A group of policymakers and officials from across India recently experienced ICRISAT’s sustainable research-for-development practices being implemented in the country’s Bundelkhand region which are benefitting 30,000 families reliant on farming.
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A travel workshop-cum-exposure visit was organised for the group during 9-11 October 2021 where the knowledge generated was shared. Participants got to observe climate-smart agriculture technologies being adopted at farm and landscape level for building system level resilience. The workshop involved visits to sites in Lalitpur, Jhansi, Mahoba and Chitrakoot districts, where site specific climate resilient interventions (e.g., haveli cultivation, agroforestry, community ponds, large scale field bunding, field drainage structures, state-of-the-art instrumentation) have been implemented and engaging with farmers as well as other stakeholders. More than 35 senior level officials and representatives from Karnataka, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states took part in the workshop.
With the support of the Government of Uttar Pradesh state in India, ICRISAT has been able to implement these climate-resilient practises under the “Doubling Farmers’ Income in Bundelkhand region of Uttar Pradesh” project since 2018. The project covers nearly 40,000 ha in eight pilot sites across seven districts.
The initiative has enhanced water resources, crop productivity, crop intensification and improved the well-being of the farming community. Other outcomes observed in the pilot sites include a reduction in rural-urban migration with increasing employment opportunities leading to livelihood improvements.
The officials expressed interest in collaborating with ICRISAT to replicate similar model sites in their states to build climate resilience while rejuvenating watersheds for agriculture.
The event was organised by Drs Sreenath Dixit, Ramesh Singh, Kaushal K Garg, KH Anantha and Venkataradha along with Scientific Officers of the ICRISAT Development Center and field staff based at project locations.
More than 15 years after it was first released for cultivation in north and west of India, ICRISAT is helping the popular pearl millet hybrid, GHB 538, make a comeback in an improved avatar. Christened Maru Sona or desert gold in the local language, the new version is equipped with the genes to fend off devastating downy mildew disease and was recently released for cultivation in India’s Gujarat state.
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Compared to the original hybrid, Maru Sona shows markedly high resistance to downy mildew disease (82.0%). The improvement also resulted in an increase in grain (3.5%) and fodder (10.8%) yield, resistance to blast (28.6%) and rust (91.4%) diseases as well as higher grain protein content (12.5%) while maintaining GHB 538’s hallmark early flowering (44 days).
First released in 2004-05, GHB 538 was meant for cultivation during rainy, post-rainy and summer seasons in India’s A1 zone (dry regions of Rajasthan, Gujarat and Haryana states). It became popular quickly and was released in Gujarat for cultivation in 2006-07. However, like all single-cross hybrids that are overcome by Downy Mildew (DM) within five years of release, GHB 538 too began showing signs of susceptibility, warranting the need for improvement.
Dr Rakesh Srivastava at ICRISAT’s Center of Excellence in Genomics and Systems Biology (CEGSB) took up the effort to improve the lifespan of this popular hybrid. ICRISAT joined hands with Dr K D Mungra at the Millet Research Station in Gujarat’s Jamnagar under the Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU) and the ICAR-All India Coordinated Research Program on Pearl Millet to deliver Maru Sona, Gujarat’s first hybrid cultivar to be developed through genomics-assisted breeding. The research team at ICRISAT introgressed the male parent of GHB 538 with three downy mildew resistance QTLs from linkage groups (LGs) 1, 3 and 4 to create Maru Sona.
“In this era of waning genotyping/sequencing costs, high-throughput precision phenotyping platforms, big data, machine learning and AI, translational genomics has become one of the most powerful tools to breed next-generation climate-smart cultivars,” said Dr Srivastava, Principal Scientist, ICRISAT.
Dr Mungra, Research Scientist, JAU-Jamnagar, adds, “Genomics-assisted breeding is the way to go for pearl millet cultivar development for the benefit of resource-poor farmers.”
“We take pride in the partnership between JAU and ICRISAT, and look forward to having more of such collaborations in pearl millet and other ICRISAT-mandate crops,” said Dr Narendra K. Gontia, Vice-Chancellor, JAU- Junagadh.
“The genomic resources developed for dryland crops over the last decade or so are helping make significant genetic gains in less time than it used to take before these resources became available,” said Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT.
While commending the researchers for the improvements made over the original hybrid, Dr Arvind Kumar, ICRISAT’s Deputy Director General-Research, said, “With climate change threatening yields, we need to deploy all resources at hand to improve crops. We are heartened to see that happening through this long-standing collaboration between ICRISAT and JAU in genomics-assisted breeding.”
An international team of researchers from 41 organizations has assembled chickpea’s (chana) pan-genome by sequencing the genomes of 3,366 chickpea lines from 60 countries. Led by the ICRISAT, the team identified 29,870 genes that includes 1,582 previously unreported novel genes. The research is the largest effort of its kind for any plant, putting chickpea in a small group of crops with such an extensive genome map.
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“By employing whole genome sequencing, we have been able to affirm the history of chickpea’s origin in the Fertile Crescent and identify two paths of diffusion or migration of chickpea to rest of the world. One path indicates diffusion to South Asia and East Africa, and the other suggests diffusion to the Mediterranean region (probably through Turkey) as well as to the Black Sea and Central Asia (up to Afghanistan),” said Prof. Rajeev Varshney, a Research Program Director at ICRISAT and leader of the study that was published on 10 November in Nature.
He added, “More importantly, this research provides a complete picture of genetic variation within chickpea and a validated roadmap for using the knowledge and genomic resources to improve the crop.”
Grown in more than 50 countries, chickpea is the world’s third-most cultivated legume. It is indispensable to diets in many nations and an important source of dietary protein, especially in the Global South. ICRISAT led the effort to sequence the first chickpea genome (a Kabuli line) in 2013. This sequence paved the way for developing molecular resources for the crop’s improvement.
A larger endeavor to sequence more lines began soon after as the need to completely understand the genetic variation at species level, including in landraces and wild types, became apparent. In the latest research, the study’s authors report sequencing 3,171 cultivated accessions and 195 wild accessions of chickpea that are conserved in multiple genebanks. These 3,366 accessions are representative of chickpea’s genetic diversity in a much larger global collection.
