sathi) in May that was harvested by mid-July; during kharif (rainy season), farmers would go for late-sown high-yielding paddy, for which free irrigation and procurement by government agencies were favorable (few farmers started cultivating Basmati rice during this season); and after harvest of kharif paddy, high-yielding varieties of wheat were grown in the winter. Cultivation of Sathi was possible because of abundant shallow groundwater to irrigate the water-guzzling crop even during peak summer. But unsustainable cropping practices led to a steep decline in water table, prompting both Punjab and Haryana to enact laws to ban early transplanting of paddy. As per law, paddy nurseries can only be started from 10 May and transplanting from 13 June in Punjab (dates for Haryana are 15 May and 15 June, respectively).

These fixed dates delayed harvest of the crop to October, a time when farmers are supposed to prepare land for wheat. Although tech solutions are available, farmers take the easiest option to clear the fields, by burning the stubble/residue. And then there are other factors—increased straw production surpassing the demand of fodder, drastic decline in agricultural workforce (labor) and increased mechanized harvesting operations.

What are the solutions?

The kharif paddy crop sowing cannot be advanced—the existing Preservation of Subsoil Water Act in Punjab and Haryana cannot be relaxed because of a fast depleting water table (studies say it is reducing at 0.3 to 1 meter/year). So we need technological alternatives to stubble burning.

Short-term solutions: Happy seeder is a tractor-mounted machine that sows (wheat) seeds without the need to till the field or remove existing paddy straw. The remains of rice crop residue act as mulch, conserving soil moisture and improving soil health. Research shows such climate-smart practices lead to reduced carbon dioxide emissions, enhanced micro-biome activities in the soil, and less weed infestation. Happy seeder and implements like straw-spreader or straw management system (SMS) have been field tested. Governments (Union and states) have encouraged farmers with subsidies to adopt these. The usage of happy seeders has incrementally gone up, but has not caught up fast enough to make a perceptible dent on stubble burning. The cost of machines (over ` 150,000 or US$ 2088) is often cited as a reason for low adoption.

Business models with lead farmers, farmers’ cooperatives and service providers through custom-hiring centers have to be developed to provide machinery on demand. Massive awareness campaigns and capacity-building activities need to be undertaken for all the stakeholders. Initially, subsidies on machines may be raised and farm cooperatives and specialized start-ups may be encouraged to operate custom-hiring centers. Gram Panchayats may also be made responsible to take up such activities. Banks and financial institutions should provide capital assistance to desirous individuals/groups.

Machinery would displace manual labor. It could, therefore, be suggested to engage agricultural laborers in the collection of paddy straws for production of manure and other purposes. Wages of these laborers could be met from the MGNREGA funds by Panchayati Raj institutions. This will generate employment.

A new cadre of trained human resource would be needed to provide technical know-how to farmers. For this, attracting youth in agriculture would greatly help.

Till kharif paddy is substituted with other crops, cultivation of short-duration rice varieties suited for direct-seeded-rice (DSR) method coupled with micro-irrigation could be tried as an alternative. DSR paddy takes less time for establishment and there is no transplanting shock to the plant. This method may significantly save irrigation water and advance the growing season (as no transplanting is done). This would widen the gap between paddy harvest and wheat sowing, thus potentially reducing burning problem.

Baling of straw by suitable machines can clear the field for next sowing, and scientific binding of straw can be employed to address fodder scarcity in nearby areas.

Adoption of zero-tillage farming for crop residue management has been advocated by ICAR and CIMMYT. Zero-tillage using happy seeder alone has the potential to solve half of the residue burning issues. It reduces GHG emissions, and also ensures remunerative income to farmers.

Medium to long-term solutions: Phasing out current subsidies provided on piecemeal basis and transitioning towards a holistic farming approach through provisioning of payments for ecosystem services will provide farmers better opportunities to take wise decisions in accordance to their local circumstance. In addition to conservation agriculture, high-value crops like fruits, vegetables, maize, soybean, etc, could be replaced in stubble burning areas. Climate-resilient crops like sorghum and millet (nutri-cereals) could be planned.

