The ICRISAT Strategic Plan, Crop Improvement and the Genebank strategies on the agenda
New science and research pathways were the focus of ICRISAT’s Governing Board (GB) meeting in September 2018. A modernized crop improvement program and an updated genebank strategy, including the world’s first ‘green’ genebank, are to be implemented. The meeting also saw formal presentations of ICRISAT’s highest scientific recognition, the Doreen Margaret Mashler Award. The first step and inputs into ICRISAT’s new strategic plan was an important session along with the farewells to Governing Board Chair Dr Nigel Kerby, MBE, and Board members Dr SK Pattanayak and Dr Paul Anderson.
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Awards and presentations
ICRISAT scientists Dr Mamta Sharma, Theme Leader – Integrated Crop Management, Asia Program and Dr Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur, Theme Leader – Cell, Molecular Biology & Genetic Engineering, Genetic Gains Program, who were announced as recipients of the Doreen Margaret Mashler Award at the previous Board meeting, formally received the award from the outgoing Governing Board Chair Dr Nigel Kerby and the Vice Chair Dr Trilochan Mohapatra at this meeting. In their presentations, Dr Sharma and Dr Bhatnagar-Mathur highlighted their research in plant pathology and plant biotechnology that has made a significant contribution to food security in the semi-arid tropics.
New genebank strategy
The Governing Board also approved the new genebank strategy with two Regional Genebanks in Niamey and Bulawayo and the Nairobi Distribution Center as official ICRISAT genebank structures supported by the Genebank Platform. Also, ICRISAT has moved on to become the first green genebank in the world with savings of over 70% in electricity. The introduction of the unique identifier – the doi – as well as barcoding for the accessions was also highlighted by Dr Vania Azevedo, Head – Genebank, Genetic Gains Program. Started in 1979, over 111,000 accessions have been deposited at Svalbard till date. (For more)
CRP GLDC update
Dr Peter Carberry, Director General (Acting), ICRISAT, who is also Director CRP Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC), presented the progress of CRP GLDC. The 42% representation of women on the Independent Advisory Committee, the launch of the Innovation Fund, the strengthening of the monitoring, evaluation and learning platform, communications initiatives and creating an identity for GLDC were some of the highlights presented. The strengthening of further partnerships including those with the private sector besides the gender internship program were also shared as updates.
The Board heard on new initiatives being proposed across the CGIAR and involving ICRISAT. The CGIAR ‘Biofortification Strategy 2019-2023’ provided new strategic direction and targets scale-up in 30 priority countries. The new ‘DryArc’ Initiative, a joint proposal by International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, International Food Policy Research Institute, International Water Management Institute and ICRISAT aims to strengthen resilience of rural communities and agri-food systems across the drylands of Middle East, North Africa, Central and West Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
A new climate change proposal, the ‘2-degree initiative’ makes use of over 50 years of CGIAR work to tailor information for policy processes, bring digital agriculture to scale and strengthen partnerships with the private sector, financial institutions and other actors.
Dr Jan Debaene, Global Head – Breeding, ICRISAT, presented the update on the ongoing modernization of the breeding program at ICRISAT, driven by Product Profiles with input from multiple stakeholders. The plan aims to optimize generation interval (time) by applying advanced processes, acquiring updated modern equipment and implementing better tools.
The Monitoring and Evaluation platform as well as data management within ICRISAT through the MEASURE project were shared by Mr Ram Dhulipala, Head – Digital Agriculture & Youth Innovation Systems for the Drylands, and Mr Satish Nagaraji, Senior Manager – Digital Agriculture (M&E & Tools). This proposes real-time data collection that can be geo-tagged, comprehensively analysed and provide data-driven insights for tracking and action related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
ICRISAT strategic plan 2020 and beyond
The process for developing ICRISAT’S next strategic plan for 2020-2024 was presented – the current strategy runs 2011-2020. The first major step involved the Board providing strategic input and guidance for the process. The background included the CGIAR draft Business Plan 2019-2030 and the 10 key initiatives that the CGIAR will focus on, as well as ICRISAT’s role. The Board stressed the need to align with the CGIAR Business Plan and the SDGs, and to be careful to focus on our strengths and comparative advantage. Setting ambitious but realistic targets, ensuring the plan is evidence-based, highlighting our science and impacts, and communicating our case were key directions given by Board members. It is planned to have the Strategic Plan ready for approval at the September 2019 Board meeting, seeking staff and stakeholder input over the coming 12 months.
Changes in the Board
This was the last Board meeting for the outgoing Chair, Dr Kerby. Speaking of the innovation, impact and inspiration that the institution held for him, Dr Kerby offered his continued support to ICRISAT. Dr Paco Sereme, Chair of the Program Committee and incoming Board Chair, felicitated Dr Kerby for his contributions. Other changes include Dr SK Pattanayak and Dr Paul Anderson who are leaving the Board and were thanked for their contributions. Dr Kerby recalled how Paul’s presence provided significant inputs to the institution. The Board members expressed their gratitude to Dr Anderson for his commitment and scientific contributions.
Farewell to Dr Pattanayak
Dr SK Pattanayak, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare, Government of India and ICRISAT Governing Board member since 2016, was given a fond farewell at this meeting. Dr Pattanayak, who retired at the end of September, was recognized and applauded for his contributions, especially in being a key player on designating 2018 as the National Year of Millets. Dr Kerby, spoke of his great calm in providing counsel whenever called on to do so. Dr Peter Carberry expressed the hope that he would continue to be involved in contributing to ICRISAT, calling him an ‘incredible supporter’ and a great friend of ICRISAT.
Expressing his strong passion for agriculture, Pattanayak said, “I am overwhelmed and moved by the kind words. My association with ICRISAT has been very strong. We have come a long way since India was reliant on others to bring in food security. ICRISAT’s contribution to food security, especially to pulses self-sufficiency in India has been immense. Thanks to the farmers and scientists in this country that we are looking at the third year of self-sufficiency. It has been made possible with scientific support.”
Speaking of moving ahead, Dr Pattanayak added, “Agriculture is an area where we can do wonders and an area that the poor can benefit. We need to enhance and augment the income of farmers. I am so happy I could achieve this at the end of my career. I will miss the enlightenment and wisdom of our Board members. I will continue to contribute when I can. You will all remain in my heart.”
Dr Peter Carberry felicitated and honored Dr Pattanayak on behalf of the institution.
Key resources for genomics and crop improvement practitioners – series of books released
A series of four books that focus on the subject of crop improvement and genomics that make a significant contribution to this area of work has been authored by ICRISAT scientists. The ICRISAT Governing Board released the four books, The Chickpea Genome (Eds: Rajeev Varshney, Mahendar Thudi and Fred Muehlbauer); The Pigeonpea Genome (Eds: Rajeev Varshney, Rachit Saxena and Scott Jackson); The Peanut Genome (Eds: Rajeev Varshney, Manish Pandey and Naveen Puppala), and Genomic Selection for Crop Improvement (Eds: Rajeev Varshney, Manish Roorkiwal and Mark Sorrells). These books were published by Springer Nature. Dr Kerby and Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Vice Chair, ICRISAT Governing Board and Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, congratulated the editors.
After decoding the genomes of three legume crops, it was important to document the efforts in the area of sequencing and analysis of the legume genomes. The three genome books talk of the importance of the crops, cytogenetics and genetic maps, history and coordination of genome sequencing initiatives, genome sequence and their analysis, trait mapping, transcriptomics and functional genomics, molecular breeding and future prospects of genome sequences. The books present concepts and mythologies of genomic selection, statistical analyses and current status of application of genomic selection in major group of plant species – namely cereals, legumes, vegetatively propagated clonal crops, tree species and also application of genomic selection in hybrid crops.