The cultivated chickpea species is scientifically called Cicer arietinum. The study points to C. arietinum diverging from its wild progenitor species, Cicer reticulatum, around 12,600 years ago. Chickpea history is associated with a strong genetic bottleneck beginning around 10,000 years ago. The population size reached its minimum around 1000 years ago before seeing a strong expansion in the last 400 years, which suggests a renewed interest in chickpea agriculture across the world. The approach taken to analyze divergence of eight Cicer species over time can also be used to identify misclassification or duplication of accessions to better manage the germplasm in genebanks, the authors report in the study.
“The demand for chickpea is set to increase in the coming years as the world’s population rises. Research like this is the need of the hour to help major producing countries like India boost crop production while making crops climate-resilient,” said Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and an author on the study.
Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, said, “By developing many genomic resources for chickpea over the last decade, ICRISAT has helped the crop shed its ‘orphan’ tag. With our partners in agricultural research for development, we will continue to research chickpea and translate findings into crop varieties that benefit farmers, consumers and nations.”
Putting the pan-genome to work
Comparison of the genetic variation in cultivated chickpea with that of its wild progenitor helped the researchers identify deleterious genes responsible for lowering crop performance. These deleterious genes were more abundant in the wild progenitor as they would have been purged to some extent in cultivated lines through selection and recombination. Researchers state that these deleterious genes can be further purged in cultivars using genomics-assisted breeding or gene editing.
Furthermore, the study identified blocks of genes in landraces (domesticated varieties developed by farmers) that can significantly enhance performance of the crop by improving traits like yield, climate resilience and seed characteristics. Called haplotypes, these blocks of genes are what crop breeders strive to bring into cultivars. Using historical data of all chickpea varieties released between 1948 and 2012, the research sheds light on the deployment of these haplotypes in the varieties.
“We examined 129 varieties released in the past. Though a few superior haplotypes were detected in some of these varieties, we found that most varieties lacked many beneficial haplotypes. We have arrived at 56 promising lines that can bring these haplotypes into breeding programs to develop enhanced varieties,” explained study author Dr Manish Roorkiwal, a Senior Scientist in Genomics and Molecular Breeding at ICRISAT.
ICRISAT and other organizations have been using genomics-assisted breeding approaches by targeting just one or at most two genes. Nevertheless, these efforts resulted in seven improved chickpea varieties in India and Ethiopia over the last three years.
“Genomic resources are crucial for accelerating the rate of genetic gains in crop improvement programs. It is hoped that the knowledge and resources made available through this study will help breeders across the world revolutionize chickpea breeding without eroding its genetic diversity,” said Dr Arvind Kumar, Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT.
To take the study’s findings to the farm, the authors proposed three breeding approaches based on genomic prediction that aim at improving 16 traits and enhance chickpea productivity. They demonstrated that the approaches work by applying them for enhancement of 100-seed weight, a critical yield trait, and predicting an increase ranging between 12 and 23%.
To accelerate the development of improved groundnut varieties, ICRISAT’s groundnut breeding team is gearing up to provide seed to research partners for multi-environment testing (MET) during the 2022 rainy season.
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Two product profiles are being targeted by the team. Resistance to late leaf spot (LLS) as well as rust are key traits for both profiles. To select lines with resistance to LLS and rust, markers for two major QTLs that correspond to the resistance to these diseases were used.
Selection was done for early maturity to provide short-duration groundnuts for oil and home consumption, which is Target Product Profile 1. Target Product Profile 2 caters to the food and confectionary markets, which prefer kernel grades of 40-50 and 50-60 counts per ounce. Hence, kernel size distribution is a key trait.
Dr Arvind Kumar, DDG-R, ICRISAT, during a tour of the groundnut improvement facilities, complimented the Crop Improvement Operations Team (CIOT) staff for achieving a high rate of success in groundnut hybridization, a painstaking effort that takes high level of skill to emasculate, pollinate, tag and harvest crossed pods. Hybridization facility established at ICRISAT with raised bays facilitates the process in groundnut.
The DDG-R’s visit was facilitated by Drs Janila Pasupuleti, Principal Scientist-Groundnut Breeding; Hari Sudini, Principal Scientist-Groundnut Pathology; A Ashok, Product Placement Lead; Sobhan Sajja, Cluster Leader-CIOT, and rest of the groundnut improvement team.
Dr Ashok shared plans for ongoing groundnut breeder seed production during rainy season of 2021 and plans for post-rainy seasons during 2021/22 to meet the targets. Explaining the use of equipment like wet plant thresher, Dr Sajja mentioned the thresher enabled processing of a recent harvest of nucleus Seed plot of Girnar 4 (ICGV 15083) despite continuous rains.
Dr Sudini detailed the procedures followed in the screening of foliar fungal diseases and stem rot.
When Betty Bondo, a farmer in Kenya’s Makueni County, started growing new green gram varieties introduced by ICRISAT, her yield tripled from two bags (200 kg) per acre to six bags (600 kg) per acre. This encouraged her to increase green gram cultivation acreage from 1 to 3 and then to 20. Betty and her family are among the 163,000 households that were reached with improved Drought Tolerant Crops (DTC) varieties that are climate resilient, high yielding and early maturing through ICRISAT’s Accelerated Value Chain Development-Drought Tolerant Crops (AVCD-DTC).
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These households are gainfully farming as a business, and household members are either out of or on a pathway to escaping absolute poverty and attaining food and nutrition security. Prior to AVCD-DTC program interventions, most farmers used local varieties that were sold in the market, most of which were recycled seed, because there was no improved varieties.
ICRISAT, through AVCD-DTC, introduced farmers in Busia, Siaya, Elgeyo Marakwet, Tharaka Nithi, Kitui, Makueni, and Taita Taveta counties to the improved varieties of sorghum, finger millet, green gram, pigeonpea, groundnut and cowpea. The program also trained them on seed acquisition, planting on time, proper spacing during planting, intercropping, and post-harvest management. The project introduced community seed banks where farmers formed groups to produce quality seeds, save them by storing safely until the next crop season and training in seed banking for continuous supply of seeds, ensuring sustainability even after the project was completed.