Processing infrastructure to support a vibrant value chain linking to the market would, however, be needed. Also, making pellets/briquettes from paddy straw for their use in (thermal) power plants, use of stubble in bio-refineries (bio-ethanol), biomass gasification, etc, have been suggested as solutions to utilize paddy straw.

Non-basmati paddy cultivation is preferred by farmers, mainly because of assured procurement under MSP. A gradual reduction of the common paddy area and substitution with other crops (including Basmati) may reduce environmental footprint. Subsidies for power/irrigation water, fertilizers, etc, have compounded the problem. Diversification of existing cropping system is also fraught with high political dynamics. A strong will from top political leadership (maybe with a direction from the judiciary) may change the behavior of all actors in the policy arena.

India is world’s third-largest emitter of GHGs. As per a report submitted by the Government of India to the UNFCCC, crop-residue burning accounts for 2% of GHG emissions within the agriculture sector. Effective mitigation measures with contextual adaptation practices as suggested above would reduce stubble burning, thus lessening the load on the environment and possibly making the Delhi air cleaner.

Dr M L Jat, Principal Scientist, CIMMYT
Dr Arabinda Padhee, Country Director, India,

A shredder in action in a field in Karnataka. Photo: ICRISAT

A shredder in action in a field in Karnataka. Photo: S Arun, ICRISAT

South India’s farmers show how to profit from ecofriendly stubble disposal

Farmers in south India are finding alternatives to residue burning not only environment-friendly but also profitable. Shredding stubble is one such alternative that 280 sugarcane farmers in Karnataka state now swear by.

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“I have been shredding and using the remains as post-harvest mulch. This has increased fertility, reduced costs and increased returns. I have been doing this for 18 years now and have also got other farmers to do it with similar results,” said Mr Pradeep Kumar, a farmer from Manahali village of Bidar district.

Farmers participating in Bhoosamrudhi Project in Karnataka were introduced to shredding by ICRISAT. Until then, the preferred method of clearing remnants of previous crop was stubble burning. Every acre of land cultivated with sugarcane produces around three-four tons of residue. Burning pollutes the air, affects soil and deprives the farmer of the opportunity to enhance soil fertility.

Mulching shredded stubble on the field helps increase soil organic content and boosts soil health. When done with application of micronutrients, yields can increase significantly, as was seen in Bidar. The farmers began to harvest around 45 tons per acre as against 35-40 tons before the intervention of the project.

Other benefits the farmers report include reduction in water use and increased water-holding capacity of the soil.

The improved practices reduced cost of cultivation from ` 40,000 (US$ 557) to ` 32,000 (US$ 445) per acre for the first crop. The cost of cultivating a ratoon crop reduced from ` 30,000 (US$ 418) to ` 27,000 (US$ 376) per acre with improved practices.

The ICRISAT Development Centre, which is executing the project, has estimated long-term benefits of mulching. When farmers practice shredding and mulching for years, like Mr Kumar, a significant amount of organic carbon is added to the soil, which significantly reduces the fertilizer expenditure. In Mr Kumar’s fields, 1,560 kg of organic carbon is being made available every year and in the last 18 years, the farmer has managed to accrue 28,080 kg of organic carbon!

A drone set to take off for a flight in ICRISAT. Photo: C Sunita, ICRISAT

A drone set to take off for a flight in ICRISAT. Photo: C Sunita, ICRISAT

Laying the ground for drone-based technologies to support development of climate-ready crops

Globally, agriculture is witnessing significant technological advancement, best exemplified by the Agriculture 4.0 movement. India, one of the world’s largest food producers and consumers, has to stay abreast of the growth.

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Remote-sensing imaging for monitoring crop health and security is one of the technologies yet to come of age in India.

Evolving regulations and lack of expertise are teething troubles set to pave way for Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) with Red Green Blue (RGB) and multispectral/hyperspectral cameras for accelerated data collection. Imaging with UAV is being done elsewhere in the world to support crop improvement and precision agriculture. Drones are also being used for accurate and targeted pesticide spraying, thus minimizing human exposure.

To give drones a leg up in India, the Indian Institute of Technology-Hyderabad and ICRISAT are collaborating to standardize phenotyping protocols using UAV-based technologies to support crop improvement programs.

