Happening October 2020

Issue No: 1877
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Governing Board meeting

ICRISAT’s 95th Governing Board meeting was held virtually on 24, 30 September, and October 1.

ICRISAT’s 95th Governing Board meeting was held virtually on 24, 30 September, and October 1.

On a mission to nurture hunger-free drylands

The 95th Governing Board meeting, held virtually, affirmed ICRISAT’s commitment to a hunger-free world and its readiness in transitioning to the One CGIAR and operating efficiently despite COVID constraints. The ICRISAT Strategy 2021-25 that was approved by the Board, factors in these concerns and is flexible to adapt to new developments. Special emphasis was on outreach and scaling out through partnerships for greater impact. Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, announced that by April 2021 the Institutes’ policies and procedures (the governance policies are already approved by the Board) will be reviewed, updated and aligned to the One CGIAR and international best practices.

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“The Institute is a big supporter of the CGIAR reform to create a stronger system for better impact.” Dr Paco Sereme, Outgoing Board Chair

The way forward and lessons learnt

Outgoing Board Chair Dr Paco Sereme updated on the upcoming changes while presenting the Board Chair Report. He said the institute has a strong role to play in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Dr Sereme was a member of Tag 5 (Country and Regional Engagement), a working group to strategize and develop a framework how the One CGIAR can enhance country and regional engagement. He also shared lessons learnt during his time as Chair and Board Member.

In sync with government policies and the one CGIAR

Presenting the Board Vice-Chair Report, Dr S Trilochan Mohapatra pointed out that this period had been tough locally and globally, restricting mobility and functioning. The drylands are fragile and volatile and so ICRISAT’s work is important, the positioning focus should be on the contribution of dryland crops to increased farmer incomes and go beyond climate resilience, he said. “In the context of the One CGIAR our partnerships with other centers is crucial. We need to deliberate on how we can have joint programs and set examples for working in a partnership mode,” he said. He emphasized on scaling up to realize impact to unlock the tremendous potential ICRISAT has and the need to work with the National and Local Governments to achieve this.

“Our crops are nutritious, but have we capitalized on this for creating the market? We have to plan for this systematically and proactively, including how we take along partners.” Dr S Trilochan Mohapatra, Board Vice-Chair

Working in the midst of COVID constraints and planning our contributions within a One CGIAR

Director General Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, who has been working virtually for close to six months and has not yet arrived at the ICRISAT campus in India, said in her Board Report that operationally, COVID-19 remains a major constraint and that working around civil unrest and complexities in some locations in Africa needs careful management. She said that some of the key focus areas for ICRISAT are quality and responsiveness to donors, building global visibility through thought leadership where many staff can engage, and high attention to culture, gender and diversity.

Unveiling new strategies and policies: The ICRISAT Strategy 2021-25 presented by the Director General was approved by the Board. This strategy will be flexible to adapt to the One CGIAR developments that are underway and address issues around COVID-19. The overall Vision and Mission is remains strong and greater emphasis is on focused technology development, modernized breeding systems, social sciences, and outreach and scaling out with partners.

Dr Hughes said that ICRISAT has almost 50 years of experience, multidisciplinary knowledge and expertise, association with a wide range of global, regional and local networks, partnership approach to develop innovations and deliver at scale. The key points emphasized include:

  • Delivering public goods and innovations;
  • Contributing positively to nutrition, poverty, gender, climate and environment in the drylands;
  • Empowering people, markets and institutions;
  • Improving livelihoods through our mandate dryland cereals and grain legumes;
  • Empowering women and youth through our work; and
  • Achieving a more resilient, environmentally sustainable and profitable dryland farming system.

“We have compelling comparative strengths and a strong value proposition. We have many aspirations to positively impact the Sustainable Development Goals.” Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT

ICRISAT’s Strategic Plan on transitioning to the One CGIAR: Key points in the plan were on –

  • Bringing partnerships and technologies to respond to the most critical needs of the semi-arid regions of Africa and Asia.
  • Partnership to bring our expertise to the needs of the Americas.
  • Our coordination role for One CGIAR activities, within the Indian subcontinent the coordination role will be strengthened, resulting in targeted, quantified impact and in Africa, a leadership role in the semi-arid regions is envisioned.
  • Our Regional Crop Hubs in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will provide state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure to our CGIAR and NARS partners for greater efficiencies and economies.

Policy of Policies: Led by Dr Hughes, ICRISAT has been undergoing a detailed review of all its policies and updating to best international practices. The Board approved a new overarching policy ‘Policy on Policies’ as well as specific new/updated governance policies:

  • Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Policy
  • Whistle Blowing and Protection from Retaliation Policy
  • Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment including Sexual Harassment Policy
  • Policy for Safeguarding Good Research Practices
  • Investment and Exchange Risk Management Policy
  • Anti-Fraud Anti-Corruption Policy
  • Environment, Health and Safety Policy
  • Risk Management Policy
  • Business Continuity Management Policy

Research and related program highlights

The Socio Economics strategy presented by Dr Anthony Whitbread was appreciated and supported by the Board. The Board suggested carefully prioritizing the areas where we can have the biggest impact and continue to strengthen socio-economics support across all programs of ICRISAT.

‘No Hunger’ mission

ICRISAT’s other Research Programs –Genetic Gains, West and Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa and Asia – made presentations on their contribution to the Sustainable Development Goal 2 – ‘No Hunger’.

Collage shows Genetic Gains work from lab to field.

Collage shows Genetic Gains work from lab to field.

Genetic Gains: The program works towards harnessing the full potential of modern genomics, molecular biology, and advanced breeding approaches; generating trait knowledge, tools/ technologies and platforms for integration with crop improvement programs for improving crop productivity, profitability, and nutrition; and empowering national programs for adopting modern technologies in their crop improvement programs to contribute to SDG2.

 Contributions to delivering genetic gains to National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) include –

  • Upstream research to support development and release of 312 drought tolerant, nutrient-dense varieties in more than 15 countries.
  • High Throughput Genotyping Project provided 7.5 million datapoints (US$ 2 million) to more than 30 NARS and 8 CGIAR centers in 28 countries; data being used in breeding programs to develop climate resilient, high-yielding and nutritious varieties.

Regional Research Programs teams contributed to SDG2 through a three-pronged approach.

  1. Crop ImprovementDevelopment of high-yielding, stress and disease-resistant, dual-purpose (food, feed and fodder), market-preferred and more nutritious/biofortified varieties.
  2. Integrated Crop Management – Sustainable diversification and intensification of cropping systems, crop-livestock integration and pest and disease management.
  3. Systems ApproachesSoil and water management, climate-smart production systems and income generation opportunities for increased agricultural production, enhanced farmer incomes, diversified and nutritious diets, and sustainable management of natural resources.

West and Central Africa key highlights

Regional Crop Improvement Hub in West and Central Africa.

Regional Crop Improvement Hub in West and Central Africa.

Crop Improvement

  • Iron (Fe) biofortified variety CHAKTI evaluated in Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal
  • 98 new pearl millet germplasm accessions evaluated for identifying new iron (Fe) sources. The XRF Fe varied from 31-51 ppm. XRF Zn varied from 31-46 ppm.
  • 70 hybrid pearl millet lines with High Fe and Zn evaluated in 14 locations in West Africa. The XRF Fe density ranged from 44-70 ppm. While XRF Zn density ranged from 36-57 ppm.

Integrated Crop Management

  • Integrated Soil Fertility Management practices in farmers’ fields increased yields of sorghum, millet and groundnut by 30-55%, with a gain in net returns of over 30%.
  • Integrated and participatory watershed management approach enabled the reduction of runoff and soil erosion by 40% and the improvement of shallow aquifer in the range of 30-45%. Model farmers, rural extension agents, and local NGOs were trained to extend these technologies to over 25,000 households in different agro ecologies in the year 2019-2020.
  • Using mechanization for crushing/milling of sorghum and millet crop residues in Nigeria led to 100% consumption of the stover as against 20-30% that is presently being consumed by small ruminants.

Systems Approach

  • The Agcelerant System deployed with 15 million smallholders in Nigeria introduced novel Earth Observation and IoT solutions, building the world’s first fully automated, award-winning smallholder plot monitoring system.

Gender mainstreaming efforts included prioritization of varieties of sorghum and millet demanded by end users, by examining trait preferences and choices of different market segments in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Eastern and Southern Africa key highlights

Crop Improvement

Release of 15 chickpea varieties in Ethiopia led to 10% rise in planted area and 12.6% surge in total income; 30 sorghum varieties impacted about 5 million people entirely dependent on growing sorghum for food and income.

Release of 3 finger millet, 3 chickpea and 2 groundnut varieties in July 2020 in Malawi was a key contribution to the Government’s crop, income, food and nutrition diversification efforts.

Development of new sorghum breeding lines with farmer and market preferred traits, product profiles were defined together with NARS partners and breeding pipelines developed and implemented. A total of 100 crosses have been made, 150 F2, 123 F3 progenies advanced (through single seed descent) and 6000 F4 and 5s planted.

Integrated Watershed Management for adaptation and mitigation to environmental shocks in Ethiopia.

Integrated Watershed Management for adaptation and mitigation to environmental shocks in Ethiopia.

Systems Approach

Reducing environmental degradation: Developed integrated watershed management models for mitigations and adaptation to environmental shocks in Ethiopia. Bio-reclamation of 8,000 ha of farmland increasing crop diversity to more than three crops.

Developing climate change resilience and mitigation:

  • Revitalized two community irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe led to improved farm productivity and profitability.
  • 25,000 farming households realized improved food and nutritional security due to continual availing of climate smart agriculture technologies.
  • Converted extreme floods from highlands to productive use in 85 ha in Ethiopia using innovative water-spreading weirs in partnership with GIZ.

Building enabling environment for technology dissemination:

  • The sorghum hybrid parent’s development initiative through Public-Private Partnership in Seed Systems to serve the Hybrid Parents research consortium resulted in 108 BC1, 167 BC2, 9 BC3 and 95 BC4 generations, currently in the field to generate new A and B lines.
  • Built capacity of national and local agencies of agriculture to facilitate change in livelihoods and investment in sustainable small-scale irrigation systems in Ethiopia and enhanced local and regional development systems around irrigation agronomy and intensification.
  • Provided technical support to national and county governments in Kenya to develop drought-tolerant crop variety seed strategies, road maps and sustainable systems preferred by farmers, consumers, and processors/traders.

Asia key highlights

Crop Improvement

Chickpea varieties developed through ICAR-ICRISAT collaborations accounted for 65% of the total indent of chickpea breeder seed in Central and Southern India. In Myanmar, varieties developed from ICRISAT-bred materials cover >95% of the chickpea area. During the past two decades, chickpea production increased 7-fold due to 3-fold increase in area and doubling of productivity.

Pigeonpea varieties/hybrids developed through ICAR-ICRISAT collaborative research have a share of 53% in the total supply of pigeonpea breeder seed. Production almost doubled (+ 2 million tons) in the past 10 years. In a recent project in Odisha, more than 43,000 farmers, including more than 3,700 women farmers, benefitted from 15 to 25% higher productivity by adopting improved varieties.

Early-maturing groundnut variety Devi (ICGV 91114) cover 24% of the groundnut area (about 50,000 ha) in Odisha, India. Farmers earned a net benefit of US$ 760 per ha. Groundnut also provided good quality stover for livestock and increased milk productivity.

Pearl millet hybrids from ICRISAT-bred material cover about 60% of the pearl millet hybrid area in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh states in India. Hybrids had at least 20% higher yield than replaced cultivars (estimated total benefit >US$ 150 million per annum).

