No. 1383 9 October 2009

Harnessing Biofuels for Pro-poor Development

Addressing the first national review of sweet sorghum projects funded by the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR) in Diliman, Quezon City, Philippines on 6 -7 October, Director General Dr William Dar called for harnessing biofuels for economic, environmental and energy security concerns especially for the poor.

The review was attended by senior researchers of the Philippine Department of Agriculture, state universities and colleges and the private sector. The review served as a venue for the presentation of various topics related to sweet sorghum research, development and extension and results of regional varietal adaptability trials by Regional Integrated Agricultural Research Centers.

joint press dialogue held by ICRISAT and BAR The joint press dialogue held by ICRISAT and BAR during the first national review of sweet sorghum R&D projects.

At the same occasion, Dr Dar pointed out that excessive reliance on fossil fuels is forcing countries throughout the world to shift to environmentally sustainable alternatives such as biofuels. Such shifts also aim to generate employment for the rural poor, regenerate wastelands and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Recalling his meeting with the Philippine Secretary of Agriculture, Arthur Yap, Dr Dar emphasized the role of sweet sorghum in ethanol production and the benefits that can accrue. “Sweet sorghum is quite new in the Philippines and therefore genetic improvement will be more challenging in this crop compared to rice and corn. Initial results have proven that we could indeed come up with better materials than initially introduced,” Dr Dar added.

Dr Dar prescribed policy lessons that could prove beneficial to the Philippines, such as subsidizing biofuels during market development until economy of scale allows fair competition with oil products; allowing renewable energy-based independent power producers to compete with traditional utilities; supporting private ownership of sweet sorghum distilleries; and stimulating rural activities and thus rural employment based on biomass energy.

He called for a combined effort by the public and private sectors to work as partners to make long-term commitments and investments in innovation.

Dr Dar addressing the first national review of BAR Dr Dar addressing the first national review of BAR-funded projects on sweet sorghum.

In an effort to set aside doubts on cost of production and expected returns, Dr Dar gave the example of Ibrahimbad cluster of villages in Medak district in Andhra Pradesh, India, where soils are less fertile and sandy. The total cost of sweet sorghum production (excluding family labor) was Rs 11,765 per hectare and net return (excluding family labor costs) was Rs 6,490 per hectare. Labor cost accounted for 55% of the total cost followed by bullock and fertilizer costs. The profitability of sweet sorghum with competing crops is being assessed, but farmers are willing to replace maize with sweet sorghum since they are assured of buy back and can also obtain credit for initial inputs.

Research collaboration on sweet sorghum improvement between ICRISAT, BAR and Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU) that dates back to 2006, has focused on: identifying cultivars suited for different agro-climatic conditions; strengthening hybrid parents and hybrids development research; and commercializing the use of sweet sorghum stalks as feedstock for ethanol production and its grain use for food and feed.

BAR is funding two projects, a two-year project on Sweet Sorghum Hybrid Parents Improvement for Bioethanol Production for Sustainable Energy Security in the Philippines with University of the Philippines at Los Banõs (UPLB) implementing it, and a mega project on Integrated R&D program on biofuels.

Dr Dar briefing Philippine science journalists Dr Dar briefing Philippine science journalists on climate change and dryland agriculture.

There is also an ICRISAT-IFAD-funded three-year project on Program for Linking the Poor to Global Markets: Pro-poor Development of Biofuel Supply Chain with MMSU as partner.

To date 998 seed samples, including 20 germplasm accessions, 344 hybrids, 47 hybrid female parents, 269 restorer lines or varieties and others have been supplied to MMSU and the UPLB. ICRISAT has also facilitated visits of important officials and scientists from the Philippines.

Concurrent with the review, Dr Dar together with Communication Director Rex Navarro held a joint press dialogue with DA-BAR Director Nick Eleazar and the national Team Leader for sweet sorghum research Dr Heraldo Layaoen.

Drs Dar and Navarro also held a press briefing on climate change and rainfed agriculture jointly with the Philippine Science Journalists, Inc. In this dialogue, harnessing science to thwart the threat of a rising ‘perfect storm’, which is a confluence of climate change, desertification, biodiversity crisis, food crisis, population crisis, and energy crisis was discussed.

back to top Back to top

Project on heat tolerance in chickpea launched

A research project on Improving Heat Tolerance in Chickpea was launched on 1 October at ICRISAT-Patancheru. The project is supported by the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India under the Technology Mission on Oilseeds, Pulses and Maize.

The four-year project involves partnership of ICRISAT-Patancheru (Pooran Gaur, Shailesh Tripathi, CLL Gowda, Vincent Vadez, L Krishnamurthy, Nalini Mallikarjuna and Rajeev Varshney); Indian Institute of Pulses Research, Kanpur (SK Chaturvedi, PS Basu and SK Singh), Panjab University, Chandigarh (Harsh Nayyar), Jawaharlal Nehru Agricultural University, Jabalpur (Anita Babbar); and Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University, Hyderabad (Veera Jayalakshmi).