It is against these and more milestones that ICRISAT received funding from USAID’s Feed the Future (FtF) Initiative to further enhance agriculture productivity, income, nutrition security, as well as enhance resilience for smallholder farmers in the FTF zones of influence. Dubbed Accelerated Institutional and Food Systems Development (AIFSD), the program will build on the success and lessons learnt from the last six years of implementing the AVCD-DTC program, which supported the seven counties to improve production and create awareness around the benefits of these climate resilient and drought tolerant crops.
The need for a greater push
In Kenya, smallholder farmers constitute approximately 4.5 million of farming households, out of which about 1.5 million are in semi-arid and arid areas growing DTCs, which are a crucial part of the food value chain in Kenya as well as a critical element of the community food system. However, DTCs production in arid and semi-arid areas is compounded with a series of constraints including weak extension system and lack of access to improved crop varieties that are high yielding and drought tolerant
During AVCD-DTC, we learned that a functional and sustainable seed system is a prerequisite for smallholder farmers to benefit from increased productivity. Substantial gaps between potential and actual yields in farmers’ fields still exist mainly due to lack of a functional seed system and weak extension system as well as lack of reliable market for drought tolerant crops. An efficient seed system is necessary for a profitable agribusiness and to improve food and nutrition security hence the funding of AIFSD to close these gaps along the DTC value chain.
Agriculture is the backbone of Kenya’s economy, contributing 33% of the GDP. About 80% of the households rely on agriculture as the main source of livelihood. According to Kenya’s annual economic survey, the growth in the agricultural sector has been fluctuating between 3.5 and 6 % in the last 10 years. This not only increases the risk of food insecurity and malnourishment, but also lowers the growth of the national GDP. Additionally, the impact of COVID-19 pandemic has negatively affected the national economy and agricultural development.
According to a 2020 study by FAO, COVID-19 preventive measures, especially movement restrictions, has had the largest impact on food systems, food security and nutrition. The restriction generally shortened the supply chains and increased demand for local foods. The agri-food SMEs faced reduced production volumes and declines in sales. This led to an increase in the number of people facing food insecurity to approximately 6.2 million from an estimated 2.6 million in late 2019, and a higher number of people that are unable to access nutritious meals.
It is therefore important for the government and development partners to not only sustain but also enhance the economic and agricultural growth, and reverse the trend. This calls for renewed stimulus, and increased investment.
According to Dr Ganga Rao, Principal Scientist at ICRISAT, AIFSD targets 75,000 households that will apply improved DTCs technologies through improved seed, good agronomic practices, and post-harvest handling practices to improve productivity and sell surplus production to improve household income. Dr Rao added that the project will leverage existing government initiatives, public-private partnerships, capitalize on agri-science innovations and use digital technologies for value chain linkages and market intelligence. “The imperative for, and commitment to, a national DTC strategy is important to ease pressure from the over-reliance on major staples like maize, wheat and rice, and create markets for the more under-utilized DTCs,” he noted.
Dr Rebbie Harawa, ICRISAT’s ESA Region and Program Director, sees the production and utilization of DTCs as a significant pathway to food security and nutrition because these crops are both drought tolerant and nutritious. The DTCs also facilitate sustainable farming by fixing nitrogen in the soil, which substitutes inorganic fertilizer. She added that public-private partnerships are crucial as they involve value chain investors and implementers who complement one another to deliver agricultural technologies to farmers.
By Grace Waithira
Communication Assistant, ICRISAT
For building a common understanding on the activities for the upcoming International Year of Millets 2023, a team from FAO visited ICRISAT-India. The importance of campaigning for millets to secure their deserved place in the food basket figured high in the discussions as did caution to not label them as ‘superfoods’.
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Mr Tomio Shichiri, FAO Representative in India, said that with India’s focus moving from food security to nutrition security, the importance of bringing back millets to people’s diets is important from the nutrition perspective.
Presenting a proposal for millet innovations, strengthening value chains, raising awareness and creating millet products through public-private partnerships, ICRISAT scientist Dr Ashok Kumar said that the promotion and consumption of millets should not be a passing fad and must to be taken up as a sustained activity as they provide nutrition and climate resilience simultaneously.
Mr Konda Reddy, Assistant Representative at FAO-India, enquired about the big challenges hindering the uptake of millets by farmers and consumers and sought game-changing solutions. Suggestions that emerged from the interaction include:
During the deliberations, Mr Raman Ahuja, food and agriculture value chain specialist, FAO, said that value addition to millets is key and millet products should be affordable to most consumers. Millets should not become another quinoa in terms of pricing, he said.
Prior to the interaction, the team visited the ICRISAT genebank and took a field trip thereafter. The interaction session held on 18 November was attended by ICRISAT scientists Drs Ashok Kumar, Shalander Kumar, Sreenath Dixit, Janila Pasupuleti, S K Gupta, Vetriventhan M, Anitha Seetha and Ephrem Habyarimana.
Reported by Jemima Mandapati
Senior Communications Officer, ICRISAT
To enhance skills in modelling of crop systems by the agricultural research community in West Africa, a five-day workshop was recently conducted. The workshop trained researchers in the use of the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) platform. The workshop was organized by ICRISAT-Nigeria and the Centre for Dryland Agriculture, Bayero University Kano (CDA-BUK), Nigeria, where it was also held.
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New and intermediate users to the platform attended the workshop titled “Introduction to APSIM and its applications for climate risk assessment/management in West Africa”. The workshop focused on the concept and analytical capacity of crop modelling through APSIM to determine a plant’s growth considering soil, water and nitrogen balances in environment against the backdrop of challenging climatic conditions. The instructors held topical discussions to demonstrate the workings of the individual components of modelling systems and how they can be linked for the best results.
Participants said that the workshop will help them design new cropping systems or ex-ante analysis of altering technology on resource constraints and adaptation to changing climate. The understanding of crop systems modelling and its applications as well as the ability to interpret outputs will be be improved. Participants added that the knowledge gained will also help them design efficient and effective climate-smart and market-oriented interventions for farmers.