These books by a team of global scientists from ICRISAT and partner universities from USA will serve as quality resources for plant geneticist, breeders and for research scholars working in this domain.
Speaking on the release of the books, Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Genetic Gains and Director Center of Excellence in Genomics and Systems Biology and key editor of these books said, “It is always a pleasure to return to the society. Gifting knowledge and wisdom in the form of these books is a great way to give back.” The editors thanked the ICRISAT Governing Board and the Senior Leadership for their continued support and expressed their gratitude to all dignitaries, partners, collaborators and friends for their wishes and also thanked the publisher Springer Nature and Dr Chittaranjan Kole, series editor for their effort in contributing to education and training around the world.
Dr Paco Sereme, the Chair of ICRISAT Board’s Program Committee, will take over as the new Chair of its Governing Board in October this year. A plant pathologist and a national of Burkina Faso, Dr Sereme is Research Director in Plant Pathology at the National Agricultural Research Institute of Burkina Faso (INERA), and a former Executive Director of CORAF/WECARD (West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development), both very influential positions. Dr Sereme has made significant contributions to agriculture research and is credited with building strong relations with many institutions to transform agriculture in West and Central Africa.
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Dr Sereme will take over from Dr Nigel Kerby MBE, the outgoing Chair of ICRISAT’s Governing Board (GB). Dr Kerby, who was Chair from May 2017, has been very passionate about the institution’s mission and its goal to serve people in the dryland tropics. During his tenure, he pushed for global partnerships and funding for the institution leading to increased research and partnership opportunities. A major achievement of Dr Kerby was getting the CGIAR Research Program – Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals initiated. At the inception of the GLDC program, Dr Kerby highlighted the importance of partnerships. “Fighting malnutrition at scale is complex and needs an understanding of local opportunities and an understanding of constraints and possible solutions,” he said. “Above all, it requires enduring partnerships. I believe partnerships are being strengthened and new ones being forged to help ICRISAT realize its potential. I wish ICRISAT and its stakeholders every success in the future.”
Speaking of Dr Kerby’s contribution and vision, Dr Peter Carberry, Director General (Acting), ICRISAT, says, “Dr Nigel Kerby brought to the ICRISAT Governing Board a wealth of experience in last mile connection between research and practice, especially through private sector drivers for commercial uptake of technology. Nigel always asked for research targets and the business case for investment. Such thinking must drive ICRISAT’s agenda of demand-driven research. I am personally indebted to Nigel for his mentorship and guidance over the time he was Chair of the GB and I acted as Director General.”
Dr Shobhana K Pattanayak, ICRISAT GB member, notes, “Though a short tenure, Dr Nigel Kerby as Chair guided us very well on many sensitive issues, carried every member along into confidence in all deliberations. We miss him as the Chair, but hope that he will continue with his skillful advice to the institution in future. I take this opportunity to welcome Dr Paco Sereme as the new Chair. His long experience in development of African agriculture would definitely prove handy in managing research activities of ICRISAT. I wish him good luck.”
At the ICRISAT GB meeting in September 2018, Board members will formally thank Dr Kerby for his contribution during his tenure.
ICRISAT Annual Report 2017 focuses on R&D for nutrition across the agriculture value chain
A picture, they say, is worth a 1000 words. When Ms Elizabeth Kanyote and her adorable 17-month-old daughter beam at you from rural Kenya, it is worth, in fact, 45 years. That picture stands for millions of smallholder farm families across Africa and Asia who have the chance of a better life thanks to 45 years of research.
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ICRISAT’s nutrition-focused R4D work has been unique in that it includes:
ICRISAT’s contribution is summarized in a ‘Nutrition Timeline’ while stories intersperse the scientific and the social contribution made across the world. Highlights of the past year are presented in a succinct, ‘at-a-glance’ format to quickly convey the core impacts.
If we are to meet the UN’s Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 2.2) of Zero Hunger by 2030, all hands need to be on the efforts to improve nutrition around the world. The dryland regions are even more vulnerable to malnutrition due to harsh climates and unfavorable conditions.
ICRISAT has been working for better nutrition from several different perspectives. From imparting soil/water management technologies and developing high-yielding, nutritious crops, to promoting lifestyle changes for better health and helping grow markets for nutritive foods, the multi-dimensional activities converge to provide nutrition to the drylands.
The report in its print version has compact data visualization while the e-version opens up to the large volume of research and stories behind the work across regions, providing detailed reading and information. It also helps share the human face and impact to people across Asia and Africa.
With this report, ICRISAT reinforces its dedication to providing simple, accessible solutions to reinforce the belief that all people have a right to nutritious food and better livelihoods.
A book titled Supporting Indian Farms: the Smart Way that brings out the advantages of investing money in agriculture and infrastructure and not on subsidies was released by Mr Arun Jaitley, Finance Minister of India, on 18 September 2018. The book was co-authored and edited by Dr Marco Ferroni, CGIAR System Management Board Chair; Dr Ashok Gulati, Infosys Chair Professor at Indian Council for Research on International Economic Relations (ICRIER); and Dr Yuan Zhou, Head of Research and Policy Analysis, Syngenta Foundation of Sustainable Agriculture.
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The book talks of a modeling exercise that reveals that the marginal returns in terms of number of people brought out of income poverty or higher agri-GDP growth are almost 5 to 10 times more if the public money is spent through investments in agri-R&D, roads, irrigation etc., compared to the same money spent as subsidies on fertilizers and power.
CGIAR interaction meeting
As part of his official trip to India, Dr Marco Ferroni, interacted with representatives of CGIAR centers operating in the country. During the meeting held in New Delhi, he discussed a wide range of topics including the dynamics of the current agricultural research environment. Dr Ferroni emphasized on south-south collaboration, with focus on Africa; the new breeding initiative to modernize plant breeding; proper dissemination of research outcomes; and the private sector adapting to market needs, thereby creating value for consumers in the process.
ICRISAT was represented at the meeting by Dr Arabinda Padhee, Director, Country Relations and Business Affairs. Other CGIAR Center attendees were representatives of IRRI, ICARDA, Bioversity International, ICRAF, CIMMYT, CIP, IFPRI, IWMI and ILRI*.
Meeting with ICRISAT Board Members and others
While in New Delhi, Dr Ferroni met Dr Trilochan Mohapatra, Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and Vice Chair, ICRISAT Board; and Dr Shobhana Pattanayak, Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Cooperation and Farmers’ Welfare. He also met with Dr Chhabilendra Roul, Secretary, ICAR.
Interaction with ICRISAT scientists
On his visit to ICRISAT headquarters in Hyderabad, Dr Ferroni visited the various departments and facilities and highlighted the need for greater science communication. Later in the day, he planted a sapling in the campus, in keeping with ICRISAT’s tradition for visiting dignitaries.
*IRRI (International Rice Research Institute); ICARDA (International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas); ICRAF (World Agroforestry Centre); CIMMYT (International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center); CIP (International Potato Center); IFPRI (International Food Policy Research Institute); IWMI (International Water Management Institute); ILRI (International Livestock Research Institute).
New book details unique and innovative approach of ICRISAT in building public-private-people centric partnerships
Partnerships between corporates, research institutions and farming communities can lead to more sustainable development of natural resources and livelihoods, triggering changes for wider social good, says a book released by ICRISAT.
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The book ‘Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) – Win-win Propositions for Community, Corporates, and Agriculture’, documents various initiatives and programs, developed over the years at ICRISAT to enable adoption of technologies by smallholder farmers.