Improving Heat Tolerance in Chickpea project participants
Participants at the launching of Improving Heat Tolerance in Chickpea project.

In his inaugural address, DDG-R Dave Hoisington, observed that high temperature stress is emerging as one of the major constraints to productivity in many crops and heat tolerant cultivars are needed to mitigate impacts of climate change on crop productivity. He said that this project is very timely; even the Governing Board of ICRISAT in its recent meeting at Bamako had advised ICRISAT to strengthen research on heat tolerance in mandate crops, particularly chickpea and sorghum.

Global Theme Leader - Crop Improvement, CLL Gowda, in his welcome address emphasized that heat stress at the reproductive stage is increasingly becoming a serious constraint to chickpea production in India because of a large shift in the chickpea area from the cooler, long season environments of northern India to warm, short-season environments of southern India; increase in area under late sown conditions; and reduction in winter period leading to exposure of crop to higher temperatures at this stage.

Pooran Gaur, who is leading this project, presented an overview of the project and highlighted the objectives, which include developing effective screening techniques for and identifying genotypes with heat tolerance at the reproductive stage, understanding mechanisms and genetics of heat tolerance and molecular mapping of heat tolerance genes, evaluating identified heat tolerant lines at farmers’ fields and introgressing heat tolerance in selected cultivars/elite breeding lines.

back to top Back to top

Gene flow assessment of sub-Saharan crops underway

USAID-Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS), Centre for International Co-operation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) and ICRISAT hosted a two- day meeting on 29 and 30 September in Nairobi, Kenya to disseminate the results of two collaborative projects between CIRAD, ICRISAT and their national partners KARI and IER (Mali). In addition, USAID-PBS Biotechnology and Biodiversity Interface (BBI) program held a meeting to evaluate the progress on five projects supported in sub-Saharan Africa on 28 September.

Participants of the meeting on Gene Flow Assessment
Participants of the meeting on Gene Flow Assessment in Nairobi.

In the PBS-BBI program, scientists from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Ethiopia and Mali, are currently involved in research on risk assessment of crop-wild gene flow that focuses on cowpea, cotton, rice, sorghum and their wild relatives in order to inform regulatory authorities on decision making for the possible future introduction of genetically modified varieties of these crops. The principal investigators on the five projects supported under the USAID PBS-BBI program in the above mentioned countries reported their progress.

ICRISAT led and completed the project on the project on the Environmental risk assessment of genetically modified sorghum in Mali and Kenya. In each project, a baseline survey was undertaken to find and collect wild relatives of the cultivated crops existing in the partner countries, followed by studies to determine if gene flow occurs between the cultivated and wild relatives of each crop in the respective countries in which it was studied.

This meeting was followed by presentations from all the partners in the ICRISAT/CIRAD BBI project as well as the CIRAD/ICRISAT ATP project Reproducing crops, reproducing a society-social structuration of crop genetic diversity, led by Christian Leclerc of CIRAD. During the two days, the three PhD students trained in the BBI project, Evans Mutegi, Moses Muraya (both from Kenya) and Lassana Toure (from Mali) as well as Dan Kiambi, Monique Due (CIRAD) and Noemie Linsig (Neuchatel University, Switzerland) presented their findings to stakeholders from biosafety regulatory authorities in East Africa.

The BBI project results showed how sorghum diversity (cultivated and wild) is structured in Mali and Kenya and indicated historical crop-to-wild gene flow in both countries. These findings were complemented by a presentation on sorghum crop-to-wild gene flow by Henry Ojulong representing the ABS project as well as a presentation on the findings and recommendations made by an expert panel on sorghum gene flow to biosafety regulators that was convened by USAID-PBS in the USA in 2008 and presented by Karen Hokanson of PBS.

The results from the ATP project, which had an anthropological approach, confirmed those of the BBI project in Kenya and also showed that gene flow occurs through seed exchange, but that this is not random. In fact, humans influence the gene flow through the non-random conservation and dissemination of seed due to societal customs and inter-societal/linguistic differences and preferences, and this factor is very important and often neglected in biological studies.

back to top Back to top

Climate change meeting in Bangkok

A 2-day Annual Review and Planning Meeting on Vulnerability to climate change: adaptation strategies and layers of resilience held on 30 September and 1 October at Maruay Garden Hotel, near the Department of Agriculture in Bangkok, Thailand, focused on climate change this year.

Dr Somchai Charnnarungkol, Director General of the Department of Agriculture of Thailand in his inaugural address highlighted the importance of climate change research in Asia and the need for a holistic strategy towards socio-economic growth and environmental sustainability for the region. He expressed that climate change is of particular concern to the agriculture sector as it challenges the livelihoods of farmers as well as food security for all.

Annual Review meeting on vulnerability to climate change
Members of the Annual Review meeting on vulnerability to climate change, in Bangkok.