The welcome address was made by Professor Jibrin M Jibrin, Director, CDA. Dr Hakeem A Ajeigbe, ICRISAT’s Country Representative in Nigeria, who encouraged the participants to utilize their training to enhance their research skills. “Crop models are decision support tools for 21st century agricultural practices,’’ he said.
Dr Anthony Whitbread, Director for ICRISAT’s Resilient Farm and Food Systems Research Program, summarized the workshop’s activities and urged the trainees to continuously use APSIM until they master it.
The five-day training workshop was held from the 11 to 15 October 2021. Thirty six trainees participated in the workshop of which 33 people (25 Men and 8 women) were physically present with three joining virtually. The training was coordinated by Dr Akinseye Folorunso, Scientist, Agronomy and Agroclimatology, ICRISAT-Nigeria.
To help aspiring entrepreneurs in Mali kick-start their food ventures, a five-day Smart Food workshop was recently conducted in the country’s Diola region. Women and men were trained in all aspects of producing value-added foods from sorghum, millet, groundnut and cowpea for improving household nutrition as well as for sale. The workshop was organized under the aegis of EU-APSAN-Mali project.
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The workshop began with training in good hygiene practices for households and processing units as well as assessing the quality of raw material used in processing. The second module focused on processing techniques for nutritious food products. The end products of this module were 10 recipes, including complementary flours, enriched porridge, vegetable soup and enriched bread. The third module imparted training in packaging and labeling of products.
Up on return to their villages, the workshop participants are expected to organize similar training sessions for at least 25 members of their communities in each of the 16 villages represented.
Nah Dembele of Wacoro village who is one of the members of a women food processing group, said, “We produce crops, but we did not know much about the potential of our crops, especially in terms of nutrition. With this training, we can benefit more from our production through its processing for family consumption and markets.”
“I now know how to prepare foods like enriched porridge, enriched cowpea soup and many other recipes learned during the training session,’’ says Mrs. Fatoumata Diarra from Siby village in the region.
It was planned that the technologies demonstrated during the training sessions would be widely disseminated in the communities of the participants through radio programs and sharing of sessions’ videos through WhatsApp.
According to Ms. Agathe Diama, Smart Food Campaign Coordinator, ‘’Radio programs are produced and broadcasted to promote Smart Foods with key messages around the benefit of consuming improved fortified varieties and high-yielding hybrids of millet and sorghum rich in iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn), as well as improved varieties of nutritious groundnut and cowpea.”
The workshop, she says, helped participants master the techniques of training to train members of their communities in new or improved recipes made of their own locally produced crops which are known to be highly nutritious.
“Through this Smart Food training session, we have trained 32 women and 16 men who in turn will undertake similar trainings in sixteen villages of the UE-APSAN-Mali intervention zones,” said Dr Fatimata Cissé Diallo, Lead of the training, Food Technologist and Head of IER Food Technology Laboratory.
The workshop was organized during 20-24 October 2021 in Dioila by ICRISAT in collaboration with the Food technology Laboratory of the IER and with the support of farmers’ organizations (ULPC and COPROSEM). It was conducted by a team from the IER Food Technology Laboratory led by Dr Fatimata Cissé Diallo, Food Technologist and Head of IER Food Technology Laboratory, with the participation of an ICRISAT team led by Ms Agathe Diama, Coordinator of the ICRISAT Smart Food campaign in West and Central Africa.
The Enhancing Crop Productivity and Climate Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security in Mali (EU-APSAN-Mali) is a targeted project in key production systems, based on sorghum, millet, groundnut and cowpea which have the potential to meet a confirmed domestic demand and generate a greater impact on nutrition and food security. The project is based on the use of improved crop production technologies developed by ICRISAT and IER. These include improved biofortified varieties and hybrids of sorghum and millet that are high-yielding and rich in iron (Fe) and zinc (Zn) as well as groundnut and cowpea varieties rich in protein.
ICRISAT’s regional Genebank in Niamey organized a 30-day training program for national research staff in Central African Republic. Training in collecting, conservation, management and utilization of plant genetic resources also aimed at securing these resources in Central Africa Republic in the context of civil unrest.
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The training on germplasm acquisition demonstrated various ways of assembling germplasm, strategies and experiences from expedition missions. The training also gave an overview of data collection, mostly the passport data (Minimum Common Passport Data) and the collection of traditional knowledge. The trainees also had the opportunity to attend a training workshop organized in collaboration with the Niger National Agricultural Institute (INRAN). During the workshop, important regulatory and policy aspects related to plants genetics resources were explained. Participants were also trained in data collection tools including a field book application for use during germplasm collecting missions.
The second session of the training was in field activities conducted by the genebank, i.e., germplasm characterization and regeneration where trainees learned to plan characterization and regeneration trials, and prepare land based on existing infrastructure. They also participated in sorghum regeneration sowing in the field. They were trained in sibbing and cluster bagging to learn how to ensure genetic purity and maintain intra accession diversity in pearl millet regeneration. For the characterization, they learned and practiced data collection on groundnut, pearl millet and sorghum in the fields. They used the descriptors developed by ICRISAT and Bioversity International to collect the characterization data. Descriptors for ICRISAT non mandate crops were also shared with the participants
The third session focused on seed processing from crop area (after harvest) to laboratory analysis, including seed characterization. Trainees practiced all post-harvest seed handling activities of groundnut in the crop area and they characterized pods and seeds in laboratory. Seed moisture content and viability tests using ISTA standards for three crops were performed. Data computation and interpretation were also taught. At the end of this session, trainees were able to handle main seed laboratory equipment and materials such as the oven, the desiccator and the growth chamber.
The fourth session of the training focused on seed conservation and monitoring in cold room. This session began with a lecture on the characteristics of seeds prior to conservation and the storage rooms’ conditions for seed quality preservation. This was followed by practical session on seed sealing, organization of drying, short-, medium- and long-term rooms to optimize space. Management of accessions during conservation was also explained and demonstrated.
The last session of the training covered data management, seed distribution conditions and processes. Data management tools such as Microsoft Excel, SQL Server and database management were taught to the participants.
ICRISAT Niamey Genebank staff Marzanatou Yahaya, Illiassou Ibrahim, Nana Fassouma Maman, Falke Bacharou Achirou, Mahamadou Gado Djibo, Liman Souley Abdoulkarim and Hamidou Falalou oversaw the training.
