ICRISAT’s 95th Governing Board meeting was held virtually on 24, 30 September, and October 1.

On a mission to nurture hunger-free drylands

ICRISAT’s 95th Governing Board meeting was held virtually on 24, 30 September, and October 1.

ICRISAT’s 95th Governing Board meeting was held virtually on 24, 30 September, and October 1.

The 95th Governing Board meeting, held virtually, affirmed ICRISAT’s commitment to a hunger-free world and its readiness in transitioning to the One CGIAR and operating efficiently despite COVID constraints. The ICRISAT Strategy 2021-25 that was approved by the Board, factors in these concerns and is flexible to adapt to new developments. Special emphasis was on outreach and scaling out through partnerships for greater impact. Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, announced that by April 2021 the Institutes’ policies and procedures (the governance policies are already approved by the Board) will be reviewed, updated and aligned to the One CGIAR and international best practices.

“The Institute is a big supporter of the CGIAR reform to create a stronger system for better impact.” Dr Paco Sereme, Outgoing Board Chair

The way forward and lessons learnt

Outgoing Board Chair Dr Paco Sereme updated on the upcoming changes while presenting the Board Chair Report. He said the institute has a strong role to play in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Dr Sereme was a member of Tag 5 (Country and Regional Engagement), a working group to strategize and develop a framework how the One CGIAR can enhance country and regional engagement. He also shared lessons learnt during his time as Chair and Board Member.

In sync with government policies and the one CGIAR

Presenting the Board Vice-Chair Report, Dr S Trilochan Mohapatra pointed out that this period had been tough locally and globally, restricting mobility and functioning. The drylands are fragile and volatile and so ICRISAT’s work is important, the positioning focus should be on the contribution of dryland crops to increased farmer incomes and go beyond climate resilience, he said. “In the context of the One CGIAR our partnerships with other centers is crucial. We need to deliberate on how we can have joint programs and set examples for working in a partnership mode,” he said. He emphasized on scaling up to realize impact to unlock the tremendous potential ICRISAT has and the need to work with the National and Local Governments to achieve this.

“Our crops are nutritious, but have we capitalized on this for creating the market? We have to plan for this systematically and proactively, including how we take along partners.” Dr S Trilochan Mohapatra, Board Vice-Chair

Working in the midst of COVID constraints and planning our contributions within a One CGIAR

Director General Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, who has been working virtually for close to six months and has not yet arrived at the ICRISAT campus in India, said in her Board Report that operationally, COVID-19 remains a major constraint and that working around civil unrest and complexities in some locations in Africa needs careful management. She said that some of the key focus areas for ICRISAT are quality and responsiveness to donors, building global visibility through thought leadership where many staff can engage, and high attention to culture, gender and diversity.

Unveiling new strategies and policies: The ICRISAT Strategy 2021-25 presented by the Director General was approved by the Board. This strategy will be flexible to adapt to the One CGIAR developments that are underway and address issues around COVID-19. The overall Vision and Mission is remains strong and greater emphasis is on focused technology development, modernized breeding systems, social sciences, and outreach and scaling out with partners.

Dr Hughes said that ICRISAT has almost 50 years of experience, multidisciplinary knowledge and expertise, association with a wide range of global, regional and local networks, partnership approach to develop innovations and deliver at scale. The key points emphasized include:

  • Delivering public goods and innovations;
  • Contributing positively to nutrition, poverty, gender, climate and environment in the drylands;
  • Empowering people, markets and institutions;
  • Improving livelihoods through our mandate dryland cereals and grain legumes;
  • Empowering women and youth through our work; and
  • Achieving a more resilient, environmentally sustainable and profitable dryland farming system.

“We have compelling comparative strengths and a strong value proposition. We have many aspirations to positively impact the Sustainable Development Goals.” Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT

ICRISAT’s Strategic Plan on transitioning to the One CGIAR: Key points in the plan were on –

  • Bringing partnerships and technologies to respond to the most critical needs of the semi-arid regions of Africa and Asia.
  • Partnership to bring our expertise to the needs of the Americas.
  • Our coordination role for One CGIAR activities, within the Indian subcontinent the coordination role will be strengthened, resulting in targeted, quantified impact and in Africa, a leadership role in the semi-arid regions is envisioned.
  • Our Regional Crop Hubs in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will provide state-of-the-art facilities and infrastructure to our CGIAR and NARS partners for greater efficiencies and economies.