Edited by Dr Suhas P Wani, former Research Program Director – Asia, ICRISAT, and Dr KV Raju, Theme Leader – Policy and Impact, ICRISAT, the book features a series of case studies. It is based on empirical and science-backed evidences of actual design and implementation of CSR projects in rural areas in partnership with leading global corporates. The case studies on actual practices across India illustrate ICRISAT’s efforts on climate resilient agriculture, water footprint, improving livelihoods, diversification of crop pattern, enhancing crop productivity, and sustainable development in low rainfall regions.
Launching the book, Dr Nigel Kerby, Chair, ICRISAT Governing Board said, “The book details an innovative approach for building partnerships among various stakeholders to ensure delivery at the doorsteps of smallholder farmers.”
The book focuses on helping corporates plan a CSR strategy and scaling up of activities to the benefit of smallholder farmers and sustainable development of natural resources.
“Our approach is transforming subsistence agriculture into a business model using technology and scientific tools, at the same time advancing us towards achieving food, nutrient and income security,” said Dr Peter Carberry, Director General (Acting), ICRISAT.
“We are very pleased to share the learnings of these particular unique initiatives which will benefit millions of farmers across Asia and Africa,” said Dr Wani and Dr Raju.
The book also covers the philosophy and practices of CSR, emerging policies, and their implications in India. While discussing soil health improvement, improving rural wastewater management and enhancing rural livelihoods, the book offers macro and micro perspectives of CSR work and its critical benefits to both community and natural resources.
The launch was during a special symposium organized in honor of Dr Wani, who superannuated after 36 years of service to ICRISAT. All throughout his career, his work focused on scaling up science-based interventions.
As part of its worldwide AI for Earth program, Microsoft has recently announced grants to provide artificial intelligence (AI) technology to organizations engaged in solving environmental challenges. ICRISAT is one of the grantees and will now be able to use Microsoft Azure resources for weather predictions and pest migration information.
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Earlier, ICRISAT has collaborated with Microsoft in developing the Sowing App, which led to significant increases in farmers’ yields in Andhra Pradesh, India.
Microsoft released the following message:
Seven organizations to receive access to AI tools to address pressing environmental issues
New Delhi, Sep 04, 2018: Microsoft today announced grants to seven recipients from India under AI for Earth, its worldwide program aimed at empowering people and organizations to solve global environmental challenges through the power of AI. These grantees will receive access to Microsoft Azure and AI computing resources; in-depth education and technology trainings on these tools and additional support as the projects grow and mature. India now has the third largest concentration of AI for Earth grantees, following the United States and Canada.
Commenting on the program, Lucas Joppa, Chief Environmental Officer, Microsoft Corporation and Lead for Microsoft AI for Earth, said, “In every country around the world, we are facing unprecedented environmental challenges, impacting the ability to access water, grow healthy crops and protect biodiversity. At Microsoft, we’ve found that one thing was accelerating as quickly as the degradation of our planet’s natural resources, and that is technology. Through AI for Earth, we’re making sure that innovative environmental researchers, like the seven here in India, are empowered with Microsoft’s AI in the pursuit of creating a more sustainable future for us all.”
The grantees from India, chosen based on their efforts to conserve, protect and rebuild the environment with AI, are:
India Institute of Technology – together with the Technical University of Munich, the India Institute of Technology is designing a low-cost tool for monitoring plant health in resource-limited regions. Used directly in the field by farmers, the device will automate the process of disease diagnosis through image analysis on the Azure platform.
International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Hyderabad – ICRISAT is using AI, cognitive services, and cloud computing to enhance pest forecasting and prediction models and farm advisory services to enable sustainable agriculture production in developing parts of the world. Read more…
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Anantapur, Sept. 21, 2018: More than 1,000 women and men farmers of Maruru village in Anantapur district, Andhra Pradesh, a dryland region, will create a self-sustaining agribusiness model aimed at doubling farm incomes. The Walmart Foundation, as part of its global philanthropy support, and International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid-Tropics (ICRISAT), in its continuous efforts to turn dryland farming into a profitable enterprise, are working together to accelerate value chain benefits with innovative postharvest management and food processing opportunities for over 6,000 smallholder farmers in the state of Andhra Pradesh.
The primary processing unit for groundnut, launched today at Maruru village, will help the Farmers’ collective realize an additional income of up to US$100,000 annually, according to ICRISAT.
This two-year program will enable farmers to move into an entrepreneurial model to seize income opportunities while creating new farm-based employment prospects for women and youth.
Launching the project at the Accion Fraterna Ecology Centre (AFEC) campus in Anantapur, Dr. Marco, Ferroni, Chair, System Management Board, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) said, “Smallholder farmers in Andhra Pradesh operate under challenging conditions of extreme weather events, and dryland farmers face even more hardships due to climate vagaries which deprive them of sustaining agriculture. Coupled with better crop practices, processing units handled by the farmers themselves as a business opportunity will help them link their produce to the retail and last mile markets and capture a better price.”
Mr.Rajneesh Kumar, Senior Vice President & Chief Corporate Affairs Officer of Walmart India, the wholly owned subsidiary of Walmart Inc., said, “The key to improving the livelihoods of farmers and enhancing their income, is to strengthen the entire agricultural supply chain. A robust supply chain that provides market linkages, logistics support, and helps farmers get fair price for their produce as well as reduces food wastage is crucial to promote sustainable agriculture in India. Eliminating the systemic barriers that prevent farmers from increasing their productivity and market access, therefore, must attain priority, which is why the Walmart Foundation’s grant of $2 million to ICRISAT to help create an improved business model is crucial.”
Multiple interventions have been planned as part of the project at various levels in the agricultural value chain, ranging from improved cropping system based approaches and drought management strategies to postharvest management and food processing opportunities. AFEC will be the implementing partner at the field level, coordinating project activities.
Dr. Nigel Kerby, Chair, Governing Board, ICRISAT, stated that an enabling environment would be created under the project will include regular training and capacity building of the stakeholders at all levels to turn the project into a self-sustaining business model.
The processing unit set up at Maruru village includes a decorticator cum grader to separate the nuts from the shells, a destoner cum aspirator, and a grader. A secondary processing unit comprising of a bakery line for dry processing of sorghum, millet and groundnut value-added products would also be set up in Anantapur.
“Four more groundnut processing units have been planned for the district and local youth and women entrepreneurs will be engaged. We appreciate the Walmart Foundation for the funding and the opportunity to eliminate barriers for small farmers to realize the benefits of their labor,” said Dr. Peter Carberry, Director General (Acting), ICRISAT.
Mr. G. Veerapandian I.A.S., Collector and District Magistrate, Anantapur; Dr. Malla Reddy, Director, Accion Fraterna Ecology Centre; and Dr. Kiran Sharma, Deputy Director General – Research (Acting), ICRISAT, were among the dignitaries at the event.
The Africa Food Prize has been awarded to the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), a member of the CGIAR System Organization. The institute received the distinguished prize in Kigali, Rwanda, last week for ‘Leadership and Innovation in Finding Solutions to the Continent’s Most Pressing Challenges’.
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IITA, based in Ibadan, Nigeria, was recognized for generating solutions on and off the farm that have improved the lives of millions in the face of climate change, a surge of crop pests and disease, and an urgent need for youth employment. This recognition reiterates CGIAR research endeavors to create a better future for the world’s poor.
“IITA stood out to us for its steadfast and inspiring commitment to a research agenda that aligns with both our African traditions as well as the evolving needs of African farmers and consumers for the latest advances food production,” said H E Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, who chaired the prize committee.
Congratulating Dr Nteranya Sanginga, Director General, IITA, for receiving a well-deserved award, Dr Peter Carberry, Director General (Acting), ICRISAT, sought a closer research alignment between the two institutes. He said, “I refer often to IITA being the African center for agricultural research and this prize recognizes the role you and IITA have played in achieving significant outcomes for Africa. IITA is an excellent collaborative partner and is proactive in building research partnerships that draw on the CRP Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals network.”