To enhance the capacity of Chad’s national agriculture research system in the conservation of plant germplasm, ICRISAT, through its genebank in Niger, recently organized a training workshop and field day. While the workshop covered important aspects of conservation including planning exploration missions, collection and handling, the field day gave an opportunity to farmers and breeders in Chad to compare landraces of groundnut, pearl millet and sorghum with varieties currently being grown.
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A team from ICRISAT’s genebank in Niamey, Niger, organized the training workshop from 13 to 15 October in N’Djamena, Chad, for the staff of Institut Tchadien de Recherche Agronomique pour le Développment (ITRAD), Chad’s premier national organization overseeing agriculture research in the country. The workshop participants included the national genebank manager, breeders, research technicians, agriculture extension agents and other partners working on plants genetic resources.
The workshop covered germplasm collection, including exploration mission preparation, handling of collected samples during exploration, capturing details as per the MCPD FAO/Bioversity standards, installation of field book application on phones and its utilization during collection. It also conveyed the importance of traditional knowledge in plants genetic resources for food and agriculture (PGRFA), farmers’ rights and key aspects of the International Treaty on PGRFA. The training concluded with germplasm management, including its characterization and evaluation.
The workshop was followed by the field day on 19 October at ITRAD, Ndjamena. A first-of-its-kind event, the field day was themed around climate resilience and was titled “Sahelian agriculture challenges in the context of Climate change”. In preparation for the field day, ICRISAT Niamey Genebank staff had repatriated in June landraces (50 groundnut, 42 pearl millet and 48 sorghum) that were collected in Chad between 1988 and 1997. These were planted for demonstration on the field day.
Breeders and farmers witnessed the diversity in germplasm conserved in ICRISAT’s genebank at Niamey and also saw the agronomical performance of landraces originating in Chad. Not only did the field day provide an opportunity to compare landraces and varieties currently grown, it also gave breeders and farmers a chance to select best accessions to build resilience to climate change in agriculture.
Ms Kamouge Déné-Assoum Mayanan, Minister of Agriculture Development, Chad, highlighted the need for continued efforts and international collaboration for sustainable agriculture and food security in drylands in the face of climate change. She recalled the commitment of Chadian government to continue supporting all initiatives and partnerships contributing to end hunger, reduce malnutrition and preserve the environment. The minister thanked participants and expressed gratitude to ICRISAT and Crop Trust, which funded a germplasm collecting proposal in Chad during 2020 and 2021.
Dr Yassine Daouda, Director General, ITRAD, pointed out the benefits of the germplasm collection project for Chad while underscoring the importance of safeguarding biodiversity worldwide. He reiterated ITRAD’s commitment to ensuring food security in Chad and beyond.
Prof Hamidou Falalou, Regional Manager for ICRISAT’s Niamey Genebank, echoed Dr Daouda’s thoughts on the importance of genebanks in conservation and management of PGRFA. He further said that ICRISAT sharing improved varieties to ITRAD in 2019 and the recent collaborative germplasm collecting project are testimonies to the long-standing collaboration between the two organizations that share the same mission and vision. Prof Hamidou reaffirmed ICRISAT’s commitment in sharing of germplasm for the benefit of Chad.
A survey carried out in the finger millet (ragi)-growing Koraput district of Odisha, India, showed a large unmet demand for value-added millet products owing to absence of millet processing units in the area. ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) took this as an opportunity to propose the establishment of millet processing units to create new entrepreneurial avenues for the predominantly tribal communities in the area, especially for women and youth.
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The survey showed: a) Finger millet is the most commonly cultivated and consumed millet in Koraput district, b) Local processing is limited to household-level dehusking/cleaning and at the most, grinding to a flour, c) The whole grain is more commonly marketed, with limited value adding due to the lack of processing infrastructure, d) Though consumers have high preference for millet-based products, they have limited access to value-added products such as millet flakes or millet-based Ready-to-cook (RTC) or Ready-to-eat (RTE) products.
With support from the Odisha Livelihoods Mission (OLM), AIP is aiming to strengthen the millet value chains in the state to improve rural livelihoods by establishing millet processing units that can in turn foster sustainable local entrepreneurship and promote health and nutrition of the local communities.
These processing units licensed by the Food Safety and Standards Authority of India (FSSAI) will have efficient processing equipment (RTC dry mix processing line and a bakery line) to enable localized production of “Nutri-Food products”. AIP-ICRISAT’s first unit is being established in the Semiliguda block of Koraput district. Similar millet processing units are being planned for other millet-growing districts of the state.
Ms Susmita Samantaray, District Project Manager (DPM), OLM, Koraput, said, “High nutritional value is hidden in millets, especially finger millet grown in the tribal areas of Koraput. To attract the younger generations to continue growing finger millet and other millets, this initiative of OLM to strengthen the finger millet value chain in Koraput is a very significant initiative.”
AIP’s first-hand experience with similar interventions in southern India has shown that local enterprises are effective forces of change as they work hand-in-hand with public sector agencies to organize and channel resources to smallholder farmers. In the best of cases, local enterprises have proven to shape the trajectory of an entire industry. With some creative thinking, collaborative partnerships and a great deal of hard work, better livelihood opportunities can be a reality for thousands of beneficiaries in the target districts of Odisha. Thus, the proposed intervention is aimed at enhancing the sustainability and resilience of tribal households to: realize optimum price for their produce without the compulsion of selling immediately at meager rates, enhanced income through access to technology value adding and market linkages.
In addition, a capacity building program “Nutrition and value addition to Ragi (Finger Millet) grown in Koraput” was conducted by AIP-ICRISAT on 8 October 2021 for 35 members of the local “Viswa Durgeswar” self-help group from Rajput gram panchayat. These members will be involved in managing and operating the processing unit being established at Koraput.
“This is the first of a series of trainings to be conducted as part of the OLM-funded initiative to enhance tribal farmers’ incomes by establishing small business enterprises and linking them to markets,” said Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, COO, NutriPlus Knowledge Program. He also highlighted that ICRISAT is recognized by the Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Government of India, as a Center of Excellence for Tribal Development.