Biofortified varieties of pearl millet and sorghum – Seven high-yielding biofortified (50% higher than (any) commercial hybrids or non-biofortified cultivars) hybrids of pearl millet and two varieties of sorghum were released in India and several are in the pipeline for release. A study conducted in Maharashtra state of India demonstrated that feeding iron-rich pearl millet was an efficient approach to improve iron status in school-going children.

Fodder varieties of sorghum and pearl millet – Several sorghum and pearl millet cultivars with high forage yield, including multi-cut type were released in India for promoting crop-livestock integration. Sorghum hybrid CSH 24 MF has more than 40% share in the forage market in India.

Systems Approach

The ICRISAT Development Center’s holistic approach of land rejuvenation through soil and nutrient management, improved cultivars and production technologies has recorded great impact and won awards and appreciation from state governments in India, especially for its Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.

Bhoochetna Project – In Karnataka, India, the project covered 5.0 million ha, increased crop yields by 20-66% benefitting 4.75 million farmers. The net benefit in seven years was US$ 399 million. In Odisha, India, 40,000 soil samples from 30 districts were analysed for secondary nutrients and micronutrients. Soil Health Cards were distributed to farmers and an online portal on soil health maps published ( Need-based application of macro and micronutrients promoted along with improved cultivars and production technologies benefited farmers with 20 to 60% higher crop yields.

CSR projects – In partnership with the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd., in  Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka states of India (2014-2019) 500,000 m3 additional water storage capacity was created and 50,000 farmers benefitted from 30-50% increase in crop yield. Livelihood opportunities were created specifically for women and the landless. Similarly, a watershed project in Bundelkhand region, Uttar Pradesh, India, facilitated 2.5 million m3 of water recharge per year leading to increased cropping intensity. Balanced fertilizer application along with improved crop cultivars helped realize a gain of about 35% in crop productivity and benefited over 1.5 million farmers.

The CRP Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) presented results of its review, which were highly positive. The review stated that “Overall, the quality of science in GLDC is high and novel approaches are being used to generate many International Public Goods.”

The Smart Food first phase and three-year business plan was analysed and the next three-year plan presented and approved by the Board. Analysis of the first phase showed very positive reach, influence and impacts. Key foundation material was still to be developed along with the need for more resource mobilization that would be prioritized in the next phase.

Strategic Marketing and Communications presented the Institute’s resource mobilization update visually for the first time using the newly launched real time dashboard. ICRISAT’s next three-year Marketing and Business Plan for ICRISAT was presented to and approved by the Board for 2020-2023. This included a funder and environmental analysis and prepared in line with the new ICRISAT strategic plan. It was guided by three overall goals from the strategic plan – 1. Build greater recognition of the needs and opportunities in the semi-arid tropics 2. Promote ICRISAT’s capabilities 3. Mobilize resources. It includes three strategies for Communications, Scientific Knowledge Management, and Resource Mobilization and Partnership.


Professor Yaye Kene Gassama was welcomed as an observer at the Board meeting.

Professor Yaye Kene Gassama was welcomed as an observer at the Board meeting.

ICRISAT’s 95th Governing Board meeting was held virtually on 24, 30 September, and October 1 and attended by Governing Board Members – (Drs) Paco Sereme, Prabhu Pingali, Wendy Umberger, Laurie Tollefson, Sissel Rogne, Folasade Ogunde, Trilochan Mohapatra, Yilma Kebede, Sanjay Agarwal, Somesh Kumar and Jacqueline Hughes. The Management Group was represented by (Drs) Kiran Kumar Sharma, Arvind Padhee, Joanna Kane-Potaka, David Johnson, Ramadjita Tabo, Pooran Gaur, Rajeev Varshney, Anthony Whitbread, Rebbie Harawa, Kunal Sarkar and Swati Jain.

Professor Yaye Kene Gassama was welcomed as an observer. The former Minister of Scientific Research in Senegal and chair of the African Union’s High-Level African Panel on Emerging Technologies, has many accomplishments to name. She is a professor of plant biotechnology at Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD). She is highly respected for many firsts, including her study on the utilization of the Neem tree in the treatment and prevention of malaria. She is also the first woman to attain the level of full professor in fundamental sciences in Senegal and remains one of the few high-profile women scientists dedicated to the field in Africa today. As a member of the Advisory Board of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and Female Education in Mathematics and Science in Africa (FEMSA), she not only promotes the education of girls in science and mathematics, but also mentors young girls and encourages them to become more involved in science.

File photo of outgoing Board Chair Dr Paco Sereme.

File photo of outgoing Board Chair Dr Paco Sereme.

Au revoir, Paco

ICRISAT bids an emotional farewell to Dr Paco Sereme, a member of ICRISAT’s Governing Board for nearly seven years and Chair during the last two years, who will be remembered for helping the institute navigate through difficult times. Last week, Dr Sereme chaired his last Board meeting before handing over office to Dr Prabhu Pingali

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“In my country, we say a person can never be a 10,” Dr Sereme said during his farewell, reflecting on his tenure at ICRISAT even as he demonstrated his characteristic grounded nature, unfailing integrity and a zeal for pursuit of excellence. He further told the Board during the virtual meet, “We have discussed many matters intensively but have always come to agreements in the end.”

The Board members lauded Dr Sereme for the calmness he always exuded and for demonstrating strong leadership while adhering to consultative processes. They recollected his contributions to build ICRISAT positively, with a passion for the institute’s mission, and his tenure providing the institute many valuable lessons.

Dr Sereme’s tenure as Chair of ICRISAT Governing Board brings his career a full circle and will serve as inspiration for young researchers. A plant pathologist by training, he recounted how he had started his career at ICRISAT in Burkina Faso, from where he hails. Before he was appointed to the Board, Dr Sereme had served as Director General of INERA and Executive Director of West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD).

As one of the founding members of the National Academy of Sciences, Arts, Letters of Burkina Faso, Dr Sereme currently chairs the academy. In recognition of his contributions to agriculture, he has received several awards such as Officer of the National Order (Burkina Faso), Knight of the International Academic Palm Order (CAMES) and the National Education Order of Merit (Côte d’Ivoire).

He also appreciated Ms Renerose Tan, the Board Secretary, for her commitment to the Board and wished the best for ICRISAT and One CGIAR. “I have always sought transparency to guide me. I request the Board to continue this way,” he said.

In a tribute to Dr Sereme, snapshots of his time with ICRISAT were compiled in a farewell video.

Dr Prabhu Pingali takes charge as Board Chair virtually.

Dr Prabhu Pingali takes charge as Board Chair virtually.

Prof Prabhu Pingali takes the baton as Chair of ICRISAT Governing Board

Prof Prabhu Pingali, Founding Director, Tata-Cornell Institute, took charge as ICRISAT Governing Board Chair. Prof Pingali joined the Board in April 2019 and assumed the office of the Chair from Dr Paco Sereme during the recently concluded 95th Board meeting.

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“It is a big honor and a challenge to step into Paco’s shoes. I learnt a lot from you and hope to be as diplomatic as you,” Prof Pingali while addressing Dr Sereme on the last day of the meeting

At Cornell University, Prof Pingali holds joint appointments as Professor in Charles H Dyson School of Applied of Economics and Management, Professor in the Department of Global Development and Professor in the Division of Nutritional Sciences in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

An economist by training and study, Prof Pingali’s expertise in agricultural research management saw him lead the Agricultural Development Division of Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as Deputy Director between 2008 and 2013. Before that, he was Director of FAO’s Agricultural and Development Economics Division between 2002 and 2007. Prof Pingali has held senior research and research management positions at CGIAR centers IRRI and CIMMYT between 1987 and 2002.

He has been a vocal supporter of smallholder farms from early days of his research career, which included a stint as a researcher at ICRISAT in the 1970s. Many years later in 2011, incidentally at ICRISAT, when asked why we should focus on smallholders, Prof Pingali emphasized that they are more productive per hectare compared to large farms and that smallholder productivity growth is a proven pathway to food security and poverty reduction.

He has also been a proponent of diversifying diets and has advocated looking beyond the big staples – rice, wheat and maize. His latest and widely read book Transforming Food Systems for a Rising India presents a detailed vision for achieving nutrition security through food system diversity that is accessible and affordable to the poor.

Prof Pingali has been a recipient of many awards and honors including Foreign Fellow of India’s National Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Member of the US National Academy of Sciences, Distinguished Fellow of the American Agricultural Economics Association and an Honorary Life Member of the International Association of Agricultural Economists among several other recognitions.

Following his election as Chair, Prof Pingali said he looks forward to working with ICRISAT Governing Board and management as we transition towards a One CGIAR. ICRISAT looks forward to working with its new Governing Board Chair and wishes him success.

One CGIAR gene-editing webinar series

A screenshot from the first webinar. From top left to bottom right: Dr Lafitte, Dr Gutterson, Dr Bertram, Dr Mashingaidze, Dr Hughes and Dr Pooja Bhatnagar, Theme Leader - Cell, Molecular Biology & Genetic Engineering at ICRISAT. Photo: ICRISAT

A screenshot from the first webinar. From top left to bottom right: Dr Lafitte, Dr Gutterson, Dr Bertram, Dr Mashingaidze, Dr Hughes and Dr Pooja Bhatnagar, Theme Leader - Cell, Molecular Biology & Genetic Engineering at ICRISAT. Photo: ICRISAT

A One CGIAR initiative to unlock the potential of gene editing for agriculture

Experts from public, private and non-profit research sectors emphasized the importance of working together, the need for supportive regulations and increased technical capabilities to enable a One CGIAR to use Gene Editing for exponential crop improvement to meet its 2030 goals. These views were voiced during the opening session of a five-part global webinar series that began last week.

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Setting the context for the session and the series itself, Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, in her opening remarks, recounted the beginnings of gene editing in crops and underscored the immense untapped potential of the technology by referring to what has been accomplished as the tip of what is possible with gene editing.

Dr Hughes also drew attention to differences across the globe in regulation of gene editing technologies and the need for creating societal acceptance. “There is no internationally agreed regulatory framework for gene editing. It is going to be very hard to make an impact with such a fragmented approach. We need science based predictable proportional regulations with clear timelines to encourage innovations in food and agricultural systems. The societal concerns stem in part from lack of understanding of gene editing principles and application,” she said.

Dr Marco Ferroni, Chair, CGIAR System Board, moderated the session. In his opening address, Dr Ferroni urged CG centers to work without duplication, share expertise and infrastructure to realize CGIAR’s vision of a world without hunger, poverty and environmental degradation while ensuring affordability of food. He also announced the creation of a One CGIAR Community of Practice on Genome Editing and New Breeding Techniques in Agriculture. The COP aims to bring together experts and teams working in genome editing and provides a platform for interactions about specific issues in the domain.

Highlighting the role of partnerships, funding and supportive regulatory systems to realize the full potential of gene editing, Dr Ferroni pointed to Columbia’s recent recognition of CGIAR’s gene edited rice lines as conventional lines.

“It is heartening to note that 20 CGIAR lines edited to confer resistance to xanthomonas (blight causing bacteria) were declared in Columbia as conventional breeding lines. It is a big story and a result of partnership between many institutions,” he said and termed the development a “trailblazing” first for CGIAR.

In his talk, Dr Robert Bertram, Chief Scientist in USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, lauded science and technologies delivered through the Green Revolution for driving higher productivity and lowering cost of food in the face of a growing population.

“If we didn’t have intensification and had extensification, with a steep bottom-line on cropland, we would have had no poverty reduction, a must-have to realize SDGs,” he said. “Agricultural growth is up to four times more effective in reducing poverty than other types of economic growth because it drives demand for locally produced goods.”