A symposium highlighting work done by Dr Suhas Wani, former Research Program Director, Asia Program, ICRISAT, in natural resource management and dryland agriculture was held on 26 September 2018 at ICRISAT India. During the symposium ‘Holistic Resource Use and Delivery of Solutions for Profitable and Resilient Dryland Agriculture’, experts shared their assessments and views on food security, future challenges in dryland agriculture and more.
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Dr Ragab Ragab, Vice President, International Commission on Irrigation and Drainage, UK, shared his ideas on “Food Security: The challenges and the way forward”. Dr Xuan Li, Senior Policy Officer, Food and Agriculture Organization, Thailand, offered insights into “Future Smart Food: Rediscovering hidden treasures of neglected and underutilized species for Zero Hunger”.
Dr Paco Sereme, Chair Designate, ICRISAT Governing Board, thanked Dr Wani for his services to the organization and urged scientists to harness Dr Wani’s experiences and learnings. Dr Wani is credited for his contributions to the creation of the Bhoochetana initiative in Karnataka, a strong partnership that reached 4.75 million farmers in five years, with a 20-66% crop increase and total net benefits of US$350 million. Other projects across several Asian countries including China, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam have helped thousands of farmers. He was also recognized as one of “50 Most Impactful Leaders in Water & Water Management” at the World CSR Congress in 2016.
Gori Bi, a landless widow with two kids, works on other farmers’ fields for wages in a small village in Telangana. She is thankful to an ancient water body – the Katakshapura ‘water tank’ – built during the Kakatiya dynasty’s rule in the 11th century. She credits the water in the tank as a provider of her livelihood, saying simply, “If there is no water, there is no work, no money".
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This was just one example of how efficient use of natural resources can improve lives in rural societies. Members of the TIGR2ESS (Transforming India’s Green Revolution by Research and Empowerment for Sustainable food Supplies) project came across more such instances during a recent visit to Katakshapura, Telangana. The team – a group of experts from India and UK in crop science, hydrology, policy and social science – then met at ICRISAT-India, to compare notes, define goals and explore ideas to improve Indian agriculture with technological innovations in an ecologically sustainable manner.
While the Green Revolution in the 1960s led to India’s self-sufficiency in food grains, today there are newer challenges such as a growing population, climate change and urbanization. The TIGR2ESS project, led by the University of Cambridge, UK, aims to help Indian farmers achieve higher agricultural productivity while also conserving water and preserving/improving soil quality, in line with the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
During the three-day workshop, which was held during 16-18 August 2018, discussions and brainstorming sessions helped team members familiarize themselves with each partner organization’s competences and work out strategies to combat the challenging aspects of the project. Subsequently, they will identify activities and timelines for definite outcomes, enhancing use of natural resources to improve agriculture, and to improve nutrition and health as part of Flagship Projects 1 and 6.
ICRISAT, which is one of the project partners, will be actively involved in two of TIGR2ESS’ Flagship Projects – FP 1 and FP 6:
FP 1: Defining a Second Green Revolution for India
FP 2: Crop Sciences – Water Use and Photosynthesis
FP 3: Heat and Drought Resilience in Wheat
FP 4: Water Use and Management in a Changing Monsoon Climate
FP 5: Supply Chains: Modeling Water Use for Sustainable Livelihoods
FP 6: Impacting Well-being in Rural and Urban Communities
The 3-year TIGR2ESS project is funded by the Global Challenges Research Fund, which supports innovative research for solutions to challenges faced by developing countries. Led by the University of Cambridge, the project partners include ICRISAT, MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), University of East Anglia, John Innes Centre, Punjab Agricultural University, Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences, and others, making it a holistic, multifaceted and sustainable program whose benefits would reach beyond the duration of the project.
One hopes that this project brings much-needed relief to farmers all over India, much like Gori Bi in Telangana.
Strategies to revolutionize the pigeonpea breeding program in India, including delivering new varieties with market-friendly traits, was the main focus of a recent workshop, ‘Pigeonpea Product Design and Management’ conducted at ICRISAT India. A multidisciplinary team of scientists representing five agro-ecological zones of India brainstormed to update the Indian pigeonpea breeding program.
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India accounts for more than 80% of the world’s pigeonpea area and production; yet, it remains a major importer of pigeonpea. In order to boost yields that have stagnated over the last six decades, new varieties with preferred market traits need to be developed.
At the workshop, supported by the Excellence in Breeding (EiB) platform, Dr Kiran Sharma, Deputy Director General (Acting), ICRISAT, highlighted the importance of product design and value chain marketing for scalable returns.
Dr George Kotch, CGIAR Excellence in Breeding Module #1 Leader, provided technical advice on how to develop efficient product profiles, prioritize traits and create strategies to develop new varieties rapidly.
For example, as part of a strategy to replace existing pigeonpea varieties in many parts of India, a product profile contract was crafted and the design tailored for multiple disease resistance, photo-insensitivity, and nutritive traits, among others.
Emerging production risks due to climate change, and developing product profiles with the help of integrated modern breeding techniques were also debated.
This initiative set the stage for a cross-function team from CGIAR and National Agriculture Research System (NARS) to collaborate from the product planning stage to the product delivery stage, giving accountability to all stakeholders.
Due to the presence of an extensive pigeonpea fraternity, this workshop became an excellent platform to brainstorm for trait prioritization of pigeonpea to deliver new varieties according to farmer requirements and consumer preferences.
About 35 scientists from ICRISAT, NARS and the private sector, along with officers from seed certification agencies, traders, millers and market experts attended the workshop conducted on 14 August 2018. Apart from Dr Kotch, Dr Jan Debaene, Global Head – Breeding, ICRISAT, and Dr Anupama Hingane, Scientist-Pigeonpea Breeding, ICRISAT, moderated the workshop. This workshop was conducted with support from the Excellence in Breeding (EiB) Platform funded by CGIAR and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
Labor-saving and value-addition technologies for groundnut promoted by ICRISAT in collaboration with the Compatible Technologies International (CTI) were among the highlights at the 15th National Agriculture Fair in Malawi.
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The fair, which was officially opened by Malawi President Dr. Peter Muthalika, brought together seed companies, non-governmental organizations, smallholder farmers, commercial farmers and the donor community to share experience and expertise on agricultural activities across Malawi.
The President urged Malawian farmers to stop exporting raw materials, and instead process their produce for higher prices at the international market.
Among other technologies, ICRISAT showcased the groundnut sheller, stripper and lifter as well as peanut butter maker and groundnut oil expeller, which saw many patrons flocking to the ICRISAT pavilion to enquire how the technologies worked, and how they could be accessed.
Peter Trenchard, Acting Mission Director, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), who visited the ICRISAT pavilion along with Cullen Hughess, Director of Sustainable Economic Growth, said, “The groundnut technologies respond directly to the challenges being faced by many smallholder farmers, especially women in Malawi,” adding that there was a need to scale out such technologies to the grassroots level.
Newly introduced groundnut varieties, including CG 9, CG10, CG 11 and CG12, CG13 and CG14 were also showcased, with many farmers expressing interest in traits such as rosette resistance and large seed size in the new varieties.
The National Agriculture fair is an annual event organized by the Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI). This year’s theme was Access to Finance, Value Addition and Markets – Key to Agri-Based Industrialization.
ICRISAT is leading a consortium of other CGIAR centers (viz. CIMMYT and IITA) as part of the USAID-funded Feed the Future Malawi Improved Seed Systems and Technologies (FtF-MISST) project to strengthen legume and dryland cereal seed systems in Malawi.
Pulses researchers and extension personnel from South Asian countries equipped themselves with some of the latest tools and technologies related to pulses cultivation, processing and marketing at a recent training at ICRISAT-India. The participants – from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka – promised to share with their compatriots all the information they had gathered during the training.