Why standardization

Members of the team collaborating in designing the SOP for using drones in crop phenotyping.

Members of the team collaborating in designing the SOP for using drones in crop phenotyping.

Establishing ground rules before flying drones over fields can help efficient image capture and analysis. Make of the drone, location, wind speed, flight height, image capture frequency and solar radiation are critical parameters that determine outcome i.e. the quality of data that images can provide. While making fixed prescriptions for each of these parameters would be counterproductive, understanding a range of operating conditions within which optimum image capture results can greatly augment phenotyping efforts.

More importantly, standard operating procedures can be reliably replicated across institutions, geographies or crops. The ICIRSAT-IIT team, supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), Indian government’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, CGIAR’s Excellence in Breeding Platform (EiB) and Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC), and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), aim to develop SOPs for image capture and analysis.

Dr Vincent Vadez, Principal Scientist, IRD, France, who is the Project Collaborator (ICRISAT) and Module 4 Leader of (EiB), said, “EiB is currently developing an initiative addressing the main bottlenecks. These are- (i) the need for SOP to generate quality images and (ii) access to automated, high quality and high performance data analysis pipeline to generate trustworthy crop indices with a fast turnover time to support breeding selections. These two limitations were recognized after a workshop with some of the most advanced global groups in the domain of drone technology development that support breeding,”.

Get set, go!

During nearly 70 flights over the past one year at ICRISAT, the team captured RGB and multispectral images using cameras aboard a DGI drone (four-rotor) weighing about 2 kg with payload. The crop traits targeted include plant count, plant height, flowering time and leaf area index. The images captured from drones are tested for multiple image quality indicators and subsequently stitched with software before they are used for analysis.

To date, we found that flying the drone at a height of 7 m to 25 m and at speeds ranging from 3 to 5 km per hour when wind speeds are under 10 meters per second, appears optimal to attain hihg quality images. Furthermore, the image overlap, the percentage of every frame captured that needs to be in another frame, is an important parameter to assess. For any given shutter speed, the team found that atleast 80% overlap is desirable. Higher overlaps would result in higher quality of images stitching (i.e. orthomosaic) but would also mean slower drone movement, increased power consumption and time taken. On the other hand, lower overlap could risk information loss. The team is now conducting more detailed analysis to develop the SOP based on this large dataset.

Attempts to develop an effective image analysis pipeline is heavily reliant on capacity to predict the ground truth observations. In many cases, collection of quality and sufficient ground-truth data might pose another constraint. In our case, we collected ground truth data on a massive scale from the LeasyScan high-throughput phenotyping platform and precision fields of ICRISAT.

The future ahead

Explaining the larger effort underway, Dr Jana Kholova, Senior Scientist, Crops Physiology and Modelling, who is the nodal contact for ICRISAT’s work in drones under two projects, said that ICRISAT’s GEMS (Genotype by Environment by Management by Society) is working on developing a publicly available phenotyping platform, which could drive the use of drones for crop traits evaluation.

A drone making passes over a field to determine plant traits. Photos: C Sunita, ICRISAT

A drone making passes over a field to determine plant traits. Photos: C Sunita, ICRISAT

“The GEMS team, along with local and international experts, is developing a publicly available platform to provide quality phenotyping services under an internationally unified and standardized set of protocols, which can enable rigorous comparison of results across partner networks. Once the platform is rigorously tested and fully established, we foresee UAV-technology enabling the transparent and cross-comparable phenotyping for environmental adaptation to accelerate crop improvement in complex SAT agri-systems.”

The two projects which the team is involved in are ‘Sorghum Genomics Toolbox: TERRA Partnership’ funded by Donald Danforth Plant Science Center Institute for International Crop Improvement and ‘AI Driven High Throughput Phenotyping to Accelerate Crop Improvement through Crop-images Captured from Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) with On-Vehicle Sensors’ which is funded by Government of India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology.


Priyanka Gattu is a Junior Research Fellow with ICRISAT and IIT-Hyderabad.