After showing the annual yield gains needed in maize and wheat to keep food prices constant as population grows and agriculture is stressed by climate change, pests and diseases, Dr Bertram contrasted breeding programs in the public and private sector and said the former is 20-30 years behind state-of-art private sector programs.

“The good news is, we know how to fix it. The Crops to End Hunger (CTEH ) is a way the CGIAR is upping its game through the work of its centers with the Excellence in Breeding platform. We can do this,” Dr Bertram said as he went on to enumerate the four pillars of CTEH – prioritize for impact, modernize breeding programs, strategic partnerships and measuring for impact. He advocated a crop improvement framework involving development of tools of gene editing that can strengthen breeding pipelines.

“There is an urgent need for stress tolerant cultivars of food crops so that farmers can adapt to climate change,” said Dr Kingston Mashingaidze, Senior Research Manager, Agricultural Research Council, South Africa, and mentioned the reasons for low productivity in sub-Saharan Africa- biotic and abiotic stresses, slow pace and high cost of conventional breeding, poor quality seed and slow variety turnover.

“Genome editing is the future, if not the ‘now’ of plant breeding. The public breeding programs are lagging in implementation of new breeding techniques owing to lack of trained personnel, inadequate investment in R&D, need for infrastructure, and in many situations, unfavorable regulatory landscapes,” he added.

Dr Mashingaidze also shared a few examples of collaborations employing NBTs in South Africa to demonstrate how strong partnerships can show the way ahead.

Dr Neil Gutterson, Senior Vice President, Chief Technology Officer, Corteva Agriscience, and a CGIAR System Board Member, said gene editing can help harvest variations in nature very quickly. To be able to tap the potential of gene editing, we need to have the genomics knowhow and capabilities, he said.

“The reference genome is not sufficient. Specific sequence of any given genome that one wants to access and edit is critical. The germplasm base and understanding target traits as well as their underlying genetics is critical. We should be able to edit directly in elite varieties and not varieties that need to be further bred as that would slow down the opportunity to create value through speed to serve farmers,” Dr Gutterson said while maintaining that a high-throughput pipeline structure to support editing is indispensable.

He cited two examples of Corteva’s work through public-private partnerships with partners including CG centers, CIMMYT and ICRISAT. These include development of maize hybrids resistant to Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN) and Striga-resistant sorghum.  Dr Gutterson also mentioned there is progress in the global acceptance and regulatory scene of gene editing and called on the webinar’s audience to take up the responsibility of bringing societal acceptance.

Quoting Mr Bill Gates on the use of gene editing and other new technologies, Dr Renne Lafitte, Deputy Director, Crop R&D, Agricultural Development Program at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said neither the benefits of gene editing nor the decisions about whether to take advantage of them should be reserved only for developed countries. Such research should involve all stakeholders where it is likely to be deployed.

Dr Lafitte further said regulations may seem like hurdles to scientists but are needed for gene edited varieties to reach farmers. “Regulations are really important in keeping everyone safe and maintaining the legitimacy of activities and to support the farmers themselves. We are talking about one small part of supplying seeds but we have to recognize that regulations have an important role to play throughout the process.”

CGIAR focus on gene editing crops for a food and income secure future

Speaking during the second webinar of the One CGIAR Global Series on Gene Editing, lead plant molecular biologists from multiple CGIAR centers presented the use of gene editing to beat pests and diseases, overcoming heavy metal contamination, and improving nutritional and architectural traits. “The vision of CGIAR breeding is to have world-class breeding programs to have CGIAR-and National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) breeding networks that generate genetic gains above 1.5% per annum. And the average area-weighted age of varieties in farmers’ fields to be less than 10 years,” Dr Michael Quinn, Director, CGIAR Excellence in Breeding Platform (EiB), said outlining the intent for using new technologies like gene editing.

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“The vision of CGIAR breeding is to have world-class breeding programs to have CGIAR-and National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) breeding networks that generate genetic gains above 1.5% per annum. And the average area-weighted age of varieties in farmers’ fields to be less than 10 years,” Dr Michael Quinn, Director, CGIAR Excellence in Breeding Platform (EiB), said outlining the intent for using new technologies like gene editing.

Dr Quinn stated that EiB sets targets, standards and helps with breeding teams to achieve them. Stressing that the current rate of production gain in major cereal crops will not meet projected demand and increase in legumes, roots, tubers and banana production is essential to meet SDG goals in the face of climate change and increasing population. He went on to explain how traditional breeding pipelines are reconceptualized in their modern avatars as cyclic models, where new technologies significantly help in shortening the breeding cycle time.

“The opportunities from gene editing are huge. It can make for genetic gains in ways and for traits that conventional breeding cannot. The collective impact is greater for breeding technologies and gene editing will likely be no different,” he said while emphasizing that we need to understand how to use gene editing synergistically with other technologies.

Molecular biologists at multiple CGIAR centers shared information about gene editing work underway at the centers and at partnering organizations. Most of the gene editing work shared is being done using knock-out or knock-down approaches without introducing foreign genes.


Dr Kanwarpal Dhugga, who is leading the Agriculture Biotechnology program at CIMMYT, and CIMMYT molecular biologist Dr Zhengyu Wen, explained their work to develop maize resistant to Maize Lethal Necrosis (MLN).

The first approach involves multiple edits in a fine-mapped QTL of about 100 kb to identify the causal allele for resistance. The edits were done in elite lines,
Dr Dhugga stressed. The QTL for MLN resistance was identified after observing strong resistance to MLN, usually caused by a combined infection with Maize Chlorotic Mottle virus and other Potyviruses like Sugarcane Mosaic Virus, in an elite line in Thailand. Currently, the edited plants are being screened in a greenhouse.

Dr Wen described the second approach that involves knocking out genes responsible for proteins involved in mRNA translation. These proteins, called Eukaryotic Translation Initiation Factors (eIF), are also the plant’s natural defense mechanism against viruses; mutations in eIF genes have helped plants develop durable resistance to viruses, Dr Wen explained.

In the case of maize, four eIF genes are known in the genome. With a high degree of efficiency, the team knocked out each of these individually and in combination through gene editing in two elite lines to get plants to resist MLN.


Mentioning the use of gene editing to study function, including modifying a popular vector to develop a versatile plasmid DNA, Dr Inez Slamet-Loedin, Cluster Leader of Trait and Genome Engineering at IRRI, highlighted the gene function studies underway at IRRI and CIAT. These include understanding genes responsible for potential trait development of hybrid rice, incompatibility barrier between rice and its wild relatives, resistance to Rice Hoja Blanca virus and study of genes related to grain quality.

Emphasizing the importance of using gene editing to introduce essential agronomic traits like the resistance to Bacterial Leaf Blight, Dr Slamet-Loedin described the development of “Sweet” variants with broad spectrum resistance to multiple strains of Xanthomonas oryzae that causes BLB. These variants were field tested under controlled conditions at IRRI and CIAT.

“Recently, regulators in both Colombia and the US have declared resistant varieties as conventional breed cultivators,” Dr Slamet-Loedin said after demonstrating resistance in the new lines vs control plants during tests. Gene editing to biofortify polished rice with increase zinc concentration, for drought tolerance, male sterility, resistance to striga and to tolerate cadmium are other traits for which work is underway, she added.

Dryland cereals and legumes

Outlining gene editing work underway in multiple crops at ICRISAT and Common Bean in CIAT, Dr Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur, Theme Leader Cell Molecular Biology and Genetic Engineering at ICRISAT, stated that several genetic and genomic resources and tools to enable technologies like gene editing have been developed for dryland cereals and legumes in collaboration with a number of global partners, including vectors for quick transformation, gene discovery and mining.

Dr Bhatnagar-Mathur explained the editing work in pigeonpea at ICRISAT to target photoreceptors and flowering time genes which are correlated to photoperiod sensitivity. This editing work is by knocking down of a single gene or two to three genes. As pigeonpea is a short-day crop and photoperiod-sensitive, it can only be grown in specific locations. Conventional breeding has not been able to take this high nutritious legume outside existing production areas.

In chickpea, ICRISAT is working on improving seed size and quality by editing a family of transcription regulators that result in increased seed size, which is beneficial as bigger seeds have a higher market value.

In Common Bean, CIAT has been targeting two genes that synthesize complex sugars that are not easily digested in humans and animals. The edited events are underway and the team is segregating the Cas9 gene for product development.

Aflatoxin is the biggest food safety issue in groundnut and many other crops, Dr Bhatnagar-Mathur said, while explaining the approach where comparative proteome profiling of near immune transgenic/ HIGS groundnuts and their wild type counterparts revealed susceptibility factors to aflatoxin and fungal infection. Using CRISPR, knock down of these susceptibility factors is being attempted to induce resistance without any insert.

In sorghum and pearl millet, a few candidate genes have been edited to reprogram strigolactones, a plant’s signaling hormones that have a role in its growth. The aim has been to block the signaling to striga, a parasitic weed, and prevent its germination from seed. Sorghum mutants with lost function on edits have been identified for pre-germination and post-attachment resistance and are being evaluated, she said.

Roots, Tubers and Banana

Dr Leena Tripathi, who leads the transgenic and genome editing research at IITA, shared updates from genome editing in banana and roots, tuber crops including work to understand gene function, disease resistance to bacterial wilt and fusarium wilt. She also informed that field trials for the gene edited resistant bananas are likely to begin early 2021.

She provided details from her work to develop resistance to Banana Streak Virus that involves targeting areas in the plant DNA where the virus is known to integrate. After infection, the plant remains asymptomatic until stressed. Following gene editing at loci where the viral genetic material is known to integrate, the edited mutants were subjected to water stress to observe improved outcomes.

“With the proof of concept of knocking out this integrated virus, we have integrated this technology into the breeding program. We are creating targeted mutations in the 4x hybrid and an improved diploid as these are crossed to get the improved plantain hybrid,” she said. Dr Tripathi also shared details about work to develop bacterial, fungal and downy mildew resistance in susceptible banana. Gene editing work in cassava at CIAT, potato and sweet potato at CIP and Yam at IITA was also presented by her.


Dr Paul Chavarriaga, who leads the Genetic Transformation and Gene Editing Platform at CIAT, described efforts to prevent uptake of heavy metals like cadmium by cocoa plant. He said several genes are involved in the process. Cadmium is toxic. He called for multiple approaches to tackle the problem.

“Plants regenerated from edited embryos are being tested using hydroponics to observe cadmium uptake. It is not easy as cocoa is highly tolerant to cadmium, which goes to the beans that are consumed. In the future, the edited plants will have to be tested for cadmium uptake in the field in CIAT as well,” he added. Collaborations

New initiatives

Aflatoxin rapid detection technology wins Big Data Inspire Challenge 2020

A little box that can predict the amount of harmful aflatoxin contained in a handful of sample groundnuts… sounds like a far-fetched notion? Not anymore. A collaboration between Pure Scan AI and ICRISAT to create a portable aflatoxin detector has won the Inspire Challenge by the CGIAR Big Data Platform at the recent Big Data Convention, earning a US$ 100,000 grant to build and scale up the device. Utilizing the blacklight fluorescence feature of aflatoxin, this device captures the fluorescence by cameras with filters. Images are processed and the fluorescence degree and pattern are fed into a learning model that predicts the quantity of aflatoxin present in the sample to an accuracy of 1 part per billion error margin.

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While more work needs to be done to bring this innovation to the farmer, e.g. an android app and a web platform have to be built, the innovators are hopeful that the device will soon enable farmers to access online marketplaces for a fair price on their high-quality produce free of aflatoxin. For more details on the product, click here for an explainer video on the Rapid Low-Cost Aflatoxin detection using AI.