Policy of Policies: Led by Dr Hughes, ICRISAT has been undergoing a detailed review of all its policies and updating to best international practices. The Board approved a new overarching policy ‘Policy on Policies’ as well as specific new/updated governance policies:

  • Conflict of Interest Policy
  • Gender, Diversity and Inclusion Policy
  • Whistle Blowing and Protection from Retaliation Policy
  • Prevention of Discrimination and Harassment including Sexual Harassment Policy
  • Policy for Safeguarding Good Research Practices
  • Investment and Exchange Risk Management Policy
  • Anti-Fraud Anti-Corruption Policy
  • Environment, Health and Safety Policy
  • Risk Management Policy
  • Business Continuity Management Policy

Research and related program highlights

The Socio Economics strategy presented by Dr Anthony Whitbread was appreciated and supported by the Board. The Board suggested carefully prioritizing the areas where we can have the biggest impact and continue to strengthen socio-economics support across all programs of ICRISAT.

‘No Hunger’ mission

ICRISAT’s other Research Programs –Genetic Gains, West and Central Africa, Eastern and Southern Africa and Asia – made presentations on their contribution to the Sustainable Development Goal 2 – ‘No Hunger’.

Collage shows Genetic Gains work from lab to field.

Collage shows Genetic Gains work from lab to field.

Genetic Gains: The program works towards harnessing the full potential of modern genomics, molecular biology, and advanced breeding approaches; generating trait knowledge, tools/ technologies and platforms for integration with crop improvement programs for improving crop productivity, profitability, and nutrition; and empowering national programs for adopting modern technologies in their crop improvement programs to contribute to SDG2.

 Contributions to delivering genetic gains to National Agricultural Research Systems (NARS) include –

  • Upstream research to support development and release of 312 drought tolerant, nutrient-dense varieties in more than 15 countries.
  • High Throughput Genotyping Project provided 7.5 million datapoints (US$ 2 million) to more than 30 NARS and 8 CGIAR centers in 28 countries; data being used in breeding programs to develop climate resilient, high-yielding and nutritious varieties.

Regional Research Programs teams contributed to SDG2 through a three-pronged approach.

  1. Crop ImprovementDevelopment of high-yielding, stress and disease-resistant, dual-purpose (food, feed and fodder), market-preferred and more nutritious/biofortified varieties.
  2. Integrated Crop Management – Sustainable diversification and intensification of cropping systems, crop-livestock integration and pest and disease management.
  3. Systems ApproachesSoil and water management, climate-smart production systems and income generation opportunities for increased agricultural production, enhanced farmer incomes, diversified and nutritious diets, and sustainable management of natural resources.

West and Central Africa key highlights

Regional Crop Improvement Hub in West and Central Africa.

Regional Crop Improvement Hub in West and Central Africa.

Crop Improvement

  • Iron (Fe) biofortified variety CHAKTI evaluated in Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria and Senegal
  • 98 new pearl millet germplasm accessions evaluated for identifying new iron (Fe) sources. The XRF Fe varied from 31-51 ppm. XRF Zn varied from 31-46 ppm.
  • 70 hybrid pearl millet lines with High Fe and Zn evaluated in 14 locations in West Africa. The XRF Fe density ranged from 44-70 ppm. While XRF Zn density ranged from 36-57 ppm.

Integrated Crop Management

  • Integrated Soil Fertility Management practices in farmers’ fields increased yields of sorghum, millet and groundnut by 30-55%, with a gain in net returns of over 30%.
  • Integrated and participatory watershed management approach enabled the reduction of runoff and soil erosion by 40% and the improvement of shallow aquifer in the range of 30-45%. Model farmers, rural extension agents, and local NGOs were trained to extend these technologies to over 25,000 households in different agro ecologies in the year 2019-2020.
  • Using mechanization for crushing/milling of sorghum and millet crop residues in Nigeria led to 100% consumption of the stover as against 20-30% that is presently being consumed by small ruminants.

