25) Sparking a Grey-to-Green Revolution for Dry Areas (28 April 2001)

28 Years of ICRISAT's Partnership-Based Research across the Semi-Arid Tropics

The dry tropics represent one of the harshest ecological zones of the world, where food production is an unpredictable enterprise. The region is home to hundreds of millions of desperately poor Africans and Asians. Most of the poor are in South Asia, where the population is expected to increase by about 1.4 billion over 1990-2020. Sometimes they are called the grey areas, because their thirsty soils look are dry and dusty, leaving their peoples grey with despair.

ICRISAT's research is targeted at the smallholders who scratch out a living from these dry areas. They have been mostly bypassed by the Green Revolution of the 1960s/70s that depended on reliable irrigation and high fertilizer applications to double or triple production.

To help the poor of the dry areas from being left behind, ICRISAT adopted a different strategy, explains Dr. William D. Dar, Director General. “Rather than adapting the environment to the crops, which would be beyond the means of the resource-poor farmers of the dry tropics, ICRISAT and its partners are helping them adapt the crop to their environments. By making more efficient use of what they have, they can turn these grey areas green. They can conserve and use water more efficiently, plant crops that make their own fertilizer, use modern varieties of crops that mature quickly before the drought sets in, add new high-value crops or varieties into their farming systems, and use varieties that resist insects and diseases so they don't have to spend so much of their small household incomes on dangerous pesticides”, he said. And by reducing farming costs, these methods make farmers more economically competitive in this day and age of free trade.

At a time when there is increasing concern about water scarcity and loss of arable land, ICRISAT's research has shown that with improved watershed management technology, soil loss can be reduced by 60-75%, and rainwater loss through runoff by 50-60% - while quadrupling food production. By managing these watersheds well, farmers can diversify the types of crops they grow, stretching out their income-earning activity to cover a larger part of the year and getting more cash from higher-value crops.

Similarly, by breeding crops that mature more quickly, ICRISAT and partners have given farmers new options to more fully utilize the moisture left in the soil after the main crop – putting two crops where once there was one. Extra-quick maturing chickpea (chana) varieties were introduced as a second crop planted immediately after rice in the Barind zone of Bangladesh. They grow during the nearly rainless season after their rice has been harvested. And village women are happy to be able to pluck the chickpea leaflets - consumed locally as a green vegetable and yielding hard cash. The potential for growing chickpea in fallows after rice in this manner across Asia is vast: about 14 million hectares are potentially suitable.

Soil fertility need not equate to costly fertilizer investments. In Vietnam, farmers are amazed that they can now obtain groundnut or peanut (mungphali) yields up to 1.5 tons per hectare, compared to 10 years ago when they were getting only about 700-800 kilograms. A new substitute fertilizer developed through scientific partnership is one of the key factors. And in Niger, Africa, farmers have found that they can increase millet production by 50 to 100 percent using tiny micro-doses of fertilizer – measured out with bottle caps! – working out to application rates less than a tenth of those used in developed countries.

Research is also finding local resources and indigenous knowledge that can empower farmers to be able to control pests and diseases with greatly reduced or no pesticide applications, saving large amounts of money and protecting their health. For example, the Ashta village in Maharashtra has become a role model for IPM, because the entire village has adopted integrated pest management (IPM) technology to eliminate their use of toxic, costly insecticides and have not used even a single spray of chemical insecticide for the past three years.

Just yesterday, ICRISAT announced a major breakthrough that can help farmers reduce pesticide costs and risks over time. With the National Bureau of Plant and Genetic Resources (NBPGR) and Acharya N G Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), ICRISAT researchers have discovered the cause of a major new disease that ravaged the world's largest groundnut-growing region last year, the Ananthapur and Kurnool Districts of Andhra Pradesh. They have now proven that the new disease, called ‘Peanut Stem Necrosis Disease' or PSND, is caused by the ‘Tobacco Streak Virus' (TSV). This will pave the way for the creation of resistant varieties.

Products of innovative partnership between ICRISAT, ICAR, and the private sector have greatly benefited farmers of Nizamabad District in Andhra Pradesh, the national hub for pearl millet (bajra) hybrid seed production of India, accounting for about 80% of the total pearl millet hybrid seed requirement in the country. At least 80% of the hybrid seed produced in Nizamabad is based on breeding lines that derive directly or indirectly from ICRISAT's breeding research. A recent survey reported that about 40 000 acres, spread over 80 villages in the Nizamabad District are devoted to hybrid pearl millet seed production, with annual profits estimated at about US$ 8 million. Farmers in Ankapur village, which is today a thriving center for production of hybrid pearl millet seeds in the District had little hope of a bright future 10 years ago. Now they are earning net profits of Rs 9000-10 000 (about US$ 200) per acre by producing seeds of pearl millet hybrids.
Building on the past 28 years of partnership-based effort, ICRISAT has been quietly making such a difference to the lives of rural poor in the dry tropics and a continuous stream of proven technologies is flowing from the Institute to farms in Asia and Africa.

Dr. Dar said, “So far, more than 400 improved varieties have been released by developing countries in the dry tropics based on ICRISAT germplasm. These varieties are a result of intensive multi-year, multi-location selection for combinations of higher yield, earlier maturity, good environmental adaptation, pest and disease resistance, and good product quality. They are a vital component of the engine of rural development, helping farmers feed their families, enhance and stabilize their incomes, and contribute to national development.”