Aflatoxin – a carcinogenic toxin found in groundnut (and other produce e.g. maize, chillies, rice, various seeds etc.) contaminated by a fungus Aspergillus flavus – can cause liver damage, malnutrition, immune suppression and cancer. Aflatoxin contamination is also responsible for millions of dollars in trade loss for farmers, processors and exporters. At present, there is a dearth of affordable and accessible tests to detect aflatoxin in agricultural produce; also, there is inadequate transparency in sales of these products, making traceability of contaminated products difficult. The above aflatoxin detection device hopes to leverage artificial intelligence and big data to resolve the above challenges, giving farmers a good price for their safe produce.

The Inspire Challenge stimulates CGIAR centers and external partners to link high technology with agriculture and development to deliver impact in vulnerable regions of the world. It encourages participants to leverage digital innovations viz. artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics, etc. to make life-changing transformations for marginal populations globally.

Other winners of this co mpetition are:

Another innovation co-developed by ICRISAT – Rapid plant disease detection phenotyping – also made it to the 15 finalists in this year’s Challenge. It used hyperspectral imaging and AI for automated early stress detection in chickpea crop, with the potential for large-scale automated stress phenotyping. Click here to see the video: https://youtu.be/OHHfzLIzhPI

The theme for this year’s Big Data Convention (19-23 October) was Digital Dynamism for Adaptive Food Systems, with side events and discussions examining how modern technologies and digital tools could help food systems become more responsive to crises (like the recent global pandemic) that affect food and nutrition security for millions, and more resilient to rebuild themselves quickly and efficiently. Due to restrictions on travel, this year’s Convention was held virtually, with hundreds of delegates logging in from across all the CGIAR centers and their partners around the world. This was the first event that was held under the aegis of

For more on our work in digital technology for agriculture, click here: http://exploreit.icrisat.org/profile/knowledge%20management/79

A file photo of the ICRISAT genomic lab. Photo: S Punna

A file photo of the ICRISAT genomic lab. Photo: S Punna

ICRISAT among 11 global ‘Hubs’ to accelerate the use of natural genetic diversity to advance crop improvement

Using chickpea as the case species, one of the proposed 11 hubs of DivSeek International will develop and refine tools to accelerate the use of its natural genetic diversity to advance crop improvement. Scientists in this hub will be studying the genetic determinants on a single chromosome to create the HapCat (haplotypes catalogue) and to analyze the PanGenome i.e. the entire gene set of all strains of a species. The aim is to provide a common and scalable sequencing data analysis platform and a community focal point for researchers primarily generating sequencing data for utilizing genetic diversity in crop improvement programs.

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The HapCat and PanGenome Hub will be led by Dr Rajeev K Varshney, ICRISAT, India, in collaboration with Dr Dave Edwards, The University of Western Australia, Australia and Dr Kuldeep Singh, Indian Council of Agricultural Research ICAR- National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, India.

Activities in the Hub Pilots include:

  • Facilitating connections between culinary experts, anthropologists, sociologists, ecologists, database engineers, genomic and phenomics experts to expand the characterization of crop diversity to include flavor, culinary uses, and traditional agricultural practices.
  • Identifying common practices for the characterization of emerging crops, recently domesticated and novel crops, locally adapted germplasm and regionally important crops, including African staple food crops.
  • Providing evidence-based perspectives for sharing information about plant genetic resources, the technological requirements for data-sharing across constituencies, and non-monetary benefit sharing practices of researchers that align with international treaties.

DivSeek International’s operations are funded by Genome Canada, Genome Prairie and the Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan. The organization currently has 67 member institutions representing 28 countries and has established a Secretariat in Saskatoon hosted by GIFS.

Read more on https://cegsb.icrisat.org/

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
8-industry-innovation 15-life-onland 17-partnerships-goals 

The Bakukus on their farm in Tanzania. The farmer couple are beneficiaries of the TL projects. They increased their family income with seed production and improved bean grain has enabled them to rear cattle and pigs, grow avocado and invest in a bio-gas plant. Photo: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

The Bakukus on their farm in Tanzania. The farmer couple are beneficiaries of the TL projects. They increased their family income with seed production and improved bean grain has enabled them to rear cattle and pigs, grow avocado and invest in a bio-gas plant. Photo: Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT

A new digital hub to consolidate learnings from global food legume initiatives

To enable crop researchers and policymakers access information on the three Tropical Legumes projects under one roof, a digital hub has been developed to capture learnings and impacts of crop varietal development and distribution initiatives taken up under the projects. Developed by Scriptoria,  the hub has a resource center with over 250 vital resources, from scientific articles to policy briefs, and interactive country maps. The projects’ impacts are brought to life in an engaging, highly visual digital story.

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Implemented over a 12-year period with US$ 67 million in funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, ICRISAT worked with two other CGIAR research organizations – Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) – and national and regional partners across 15 countries.

Principal Investigator of TL II phase II and TL phase III, Dr Rajeev K Varshney, says, “Together, we made significant achievements during a decade of Tropical Legumes projects, from the development and adoption of improved varieties, creation of market-demand to benefit smallholder farmers to the empowerment of national programs in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. This could only be achieved in collaboration with our partners and funders”.

He added, “I am sure the newly launched Tropical Legumes hub will serve as one-stop destination for knowledge and resources generated over the course of TL projects and now made available as International Public Good (IPG) in the service of smallholder farmers and rural economies.”

“The hub will help to preserve the legacy of the Tropical Legumes initiatives,” says Dr Chris Ojiewo, Principal Scientist at ICRISAT who coordinated the final phase of the projects. “It captures vital knowledge and learnings that we have accumulated over the past 12 years and makes them fully accessible so that researchers and policymakers can consolidate our efforts, build on our work and continue to strengthen climate resilience and productivity of African and Asian farmers.”

Resources in the hub contain vital information covering a wide range of related topics, including climate-smart benefits of food legumes, molecular breeding techniques, investments in breeding programs, and the development of effective seed systems to ensure improved varieties are efficiently delivered at scale.

The gains of the Tropical Legumes initiatives are now being consolidated by the Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa (AVISA) project, which is building on the experience of the TL projects to continue enhancing efficiency and effectiveness of breeding programs and seed systems.

Visit the Tropical Legumes Hub to find out more: https://tropicallegumeshub.com/

International Day of Rural Women

Crop residue for fuel wood and fattening (IPMS-Mi’eso) – Mirab Hararghe Zone of the Oromia Region, Ethiopia. Photo: A Habtamu, ILRI

Crop residue for fuel wood and fattening (IPMS-Mi’eso) – Mirab Hararghe Zone of the Oromia Region, Ethiopia. Photo: A Habtamu, ILRI

Youth or Young mothers? The paradox of transitions in the rural women’s lives

Year 2020 is a unique year. We have spent most of it ‘surprised’ by the turn of events. In early 2020, we found ourselves in a global health pandemic. We started by learning that we could not travel from one country to another. At first, we thought it will be a few weeks, maybe a few months of disruption, but this has persisted for most of the year 2020. The virus, first reported in China travelled the world, impacting sectors of the national and international economy as well as social processes (no large gatherings like attending schools, colleges, sport events, weddings, funerals in person) and even changing long-held traditions like hugging and handshaking. The year has gone by, we have worked from home, social distanced, worn face masks, maintained research and development collaborations online through amazing innovations on ‘meeting apps’ and now, it is October 2020, and our attention is drawn to the UN International Day of Rural Women. On this day, we focus on Rural Women and Girls building resilience – in the face of two great stresses – Covid-19 and climate change among other socio-ecological stresses!

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Critical role of girls and women in the drylands, during the COVID-19 pandemic

In this year, we have learnt that food availability and accessibility hinge on peoples’ movements i.e. interconnectedness of various sectors of the food system despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.  Investments of the dryland farmers and especially the critical role that women and girls play in ensuring the continued thriving of dryland rural households and communities, improving livelihoods and overall wellbeing is well acknowledged as key ingredient for delivering food in the agri-food system.  As workers in other sectors comfortably worked from home, the farmers have had to be out there in the field. The demands on their time and commitment were even more this year than before.  The critical role farmers play in food production and the associated value chain players in food systems delivery to consumers have been demonstrated.  Even in a pandemic, populations needed to be nourished! We salute the rural farmers, and especially the women farmers, who make up 24-56% of labor providers in rural Africa*[1], who bear the largest burden in the drylands!

In support of provision of food in the drylands, ICRISAT and the CRP-Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) is contributing by delivering high quality seeds of improved varieties of dryland cereals and grain legumes as a tool for recovery from COVID-19.  The cereals and legumes we offer (millets, sorghums, groundnuts, chickpeas, pigeonpeas) are SMART foods that are highly nutritious and, in a recipe, offer trace minerals, oils and vitamins that contribute to restoration of health for invalids, young children and the old. We purpose to have women and youth participating in the GLDC seed value chains (as contract seed producers or as seed distributing agents) as well as in the grain value chains (as aggregators or farm level production of high quality grains that are responsive to the preferences and needs of the markets).

Women in the drylands: The transition paradox

As we design response and recovery programs for supporting women, and dryland communities build back better from the COVID-19 crisis, we have been asking a question: ‘Do we really know the women we work with? Can the transition stories for girls and adult women have something for us to learn from to better understand their experiences, needs and respond to them better? How might this help us to be deliberately inclusive in our targeting?’  I want to share the lessons we[2] have learnt in the last 18 months that have implications for the way youth – especially young girls and women – are targeted as beneficiaries of agricultural interventions.

We were working on a youth strategy for the CRP-GLDC and as we pre-tested our tools in Tanzania, we had a conversation with men and women of the community, asking them – Who are the youth? How do they transition? How would we work with them in dryland agricultural value chains? During this conversation, the young men were emphatic, that men ‘can be youth until they are 40 years old, as long as they feel strong’ but ‘women have a very short window to be ‘youth’, by 22 years old, they are too old, especially if they already have children’.  As we did life history interviews in the Southern Highlands region of Tanzania, we came across a respondent who was about 30 years old.  She told the story of her transition to adulthood that started when she was 14 years old.  She got pregnant and had her first girl child when she was 14 years old.  Her daughter grew up, and when she too was 14 years old, she gave birth to her first child.  The respondent was a grandmother by the time she was 28 years old.  Since the age of 14 years, the respondent did not self-identify as a youth nor would her community identify her as a youth, even though the guidance of the UN is that the youth are persons of ages 15-24 years.  As we continued with the fieldwork, we realized that the youth in the drylands transition early (girls transition from as early as 12 years and boys from 17 years of age), through socially facilitated rites of passage events, which are unique and different for each community group across the different countries.  The rites of passage event un-locks guided opportunities that are highly gendered e.g. access to resources especially land and large stock for the boy child.  For most patriarchal communities, access to land is transacted primarily through the boy and through marriage.  As soon as a boy gets married[3], they are allocated land, which they are most likely going to inherit.  Land is a key asset for rural livelihoods that are based on agriculture.  Girls would access such land through marriage, but their rights are limited to access and not control of the land assets.

Young mothers missing in the beneficiary radar?

So, what happens to the girl who happens to get a child out of the traditional wedlock path, as a single parent in the context of Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania?  This becomes a beginning of all manner of inequalities for her and the child she raises.  She does not access land with her parents, and she does not access land with the family that fathered her child.  To access land, she needs to hire/rent or get into share cropping arrangements.  She becomes a wage laborer tending other people’s farms.  When development programs go out there to identify beneficiaries as youth, she will not show up because she has transitioned to a mother with a new name and a new identity and her community does not identify her as youth.  When we go out asking for farmers as beneficiaries, she will not show up because she does not own a farm and does not have the title of a farmer.  When we go out with the ‘women’ as our target beneficiaries, she does not show up because mentally and age-wise, she is still a young teenager who is growing up and finding her true self.  Young mothers are invisible in our tools and processes unless we are very deliberate in seeking them out.