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Information about improved varieties/hybrids of pulses; integrated crop production and management technologies; seed production, including integrated nutrient management and integrated pest management; machineries for processing; value-addition ideas; and nutrition from pulses was provided during a series of 14 lectures and interactive sessions. The participants visited the Center of Excellence in Genomics and Systems Biology (CEGSB), Platform for Translational Research on Transgenic Crops (PTTC), LeasyScan area, Genebank and the pigeonpea experimental fields to understand various aspects of pulses research.
The resource persons included several eminent scientists from ICRISAT and the Indian National Systems, including Dr NP Singh, Director, ICAR-Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR), Kanpur; Dr Krishna Kumar Singh, Director, ICAR-Central Institute of Agricultural Engineering (CIAE), Bhopal; Dr K Sammi Reddy, Director (Acting), ICAR-Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), Hyderabad; Dr Jagdish Singh, Principal Scientist, ICAR-Indian Institute of Vegetable Research (IIVR), Varanasi; and Dr R P Dubey, Principal Scientist, ICAR – Directorate of Weed Research (DWR), Jabalpur.
Emphasizing the importance of pulses for food and nutritional security, Dr NP Singh, related how from 2005 onwards production of pulses saw a steadily rising trend, reaching a record production of 25.2 million tons in 2017-2018. Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director – Asia, ICRISAT, underlined the need to enhance investment on research and development of pulses for sustained increase in pulses production in the region. Dr Peter Carberry, Director General (Acting), ICRISAT, encouraged the participants to disseminate information on improved cultivars and production technologies to farmers for boosting pulses production.
Dr Pradyumna Pandey, Senior Program Specialist, SAARC (South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation) Agriculture Centre (SAC), Bangladesh, appreciated the efforts of resource persons in providing comprehensive information to the participants. The training workshop “Proven Production Technology, Value Chain Development and Nutrition Security through Pulses in South Asia” was attended by representatives from six SAARC countries. It was jointly organized during 12-15 September 2018, at ICRISAT-Patancheru by the SAARC Agriculture Centre (SAC), Dhaka; International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and ICRISAT.
The ICRISAT Development Center (IDC) recently organized two training programs to equip members of ICRISAT’s partner organizations with skills and technologies that would help ensure seamless collaborations in projects.
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Training for NGO partners
One of the programs was for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) working with ICRISAT in the groundbreaking Bhoochetana project in Odisha. The main topics covered during the training session were agricultural climatology, soil health, cropping systems and integrated pest and disease management. Yield estimation, use of ICT in knowledge management and principles of laying out demonstrations were also discussed, with the last day being focused on participatory capacity-building protocols, and designing and delivery of training programs. The trainees visited ICRISAT farms, heritage watersheds, vermicomposting units, shredder machines and the meteorology laboratory; they were also provided with training manuals for reference while in the field. Explaining the importance of this three-day training session (16-18 August, 2018) to the 32 participants,Dr Sreenath Dixit, Theme Leader, IDC, emphasized the need for all Bhoochetana partners to have a common vision and work as a team to transform Odisha’s agriculture sector. Dr SK Dasgupta, Consultant (Capacity Building), coordinated the training program.
Officials from Odisha get trained on soil testing technology
Towards the end of the month, IDC conducted another training session, this time for the staff of two soil-testing laboratories in Odisha, as well as two Associate Professors from the Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT). The participants got hands-on training for operating sophisticated analytical equipment at the Charles Renard Analytical Laboratory (CRAL), ICRISAT, during 27-31 August 2018.
This initiative by ICRISAT is expected to improve analytical standards of Odisha’s district-level soil labs and ultimately help to address nutrient deficiency in the soil. Dr Pushpajeet Chaudhari, Manager-CRAL, and Mr G Pardhasaradhy, Consultant, coordinated the program.
Scientists from India and the United Kingdom came together to improve food production and optimize use of nitrogen in agriculture. At the recently concluded review meeting of four Virtual Joint Centers (VJCs), scientists and researchers deliberated on the long-term support needed for targeting complex traits such as Nitrogen Use Efficiency (NUE).
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ICRISAT is leading one of the VJCs CINTRIN (Cambridge India Network for Translational Research in Nitrogen). The long look and review meeting of all the four VJCs was organized by the team led by Dr Rajeev Gupta, the Principal Investigator of CINTRIN at ICRISAT on 30-31 August. The meeting assumes significance in light of concerns around indiscriminate usage of nitrogen in agriculture that could potentially have a negative impact on the environment as well as on the livelihood of smallholder farmers.
The participants discussed success stories of low-cost solutions, such as that of the Leaf Colour Chart for judicious N use, which resulted in a significant savings of urea in a village adopted by CINTRIN in Punjab. Various ongoing and new areas of nitrogen research were discussed in details as part of ‘long look’ discussions.
The four VJCs working together on this project targeting biological nitrogen use (CINTRIN and INEW: Indo-UK Centre for the Improvement of Nitrogen use Efficiency in Wheat), nitrogen fixation (IUNFC: India-UK Nitrogen Fixation Centre) and agronomic nitrogen use (NEWS: Newton-Bhabha Virtual Centre on Nitrogen Efficiency of Whole-cropping Systems for improved performance and resilience in agriculture) were initiated in 2016.
The review meeting was attended by over 50 scientists representing universities of Cambridge, Rothamsted, Aberdeen and Edinburgh, Indian State Agricultural Universities, NARS, and ICAR institutes. The funding agencies – the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India and the UK Research and Innovation, UK – were satisfied with the progress made so far and promised to look into ways to support the initiative in the long term, so as to have a sustained impact on food and environment security.
Finger millet can be grown at altitudes ranging from sea level to over 2000 metres above sea level, can withstand drought, and has high levels of essential amino acids and micronutrients
Dr Chrispus Oduori kneels amidst a sea of colorful plastic buckets in a screenhouse in Western Kenya and shifts some leaves of young finger millet plants till he finds what he’s looking for.
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“Here it is. Striga!” Oduori points to a shoot emerging at the base of one of the millet plants “It’s a weed that’s a parasite on the crop, and it can cause total loss at harvest time.”
“But there’s hope.” Oduori, a Kenyan finger millet breeder, points to plants in the neighbouring pots which have been inoculated with Striga. “These are wild relatives of finger millet and some of them are showing resistance to Striga.”
Oduori, the director of the Kisii Centre of KALRO Food Crops Research Institute (FCRI), is working to help East African farmers increase finger millet yields by introducing beneficial traits from wild relatives into cultivated varieties.
Finger millet can be grown at altitudes ranging from sea level to over 2000 metres above sea level, can withstand drought, and has high levels of essential amino acids and micronutrients.
Farmers have been cultivating finger millet for thousands of years. It is still an important subsistence crop in small-scale farming systems, particularly in parts of eastern and southern Africa as well as in India. In Kenya, it is used for making foods like ugali, a thin stiff porridge, and busaa, a local brew. Oduori hopes that soon the crop will stage a comeback in Kenya after being largely replaced by maize and sorghum. Interest in finger millet is in fact growing worldwide, even outside its centre of origin.
“Finger millet is extremely nutritious and grows well in a wide range of locations, including marginal environments,” Oduori says. “Many farmers are recognizing finger millet as a smart food and are now planting it again.”
Oduori is well placed to tout not only the nutritional but the agronomic benefits of finger millet. He has spent the past 30 years working with the crop and became the first plant breeder to release improved varieties of finger millet in Africa.
Today, Oduori’s improved finger millet varieties are planted by farmers throughout Western Kenya. Unfortunately, the improved varieties are still susceptible to blast disease and the Striga parasite.