Systems Approach

  • The Agcelerant System deployed with 15 million smallholders in Nigeria introduced novel Earth Observation and IoT solutions, building the world’s first fully automated, award-winning smallholder plot monitoring system.

Gender mainstreaming efforts included prioritization of varieties of sorghum and millet demanded by end users, by examining trait preferences and choices of different market segments in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Eastern and Southern Africa key highlights

Crop Improvement

Release of 15 chickpea varieties in Ethiopia led to 10% rise in planted area and 12.6% surge in total income; 30 sorghum varieties impacted about 5 million people entirely dependent on growing sorghum for food and income.

Release of 3 finger millet, 3 chickpea and 2 groundnut varieties in July 2020 in Malawi was a key contribution to the Government’s crop, income, food and nutrition diversification efforts.

Development of new sorghum breeding lines with farmer and market preferred traits, product profiles were defined together with NARS partners and breeding pipelines developed and implemented. A total of 100 crosses have been made, 150 F2, 123 F3 progenies advanced (through single seed descent) and 6000 F4 and 5s planted.

Integrated Watershed Management for adaptation and mitigation to environmental shocks in Ethiopia.

Integrated Watershed Management for adaptation and mitigation to environmental shocks in Ethiopia.

Systems Approach

Reducing environmental degradation: Developed integrated watershed management models for mitigations and adaptation to environmental shocks in Ethiopia. Bio-reclamation of 8,000 ha of farmland increasing crop diversity to more than three crops.

Developing climate change resilience and mitigation:

  • Revitalized two community irrigation schemes in Zimbabwe led to improved farm productivity and profitability.
  • 25,000 farming households realized improved food and nutritional security due to continual availing of climate smart agriculture technologies.
  • Converted extreme floods from highlands to productive use in 85 ha in Ethiopia using innovative water-spreading weirs in partnership with GIZ.

Building enabling environment for technology dissemination:

  • The sorghum hybrid parent’s development initiative through Public-Private Partnership in Seed Systems to serve the Hybrid Parents research consortium resulted in 108 BC1, 167 BC2, 9 BC3 and 95 BC4 generations, currently in the field to generate new A and B lines.
  • Built capacity of national and local agencies of agriculture to facilitate change in livelihoods and investment in sustainable small-scale irrigation systems in Ethiopia and enhanced local and regional development systems around irrigation agronomy and intensification.
  • Provided technical support to national and county governments in Kenya to develop drought-tolerant crop variety seed strategies, road maps and sustainable systems preferred by farmers, consumers, and processors/traders.

Asia key highlights

Crop Improvement

Chickpea varieties developed through ICAR-ICRISAT collaborations accounted for 65% of the total indent of chickpea breeder seed in Central and Southern India. In Myanmar, varieties developed from ICRISAT-bred materials cover >95% of the chickpea area. During the past two decades, chickpea production increased 7-fold due to 3-fold increase in area and doubling of productivity.

Pigeonpea varieties/hybrids developed through ICAR-ICRISAT collaborative research have a share of 53% in the total supply of pigeonpea breeder seed. Production almost doubled (+ 2 million tons) in the past 10 years. In a recent project in Odisha, more than 43,000 farmers, including more than 3,700 women farmers, benefitted from 15 to 25% higher productivity by adopting improved varieties.

Early-maturing groundnut variety Devi (ICGV 91114) cover 24% of the groundnut area (about 50,000 ha) in Odisha, India. Farmers earned a net benefit of US$ 760 per ha. Groundnut also provided good quality stover for livestock and increased milk productivity.

Pearl millet hybrids from ICRISAT-bred material cover about 60% of the pearl millet hybrid area in Rajasthan, Gujarat and Uttar Pradesh states in India. Hybrids had at least 20% higher yield than replaced cultivars (estimated total benefit >US$ 150 million per annum).

Biofortified varieties of pearl millet and sorghum – Seven high-yielding biofortified (50% higher than (any) commercial hybrids or non-biofortified cultivars) hybrids of pearl millet and two varieties of sorghum were released in India and several are in the pipeline for release. A study conducted in Maharashtra state of India demonstrated that feeding iron-rich pearl millet was an efficient approach to improve iron status in school-going children.