Call to action on this day of the rural women 2020: Recognize the young mothers!

The ONE CGIAR mission has five key result areas to deliver on.  One is the area of equality and opportunities for women, youth and marginalized groups.  We are therefore calling on the invisible young mothers who are rendered so by social norms in society, to be ‘recognized’ as a vulnerable group with unique needs.  Appreciate the strong contribution they make to the food systems in the rural areas.  We recommend starting by having a positive identifier for them and recognizing that the term ‘youth’ does not cover them.  In most societies in Ethiopia, Uganda and Tanzania, we find that the social norm is to shame them by giving them dehumanizing identifiers.  The second is to have them in our national level statistics and design interventions to support the transition.  We tried getting data on these young women and the closest proxy we could get was on ‘girls’ school dropout statistic’.  The third is to understand their vulnerabilities, which may not be about resources only but also more on personal agency, self-esteem and appreciation. In designing interventions for them, it may help to have a 360O approach (informed and holistic approach) to their challenges, appreciating there are many intersecting and significant factors that impact their transition and success in dryland farming.  We propose they are the category of youth that are have the highest probability of staying in the dryland farms for a lifetime and although the common narrative is that young people are not interested in agriculture, for them, it is the main means of their livelihoods… they are our key beneficiary in the rural drylands.

About the author:

Esther Njuguna-Mungai,
Senior Gender Scientist, ICRISAT ESA.

[1] Statistics from Ethiopia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria, Tanzania and Uganda in the book by Christiaensen, Luc; Demery, Lionel. 2018. Agriculture in Africa : Telling Myths from Facts. Directions in Development—Agriculture and Rural Development;. Washington, DC: World Bank. © World Bank. https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/28543 License: CC BY 3.0 IGO.

[2]We have been working on this with Brenda Boonabaana of Makerere University, Dismas Mwaseba of Sokoine University, Shambel Getachew of Haramaya University as well as KatindiSivi- Njonjo, Rachel Gitundu and Philip Miriti at ICRISAT.

[3]A disclaimer: This pathway doesn’t apply to 100% of all boys and girls in transition.  Some of the factors that change the process include access to education, conversion to religion e.g. Christianity that imposes different value systems, incidences of civil conflict/political upheavals or episodes of climate change

Ms Zuwena Hamisi Chipangula runs the Tunduru Agro-Dealer shop in Tanzania. Photo: Ndichu. For more case studies from the Tropical Legumes project click here.

Ms Zuwena Hamisi Chipangula runs the Tunduru Agro-Dealer shop in Tanzania. Photo: Ndichu. For more case studies from the Tropical Legumes project click here.

Resilient rural women of the drylands

Special Feature: International Day of Rural Women – October 15 Long before COVID constraints crept in, ‘resilience’ was and is the operative word for agri-food systems research in the semi-arid tropics. And when the pandemic happened, all we did was factor it into existing operations. Working towards hunger-free drylands is ICRISAT’s priority and recognizing the vital role that rural women play in achieving food and nutrition security pivots all initiatives.

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Some of the pointers that experts have cited to build the resilience of rural women in the wake of COVID-19 have been an integral part of ICRISAT’s work since inception. Be it direct access to improved seed and inputs, harnessing the power of mobile technology, financing women through self-help groups and revolving funds and handholding women farmers in adopting best farming practices, cultivation of cash crops, and creating off-farm businesses – all of these come with real-life examples.

Facilitating direct access to improved seed and inputs

Dr Rebbie Harawa (L) with farmer Betty Bondo during a field visit to the USAID-funded AVCD project in Makueni, Kenya. Photo: ICRISAT

Dr Rebbie Harawa (L) with farmer Betty Bondo during a field visit to the USAID-funded AVCD project in Makueni, Kenya. Photo: ICRISAT

If you give an opportunity to a woman, you can change things,” says Dr Rebbie Harawa, Research Program Director, Eastern and Southern Africa, ICRISAT, sharing her personal experience. “For me, access to technologies from research and resilience in the rural spaces is something I have grown up with and it impacted my life positively.  I witnessed my mother access seeds of pigeonpea improved varieties, a new kind of seed ICRISAT was promoting, and convert it to an opportunity for us as a family.  She planted, processed and sold the pigeonpeas to raise an income for our education.  These were varieties that are resistant to wilt (which was a big challenge in my region), and we were able to grow them in the shortest period with higher yield.  I have witnessed many farmers in my country, who were given a similar opportunity to access improved varieties that ICRISAT had released and were able to send their children to school.”

In the hands of women farmers, high quality seeds convert into an opportunity for enhanced production leading to better incomes and better nutrition. ICRISAT’s crops have good nutrition qualities especially for weaning children and women of reproductive age.  They are the seeds of recovery and a critical building block in enhancing resilience for women in the wake of COVID-19.

Harnessing the power of mobile technology

Women farmers from a self-help group in Kenya. Photo: J Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT

Women farmers from a self-help group in Kenya. Photo: J Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT

In Kenya, over 11,000 farmers are receiving through SMS crop advisories since the outbreak of COVID and in the past 15 weeks, two advisories were sent every week focusing on the nutrition of women and children as part of Feed the Future Kenya Accelerated Value Chain Development (AVCD) program. Prior to COVID, the Smart Food initiative was working to empower rural Kenyan women, families, and communities through participatory cooking classes, nutrition training, and door-to-door educational outreach.

A drive to understand concerns of farmers and stakeholders during the COVID-19 pandemic for the 2020-21 cropping season in Nigeria, Mali, Niger, Ghana, Burkina Faso and Senegal led to recognizing the importance of digital technologies. Digital extension and advisory services, online payments and fund transfers, and virtual learning platforms were among the key needs outlined by them. Efforts or on to bridge this gap not just for the current scenario but also for the future.

Financing women through self-help groups and revolving funds

Village Savings and Loan Association in northern Ghana. Photo: A. Diama, ICRISAT

Village Savings and Loan Association in northern Ghana. Photo: A. Diama, ICRISAT

My children’s education is a priority,” says Ms Dachia Midana (far left in the photo), leader of the Village Savings and Loan Association (VSLA) in northern Ghana. “I joined the VSLA to save money and also get credit for running my small enterprise. The income I earn from it helps me pay the school fees of my four children who are in high school. In fact, I pay the fees much in advance,” she says.

Even at the peak of the pandemic, it was business as usual for VSLA that serves as a platform to help groups raise funds to support activities that require financial assistance. The groups observed the prescribed safety protocols during their weekly meetings and did not encounter any problems with group activities. The Tropical Legumes III project partnered with SEND-Ghana (Social Enterprise Development) to set up the association.

Income generating activities for rural women initiated through corporate social responsibility projects offered a safety buffer during the pandemic,” says Dr Sreenath Dixit, Principal Scientist & Head, ICRISAT Development Centre. “Building the capacity of rural women for activities such as goat rearing, vermicomposting, roti making, setting up small retail outlets, and cycle repair shops has been part of the overall strategy of diversifying incomes of poor families participating in the project. The initiative built resilience among women who toiled to support their family incomes and helped them bounce back after the lockdown ended,” says Dr Dixit, who led a watershed management initiative of the Power Grid Corporation of India in Ukkali village, Karnataka state.

A CSR watershed project in Karnataka supports women like Ms Mukta Bai to take up income-generating enterprises. Photo: A Seshadri, ICRISAT

A CSR watershed project in Karnataka supports women like Ms Mukta Bai to take up income-generating enterprises. Photo: A Seshadri, ICRISAT

One of the beneficiaries Ms Mukta Bai says that despite the lockdown, she managed to sustain her business. During the first two months of the lockdown, she struggled to supply sorghum rotis to nearby families and earned about Rs 2,500 per month, a quarter of the income she used to earn. After the lockdown restrictions were lifted, she started supplying rotis to nearby dhabas (roadside outlets) and now she is earning about Rs 5,000 per month which is still 50% of what she used to earn. She says that business is gradually picking up and with the Indian festive season around the corner, she hopes to revive her business to what it was before the pandemic.

Creating off-farm businesses

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

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

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

Doorstep initiatives during COVID lockdown

Giri Poshana food products being distributed to tribal women in Eturunagaram. Photo: ICRISAT

Giri Poshana food products being distributed to tribal women in Eturunagaram. Photo: ICRISAT

The food products we formulated are rich in dietary fiber, minerals, vitamins, and bioactives beneficial for boosting immunity,” says Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Chief Operating Officer of the NutriPlus Knowledge Program at ICRISAT’s Agribusiness Innovation Platform. “The food products promote dietary diversity and are produced using locally available nutritious millets and protein rich pulses,” he says, talking of the ready-to-eat foods containing millets, sorghum and pulses produced by ICRISAT which were provided to tribal communities in the state of Telangana, India, at their doorstep. The move was to ensure nutrition sufficiency in children, pregnant women and lactating mothers in the communities during the lockdown period.

The initiative, which began in 2019, was being implemented through select Anganwadi centers (community centers for education, health and other purposes). The beneficiaries were being provided three ready-to-cook and three ready-to-eat products as supplementary food, served as breakfast and evening snack, in addition to the governments mid-day meals. However, during the lockdown, the Anganwadi centers closed and nutrition of the beneficiaries became a matter of concern until the program team worked to change the model of implementation.

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This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger 4-gender-equality 7-decent-work

Focus on groundnuts

Indian PM Narendra Modi dedicates two ‘healthy oil’ groundnut varieties on World Food Day

Two groundnut varieties with high oleic acid content, developed by ICRISAT together with the Indian Council of Agricultural Research-Directorate of Groundnut Research, are among the 17 biofortified varieties of eight crops that Indian Prime Minister Mr Narendra Modi dedicated to the nation today.

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These varieties contain about 80% oleic acid as compared to regular varieties (45-50% oleic acid). High levels of oleic acid results in lower levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (‘bad’ cholesterol) and maintains levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (‘good’ cholesterol), making these groundnuts the healthier choice. Higher levels of oleic acid also indicate longer shelf life, which is good for their use in the confectionary industry. The two varieties, named Girnar 4 (ICGV 15083) and Girnar 5 (ICGV 15090) have an oleic:linoleic acid ratio of 17:1. These groundnut varieties mature in about 110—113 days, and are best suited for cultivation in Gujarat, Rajasthan, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu as per the release proposal.

In national testing trials, Girnar 4 recorded 41% and 57% higher dry pod yields over check varieties TG 37A and GPBD 4 respectively; and 36% and 56% higher kernel yields over check varieties TG 37A and GPBD 4 respectively. Girnar 5 recorded 37% and 53% higher dry pod yields over TG 37 A and GBPD 4 respectively; and 34% and 54% higher kernel yields over TG 37A and GPBD 4 respectively.

We thank our partners ICAR-DGR; the National Mission for Oilseeds and Oil Palm (NMOOP) of Department of Agriculture, Co-operation and Farmers’ Welfare (DoAC & FW), Govt. of India; Junagadh Agricultural University (JAU), Junagadh; Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Coimbatore; Regional Agricultural Research Station, ANGRAU, Tirupati; and the Regional Agricultural Research Station, PJTSAU, Palem; for working with us on our projects. We’re also grateful to the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP GLDC) and OPEC Fund for International Development (OFID) for their support towards developing improved varieties of our mandate crops.

We hope that the inclusion of Girnar 4 and Girnar 5 groundnut varieties in the list of varieties released by the Prime Minister today will play a key role in reducing the dual burden of hunger and malnutrition, especially in women and children, in India.

