Newsroom  Press releases  2003

21) Combining technologies to reach the poor

For the last 30 years, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has used a combination of high and appropriate technologies to increase agricultural productivity in the driest and poorest farmlands in Asia and Africa.

Working in partnership with national and state governments, civil society and farmer's groups, ICRISAT continues to reduce poverty in these areas by increasing the income of the farmers. These tired lands are home to 300 million people, the majority of whom are poor and depend on agriculture for their livelihood.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, scientific research should be conducted in such a way as to benefit the poor directly. "We call it Science with a human face. Through our work we want to bring a Grey to Green Revolution in these lands, which were not benefited by the Green Revolution in the sixties and seventies."

ICRISAT is one of the 16 centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and the only one to be headquartered in India. Its research is of particular significance to the host country since two thirds of Indian agriculture is conducted under rainfed conditions.

ICRISAT's mandate crops provide nutrition to many of the world's poorest communities – not only in India, but also in Southeast Asia, Africa and Latin America. These crops are pearl millet (bajra), sorghum (jowar), groundnut, chickpea (Kabuli chana, chana) and pigeonpea (tuvar dal or sambar dal).

In India, ICRISAT works in partnership with the Central Government, the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), the state governments, NGOs and farmer groups. The Director General of ICAR, the Union Agricultural Secretary and the Chief Secretary of Andhra Pradesh are ex-officio members of ICRISAT's Governing Board.

One of the strengths of the Institute is the RS Paroda Genebank, named for the former Director General of ICAR, which stores 114,000 varieties of seeds of its mandate crop. This facility, one of the largest of its kind in the world, is the nerve center for the development of new varieties. Recently the genebank obtained a US$1.3 million grant from the World Bank for upgradation.

Using this wealth of genetic resources ICRISAT has developed, in partnership with the national agricultural research systems of Asia and Africa, 3 drought-resistant varieties of pearl millet, 10 of sorghum, 1 of chickpea, 3 of groundnut and 2 of pigeonpea.

The seeds stored in the Paroda Genebank have enabled countries ravaged by civil strife to restore their lost agricultural systems. Had these seed samples not been carefully stored and protected, many local crop varieties, developed over hundreds of years, would have been lost forever. Seeds of Kabuli chana and other crops collected decades ago in Afghanistan, for example, can now be made available to the fledgling agricultural extension system in that emerging country. Recently, Mr Mohammed Sharif, the First Deputy Minister of Agriculture, Government of Afghanistan, paid a visit to ICRISAT to enquire about the availability of seeds suited to Afghani agriculture.

For the past 25 years, ICRISAT has been involved with drought mitigation activities in villages. ICRISAT's partnership project at Kothapally village in Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh is a model for the Drought Prone Areas Program and the Rural Livelihoods Program of the Andhra Pradesh Government. The project aims to help farmers get better economic returns from conserved water and soil. The project's reach is international. The Asian Development Bank is using the Kothapally model for replication in China, Thailand and Vietnam – as well as for other parts of India.

ICRISAT is also focusing on using biotechnology for improving crops. It is working on transgenic groundnut and chickpea.
Moreover, it has created institutions that can further biotechnological research. A Technology Innovation Centre (TIC) is already established at the Institute. This, in turn, is creating more focused institutions:

An Agri-Business Incubator in collaboration with the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India.

An Agri-Biotech Park, which will become part of the Government of AP's Genome Valley project.

In collaboration with the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, ICRISAT is establishing a Virtual University for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VUSAT). This virtual facility, which will be ready in June 2003, will link expert institutions with the right information to the right people at the right time.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.