“With climate change we will see even greater outbreaks of pests and diseases due to weather extremes. We’ll see more Striga, for example, if climate change leads to drier conditions,” Oduori says.
Striga, or witchweed, is a particularly nasty parasite. The sap-sucking weed can lead to complete loss of crops and once it’s in a farmer’s field, it is nearly impossible to eradicate.
Oduori hopes that losses due to Striga can be minimised by finding wild relatives of finger millet that have resistance to this as well as pests and diseases.
Utilizing crop wild relatives
“Our initial evaluations under controlled conditions showed that some of these wild relatives performed very well and showed resistance to blast and Striga,” Oduori said.
This effort is funded by the Crop Wild Relatives (CWR) initiative, a global, 10-year project, supported by the Government of Norway. The initiative is managed by the Crop Trust, an international non-profit organization charged with conserving and making available crop diversity in genebanks.
“Finger millet is one of 19 crops we are supporting via our pre-breeding projects,” says Dr. Benjamin Kilian, a scientist with the Crop Trust. “Our aim is to introduce beneficial traits from their wild cousins into cultivated crops so they are more resilient to climate change.”
Dr Damaris Odeny, a scientist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), is sequencing the genome of the crop wild relatives and identifying molecular markers, or specific snippets of genome, to help breeders. “An earlier project collected wild relatives of finger millet in the countries where the crop originated: Ethiopia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda. We now know them down to their DNA,” says Odeny.
But these wild relatives lack many of the traits which Oduori bred into his lines, like really high yield, a grain color that’s acceptable to consumers, erect stems, shatter resistance, and early maturation.
“So we need to introduce the desirable traits from the crop wild relatives into the farmer-preferred varieties,” Odeny says. “This will take a lot of crosses and backcrosses, and a lot of time, but these wild relatives do offer us hope that we will be able to breed a really successful Striga-resistant finger millet.”
That is music to Chrispus Oduori’s ears as he reflects back on a time when finger millet fed the people of Eastern Africa. He has spent his career trying to get finger millet back in farmers’ fields and consumers’ plates. Thanks to some unlikely looking plants he may well achieve his goals soon.
For Indian farmers reeling under deficit rainfall in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh, rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharging structures bring all the relief they can get. The dryland district registered 212.6 mm rainfall this year, a huge deficit of 38.6%. Despite the deficit, smallholder farmers, using integrated water resource management techniques, are reversing the decline in the groundwater table.
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The rainwater harvesting and groundwater recharging structures constructed by a local NGO – Samatha Society for Rural Education and Development, with support from the Rural Electrification Corporation Limited (RECL) and ICRISAT, have created a net storage capacity of 35,600 m3 resulting in total conservation of about 70,000 m3 of surface runoff water in 2-3 fillings.
“The rainwater harvested is helping us during the extended dry spell. Groundwater levels are increasing as well, providing us enough for irrigation and cattle rearing,” farmers of Kondampally village told Dr Marco Ferroni, Chair, System Management Board, CGIAR.
Dr Ferroni on his recent visit to India, toured the farmer-centric integrated watershed in Anantapur. The project is being implemented through a convergence between ICRISAT and Governments of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, their line departments, Krishi Vigyan Kendras (KVKs), Samatha Society for Rural Education and Development, BAIF-BIRDS (K) Hyderabad and community-based organizations.
The Penukonda watershed (Anantapur district) is home to 1,480 families with groundnut, maize, paddy, finger millet, and sunflower as major crops.
The watershed is the outcome of a consortium approach to undertake science-led interventions in soil and water conservation, soil health mapping and use of micronutrients. Various income-generating activities such as sheep rearing, improving the local goat breeds through crossbreeding with Sirohi goats, vermicomposting, nursery and home gardening were also taken up under the project. This science-led holistic approach also paved the way to organize several capacity building programs on community formation, participatory soil sampling, action plan preparation, use and application of improved crop productivity initiatives, and integrated pest management.
“Building capacity of the farmers through knowledge-sharing and dissemination is vital to enhancing rural livelihoods,” said Dr Ferroni, after his interactions with women and men farmers.
Improved cultivars such as ICGV 91114/350/351 in groundnut and ICPH 2740 and ICPL 87119 in pigeonpea coupled with in-situ moisture conservation practices in the region have resulted in productivity improvement by 25% in groundnut, and 27% in pigeonpea.
Dr Ferroni, accompanied by Dr Nigel Kerby, Outgoing Chair, Governing Board, ICRISAT, Dr Peter Carberry, Director General (Acting), ICRISAT, and Dr Kiran Sharma, the acting Deputy Director General – (Research) of ICRISAT interacted at length with women and men farmers from Kondampally and Settipally villages.
The team gathered feedback from farmers on the water conservation structures including check dams and farm ponds, and Dr Sreenath Dixit, Theme Leader, ICRISAT Development Center (IDC) led the demos on productivity enhancement, balanced fertilizers, high-yielding varieties, and decentralized on-farm seed production.
With support from RECL, The ICRISAT-led consortium also developed a similar “Model Site of Learning” in Wanaparthy district in Telangana state to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and improve the livelihoods of the rural poor in vulnerable rain-fed areas. A participatory integrated watershed management approach has been adopted for upgrading rain-fed agriculture for sustainable intensification. See video
India has to effectively deal with this new insect that can devastate maize and a host of other crops. This pest has been seen in the Americas since several decades.
The occurrence of a new insect pest, Fall Armyworm (FAW, scientifically known as Spodoptera frugiperda) has been recently reported in Karnataka and also parts of Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra and Gujarat. The pest — its female moth lays eggs and the caterpillars hatching from these eat parts of the host crop plants, before pupating and turning into new moths — has been detected mainly in maize fields.
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FAW is not new to the scientific community. This highly-destructive and invasive pest has been seen in the Americas since several decades, but its prevalence outside was noted for the first time in West Africa in early 2016. Since then, it has spread to 44 countries across the continent, barring North Africa. According to the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center at Mexico (better known as CIMMYT), FAW has, over the last two years, damaged more than 1.5 million hectares of Africa’s maize crop.
The adult moth of the pest migrates very fast — almost 100 km every night and nearly 500 km before laying eggs. It can, therefore, invade new areas quickly. Also, each female moth is capable of laying 1,500 eggs on an average. The entire lifecycle — from egg to new adult moth that lays fresh eggs — is completed in about 30 days during the summer months, while extending to 60-90 days in cooler temperatures. The pest thrives on a wide spectrum of host crop plants: maize, sorghum, rice, sugarcane, soyabean, vegetables, etc.
Yet, FAW can be effectively managed through an integrated pest management (IPM) approach, adapted to the specific agro-ecology and cropping landscapes. This article aims at sensitising farmers, extension workers, scientists and policy makers in India on sustainable management of the pest — through a “failing-it-in-the-beginning” approach.
The FAW moth lays eggs on the plant’s foliage (leaves). The egg stage lasts for only 2-3 days in warmer weather. The next larval stage is the most dangerous one. There are six parts or “instars” in this stage, whose entire duration is from 14 to 30 days, depending on the temperature and humidity conditions. The destruction of leaves, stems or flowers of the crop plants by the larva through feeding happens mostly in the last three instars. Control over the pest is, therefore, best achieved early in its life cycle, rather than later stages. Once the larval stage is completed, the growing moth pupates in the soil — for 8-9 days in summer and 20-30 days in cool weather. The nocturnal egg-laying adults live for about 10 days, while most active during warm and humid evenings.
Scientists at the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru and the University of Agricultural and Horticultural Sciences, Shivamogga have scientifically validated the incidence of FAW in maize fields across various districts of Karnataka. There have been isolated reports of the pest’s presence in the maize-growing areas of other states, too. Fortunately, it has not caused any significant destruction as yet. But the fact that the moth can travel several hundred kilometres and lay eggs profusely during its lifespan calls for serious concern. Also, being a polyphagous insect that can feed on various plants, it would be wrong to view FAW only as a maize pest.