The training program focused on following aspects: Importance of nutrition and dietary diversity; concept and principles of health, hygiene and food safety; value addition to ragi through product development and local processing; details on plan and layout of the ragi processing unit being established by AIP-ICRISAT at Koraput; key aspects of processing of ragi-based food products and FSSAI regulations; nutritional quality and marketing aspects of ragi-based food products.
The trainees learned about the nutritional importance of ragi-based products such as upma mix, khichdi mix, sweet mix, malt powder, idli mix, dosa mix and cookies developed by NutriPlus Knowledge Program of AIP- ICRISAT. The program also included a demonstration of RTC food products, followed by a tasting. All participants were provided detailed training manuals on the above aspects and hands-on training on preparation of the products as per the FSSAI protocols. Feedback from the group was positive, including that from mothers who appreciated the health benefits and convenience of cooking of the ragi-based RTC products.
Ms Priyanka Durgalla, Senior Scientific Officer, and Mr Harshvardhan Mane, Officer-Partnership Development, from ICRISAT, conducted the training program. The district project team of Dr Aviraj Datta, District Project Coordinator, Koraput; Ms Sucharita, Scientific Officer, ICRISAT; Mr Manoj Kumar Lima, Research Technician, ICRISAT; OLM officials Mrs Mansi Batra, Ms Bindya Guntha, MBK, Rajput; Mr Divyendu (YP), Mr Amit, Mr Karunakar, BPM, Semiliguda; Mr Pradip Kumar Mishra and his team from Foundation for Ecological Security (FES); Mr Abhisek Pradhan, Scientific Officer, AVRDC, participated actively in the program.
For more on value chains and market access, click here: http://exploreit.icrisat.org/profile/market%20access%20and%20value%20chains/84
ICRISAT in Nigeria organized a field day to demonstrate pearl millet research and introduce millet varieties to Nigerian farmers, partners and other stakeholders in the agricultural sector. The event attracted stakeholders and national partners in the pearl millet value chain as well as representatives of farmer groups and leaders in the Local Government Area (LGA) of Minjibir.
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Dr Hakeem A Ajeigbe, ICRISAT’s country representative in Nigeria, highlighted the institute’s efforts along with that of partners in releasing improved pearl millet varieties with high yielding and nutritional benefits, resistance to pests and diseases including downy mildew. ICRISAT collaborated with national agricultural research institutes such as the Lake Chad Research Institute (LCRI) and the Institute for Agricultural Research (IAR), Zaria, in developing new improved pearl millet varieties that will soon be handed over to farmers to promote both domestic and industrial usage of the crop. Dr Ajeigbe also mentioned the International Year of Millet in 2023 as being instrumental for raising awareness about the health benefits of the crop and its suitability for cultivation under changing climatic conditions.
Similarly, Dr Michael Vabi, Socio-economist, ICRISAT-Nigeria, revealed that millets are a traditional food across Africa and Asia, largely consumed in their natural forms. He added that increasing awareness of millets and their health benefits is helping fuel their return to plates and to farms as well as adding value to agricultural practices.
ICRISAT’s work in the area of climate-smart agriculture was highlighted recently at a COP26 side event featuring international experts in climate change, adaptation and atomic energy. At the side event, organized by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), ICRISAT was represented by Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director – West and Central Africa.
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The side event, conducted on 6 November 2021, raised awareness about the role of nuclear science and technology in climate-smart agriculture, and in climate adaptation overall. It highlighted IAEA’s role in supporting countries in climate adaptation and monitoring, including capacity building, research and transfer of equipment.
Participants in the panel discussion included Professor Guy Midgley, Stellenbosch University, South Africa, who presented the IPCC findings on climate impacts on agriculture. He was followed by Dr Christoph Müller, Institute of Plant Ecology at Justus Liebig University in Giessen, Germany and University College Dublin, Ireland, who focused on the impact of agriculture on climate (GHG Emissions). Dr Norbert Nowotny, Consultant, Joint FAO/IAEA Centre of Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture, highlighted the link between zoonotic diseases and climate. Dr Jodie Miller, Head, Isotope Hydrology Section, IAEA; emphasized on identifying groundwater resources using isotope hydrology. Prince Matova, Mukushi Seeds, Zimbabwe, presented the mutation of breeding for climate adaptation. In her intervention, Dr Diana Pérez Staples, Universidad Veracruzana in Xalapa, Veracruz, Mexico, spoke about the management of insect pests while Dr Ilmi Hewajulige, DG, R&D Professor, Industrial Technology Institute, Sri Lanka, enlightened the audience about the concept of food safety and irradiation.
Dr Tabo, a 2007 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate as a member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), summed up the discussion saying, “I am a firm believer that building long-term relationships with farmers, donors and policy makers to deploy sustainable solutions is key. We have been ringing the alarm bell for quite a while. As we have noted in many IPCC reports, Africa is the most vulnerable continent, particularly the agricultural sector, which is the predominant source of income and food for hundreds of millions of farmers. The situation is getting worse and what we heard at the AIEA event is at the core of the climate action”.
“Agricultural research on climate-smart agriculture is covering lot of different topics, and my institution, ICRISAT, which hosts the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) program of CGIAR in West and Central Africa has deep and wide expertise in climate smart agriculture through its research. We need to change the way food systems are managed if we hope to achieve the goal of food security and sustainable development more quickly. The lessons that we have learned from the ground implementation of CCAFS projects in countries like Ghana, Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda were instrumental in informing the action area of the food system transformation framework,” he concluded.
The panel discussion was moderated by Dr Martin Krause, Division of Programme Support and Coordination, IAEA Department of Technical Cooperation.
ICRISAT’s Dr Rajendra S Paroda Genebank observed World Quality Day on 11 November. Dr Janny van Beem, Genebank Quality Management Specialist, Crop Trust, interacted with the genebank staff to convey the importance of quality management systems in genebanks.
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Dr van Beem explained that the basic structure of a genebank’s quality management system or QMS has to adhere to the International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture (ITPGRFA), International Plant Protection Convention (IPPC), Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD), Nagoya Protocol (NP), FAO Genebank standards and Best Practices.