On the occasion of World Food Day, 15 October. Mr Modi also released a special coin of ` 75 denomination to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization today.

For more on these varieties click below:




For more on our work in groundnut, click here: http://exploreit.icrisat.org/profile/Groundnut/250

Screenshot from the panel discussion on prospects of genetic improvement of groundnut in post-genomics era. Photo: N Mishra, ICRISAT

Screenshot from the panel discussion on prospects of genetic improvement of groundnut in post-genomics era. Photo: N Mishra, ICRISAT

Celebrating four decades of collaborative research on groundnut in India

To achieve the full genetic potential and higher profits for smallholder farmers, modern crop improvement programs, strong seed delivery system, better market access, support of national and local government agencies and a conducive policy environment is a must. These were the key messages from the 41st Foundation Day celebrations of ICAR-Directorate of Groundnut Research (DGR).

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ICAR-DGR has been a long-term collaborator and partner of ICRISAT through the decades. As Guest of Honor at the event, Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director, Genetic Gains, ICRISAT, delivered a keynote lecture, highlighting the importance of collaborative research in strengthening national crop improvement programs. He appreciated the collaboration between ICRISAT and ICAR-DGR over the years in conducting high-quality research on groundnut to achieve higher productivity and nutritional benefits.

It should be noted that ICRISAT and ICAR-DGR together have been leading the adoption and implementation of modern genomics tools and approaches for the modernization of crop improvement programs. A perfect example of this fact is the development of two high-oleic groundnut varieties – Girnar 4 and Girnar 5 – through molecular breeding, for the first time in India. Read more about it here.

Dr Varshney said, to realize higher genetic gains in groundnut or any other crop, there is an evident need to modernize our crop improvement programs. Starting from the genome, germplasm, phenotyping, and data science, which are basic ingredients for modern plant breeding in the 21st century, adoption of modern translational genomics approaches is also critical. Now is the time, he said, for amalgamation of modern science practices like haplotype-based breeding, speed breeding, genomic selection and gene editing, to hasten the varietal development process.

A panel discussion with scientists Dr JB Misra, Former Director, ICAR-DGR; Dr KV Bhatt, NBPGR; Dr B Chellapilla, IARI; Dr GP Mishra, IARI; and Dr S Bhatia, NIPGR, focused on various issues in groundnut genomics and future crop breeding programs. The recording of the keynote lecture and the panel discussion is available on ICAR-DGR’s YouTube channel.

Dr TR Sharma, DDG (Crop Sciences) – ICAR, the Chief guest at the event, highlighted the importance of biotechnological interventions in achieving food and nutritional security and urged scientists to contribute more towards achieving sustainable growth in agriculture.

Dr Radhakrishnan T, Director, ICAR-DGR while making a brief presentation on the institute’s journey and achievements during the last four decades, appreciated ICRISAT’s long-term collaboration and reaffirmed their continued support and collaboration in the future as well.

The ICAR-DGR Foundation Day was celebrated on 1 October 2020.

Capacity building

The fodder chopping machine. Photo: A Amadou, ICRISAT

The fodder chopping machine. Photo: A Amadou, ICRISAT

Fodder chopping machines lead to a thriving livestock feed enterprise in rural Niger

Fodder chopping machines are proving to be a great help to livestock farmers in rural Niger, by providing suitable feed to their animals while saving their time and effort. In five villages, groups of farmers are making the most of an initiative to provide these machines to the farmers.

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Feed for livestock is the most important factor in successful livestock farming. In Sahelian countries such as Niger, cereal crop stover (leaves and stalks) are major sources of feed for ruminant animals, especially during the dry season. Many livestock farmers feed their animals whole plant residues of their crops, leading to wastage and also adversely affecting the digestion of animals. Others manually cut the stover into small pieces – a laborious and time-consuming process.

To enhance the use of crop residues while improving their quality, ICRISAT and partners (see box below) supported five associations (three women’s groups and two men’s groups of about 25 stakeholders in each group/association) in five villages in Niger (Dioga and Ticko in Torodi region; Babon Kori, Akora Idi and Karazomé in Maradi region) by equipping them with one chopping machine each. The chopping machines were given on the understanding that the beneficiary association would engage in feed processing business and reimburse the cost of the chopper in one year.

The association chopped crop residues from community members who paid around 600 CFA (US$ 1) per bag of chopped residues. After five months of activity, over 100 tons (4,000 bags) of cereal stover (mainly millet) were chopped for about 200 customers, generating an equivalent of US$ 4,200.  The chopped feed sold at the local market for an equivalent of US$ 22,000.

Moreover, each association reported the following benefits:

  • Chopping machines facilitated the formulation of rations based on local feeds.
  • Chopped cereal stover could be stored in bags instead of in open shed (hangars) where they lose flavor and nutritive value and are also prone to insect attack.
  • Farmers are earning incomes from the feed business and market opportunities in their community.

According to participants, the fodder chopping machines also created employment opportunities for youth who assist farmer’s associations in some operations (transportation of feed and choppers to different sites).

Most importantly, the chopping machines played a key role in stimulating the development of small feed markets around the collection, chopping and commercialization of feed from crop residues as small businesses that generate incomes as a support to the development of feed value chain.

For more on our work in Niger, click here.

For more on our work in the area of Feed and Fodder, click here.

About the authors:

Dr Clarisse Umutoni
Post-doc Livestock Scientist
Dryland Systems and Livelihood Diversification
ICRISAT – West and Central Africa (WCA)

Dr Vincent Bado
Principal Scientist
Dryland Systems and Livelihood Diversification
Innovations Systems for the Drylands

Mr Abdoulaye Amadou
Senior Scientific Officer

Project: Enabling Value Chains to Create Sustainable Income for Vulnerable People in Crop-Livestock Systems of Burkina Faso and Niger

Partners: International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); the Institut de l’Environnement de Recherches Agricoles (INERA) in Burkina Faso, The Conseil National de Recherche Agronomique (CNRA) in Niger; Resilience and Economic Growth in the Sahel Enhanced Resilience (REGIS_AG); Mercy Corps Niger; and Association pour la Promotion de l’Élevage au Sahel et en Savane (APSS).

Funder: Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Livestock Systems (funded by USAID)

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 7-decent-work 15-life-onland 17-partnerships-goals 

Fruit tree nursery in the commune of Bande, Zinder, Niger. Photo: B Traore, ICRISAT

Fruit tree nursery in the commune of Bande, Zinder, Niger. Photo: B Traore, ICRISAT

Young people in Niger explore different forms of agriculture for a better future

Over 150 rural youth in Niger joined an entrepreneur incubation program, participating in their first practical training in integrated pest management (e.g. insect rearing), market gardening, fruit tree nurseries and smart compost production. Equipped with these different options of engaging in farm work and supported by resources and information, the young women and men are now ready to embark on income-generating agricultural enterprises for a better future.

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With 50% of its population under the age of 15 and 70% under 25, Niger has one of the youngest populations in the world. Young people have great potential as an engine of economic growth through their participation in labor markets and also as consumers. However, their participation in agricultural production has suffered in recent years, especially in rural areas. Despite the opportunities for rapid growth in this sector (more people to feed), many rural youth migrate to cities and neighboring countries in search of jobs.

In 2019, a USAID-funded project, the Development Food Security Assistance program (DFSA/GIRMA) of Catholic Relief Services (CRS), was initiated to improve and sustain food and nutrition security and resilience among poor households. Also, it aimed to develop youth agricultural entrepreneurship in the region of Zinder in Niger. A consortium was established with different partners such as ICRISAT, the NGO Education Development Center (EDC), and Community Development Assistance (ADC). While EDC and ADC selected youth and trained them on agricultural business management, ICRISAT was in charge of providing them professional qualification.

This year, during 2 – 17 July, and 29 August – 1 September, 39 youth were trained on different aspects of agrobusiness at ICRISAT’s incubation center in Sadoré.

Aerobic water vapor composting unit for smart compost production.

Aerobic water vapor composting unit for smart compost production.

  • Fruit trees nursery: Nine participants got trained on how to set up and maintain a fruit tree nursery, including nursery implementation, preparation of substrate, pre-treatment of seeds, production of rootstocks, tree grafts collection, in situ grafting of adult plants and more. After the training session they were provided kits consisting of shovels, logs, gloves, shears etc.  ICRISAT has constructed a 100 m2 nursery unit with 10,000 fruit trees capacity in each of the nine villages (Doungas 1 and 2, Bangaza, Katchibare, Gayi, Wacha, Bekori, Bandé and Maidamoussa) respectively for the nine participants.
  • Integrated Pest Management: Five participants were trained on rearing beneficial insects as part of a biological control business to supply farmers with parasitoid wasps to control pearl millet insect pests in the region. They also learnt about producing biopesticides from neem leaves and grains, and spraying techniques for protection of legumes and vegetable crops. After the training session, each of the participants received equipment to help them start the business.
  • Smart compost production: In another session, 14 youth gained knowledge of traditional and modern composting practices. The training on traditional composting covered the different types of pit dimensions, inputs (biomass, ash, water etc.) and mixing and turning methods. Training on the modern composting practices (aerobic water vapor composting) focused on installation and operation methods. The kit for participants of this training included a wheelbarrow, shovels, fork etc. In addition, an aerobic water vapor composting unit was installed in each of the 14 villages of the participants.
  • Market gardening: Six young women and five men were trained in ‘market gardening’. Their training entailed nursery preparation, seed collection, germination tests, sowing techniques, neem-based biopesticide preparation etc. They also received starter kits for their business ventures.
  • In addition to these sessions at Sadoré, ICRISAT also trained and equipped 80 youth as phytosanitary brigadiers and 40 youth as traditional compost producers. At the end of the training sessions, participants of the training were presented official certificates and kits for their new activities.
  • Dr Malick Ba, Country Representative, Niger; representatives from USAID, CRS, ADC, EDC, and the Ministry of Regional Planning and Community Development, and Chair of the GIRMA steering committee; were all present to encourage the youth and present them with their credentials.
  • Ms Mariama Diallo Aïtchedji, USAID representative, mentioned that GIRMA was part of USAID-funded food security development programs in Niger through its Humanitarian Assistance Office (BHA).
  • Mr Chris Hennemeyer, CRS Resident Representative, said, “This training fits perfectly with the objectives of the Project which aims to ensure food security through the empowerment of women and youth.”
Participants at one of the training sessions. Photos: B Traore, ICRISAT

Participants at one of the training sessions. Photos: B Traore, ICRISAT

Mr Elhadji Ibrahim Adamou, General Secretary, Ministry of Regional Planning and Community Development thanked the GIRMA project and its partners for providing effective professional assistance to the youth, and promoting rural entrepreneurship under the 3N initiative (Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens) of the Republic of Niger.

About the authors:

Dr Bouba Traore
Research Program West and Central Africa (RP-WCA)

Mr Abdoussalam Ibrahima
Scientific Officer

Dr Malick Ba
Country Representative

Project: Development of Food Security Assistance (DFSA/GIRMA)

Funder: USAID, CRS/ICRISAT Agreement

Partner: Catholic Relief Services (CRS)

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

This work contributes to UN Sustainable Development Goal.
1-no-poverty 2-zero-hunger  3-quality-education 4-gender-equality 7-decent-work 8-industry-innovation 17-partnerships-goals 

The supplemental food that was introduced in Telangana to combat malnutrition. Photo: ICRISAT

The supplemental food that was introduced in Telangana to combat malnutrition. Photo: ICRISAT

Diet diversification program for tribal women and children to be scaled up in South India

Enthused by positive nutritional outcomes among children and women in its first phase, activities of the Giri Poshana diet diversification program in Telangana, India, are set to be scaled up to benefit more of the state’s tribal population. Two years after it began, the Government of Telangana and ICRISAT’s Giri Poshana diet diversification program has shown how scientifically prepared traditional foods using millets, sorghum and pulses can significantly improve key nutritional parameters among children and women.