Sunita Choudhary is a Scientist at ICRISAT

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A farmer’s choice: tribal communities in Adilabad select their preferred sorghum varieties

Adilabad district in Telangana, with its dry deciduous forests, is home to several tribal groups for whom agriculture is the main source of livelihood. Tribal landscapes here are predominantly rainfed agro-ecosystems with the economy being primarily farm-based. Long-term climate analysis indicates a high climate risk (such as drought, irregular rainfall and degraded soils) in the district.

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Besides several economic, environmental, social, and health-related challenges, smallholder and marginal farmers are also trying to find a balance between producing high-yield crops that meet their requirements, and keeping their cultural heritage alive. Together with a team of partners, ICRISAT has been working in this region to support the farmers in achieving their goals.

Sorghum (jowar) is the staple diet of the tribal population. To them the crop is not merely a food; it is an important part of their culture and identity. Therefore, it is crucial to understand the sorghum system, the farmer’s needs, and the role of socio-economic context for adoption of cultivars.

As part of a pilot study to design a strategy for testing the potential of suitability and adoption of on-shelf sorghum varieties, ICRISAT and the Centre for Collective Development (CCD), presented 18 elite Rabi sorghum cultivars grown on-station under low-input conditions to the farmers. The farmers selected a few varieties based on their preferences. The selection process was complemented by production and nutritional analysis of the crops. Finally, four cultivars were taken further for farmer participatory varietal selection with eight farmers from Utnoor mandal. The team from ICRISAT’s Innovations Systems for the Drylands – System Analysis for Climate Smart Agriculture (ISD-SACSA) closely monitored the on-farm trial and recorded the farmer preferences.

Cooked sorghum (rotis and khichdi) served at the farmers’ meeting. Photo credit: Jana Kholová, ISD-SACSA

Cooked sorghum (rotis and khichdi) served at the farmers’ meeting. Photo credit: Jana Kholová, ISD-SACSA

After harvest, the team traveled to Utnoor to talk to the farmers, spending a weekend tasting rotis and upma made from the harvested grains. The farmers preferred CSV 22R for its fodder quantity and Phule Chitra for its prolific branching and the compact panicles. “Phule Chitra, CSV22R and M35-1 are better than the hybrid sorghum we usually grow,” said farmer DondiRam from Chintakara village. “Roti and jonna annam (sorghum cooked like rice) of CSV22R and Phule Chitra are aromatic and tasty,” he added. Their children too preferred the same varieties. Several farmers preferred Phule Chitra for grain and CSV22R for fodder.

These cultivars will be used for upscaling the project. Additionally, the farmers were trained to produce their own seeds.

Earlier, farmers had expressed their preference for pure landraces as food and fodder. However, these landraces are either contaminated with a hybrid gene pool or have disappeared over time. Also, the yield potential of landrace is very low, they are sensitive to diseases (eg, charcoal rot). Despite this, the landraces are preferred over the hybrid for the grain taste and therefore suitability for making sorghum products (khichdi and roti). Farmers who own livestock mentioned that their animals do not like the stover of the existing hybrids. These findings show that hybrid sorghum does not meet the local needs, yet no other commercial products are currently available.

With support of the Government of India, the sorghum project will be scaled up across the Adilabad region. Focus of the next steps will be refinement of the product concept, such as improvement of the fodder quality, in order to facilitate adoption of new sorghum varieties. Furthermore, local capacities will be created to conserve the pure seeds of landraces, while multiplying and storing the preferred cultivars at the farmer communities and local NGOs.

Through targeted sustainable crop-livestock interventions, ICRISAT aims to improve the nutrition and socio-economic well-being of the tribal farming communities in Adilabad.

This work was carried out as part of the project Nutri-Food Basketat AIP, ICRISAT, in collaboration with Imperial College, London (Dr Elisabetta Aurino)

Dondi Ram of Chintakara village identified the prolific branching in the semi-compact panicles of Phule Chitra as a preferred trait. Photo credit: Suresh K, ISD-SACSA

Dondi Ram of Chintakara village identified the prolific branching in the semi-compact panicles of Phule Chitra as a preferred trait. Photo credit: Suresh K, ISD-SACSA

About the authors:

Marijn Voorhaar: Research Fellow, ICRISAT

Krithika Anbazhagan: Visiting Scientist, ICRISAT (


Dr Rajan Sharma, Head, Plant Quarantine Unit at ICRISAT, accepting an award for scientific achievement at IPPC2019. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Dr Rajan Sharma, Head, Plant Quarantine Unit at ICRISAT, accepting an award for scientific achievement at IPPC2019. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Want to ensure food security? Outsmart climate change to protect crops from pests, diseases and weeds

Climate change makes the challenge of crop protection highly formidable, said Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), even as he called for a “global plan” for “global pests” like Fall armyworm at the inaugural of the 19th International Plant Protection Congress (IPPC), which was held for the first time in India.