She then described the eight key areas in genebank QMS. A QMS is much more than just SOPs, Dr Beem said while adding that all key areas have to be maintained for a QMS to work and deliver efficiently. She also explained the four ‘color books’ developed to facilitate the implementation of QMS for genebanks.
Speaking on the occasion, Dr Kuldeep Singh, Head, ICRISAT Genebank, highlighted the role of genebank staff in the implementation of a QMS even as he underscored the importance of a conducive environment to foster innovation and collaboration. He appreciated and thanked the genebank team for their commitment towards quality.
The genebank’s staff who joined the management in observring the day noted recent impacts of ICRISAT Genebank QMS in improving the safety of working conditions in the field. Mr Surendar Reddymalla, Scientific officer, Pigeonpea, described one such outcome where provision of helmets, hand gloves and field shoes helped avoid injuries during cage installations.
Mr Muzamil Baig, Genebank Quality Manager, who provided an overview of how the QMS helps sustain best practices and bring in improvements, said it is a “wedge” that ensures operations do not fall back to lower level after reachcing higher standards.
“There are no good crops without good seeds. Seeds are the foundation of agri-food systems. We rely on seeds to produce food, feed, fibre, fuel and they contribute to a friendly environment,” emphasized Dr QU Dongyu, Director General, FAO, in his opening remark while inaugurating FAO’s Global Conference on Green Development of Seed Industries held during 4-5 November 2021.
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Echoing Dr Dongyu’s views and underlining the role of advanced scientific approaches for development of quality seeds and improved crop varieties, Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director-Accelerated Crop Improvement, ICRISAT, highlighted ICRISAT’s work in this direction.
During a session he co-chaired on modern plant breeding technologies, Dr Varshney spoke about Fast-forward Breeding and Rapid Delivery Systems for international agriculture.
“Genomics-assisted breeding (GAB) has been contributing in developing many genomics resources and in identification of markers associated with several traits in legume crops. GAB has delivered several improved varieties of peanut (for high nutrition), chickpea (for drought tolerance and fusarium resistant varieties) and pigeonpea, with many more in pipeline,” he said.
“To further accelerate these efforts, fast-forward breeding framework including haplotype-based breeding, genomic prediction in combination with speed breeding needs to be deployed and more importantly, rapid delivery systems should be in place to get the technology and improved seeds to smallholder farmers,” added Dr Varshney, who was a member of the conference’s scientific advisory panel and co-Leads for one of its theme.
Emphasizing the views of representatives from Pan-African Farmers Organization, CGIAR, NARS, seed federations, NGOs and others on demand-driven research and innovation being key to finding proper seed solutions, Ms Beth Bechdol, Deputy Director General, FAO, stressed the role of farmers by saying, “In developing future seed systems farmers must be partners and not beneficiaries.”
The two-day conference aimed to provide a forum for its members, partners, industry, opinion leaders and other stakeholders to engage in focused dialogues on how best to make quality seeds of preferred productive, nutritious and resilient crop varieties available to farmers. Senior government representatives from several FAO member nations, including the US, China, Netherlands, Argentina, South Africa and Egypt participated.
The event also aimed to generate evidence for actions towards the realization of the goals of FAO’s Strategic Framework 2022-31: for the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agri-food systems for better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life, thus contributing to achieving the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), especially SDGs 1 and 2.
The recording of the session chaired by Dr Varshney is accessible here.
To enhance the use of millets germplasm in India’s crop improvement efforts, ICRISAT’s Genebank recently showcased the genetic diversity in its small millets germplasm collection by organizing a field day on 15 November at Patancheru. Researchers from multiple organizations participated in the field day and selected desirable germplasm from over 2,500 accessions of small millets that include finger millet, little millet, foxtail millet, kodo millet and barnyard millet.
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Explaining the importance of small millets in the food system and dietary diversification, for food, feed and nutritional security, Dr Kuldeep Singh, Head, Genebank, said the potential in the accessions of small millets, which are mainly landraces, is yet to be fully tapped.
“With 2023 being declared the International Year of Millets, we hope the spotlight will turn to small millets which haven’t received the attention commensurate with their potential for food and nutritional security as well as climate-resilience in dryland agriculture,” Dr Singh said during the field day organized.
Dr M Vetriventhan, Senior Scientist at the Genebank, informed the participants about small millets germplasm conserved at ICRISAT, and described the research efforts to enhance the use of germplasm in crop improvement. With over 128,000 germplasm accessions assembled from 144 countries, Dr Ventriventhan said, ICRISAT Genebank is one of the largest international genebanks. It serves as a world repository of germplasm of 11 crops, namely chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut, sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, foxtail millet, little millet, kodo millet, proso millet and barnyard millet.
The participants were presented with nearly 1,800 accessions of finger millet including >1,000 new accessions received recently from Africa, 200 accessions each of foxtail and barnyard millets, and 126 accessions of little millet of the race robusta, and some selected accessions of other small millets) for further use in the small millets improvement program. Millet researchers from ICAR-Indian Institute of Millets Research, Hyderabad, ICAR- Vivekananda Institute of Hill Agriculture, Almora, University of Agricultural Sciences at GKVK-Bengaluru, and MPKV, Zonal Agricultural Research Station in Maharashtra’s Kolhapur, participated in the event.
The ICRISAT genebank ensures continued germplasm support to crop improvement programs around the world.
Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Accelerated Crop Improvement, emphasized the use of germplasm for improving productivity and stress tolerance as wide variability exists in germplasm of small millets for desirable traits. He also underscored the importance of genetic investigation and mapping of traits to enable genomic-assisted improvement in these crops.
Mr A Venkata, IT Specialist, Genebank Database, demonstrated ways to access the ICRISAT genebank (http://genebank.icrisat.org/) and Genesys (https://www.genesys-pgr.org/) database to view and download the passport and characterization data of accessions, and ways to directly send seed requests to the genebank from Genesys.
Participants visited genebank facilities such as cold rooms, seed labs, the seed processing area and the glasshouse, where the genebank staff demonstrated the use of various equipment and machinery related to seed processing.