Fodder varieties of sorghum and pearl millet – Several sorghum and pearl millet cultivars with high forage yield, including multi-cut type were released in India for promoting crop-livestock integration. Sorghum hybrid CSH 24 MF has more than 40% share in the forage market in India.

Systems Approach

The ICRISAT Development Center’s holistic approach of land rejuvenation through soil and nutrient management, improved cultivars and production technologies has recorded great impact and won awards and appreciation from state governments in India, especially for its Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives.

Bhoochetna Project – In Karnataka, India, the project covered 5.0 million ha, increased crop yields by 20-66% benefitting 4.75 million farmers. The net benefit in seven years was US$ 399 million. In Odisha, India, 40,000 soil samples from 30 districts were analysed for secondary nutrients and micronutrients. Soil Health Cards were distributed to farmers and an online portal on soil health maps published ( Need-based application of macro and micronutrients promoted along with improved cultivars and production technologies benefited farmers with 20 to 60% higher crop yields.

CSR projects – In partnership with the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd., in  Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka states of India (2014-2019) 500,000 m3 additional water storage capacity was created and 50,000 farmers benefitted from 30-50% increase in crop yield. Livelihood opportunities were created specifically for women and the landless. Similarly, a watershed project in Bundelkhand region, Uttar Pradesh, India, facilitated 2.5 million m3 of water recharge per year leading to increased cropping intensity. Balanced fertilizer application along with improved crop cultivars helped realize a gain of about 35% in crop productivity and benefited over 1.5 million farmers.

The CRP Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) presented results of its review, which were highly positive. The review stated that “Overall, the quality of science in GLDC is high and novel approaches are being used to generate many International Public Goods.”

The Smart Food first phase and three-year business plan was analysed and the next three-year plan presented and approved by the Board. Analysis of the first phase showed very positive reach, influence and impacts. Key foundation material was still to be developed along with the need for more resource mobilization that would be prioritized in the next phase.

Strategic Marketing and Communications presented the Institute’s resource mobilization update visually for the first time using the newly launched real time dashboard. ICRISAT’s next three-year Marketing and Business Plan for ICRISAT was presented to and approved by the Board for 2020-2023. This included a funder and environmental analysis and prepared in line with the new ICRISAT strategic plan. It was guided by three overall goals from the strategic plan – 1. Build greater recognition of the needs and opportunities in the semi-arid tropics 2. Promote ICRISAT’s capabilities 3. Mobilize resources. It includes three strategies for Communications, Scientific Knowledge Management, and Resource Mobilization and Partnership.


Professor Yaye Kene Gassama was welcomed as an observer at the Board meeting.

Professor Yaye Kene Gassama was welcomed as an observer at the Board meeting.

ICRISAT’s 95th Governing Board meeting was held virtually on 24, 30 September, and October 1 and attended by Governing Board Members – (Drs) Paco Sereme, Prabhu Pingali, Wendy Umberger, Laurie Tollefson, Sissel Rogne, Folasade Ogunde, Trilochan Mohapatra, Yilma Kebede, Sanjay Agarwal, Somesh Kumar and Jacqueline Hughes. The Management Group was represented by (Drs) Kiran Kumar Sharma, Arvind Padhee, Joanna Kane-Potaka, David Johnson, Ramadjita Tabo, Pooran Gaur, Rajeev Varshney, Anthony Whitbread, Rebbie Harawa, Kunal Sarkar and Swati Jain.

Professor Yaye Kene Gassama was welcomed as an observer. The former Minister of Scientific Research in Senegal and chair of the African Union’s High-Level African Panel on Emerging Technologies, has many accomplishments to name. She is a professor of plant biotechnology at Université Cheikh Anta Diop de Dakar (UCAD). She is highly respected for many firsts, including her study on the utilization of the Neem tree in the treatment and prevention of malaria. She is also the first woman to attain the level of full professor in fundamental sciences in Senegal and remains one of the few high-profile women scientists dedicated to the field in Africa today. As a member of the Advisory Board of the Forum for African Women Educationalists (FAWE) and Female Education in Mathematics and Science in Africa (FEMSA), she not only promotes the education of girls in science and mathematics, but also mentors young girls and encourages them to become more involved in science.

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