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“A segmented approach to tackling global pests will not work. We need a global plan. Integrated pest management approach has helped us increase yields thus far. We also need to further explore biological control mechanisms, enhance surveillance and monitoring, and exhaustively screen our crop germplasm for host resistance,” Dr Mohapatra said.

Entomologists, plant pathologists, nematologists and weed science experts gathered in Hyderabad to discuss crop protection against the backdrop of climate change. The congress is convened by the International Association for the Plant Protection Sciences (IAPPS) every four years and this year was organized by ICRISAT and Crop Protection Societies in India. IPPC2019 was themed ‘Crop Protection to Outsmart Climate Change for Food Security & Environmental Conservation’.

Globally, insect pests, diseases and weeds result in 35 – 40% loss in crop yields, valued at over US$ 250 billion, despite application of pesticides costing nearly US$ 35 billion annually. In general, pest associated losses vary from 13.8% to 35.8%, which at times reach 100% during outbreaks.

Dr Hari Sharma, Chair of the Local Organizing Committee of IPPC2019, said, “It is heartening to note that the IPPC is being held for the first time in India in its 70-year history. The Congress will provide us a unique opportunity to learn about the advances made in crop protection internationally.”

IPPC2019 saw discussions around developing pest management strategies to mitigate adverse effects of global warming and climate change. Scientists also deliberated on identifying and developing crop cultivars that are stable in expression of resistance to target insect pests and diseases under variable climatic conditions, combine host plant resistance from germplasm that is stable across environments and place emphasis on developing crop cultivars that are hospitable to the natural enemies of the crop pests.

The sessions provided a greater understanding of the effects of climate change on efficacy of synthetic pesticides, their degradation and persistence in the environment, and develop pesticide formulations and application equipment that will be least affected by climate change.

Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, spoke about pests invasions due to climate change factors like increasing temperature and changes in precipitation patterns. “Blast in pearl millet was not known about 10 years ago. Often, when we do crop modelling exercises we do not account biotic stresses to crops. But it is because of efforts of crop protection experts that those models work fairly well,” he said.

IAPPS also recognized five scientists with awards for distinction, scientific achievement and lifetime achievement during the inaugural session.

Prof Karim Maredia of the Department of Entomology, Michigan State University and Prof Charles Vincent, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada were honored with distinction awards for their contributions to pest management.

Dr Hari C Sharma, Ex-Vice Chancellor, Dr Yashvant Singh Parmar University of Horticulture & Forestry and Ex-Principal Scientist – Entomology, ICRISAT, was awarded for lifetime achievement.

Dr Rajan Sharma Principal Scientist, Cereals Pathology, and Head of ICRISAT’s Plant Quarantine Unit, and Dr Mukesh K Dhillon Principal Scientist – Entomology, Division of Entomology, Indian Agricultural Research Institute, were awarded for scientific achievements at the Congress.

Genebank staff at a session on Quality Management organized recently at ICRISAT, Patancheru. Photo: Ajaykumar G, ICRISAT

Genebank staff at a session on Quality Management organized recently at ICRISAT, Patancheru. Photo: Ajaykumar G, ICRISAT

World Quality Day observed at Genebank

ICRISAT’s Genebank recently observed ‘World Quality Day’ with a session on Quality Management for its staff. The session was held to strengthen processes in line with FAO standards for genebanks.

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The Genebank, which is celebrating 40 years of its establishment this year, observed the day on November 14, the second Thursday of the month designated for the day. The day is observed world over in November, which in turn is observed as ‘World Quality Month’. A session by Mr Muzamil Baig, Quality Manager, Genebank, shed light on the concepts that drive quality into processes, including organizing workspaces, along the lines of the ‘5S’ and Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle.