In such a scenario, policymakers — more so, in the states where the pest has already been detected – need to nip the problem in the bud. A mass awareness campaign is necessary to build awareness among farmers and extension workers, on how to recognise the various stages of the insect and manage/control it with the right IPM interventions. This could be done through traditional means (pamphlets, posters, radio and TV broadcasts) as well use of mobile SMS and social media. The emphasis should be on generating awareness and not panic, even when FAW is noticed in any field. Surveillance systems by the public/private extension machinery, including through setting up traps (usually pheromone-based), can help effectively monitor the movement of the pest populations within the targeted geographical locations.
Many organisations, both in the public and private sector, have been working on identifying, validating and developing technologies/agronomy practices to control FAW. The experiences and lessons learnt so far from Africa may be valuable to India: What they basically highlight is that there is no single solution for sustainable management of the pest.
An effective IPM strategy would need to incorporate host plant resistance (through breeding), biological and cultural control, and use of environmentally-safer chemical and bio-pesticides for crop protection. Spraying of chemicals should be avoided unless the pest load has crossed economic threshold levels. Cultural control practices can work, especially when the FAW problem is still localised to particular geographies/crops. The eggs laid by the moths are discernible to the naked eye. Farmers can be trained to recognise and destroy the egg masses, so as to prevent the caterpillars from emerging.
Biological control would, likewise, be an important component of an IPM strategy against any major crop pest. Quick identification and validation of biological agents, such as parasitoids, predators and entomopathogens against FAW, and release of well-validated bio-pesticides should be taken up on a priority basis. And finally, breeding: The Indian Council of Agricultural Research and institutions such as CIMMYT and ICRISAT (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics) have a vast array of germplasm in their gene banks and also varieties, which could be tested for native genetic resistance to FAW. This is a medium — to long-term strategy and requires effective coordination and resource commitments from the Indian Government, donors, and the private sector.
In a world of climate change and increased global connectedness through trade and tourism, the frequency of invasive pest attacks is likely to only go up. It obviously calls for stepped-up phytosanitary and quarantine efforts to prevent the onset of transboundary pathogens and pests. But that apart, effective monitoring, surveillance and early warning systems, coupled with an IPM approach, are vital to respond to any new insect-pest threat, in order to safeguard the crops and protect the incomes of mostly smallholder farmers. In the case of pests such as FAW, India must simply “fail” its spread in the beginning itself, through IPM and synergistic inter-institutional and multi-disciplinary efforts.
Thankfully, this new pest is yet to siege farms in India, unlike in many parts of Africa. But that should not mean lowering one’s guard. On the contrary, the problem must be nipped in the bud.
About the authors:
Director, CGIAR Research Program on Maize at CIMMYT
A study in Northern Ghana revealed that lack of access to finance often hinders productivity in women-run farms. To correct this, several Village Savings and Loans Associations (VSLAs) have been formed in the region, wherein community members contribute on a weekly/monthly basis to raise funds. Needy members can use these funds for groundnut seed production and other on-farm activities.
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Gender-based agricultural productivity gap has received increased attention in the last decade. Researchers from The Council for Scientific and Industrial Research of the Savannah Agricultural Research Institute (CSIR-SARI) discovered in a study, under Objective 1 of the Tropical Legume phase III (TL III) in Northern Ghana, that the lack of financial power to women was one of the key reasons for a difference in productivity between farms managed by women and those run by men.
Most smallholder women farmers in Africa have limited or no access to land, labor, inputs or credit. Financial institutions often charge high interest rates and require collateral for credit. Women are unable to provide collateral because they may not have legal ownership of the assets.
Formation of VSLA
To address this, TL III partnered with SEND-Ghana (Social Enterprise Development), a non-governmental organization to put in place VSLAs in five districts of Ghana. The VSLAs act as self-help platforms to help groups raise funds at the community level without having to resort to external lenders.
The concept for VSLA – to provide women with access to credit, seeds, and fertile land – was developed from a gender workshop organized by the TL III project. VSLAs help women become financially independent and also strengthen the groundnut seed production system at the community level. Mr Desmond S Adogoba, Gender and Social Scientist, SARI/TL III says, “We are not only empowering women, we are strengthening them and engaging them into the seed systems.”
Mrs Patience Ayamba, Program Coordinator for SEND-Ghana, credits VSLA with creating awareness. “We have seen women participating more in decision making at the family level and even at the community level, with increasingly more women taking up leadership roles,” she says. “With this model, we have seen men willing to support their wives in the household.”
Training of community volunteers
In an intensive day-long training, community volunteers were taught the concepts of VSLA by Mr Samuel Wangul, a SEND-Ghana facilitator, in Tamale, Ghana. Participants were trained on the drafting of the VSLA constitution, recordkeeping of savings passbooks, issuing loans to group members, calculating interest rates, and recovering loans. A VSLA kit was provided to each of them to start the savings process in their respective communities. The participants would then train other members of the group.
Researchers in Malawi are optimistic of proposing the release of three new high-yielding and stress-resistant chickpea varieties next year. The aim is to cater to the needs of farmers in the southeastern districts who are increasingly growing chickpea for its high value in Asian markets and low water consumption as a crop. Despite its economic significance there is no released chickpea variety in Malawi, forcing farmers to grow traditional varieties that are low-yielding and susceptible to stress.
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To speed up the release of improved chickpea varieties, ICRISAT, through the Irish Aid-funded Malawi Seed Industry Development Project, is engaging farmers in participatory testing and selection. Three varieties (ICCV 2, ICCV 96329 and ICCV 97105) were selected and they will be fast-tracked for release together with the development of associated agronomic packages. The variety ICCV 2 matured 8-10 days earlier than the rest of the test materials. Gender played a big role in influencing the choice of varieties, whereby 36% of the participating women selected ICCV 2 for its early-maturing trait. Women were mainly interested in the maturity duration as opposed to men whose focus was on seed size and yield.
Malawi’s Department of Agricultural Research Services, in collaboration with ICRISAT, is optimistic that by next year they will have enough data to propose the release of the three varieties. “Participatory variety selection needs to be conducted for two consecutive years. This is the first year and so far there is good progress as there is consistency in farmers’ choice of varieties across all the chickpea production districts,” said Mr Harvey Charlie, Senior Scientific Officer, ICRISAT.
Chickpea is an important cash crop grown mostly in the shire highlands of Malawi. Major producing districts include Phalombe, Chiradzulo, Mulanje and Thyolo which boast of black soils. Malawi is ranked 14th within the group of 58 major chickpea producers in the world.
Chickpea is mainly exported to Asian countries and minimally utilized in local households. A high market value for chickpea, coupled with its ability to survive on residual soil moisture, has resulted in more farmers opting for it. “We plant chickpea after harvesting other crops like sweet potato since it does not require a lot of water. This is good for farmers like us who own very small landholdings,” said Ms Emily Mateyu a smallholder farmer in Phalombe district, who grows chickpea in a 0.3 ha piece of land. In Phalombe most farmers own less than 0.5 ha of land, as tea plantations cover almost half of the total arable land.
Farmers engaged in the participatory testing of improved chickpea varieties showcased the harvest from their trial plots on field days held during 19-22 June, in four different demonstration fields, each managed by 20 farmers. A total of 358 farmers, local leaders, researchers and extension personnel participated in the field days.
