6) ICRISAT and AVRDC receive CGIAR’s Outstanding Partnership Award

The world's agricultural researchers bestowed two international research institutes headquartered in India and Taiwan the prestigious “Science Award for Outstanding Partnership” for improving the lives of countless women and children in West Africa. Scientists at the India-based International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) developed techniques for growing vegetables in the deserts of West Africa. They then trained local West Africans to train local farmers.

The award was presented by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) during the ongoing Global Conference on Agricultural Research for Development (GCARD) on 29 March at Montpellier, France.

“This is one example of how science can change the lives and health of poor women and children,” said Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT.

“This ICRISAT-AVRDC partnership in West Africa has massively improved the lives of countless West African children and women. I am extremely proud of this outstanding work of my colleagues,” added Dr Nigel Poole, Board Chair of ICRISAT.

The region of West and Central Africa is home to about 100 million people, the poorest on earth. With extreme heat during most of the year and a low and erratic rainfall, drought brings crop failures in two out of five years. Nutrition is poor and mass famines are common. Poor farmers do not have the means to purchase food following droughts.

The highly productive, low pressure drip irrigation system called the “African Market Garden” (AMG) designed by ICRISAT provided a radical alternative for reducing poverty and improving nutrition in the Sahelian region of Africa.

Small irrigated vegetable plots of 100 to 500 square meters have become an important agricultural activity across the region, providing an alternative to unreliable rainfed agriculture. Despite their small acreage, vegetables play a very important role in improving nutrition for rural communities and are an important source of cash income – particularly for women who dominate vegetable marketing and much of its production. The contributions of AVRDC in the choice of vegetables suitable to the region and their management are invaluable.

In one recent case in Niger, a group of 120 landless women in the Dosso region started growing hardy indigenous vegetables in degraded land using ICRISAT’s Bioreclamation of Degraded Lands system on a 7 hectare field in June 2006. Three years later, the degraded area has grown to 70 hectares of lush and productive greenery and expansion is continuing.

“By applying the methods developed by ICRISAT and using crops such as the new short-duration okra cultivar developed by AVRDC, these women have been able to make an income where none was possible before,” says Dr Dyno Keatinge, Director General of AVRDC, headquartered in Taiwan. At present, 5,000 rural women and their households are benefiting from these technologies.

“AVRDC has proven with its partner ICRISAT that horticulture with vegetables and fruits is a good way for small holder farmers to grow themselves out of poverty even under harsh environmental conditions,” he added.

ICRISAT has a long presence in the region in improving the production of pearl millet, sorghum and groundnut; key crops for smallholder farmers. By the late 1990s, ICRISAT realized that it was essential to provide smallholder farmers with more than just improved varieties of their staple crops. High value crops were needed to increase farmer incomes to reduce risks and improve nutrition. 

On the other hand, AVRDC – The World Vegetable Center – focused on the alleviation of poverty and malnutrition through the increased production and consumption of vegetables, and has worked closely with ICRISAT for many years.

AVRDC introduced the first heat tolerant tomato lines to the National Agricultural Research and Extension Systems (NARES) in West Africa, which led to the release of the variety Xina in Senegal in1981. It was extremely popular and soon became established as a landrace variety across the region.

In 2001, ICRISAT appointed Dr Dov Pasternak to lead its high value crops program in the Sahel, which included the introduction of improved irrigation and management methods for smallholders. This provided the catalyst for many subsequent projects, the foundation for a fulltime presence of AVRDC in the region and the development of a very successful partnership.

In September 2003, AVRDC appointed its first permanent staff member in Bamako, Mali, to work with ICRISAT and the NARES to establish regional vegetable variety trials. In 2007 ICRISAT and AVRDC jointly appointed a plant breeder to work at ICRISAT-Niger on vegetable breeding and selection focused on okra.

In 2008, AVRDC expanded its work in the Sahel very substantially by appointing a team of plant breeders as a part of a project on vegetable breeding and seed systems funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The partnership of ICRISAT and AVRDC is indeed making a big difference in the Sahel by creating new livelihood options for the most marginalized in the poorest region on earth.


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