In her opening remarks, GT-IMPI Dr MCS Bantilan asserted that the project provides an opportunity to all seven national program partners involved, to share experiences at the grassroots level in order to better understand the issues and implications of these cross-country experiences. She said that a harmonized implementation and dissemination plan in this cross-country project is envisioned to mobilize key stakeholders including policy makers in addressing the adaptation strategies and achieve resiliency.

Ms Cindy Malvicini from ADB, pointing out the donors’ expectations, cited that the need of the hour is for governments to identify the priorities at the grassroots level. As the scope of the research covers socio-economic, institutional, technological and farm level innovations, the project outputs will enhance the policy and decision support for addressing resilience to climate change.

The first day saw presentations of the work done so far on agro-climatic analysis and preliminary findings of the surveys conducted in targeted locations by India, Vietnam, Bangladesh and Thailand. The participants at the close of day-1 took home with them a key message – get the science right to effectively inform policy decision. The second day saw presentations from two partner countries, Sri Lanka and China, along with preparations for a 2-day training program on Quantitative and Qualitative Data Tools to be used in the project.

back to top Back to top

ICRISAT to implement watersheds in four states

The Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development, and Government of India have approved a project, establishing model community watersheds in four selected states of India: Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. The project is under the Technology Development Extension & Training Scheme. A funding of US$1.3 million has been approved for this 5-year project.

ICRISAT will implement this project in collaboration with several NGOs, Maharana Pratap University of Agriculture and Technology, District Rural Development Agencies, District Watershed Development Units of the four selected districts, state governments of the four states, as well as community-based organizations.

The overall goal of this initiative is to establish model watersheds by operationalizing Common Watershed Guidelines, 2008 , so as to improve the livelihoods of rural poor in fragile dryland areas on a sustainable basis.

back to top Back to top

Mali Minister visits Regional Agronomic Research Center

Mali Minister visit
Agathane Ag Alassane and his delegation at the regional center.

Agathane Ag Alassane, the Minister of Agriculture of Mali toured the IER-Sotuba Regional Agronomic Research Center on 24 September as part of a preparatory site visit for the upcoming October AGRA-PASS General Meetings in Bamako, Mali.

The AGRA-PASS General Meetings will involve a side visit by Kofi Annan and several West African Heads of State to IER-Sotuba, including a planned stop at SotubaGIS (managed by ICRISAT) where the “Seeing Is Believing – West Africa” (SIBWA) project is housed. The Minister of Agriculture received a 20-minute briefing on the SIBWA project, during which project staff urged the Minister and through him, the whole Government of Mali, to support the extension of VHR imagery to smallholders throughout the country – raising genuine rounds of applause by the Minister and his delegation.

The Minister and his delegation received printout copies of the “What You See Is What You Believe” and “Very High Resolution – Veritably, a Huge Revolution” blogs and were offered A2-format copies of the SIBWA roll-out poster series. The key message shared with the Minister was an appeal for equity.

back to top Back to top


KN Rai
KN Rai

Dr KN Rai has been appointed in a dual role as Principal Scientist (Breeding) to continue with pearl millet breeding research and as Director HarvestPlus-India Biofortification. As Director, Rai will be coordinating biofortification research activities in India (including those at ICRISAT) on various crops under the projects currently funded by the HarvestPlus Challenge Program, the Department of Biotechnology, and similar biofortification projects of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research likely to come up in the near future.

We congratulate Dr Rai and wish him all success in his new responsibilities.

back to top Back to top

Partnership in groundnut bears fruit

The Government of India (GoI) has recently notified the following three ICRISAT-bred groundnut varieties through different gazette notifications (The Gazette of India, Extraordinary, Part II, Section 3-Sub-section (II), Ministry of Agriculture (Department of Agriculture and Co-operation), No. 2187(E), dated 27 August 2009 and No. 2458(E), dated 16 October 2008) for cultivation in the country. With these releases, the number of ICRISAT-bred groundnut varieties released in India goes up to 23.

SN Nigam with a groundnut farmer in Anantapur
File photo of SN Nigam with a groundnut farmer in Anantapur.

ICGV 00440: Renamed as Mallika, the queen, is recommended for cultivation throughout the country with assured irrigation. It was proposed for testing in the national system (AICRP-G trials) by our collaborator, Regional Agricultural Sub-Station, Rajasthan Agricultural University, Hanumangarh. It is a high-yielding, large-seeded variety suitable for confectionery purposes and export.

ICGV 93261: Renamed as Ajeya (R-2001-3), the one who cannot be defeated, was also released in 2007 by the Karnataka State Seed Sub-Committee on Variety Release for cultivation in the north-eastern dry zone of the state. It is a high-yielding variety, which is tolerant of diseases (late leaf spot, rust, peanut bud necrosis disease, stem and collar rot) and drought.

ICGV 00348: Was proposed for testing in the national system by our collaborator, Regional Research Station, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University, Vriddhachalam. It is a high-yielding variety and is tolerant of drought and foliar diseases (late leaf spot and rust). It is recommended for cultivation in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, southern Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu.

back to top Back to top