“We regularly use ICRISAT’s millet germplasm in our breeding program. This field day gives an opportunity to visually observe an enormous diversity in small millets and allows selecting many trait-specific and diverse germplasm for utilization in millet improvement programs,” said Dr Dr Elangovan from ICAR-IIMR, Hyderabad, who was one of the participants in the field day. He appreciated the genebank’s modernized seed processing facility.
Dr Nagarajan from University of Agricultural sciences, GKVK Bengaluru, called for complete assessment of variability of small millets in the germplasm collection for better utilization in trait specific crop improvement.
Oral toxicity evaluation of probiotic strains isolated from Finger millet [Eleusine coracana (L.) Gaertn.] in Wistar rat models (in vivo)
Authors: Divisekera DM, Samarasekera JKR, Hettiarachchi C, Maharjan R, Gooneratne J,
Iqbal Choudhary M, Gopalakrishnan S, Wahab A and Mazumdar SD
Published: Archives of Ecotoxicology, 3 (3). pp. 91-102. ISSN 2644-4747
India–Africa partnerships for food security and capacity building
Authors: Chakravarty A, Whitbread AM, Gaur PM, Selvaraj A, Mazumdar SD, Philroy J, Durgalla P,
Mane H and Sharma KK
Published: International Political Economy Series. Springer Nature, Cham, Switzerland, pp. 73-93.
Utility and triggers in pptake of agricultural weather and climate information services in Senegal, West Africa
Authors: Ouedraogo I, Diouf NS, Ablouka G, Zougmoré RB and Whitbread AM
Published: Atmosphere (TSI), 12 (11). pp. 1-14. ISSN 2073-4433
Addressing iron and zinc micronutrient malnutrition through nutrigenomics in pearl millet: Advances and prospects
Authors: Srivastava RK, Satyavathi CT, Mahendrakar MD, Singh RB, Kumar S, Govindaraj M and
Published: Frontiers in Genetics (TSI), 12 (723472). pp. 1-9. ISSN 1664-8021
Meghdoot – A mobile app to access location-specific weather-based agro-advisories pan India
Authors: Dhulipala RK, Gogumalla P, Rao KPC, Palanisamy R, Smith A, Nagaraji S, Rao SA, Vishnoi L, Singh KK, Bhan SC and Whitbread AM
Published: Working Paper. CGIAR.
Analysis of rainfall variability and trends for better climate risk management in the major
agro-ecological zones in Tanzania
Authors: Joseph JE, Rao KPC, Swai E, Ngwira AR, Rötter RP and Whitbread AM
Published: Working Paper. CGIAR.
Impact tracking: A practitioner-developed approach to scaling agricultural innovation in Ethiopia
Authors: Child K, Desta G, Douthwaite B, Haileslassie A, Van Rooyen A, Tamene L and Uhlenbrook S
Published: Project Report. International Water Management Institute, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
Comparative advantage of newly-released varieties of groundnut in Tanzania
Authors: Akpo E, Bakari H, Lukurugu GA, Daudi H, Muricho G, Minja A, Nzunda J, Ojiewo C and Varshney RK
Published: [Policy Briefs]
Policy options for enhancing quality groundnut seed production and delivery systems in Tanzania
Authors: Akpo A, Mwalongo S, Lukurugu GA, Daudi H, Muricho G, Minja A, Nzunda J, Ojiewo C and Varshney RK
Published: [Policy Briefs]
Priority interventions for transformational change in the Sahel
Authors: Abberton M, Abdoulaye T, Arinloye DA, Asiedu R, Ayantunde A, Bayala J, Cofie O, Jalloh A,
Kane Potaka J, Lamien N, Tabo R, Tenkouano A, Tepa-Yotto G, Whitbread A, Worou O, Zougmore R and Zwart S
Published: CGIAR working paper
Genome-wide miRNAs profiles of pearl millet under contrasting high vapor pressure deficit reveal their functional roles in drought stress adaptations
Authors: Palakolanu SR, Gupta S, Yeshvekar RK, Chakravartty N, Kaliamoorthy S, Shankhapal AR, Vempati AS, Kuriakose B, Lekkala SP, Philip M, Perumal RC, Lachagari VBR and Bhatnagar-Mathur P
Published: Physiologia Plantarum (TSI). pp. 1-17. ISSN 0031-9317
Functional characterization of the promoter of pearl millet heat shock protein 10 (PgHsp10) in response to abiotic stresses in transgenic tobacco plants
Authors: Kummari D, Bhatnagar-Mathur P, Sharma KK, Vadez V and Palakolanu SR
Published: International Journal of Biological Macromolecules (TSI), 156. pp. 103-110. ISSN 0141-8130
Overexpression of RNA-binding bacterial chaperones in rice leads to stay-green phenotype, improved yield and tolerance to salt and drought stresses
Authors: Guddimalli R, Somanaboina AK, Palle SR, Edupuganti S, Kummari D, Palakolanu SR,
Naravula J, Gandra J, Qureshi IA, Marka N, Polavarapu R and Kishor PB
Published: Physiologia Plantarum (TSI). pp. 1-18. ISSN 0031-9317
Functional characterization of late embryogenesis abundant genes and promoters in pearl millet (Pennisetum glaucum L.) for abiotic stress tolerance
Authors: Divya K, Palakolanu SR, Kavi Kishor P, Rajesh AS, Vadez V, Sharma KK and Mathur PB
Published: Physiologia Plantarum (TSI). pp. 1-13. ISSN 0031-9317
Co-inoculation of Bacillus spp. for growth promotion and iron fortification in sorghum
Authors: Manasa M, Ravinder P, Gopalakrishnan S, Srinivas V, Sayyed RZ, El Enshasy HA, Yahayu M,
Kee Zuan AT, Kassem HS and Hameeda B
Published: Sustainability (TSI), 13 (21). pp. 1-14. ISSN 2071-1050
Characterization of rhizobia isolated from leguminous plants and their impact on the growth of
ICCV 2 variety of chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.)
Authors: Mir MI, Kumar BK, Gopalakrishnan S, Vadlamudi S and Hameeda B
Published: Heliyon (TSI), 7 (11). pp. 1-13. ISSN 2405-8440