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A recently initiated end-line survey concluded the first phase of the intervention in Integrated Tribal Development Agencies (ITDAs) of Bhadrachalam and Eturnagaram.

Before start of the program, a baseline survey showed that a quarter of the children in the surveyed group were stunted and wasted while a similar number of pregnant women were anemic.

To promote dietary diversity and ultimately improve nutritional outcomes, ICRISAT designed and implemented the diet intervention program by providing a combination of ready-to-cook and ready-to-eat meals to 7,400 children and women attending 416 Anganwadi centers (childcare centers in rural India where mothers are also involved) in the three ITDA areas. The meals include multigrain meal, sorghum (jowar) meal, multigrain sweet meal, nutri-cookies, energy bar and Jowar Bytes (a sorghum snack).

Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Chief Operations Officer, NutriPlus Knowledge (NPK) Program, which is a part of ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP), stated, “We found that children aged 3 to 6 in the target group were improving their wasting (low weight-for-age) and stunting (low height-for-age) scores. The percentage of mildly anemic pregnant women was also reduced significantly. This was observed during a midline survey of the project beneficiaries in January this year.”

“I was unable to go to the Anganwadi center or the market due to the lockdown. So, we got the Giri Poshana food as take-home ration. Every day, I serve the food to my children. It is nutritious and keeps them healthy,” said Ms Sudi Gowthami, mother of a Giri Poshana beneficiary from Bhadrachalam.

After COVID-19 hit and lockdown began, the ready-to-cook foods were replaced with ready-to-eat foods (ragi jaggery cookies, peanut fried gram chikki and millet flakes mixture) in order to continue the feeding program.

“Children are having holidays due to the pandemic. Ravva (semolina), sweet meal and peanut chikki was delivered to our homes directly. Our children are healthy and gaining weight,” said Ms Choulam Ramadhevi, a mother of beneficiary children in Kannaigudem village.

Ms Ramadevi, a pregnant woman in Allapally block who used to attend the Raipadu Anganwadi center, said that the nutritious food has helped remain healthy during pregnancy. “There are six types of food viz. khichidi (porridge), sweet meal, peanut chikki, jowar kukure (crisps) and multigrain cookies. I gained weight and health by eating them. Cooking instructions for each type were explained by the Anganwadi teacher,” she said.

Foods for the intervention were developed based on consumption and cooking preferences, ease of production, ease of handling and distribution especially in emergency/pandemic situations. The need for products with enhanced shelf lives in remote tribal locations and availability of crops locally to ensure that the tribal communities are self-reliant in producing these foods also guided the development of the meals.

With the intervention showing improvement in dietary diversity and nutritional outcomes among tribal children and women, the Department of Tribal Welfare, Government of Telangana, and ICRISAT have now planned to scale up the intervention to cover additional populations in the ITDA areas. ICRISAT is also operationalizing eight food processing units to be run as sustainable business enterprises by tribal women-led collectives in the ITDAs to locally produce and supply these nutritious foods as part of its scale-up strategy.

For more on our work in the area of nutrition, click here.

Projects: Nutritional interventions to improve dietary diversity in the tribal households of Telangana (Giri Poshana); Setting up of eight processing units in ITDAs of Utnoor, Eturnagaram and Bhadrachalam through Joint Liability Groups (JLs) of Telangana

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

Funders: Department of Tribal Welfare, Government of Telangana

CGIAR Research Program: Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals

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

Natural Resource Management

Rural Revitalization: The rural road to $5-trillion GDP

Rural revitalization should be driven by promoting agro-industries and linkages between farm and non-farm sectors. India is aiming to become a $5-trillion economy by 2024-25. To get there, India needs to grow at 9% per year in real terms from FY20 to FY25. Atmanirbhar Bharat is also one of our aims. To reboot the economy, the government announced a package of ` 20 lakh crore. Rural revitalization is a promising area for achieving the twin objectives of becoming a $5-trillion economy as well as Atmanirbhar Bharat.

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Rural economy contributes 25-30% to the GDP. Traditionally, agriculture used to be the main source of income and employment in rural areas, but that place is being taken by the non-farm sector. Rural revitalization requires a transformative approach that envisions making rural areas a better place to live and work. We propose five promising areas to revitalize rural areas.

  1. The role of agriculture will continue to be important for achieving food security, increasing income and generating employment opportunities. However, we need to ensure that we promote a modern agriculture that is driven by technology and markets.
  2. Growth in rural areas should be driven by agro-based industrialisation, which may gradually shift to the non-farm sector. It will require investment in post-harvest rural activities, such as agro-processing, packaging, cold chains, cold storage and transport. It will also require creating an enabling and favourable regulatory environment to stimulate private sector investment in rural areas. The latest agri-laws and public investments in terms of the Agriculture Infrastructure Fund are welcome steps. This calls for creating clusters for specific commodities and developing appropriate supply chains. We propose to develop agro-based ‘special economic zones’ in rural areas to leverage economies of scale and increase income and employment opportunities.
  3. A strong linkage between farm and non-farm sectors needs to be developed for augmenting income and creating jobs in rural areas. Farm-sector driven industrialisation may be evolved from production to processing and marketing. Such a linkage will help the farm sector to produce market-driven commodities, reduce transportation costs, receive remunerative prices at farm gate, and minimise farm waste. Amul is an excellent example of farm-led processing, branding and marketing of milk for various dairy products. Such a model should be replicated for other agricultural commodities in different parts of the country. Collectivising farmers through FPOs or farmer interest groups would also offset scale disadvantages for small and marginal farmers and raise bargaining powers to enhance their incomes.
  4. The role of MSMEs will be very critical in developing rural industrialisation. Their share in national gross value added is about 32%. They provide employment to about 111 million workers. The share of MSME-related products in exports was about 48% during 2018-19. The government is gearing to increase their contribution in the gross value added to 50%, and in exports to 75%. It projects to generate jobs for about 150 million workers. Such overwhelming targets will require huge investment to create necessary infrastructure; effective institutions for enabling MSMEs to have access to technologies, finance and markets; and vocational education and skill development in manufacturing and business planning.
  5. The role of rural-urban linkages will be a key driver in rural transformation. Strengthening rural-urban linkages, from farms to small towns to megacities, will benefit rural labour, production, distribution, markets, services, consumption and environmental sustainability. New market opportunities created by growing urban areas and new technologies will promote local, regional and global value chains. Read more

About the authors:

Dr AK Padhee
Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs, ICRISAT

Dr PK Joshi
Former Director, South Asia Office
International Food Policy Research Institute

One of the rainwater harvesting havelis at Parasai-Sindh. Photo: R Singh, ICRISAT

One of the rainwater harvesting havelis at Parasai-Sindh. Photo: R Singh, ICRISAT

Renovated water harvesting structures have immense potential for agricultural productivity, suggest research findings

Reviving traditional rainwater harvesting structures in regions with degraded land leads to increased groundwater levels, more arable land, and higher crop productivity and incomes. A recently published scientific research paper offers a case study of Bundelkhand, Central India, where groundwater levels were boosted by 2-5 m by renovating water structures called havelis, leading to 10-70% increase in crop yields in the region.

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The landmark paper, published in the Journal of Hydrology, describes the processes and impacts of reviving traditional rainwater harvesting structures called havelis, which have been falling into disrepair. During the years 2012-2016, due to the higher levels of groundwater, about 20% of fallow land was brought under cultivation and farmers’ average incomes grew from US$ 960/year to US$ 2,700/year.

To address the challenges of water scarcity and land degradation, from 2012-2016, ICRISAT along with the Central Agroforestry Research Institute (ICAR-CAFRI), developed a site of learning called the Parasai-Sindh watershed in Jhansi district. With support from CSR funds, several parts of old havelis were rebuilt in the 1,250-ha area of the watershed following the Ridge-to-Valley approach, leading to the transformation of the region.

This case study of haveli renovation is also cited in the ICAR’s achievements document entitled “Mahatma Gandhi’s Vision of Agriculture: Achievements of ICAR (Chapter 7 Pp: 80-82).

Following the success of this project, ICRISAT has also been working in this region since 2017 through the KISAN MITrA-Doubling Farmers Income Initiative, supported by the Government of Uttar Pradesh. The Doubling Farmers Income project is stepping up its efforts towards rainwater harvesting and drought mitigation largely through haveli renovation initiatives in 35,000 ha located in seven districts in Bundelkhand region.

Click here to access the paper, ‘Building climate resilience in degraded agricultural landscapes through water management: A case study of Bundelkhand region, Central India’: https://authors.elsevier.com/a/1btBg52cuR2W4

For more on our work in the area of natural resource management, click here.

In the media

Study shows how climate change impacts crops, and how we can adapt

Two research groups at the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) studying the physical and molecular manifestations of increasing carbon dioxide (CO 2) on certain crops have found that the gas significantly and negatively alters chickpea under stressed conditions.

In a world where greenhouse gas emissions, mainly carbon dioxide, are on the rise, can the crops that ensure food and nutrition security remain unaffected? A group of researchers at a Hyderabad-based premier crop research institute have made findings that suggest not. Underscoring the problem, their findings also shed light on the solution. Read more

Organisation champions soil analysis

Over 11 000 small-scale farmers in Matobo and Insiza will benefit from a soil sampling survey recently conducted by the European Union-funded Zimbabwe Agriculture Knowledge and Innovation Services (ZAKIS) project. A response to the incessant low yields among communal farmers, the intervention was implemented in partnership with the Department of Research and Specialist Services (DR&SS), Agritex, and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT).  Read more

Onion crisis: ‘High time Union govt invested in low-cost storage’

It is a crisis that repeats itself year after year: A poor yield of onion crop leads to supply crunch — and a sharp spike in its price. The Union government on September 18, 2020 issued a notification prohibiting the export of onions to check the spiralling prices. Read more

Being a key crop, onion often suffers from supply crunch and price volatility.   

Arabinda Kumar Padhee, country director, India, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics, spoke to Down to Earth on the price volatility of the crop, inadequate storage facilities and amendment to Essential Commodities Act, 1955 that deregulated several commodities including cereals, pulses, potatoes, onions, among others. Read more

How digital dynamism can transform post-COVID food systems

“This momentum that farmers have built by themselves is an indication of a larger change in the offing, a systemic shift that we’re probably going to see once COVID is behind us.”

These are the words of Ram Dhulipala of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT), speaking at Digital Dynamism for Adaptive Food Systems, a free online conference hosted by the CGIAR Platform for Big Data in Agriculture. Read more

ICRISAT, Pure Scan AI bag $100,000 grant in 2020 Inspire Challenge

Premier city-based agri-research organisation, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-arid Tropics (Icrisat), along with Bengaluru-based agri-tech startup Pure Scan AI has bagged a grant of $100,000 as part of the 2020 Inspire Challenge by CGIAR (formerly Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research), the largest global agricultural innovation network. Read more

Using Traditional and Indigenous Food Resources to Combat Years of Successive Drought

For Zimbabwean farmer Sinikiwe Sibanda, planting more sorghum and millet than maize has paid off.

As the coronavirus pandemic has led to decreased incomes and increased food prices across the southern African nation — it is estimated that more than 8 million Zimbabweans will need food aid until the next harvest season in March — Sibanda’s utilisation of traditional and indigenous food resources could provide a solution to food security here. Read more

Demonstration trials of improved cowpea varieties underway in Wa

The Savanna Agricultural Research Institute of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR-SARI) is carrying out a field trial of improved cowpea varieties in Wa to allow farmers to improve their lots when released for commercial production.