Groundnut farmers in Nigeria have benefited immensely through collaboration between two major projects. This has helped promote improved groundnut varieties and strengthen seed value chains in the region. The two projects, USAID’s Groundnut Upscaling Project and BMGF’s TL III project have helped fast-track several activities including release of three improved groundnut varieties (Samnut 27, Samnut 28 and Samnut 29), capacity building of all value chain actors and facilitation of seed production (24 tons of breeder seeds, 80 tons of foundation seeds and 1,749 tons of certified seeds produced).
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Led by a plant breeder under the TL III project, and an agro-economist/technology uptake specialist with the Groundnut Upscaling Project, both projects have benefited from the diverse expertise. It has resulted in increased groundnut production as well as adoption in Nigeria. Significantly, compared to the 2015 cropping season when seed production was done on 31 ha, the area under seed production has increased over 8 times, to 264 ha in 2018.
Since the main cropping season of 2016, the visible action points include:
Both projects benefit from services of Focal Persons of the State Agricultural and Rural Development Authorities, who coordinate the efforts of farmer-contact agents in each Local Government Area of the States.
Mr Sanusi Dankawu of the Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority (KNARDA) says, “The combined efforts of the two projects have made it possible for farmers and extension agents appreciate the performance of all the improved groundnut varieties – I am talking about Samnut 24, Samnut 25 and Samnut 26.”
This convergence of skills, expertise and resources of two projects has resulted in a much bigger scale of impact ultimately benefiting the groundnut farmers of Nigeria.
Advancing the agenda of land restoration in Africa’s Sahel region, let alone globally, is no small feat. But it is essential to underpinning fragile livelihoods and achieving the SDG’s.
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In a special session at the Tropentag Conference, scientists and policy makers discussed this enormous challenge, bringing together perspectives from local action to global frameworks.
“The challenge is to bring to scale land restoration from pilot programs supported by development agencies and governments to self-sustaining, community led approaches to sustainable landscape management,” said Dr Anthony Whitbread, of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and co-lead of the Land and Water Solutions research flagship of CGIAR Research Program, Water Land and Ecosystems (WLE).
Dr Whitbread’s statement came as the introduction to the special session focused on ‘Land Degradation and Livelihoods for the Sahel,’ organised by ICRISAT and WLE.
At the session, Lead Scientist with the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNFCC) Prof. Barron Orr, spoke on the Land Degradation Neutrality (LDN) convention, which has been signed by 119 countries and represents the new paradigm for avoiding, reducing and reversing land degradation in an integrated way. LDN is an important component of the means to attain the Rio+20 aspiration for a land degradation-neutral world.
LDN has been designed as a multi-dimensional approach for monitoring and assessing where countries are in terms of landscape management – it incorporates many perspectives from governance planning, socioeconomic and biophysical impacts and recognizes that livelihoods and production are fundamental for sustained action.
Speakers also highlighted the importance of ground level actions. Researchers presented projects for development efforts to pilot at scale community-led efforts for land restoration. These efforts underpin livelihood opportunities for smallholder farmers.
Dr. Fatondji Dougbedji from ICRISAT Niger and supported by CRS USAID reported on work which has empowered women to produce cash crops and nutritious food from communal wasteland areas – the ‘Bioreclamation of Degraded Land’ or BDL has been tested in 171 villages across Niger with over 10.000 women being introduced to the concept over the past 5 years.
Speakers also pointed out that national extension agencies are critical to supporting productive farmers. Without functional government bodies that regulate, monitor and promote sustainable land management practices, stated researchers, the aim for LDN cannot be achieved.
The sustainable management of common property resources is key to the LDN agenda, added panelists. Governance and functional community dialogue remains crucial to maintain harmonious societies. A team from the University of Kassel exemplified the importance of this dialogue – with more pressure on land resources from higher human and animal populations, there are rising incidents of conflict between livestock keepers and famers in the region.
Researchers explained that bringing land restoration to scale often relies on interventions where the benefits to the farmer may not be immediate and often require collective action for intervening and managing common property resources.
In the highly constrained smallholder systems, concluded panelists, the imperative of achieving food security and basic livelihood needs, as well as the typically ‘risk adverse’ behaviour of smallholder farmers, are major barriers to achieving land restoration. While approaches which use farmer and community engagement to co-design interventions have proved successful, scaling beyond pilots requires substantial new public and private investment.
The annual Tropentag conference organized by the University of Ghent, Belgium, ran from September 17-19 with the theme “Global food security and food safety.”
About the author
How many of you have heard about plant-based meat? Does it sound strange, maybe yummy 😊 or not sure what? As panel expert for a first-of-its-kind summit on “The future of protein: The new food revolution” co-hosted by The Good Food Institute, Humane Society International, India and CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology, I had a chance to speak on this. The summit had panel discussions on:
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Based on literature it was clear to me that there are two major alternatives to animal meat – one is plant-based meat and the second is clean meat (lab grown). Some of our collaborators like Dr Ed Buckler (Cornell University) are taking a different approach – “synthetic meat” (from the amino acid). My presentation entitled “Let’s nourish India with plant-based proteins” focused on plant-based meat especially on legume-based protein. My view is that to nourish India, a country having the highest number of protein deficient people, we need to address protein deficiency. Getting protein through animal meat is NOT a sustainable solution because of water as well as carbon footprints issues. Therefore, we need to work to enhance per capita consumption of pulses. For this we need to increase pulse production by using genomics- and biology-assisted breeding (systems and synthetic biology).
For catering to meat eaters, we can look for alternate solutions like plant-based meat. For this we need to optimize our crops for higher protein content. For instance, our recent work on phenotyping of 3000 chickpea accessions has provided us about 25 lines with >30% protein content (as opposed to 20% protein in existent chickpea varieties). Therefore, the question is – can we have the new lines through genomic manipulation? In the context of India, if we enhance pulse production from 18-20 million tons to 32 million tons by 2050 and we enhance the protein content by upto 30%, then we will have 9.6 million tons plant protein of which 3.2 million tons additional protein would have been created using genomics- and biology-assisted breeding! The next question will be – can we have industries ready by 2050 to process this additional protein into plant-based meat? For sure, these assumptions may have several caveats, we need to work on them.
The Union Cabinet Minister for Women and Child Development of Government of India – Ms Maneka Gandhi inaugurated the summit. A well-known leader in India for her work on animal and environment protection, Ms Gandhi’s perspective was to move towards plant-based protein/ lab-grown meat so that we do not need to slaughter animals and we will also have enough protein for consumption. Several newspapers covered key points from my presentation, including this one – Experts debate pros and cons of plant meat.
Overall, an interesting summit and a good opportunity to learn something new. In my opinion, plant-based meat is an important area and we may have a possibility to enter this emerging area from a crop optimization perspective. The global community needs to search for sustainable solutions to provide required protein without compromising on eating choices of people. If they are not happy with a vegetarian diet let’s make mock meat, lab-grown meat or synthetic meat. It could be an innovative step in the path of nutrition security.
About the author:
Dr Mamta Sharma, a plant pathologist and Theme Leader for Integrated Crop Management (ICM), Research Program Asia at ICRISAT was honored as ‘India Today Woman Scientist Of The Year’ on 26 September 2018. She was recognized for her pioneering work in an area critical to humanity. Kudos Dr Sharma!
Recognizing the contributions of its alumni, the Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Jabalpur, India, felicitated Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director – Asia, with the Jawahar Ratna award at its 55th Foundation Day on 1 October. Picture shows Dr Mangla Rai, former Vice Chair of ICRISAT Governing Board and the former Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, who was the chief guest, presenting the award.
Lt Gen Krishna Mohan Seth (L), former governor of Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Tripura, presented the Bharat Ratna Dr APJ Abdul Kalam Excellence Award for outstanding individual achievements and distinguished services to the nation to ICRISAT alumni, Dr Mannava Sivakumar, at New Delhi on 29 September.
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