Newsroom  Press releases  2003

29) ICRISAT and MSSRF plan Virtual University on drought (27 February 2003)

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) have initiated the process for establishing a Semi-Arid Tropics Virtual University (SAT-VU).

Using information and communication technology (ICT) tools, the first of its kind Virtual University in India will reach the critical information to farmers and support them to tide over this year's drought.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, the Virtual University will take the right information to the right people at the right time, using new and conventional communication tools. It will help the Central and State Governments in tackling drought.

"To mitigate the effects of drought there is an urgent need for sustained information, education and social mobilization effort among the strategic sectors of society, especially among the most vulnerable rural communities," he said.
Eminent agricultural scientist Prof MS Swaminathan, Chairman of MSSRF, is co-hosting the Roundtable for working out a plan of action for the SAT-VU.

"This is a novel initiative and we need to use modern science through the SAT-VU to help the poorest of the poor," said Prof Swaminathan.

Important national bodies, such as the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the India Meteorological Department (IMD), are represented in the Roundtable. Senior representatives from the Governments of Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh; Indian and Sri Lankan national open universities; and the state open universities of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra and Rajasthan are also attending.

The Virtual University is also likely to draw from the expertise available with Commonwealth of Learning, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) and other international development agencies. The lessons in India will be used to implement this Virtual University initiative in sub-Saharan Africa.

It will work with the existing drought action programs in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. Some of these states are expecting drought to be severe in 2003.

Further, it will network with the national open universities of India and Sri Lanka, and state open universities of Andhra Pradesh, Rajasthan and Maharashtra. At the Roundtable, the prospective collaborators will work out a plan of action, which will lead to the setting up of the facility.

The aim is to launch the SAT-VU on World Environment Day on 5 June. A task force will be established for this once ICRISAT Governing Board endorses the concept.

The Virtual University concept envisages a consortium of institutions using ICT applications to work together to deliver content and programs to learners. Unlike a conventional university associated with a single institution, the SAT-VU will be a seamless organization linking the expertise from many institutions.

The SAT-VU will explore ways to innovatively interface the internet and satellite technologies with conventional print, radio and television media. All this will be used for mass-based learning and social mobilization.

It aims to develop climate literacy and drought preparedness among rural communities, development workers, service providers and policy makers. It will also communicate information on climatic trends like monsoon behavior and methods of drought management for community mobilization and disaster preparation.

It builds on the experience from the project at Adakkal village in Andhra Pradesh, piloted by ICRISAT. This project empowered the villagers to cope with drought through open distance learning. It shared information and knowledge on crop-livestock management with villagers under scenario of rainfall and groundwater inadequacy. It also developed off-farm knowledge and skills for viable livelihood opportunities.

Like in the earlier occasions, ICRISAT will help the national drought preparedness efforts by imparting the best farming practices under the adverse conditions. It has also transferred to various national agricultural research systems seeds of drought tolerant varieties of pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, groundnut and pigeonpea.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.