The CSIR-SARI is carrying out the trial in partnership with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Read more

Upcoming events

Micronutrient Forum

2−20 November 2020

Register here https://www.eventscribe.com/2020/MNF-CONNECTED/

Attend sessions, connect with presenters and more!

Check out the presentation: ‘How Smart Food Alliance Can Lead to Transformation of Food Systems and Improve Nutrition Under Climate Change’

Foodtec Expo 2020

For the Foodtec Expo: Foodtec Expo, a global virtual expo and webinar on food and food technology will be held from 23-29 November 2020. Supported by the Republic of Kenya, Foodtec Expo 2020 is collaborating with ICRISAT and the Smart Food initiative as knowledge partners. Read more…

New publications

Genome-based trait prediction in multi- environment breeding trials in groundnut 

Authors: Pandey MK, Chaudhari S, Jarquin D, Janila P, Crossa J, Patil SC, Sundravadana S, Khare D, Bhat RS, Radhakrishnan T, Hickey JM and Varshney RK

Published: Theoretical and Applied Genetics (TSI). ISSN 0040-5752


Genome-wide identification of meiotic recombination hot spots detected by SLAF in peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.)

Authors: Wang X, Xu P, Ren Y, Yin L, Li S, Wang Y, Shi Y, Li H, Cao X, Chi X, Yu T, Pandey MK, Varshney RK and Yuan M

Published: Scientific Reports (TSI), 10 (1). ISSN 2045-2322


Genome-wide transcriptome and physiological analyses provide new insights into peanut drought response mechanisms

Authors: Bhogireddy S, Xavier A, Garg V, Layland N, Arias R, Payton P, Nayak SN, Pandey MK, Puppala N, and Varshney RK

Published: Scientific Reports (TSI), 10 (1). ISSN 2045-2322


Aggravated food insecurity in COVID-19 era: Quality seed flow of adapted and nutrient-dense varieties is central to the recovery equation in the drylands

Authors: Akpo E, Ojiewo CO, Melesse MB, Ganga Rao N, Mwololo J, Manyasa E, Ojulong H, Harawa R, and Varshney RK

Published:  Romanian Journal of Applied Sciences and Technology, 2 (5). pp. 62-65. ISSN 2668-778X


High-throughput estimation of crop traits: A review of ground and aerial phenotyping platforms

Authors: Jin X, Zarco-Tejada P, Schmidhalter U, Reynolds MP, Hawkesford MJ, Varshney RK, Yang T, Nie C, Li Z, Ming B, Xiao Y, Xie Y and Li S

Published: IEEE Geoscience and Remote Sensing Magazine. pp. 1-33. ISSN 2473-2397


A brief overview of smallholder farmers’ access to seed of improved legume varieties

Authors: Akpo E, Ojiewo CO, Omoigui LO, Rubyogo JC and Varshney RK

Published: Sowing Legume Seeds, Reaping Cash. Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd, Singapore, pp. 1-2. ISBN 978-981-15-0844-8


Impact stories and testimonies from diverse actors in groundnut value chain in Tanzania

Authors: Akpo E, Ojiewo CO, Omoigui LO, Rubyogo JC and Varshney RK

Published: Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd, Singapore, pp. 3-32. ISBN 978-981-15-0844-8


Common bean value chain actors share their feeling about TL projects in Tanzania

Authors: Akpo E, Ojiewo CO, Omoigui LO, Rubyogo JC and Varshney RK

Published: Sowing Legume Seeds, Reaping Cash. Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd, Singapore, pp. 33-56. ISBN 978-981-15-0844-8     


Enthusiasm of actors within the groundnut value chain sharing impact stories in Uganda

Authors: Akpo E, Ojiewo CO, Omoigui LO, Rubyogo JC and Varshney RK

Published: Sowing Legume Seeds, Reaping Cash. Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd, Singapore, pp. 57-64. ISBN 978-981-15-0844-8


Empowered communities tell their own stories from common bean production in Uganda

Authors: Akpo E, Ojiewo CO, Omoigui LO, Rubyogo JC and Varshney RK

Published: Sowing Legume Seeds, Reaping Cash. Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd, Singapore, pp. 65-75. ISBN 978-981-15-0844-8


Gene effects and heterosis for grain Fe and Zn content in barnyard millet (Echinochloa frumentacea (Roxb.) link)

Authors: Renganathan Gandhimeyyan V, Vanniarajan C, Nirmalakumari A, Arunachalam P, Thiyageshwari S, Karthikeyan A and Govindaraj M

Published: Genetika (TSI), 52 (2). pp. 621-639. ISSN 0534-0012


Genotyping-by-sequencing and multilocation evaluation of two interspecific backcross populations identify QTLs for yield-related traits in pigeonpea

Authors: Saxena RK, Kale S, Mir RR, Mallikarjuna N, Yadav P, Das RR, Molla J, Sonnappa M, Ghanta A, Narasimhan Y, Rathore A, Kumar CVS and Varshney RK

Published: Theoretical and Applied Genetics (TSI), 133 (3). pp. 737-749. ISSN 0040-5752


Global transcriptome analysis of subterranean pod and seed in peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.) unravels the complexity of fruit development under dark condition

Authors: Liu H, Liang X, Lu Q, Li H, Liu H, Li S, Varshney R, Hong Y and Chen X

Published: Scientific Reports (TSI), 10 (1). pp. 1-12. ISSN 2045-2322


Genomics-assisted breeding for pigeonpea improvement

Authors: Bohra A, Saxena KB, Varshney RK and Saxena RK

Published: Theoretical and Applied Genetics (TSI), 133 (5). pp. 1721-1737. ISSN 0040-5752    


High-density SNP map facilitates fine mapping of QTLs and candidate genes discovery for Aspergillus flavus resistance in peanut (Arachis hypogaea)

Authors: Khan SA, Chen H, Deng Y, Chen Y, Zhang C, Cai T, Ali N, Mamadou G, Xie D, Guo B, Varshney RK and Zhuang W

Published: Theoretical and Applied Genetics (TSI), 133 (7). pp. 2239-2257. ISSN 0040-5752


Fatty acid desaturase-2 (ahFAD2) mutant alleles in peanut (Arachis hypogaea L.) pre-breeding lines: an insight into the source, features, discourse, and selection of novel pre-breeding lines

Authors: Kamdar JH, Jasani MD, Ajay BC, Rani K, Manivannan N, Vasanthi RP, Dobariya KL, Pandey MK, Janila P, Radhakrishnan T, Varshney RK and Bera SK

Published: Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution (TSI). ISSN 0925-9864


Transpiration difference under high evaporative demand in chickpea (Cicer arietinum L.) may be explained by differences in the water transport pathway in the root cylinder

Authors: Sivasakthi K, Tharanya M, Zaman-Allah M, Kholová J, Thirunalasundari T and Vadez V

Published: Plant Biology (TSI). pp. 769-780. ISSN 1435-8603


The importance of learning processes in transitioning small-scale irrigation schemes

Authors: Parry K, van Rooyen AF, Bjornlund H, Kissoly L, Moyo M and de Sousa W

Published: International Journal of Water Resources Development (TSI). pp. 1-25. ISSN 0790-0627


Field performance of the parasitoid wasp, Trichogrammatoidea armigera

(Hymenoptera: Trichogrammatidae) following releases against the millet head miner,

Heliocheilus albipunctella (Lepidoptera: Noctuidae) in the Sahel

Authors: Karimoune L, Ba MN, Baoua IB and Muniappan R

Published: BioControl (TSI), 65 (4). pp. 389-399. ISSN 1386-6141


Morphological and molecular characterization of Macrophomina phaseolina isolated from three legume crops and evaluation of mungbean genotypes for resistance to dry root rot

Authors: Pandey AK, Burlakoti RR, Rathore A and Nair RM

Published: Crop Protection (TSI), 127. pp. 1-8. ISSN 0261-2194


Genetic variation and diversity for grain iron, zinc, protein and agronomic traits in advanced breeding lines of pearl millet [Pennisetum glaucum (L.) R. Br.] for biofortification breeding

Authors: Pujar M, Govindaraj M, Gangaprasad S, Kanatti A and Shivade H

Published: Genetic Resources and Crop Evolution (TSI). ISSN 0925-9864


Carbon sequestration and selected hydraulic characteristics under conservation agriculture and traditional tillage practices in Malawi

Authors: Simwaka PL, Tesfamariam EH, Ngwira AR and Chirwa PW

Published: Soil Research (TSI). ISSN 1838-675X    


Physio-morphological and molecular analysis for salt tolerance in chickpea (Cicer arietinum)

Authors: Kumar N, Bharadwaj C, Soni A, Sachdeva S, Yadav MC, Pal M, Soren KR, Meena MC, Roorkiwal M, Varshney RK and Rana M

Published: Indian Journal of Agricultural Sciences, 90 (4). pp. 132-136


Genetic variation and diversity of pearl millet [Pennisetum glaucum (L.)] genotypes assessed for millet head miner, Heliocheilus albipunctella resistance, in West Africa

Authors: Mohammed R, Gangashetty PI, Karimoune L and Ba MN

Published:  Euphytica (TSI), 216 (10). pp. 1-14. ISSN 0014-2336


A comparative analysis of transpiration response to atmospheric increasing vapor pressure deficit conditions in cereal crops

Authors: Karthika G, Choudhary S, Meenakshi G, Kholova J and Vadez V

Published: Electronic Journal of Plant Breeding, 9 (4). pp. 1461-1488. ISSN 0975-928X


How the Smart Food concept can lead to the transformation of food systems and combat malnutrition: Different approaches in Africa, globally, and a case study from Myanmar with lessons learnt for creating behavior change in diets

Authors: Diama A, Anitha S, Kane-Potaka J, Htut TT, Jalagam A, Kumar P, Worou ON and Tabo R

Published: Hidden Hunger and the Transformation of Food Systems, 121. pp. 149-158. ISSN 0084-2230


Colliding paradigms and trade-offs: Agri-food systems and value chain interventions

Authors: Mausch K, Hall A and Hambloch C

Published: Global Food Security (TSI), 26. pp. 1-9. ISSN 2211-9124


Assessment of climate change and vulnerability in Indian state of Telangana for better agricultural planning

Authors:  Kadiyala MDM, Gummadi S, Irshad MA, Palanisamy R, Gumma MK and Whitbread AM

Published: Theoretical and Applied Climatology (TSI). ISSN 0177-798X


An interdisciplinary framework for using archaeology, history and collective action to enhance India’s agricultural resilience and sustainability

Authors: Green AS, Dixit S, Garg KK, Sandya NR, Singh G, Vatta K, Whitbread AM, Jones MK, Singh RN and Petrie CA

Published: Environmental Research Letters, 15 (10). pp. 1-14. ISSN 1748-9326


Impact of land use changes and management practices on groundwater resources in Kolar district,

Southern India

Authors: Garg KK, Anantha KH, Nune R, Akuraju VR, Singh P, Gumma MK, Dixit S and Ragab R

Published: Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies (TSI), 31. pp. 1-21. ISSN 2214-5818


Building climate resilience in degraded agricultural landscapes through water management: A case study of Bundelkhand region, Central India

Authors: Garg KK, Singh R, Anantha KH, Singh AK, Akuraju VR, Barron J, Dev I, Tewari RK, Wani SP, Dhyani SK and Dixit S

Published: Journal of Hydrology (TSI), 591. pp. 1-12. ISSN 0022-1694


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