One of the most popular traits of these improved varieties for the farmers of the dry tropics has been early maturity, because the early-maturing varieties stabilize yields by avoiding drought, and enhance income by capturing peak prices before the main crop hits the market. ICRISAT breeders, working jointly with partners, have been able to greatly compress the life cycle of all five of the Institute's mandate crops.

Early maturity allows crops, especially legumes, to be able to be inserted into rotation patterns previously dominated by a single cereal crop each year - magnifying land and labor use efficiency.

ICRISAT's work also helps build the global knowledge base and find solutions for major environmental worries such as global warming. A recent U.N. report on global warming highlighted that its consequences would especially hurt the poor of the developing world, who have little means to cope. Long-term experiments by ICRISAT revealed that improved soil management practices can increase carbon sequestration by an average of 335 kilograms of carbon per hectare per year, cleaning the atmosphere of this warming agent. Excited by these findings, the Government of India is now funding a 3-year project on 'Identifying systems for carbon sequestration and increased productivity in semi-arid tropical environments', engaging ICRISAT and three member institutions of the Indian Council on Agricultural Research - the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture (CRIDA), the Indian Institute of Soil Science (IISS), and the National Bureau of Soil Survey and Land Use Planning (NBSS&LUP).

With its new vision of Science with a Human Face, ICRISAT is tailoring its research to address and resolve real human needs: reduce poverty, hunger, and environmental degradation across the dry tropics of the world.

In Asia, ICRISAT's research impacts have spread through the Cereals and Legumes Asia Network (CLAN) – coordinated from ICRISAT – which facilitates collaborative research and technology exchange across the CLAN member countries.
Major Impacts from ICRISAT's Partnership-based Research in Asia.

Improved management of natural resources

  • With improved watershed management technology, up to 4 tons of grain per hectare can be harvested from drylands, soil loss can be reduced by 60-75%, and rainwater loss through runoff by 50-60%. The recharge of groundwater increases by more than 40%. Supported by ADB, ICRISAT in partnership with NARS is demonstrating this package to the farmers of India, Thailand, and Vietnam.
  • A groundnut production technology package developed by the Vietnamese National Program with technical assistance from ICRISAT has helped to double groundnut production in the country over the last 10 years.
  • In the Barind region of Bangladesh, ICRISAT assisted in magnifying resource use to grow a second crop of chickpea where once there was only one, saving over US$ 3 million annually for pulse imports.
  • Development of improved varieties
  • Out of 405 cultivars released, 112 have been released in India, and about 100 in other Asian countries.
  • In Andhra Pradesh, chickpea production registered a sevenfold increase following the introduction of improved chickpea varieties. The additional produce adds US$ 48 million annually to the state's gross domestic product.
  • Hybrid pigeonpea - the world's first hybrid of any food legume crop – was developed.
  • Sorghum inbred lines widely used by hybrid industry across India.

  • Crop diversification

  • To promote pigeonpea use in Sri Lanka, ICRISAT and the Farm Mechanisation Research Centre with support from the Asian Development Bank (ADB) developed a small and cheap pigeonpea processing machine.

  • Environment-friendly pest management techniques

  • Adopting integrated pest management (IPM) techniques, farmers in India, Nepal, Bangladesh, and Vietnam have greatly reduced the use of insecticide in pilot test areas, up to 100% on some farmer's fields such as in Ashta village in Nanded District of Maharashtra.

  • National capacity enhancement

    ICRISAT has trained 2042 Asian scientists from 28 Asian countries over the past 28 years, in a wide range of agricultural skills and technologies.

    Helping out in crises

  • When downy mildew epidemics struck the millet crop across India, resistant varieties developed by ICRISAT and ICAR saved the crop.
  • Maruthi, a pigeonpea variety that could resist the devastating Fusarium wilt, revived the crop in south-central India. The total net present value of benefits from this research is approximately US$ 62 million.
  • In Nepal, chickpea cultivation in over 75% of the rice fallows was affected by the Botrytis gray mold (BGM) epidemic. Using an integrated disease management package developed by ICRISAT, 2 to 6 times higher yields were obtained.
  • ICRISAT, the National Bureau of Plant and Genetic Resources (NBPGR), and Acharya N G Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU) have discovered the cause of a new disease that ravaged the world's largest groundnut-growing area in Ananthapur district in Andhra Pradesh in 2000.
  • Considering that these are the impacts of only a few of the results of ICRISAT's partnership-based research, it is no wonder that the Asian Development Bank (ADB) - a development investor who has actively supported the Institute's research - stated in its recent report of an Evaluation Study:
  • Research at ICRISAT has made significant advances in breeding high-yielding, early-maturing varieties of its mandated crops and has identified solutions to many production management problems. It has developed many improved technologies that have been adapted to fit the needs of poor farmers in Asian countries. This is shown by the significant increases (10-100%) in yields of major cereals and grain legumes.”

Acknowledging that such success was only possible because of steadfast long-term support from ICRISAT's development investors, ICRISAT Director General Dr William D. Dar, said, “Benefits from this research reach millions of poor households in terms of better nutrition, more cash for children's education, extra income to reinvest in the farm, and lower food prices for consumers.” He added that these payoffs did not take into account the other benefits gained from increased scientific knowledge and the development of networks and partnerships.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.