Over the past year, ICRISAT’s Genebank has improved its seed lab, cold room and short-term storage by improving infrastructure, improved space utilization and introduction of machinery. These measures were taken to improve the quality of germplasm conservation.

Mr Muzamil Baig, Quality Manager, Genebank describes quality management systems to the staff. Photo: Ajaykumar G, ICRISAT

Mr Muzamil Baig, Quality Manager, Genebank describes quality management systems to the staff. Photo: Ajaykumar G, ICRISAT

FAO’s standards cover functioning of genebank activities vis-à-vis seeds, field activities and in-vitro culture preservation. According to FAO, the key principles at the core of genebank operation are, “The preservation of germplasm identity, maintenance of viability and genetic integrity, and the promotion of access.”

Dr Vania Azevedo, Head, Genebank, said efforts are being made to further step-up quality and check processes by reviewing and updating existing standard operating procedures and manuals.

“We are working to implement standards as stipulated by FAO and CGIAR, keeping in line with the international conventions and treaties that genebanks have to comply with,” she said. Continual improvement of quality in genebank through trainings and awareness programs for the staff on quality management are being planned.

Staff from ICRISAT’s regional genebanks in Zimbabwe and Niger also attended the session. To further mark the day, the Genebank held activities for its staff. Suggestions were sought to improve quality and identify risks. The best entries are being awarded. The staff also presented ideas for banners, posters and slogans to push for increased awareness about quality in Genebank.

Dr Vania Azevedo, Head, Genebank, explains material conserved at ICRISAT during field day. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Dr Vania Azevedo, Head, Genebank, explains material conserved at ICRISAT during field day. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Spotlight on crop diversity as ICRISAT’s Genebank holds inaugural field day

Cutting across disciplines of crop research, scientists gathered at ICRISAT to observe and evaluate germplasm material from its 40-year-old Genebank during a recently-organized field day.

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A wide array of germplasm of pigeonpea, sorghum, groundnut, pearl millet and other millets including finger millet, were planted for demonstration. The material planted for the inaugural field day was representative of over 120,000 accessions at the Genebank, which has the world’s largest number of accessions of pigeonpea, groundnut, chickpea, sorghum and millets.

“I am here scouting for post-rainy sorghum. I am trying to find material with resistance to charcoal rot and shoot bug, besides tolerance to abiotic stresses,” said Dr Gowri Sajjanar of a research station in Vijayapura affiliated to University of Agricultural Sciences, Dharwad, Karnataka.

The visiting scientists were also keen on searching for lost landraces revered by the communities they work with.

“The bread that used to be made from some of the sorghum landraces in the location of my work is highly cherished. However, making bread of that kind, consumed by generations before mine, is not possible now as those landraces are not around,” said Dr J Jahagirdar from Sorghum Research Station in Parbhani, Maharashtra.

Dr Peter Carberry, Director General, ICRISAT, who inaugurated the field day proceedings, visited the germplasm demonstration fields. Referring to finger millet germplasm, he pointed to traits that help prevent birds from damaging the crop and remarked about the high quality of material planted. Dr Rajeev Varshney, Director for the Genetic Gains Research Program, noted that Genebank is an invaluable resource for crop scientists and breeders across the globe.

Genebank staff also helped ICRISAT scientists to observe planted material in order to identify germplasm that can benefit the institute’s crop improvement programs.

“The main purpose of the field day was generation and characterization of germplasm so that it is made available to all who can use it for crop improvement,” said Dr Vania Azevedo, Head, Genebank.

Dr Azevedo also explained how ICRISAT’s Genebank, which is supported by Crop Trust that also supports genebanks of other CGIAR institutions, prompted the setting up of regional genebanks in Africa when the need for collecting locally sourced material arose.

ICRISAT’s genebank is now doing a ‘gap analysis’ to strengthen collection in Africa and other regions. This year, collection is underway in Ghana, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Kenya in partnership with NARS in the respective countries. Additionally, genetic material unique to ICRISAT’s regional genebanks in Africa are being sent to India for copying and conservation.

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