No. 1384 16 October 2009

Threats to global agricultural yields discussed at Des Moines

A rising perfect storm is the biggest threat to global agriculture. This perfect storm is the confluence of the adverse effects of climate change, desertification, food crisis, energy crisis and population crisis. This threat was articulated by Director General Dr William Dar when he presented the case of semi-arid tropics participating in the panel discussion on “Trends and Threats in Global Agricultural Yields“ on the first day of the World Food Prize Norman E Borlaug International Symposium on“Food, Agriculture and National Security in a Globalized World”. The symposium was held at Des Moines, Iowa, USA for three days from 14 October.

With Dr Dar in this panel discussion was, Margaret Catley-Carlson, Chair World Economic Forum Advisory Council on Water; Jason Clay, Senior Vice-President Market Transformation, World Wildlife Fund; Seyfu Ketema, Executive Director, Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa; Jeff Simmons, President, Elanco and Weibin Yan, CEO, Longping High-Tech Agriculture.

USDA session at Des Moines Dr Dar at the USDA session on research collaboration at Des Moines.

The main thrust of the conversation was on exploring current trends in food and agricultural production globally with a hope to call attention to areas where yield levels are below what the population requires. Participants touched upon the areas where production is limited by water or soil resources, climate variation, or other environmental factors, and areas where yield increases are not keeping up with rising population or rising consumption demands.

The session addressed concrete threats to crop or livestock productivity, such as specific diseases and pests, or drought, as well as wider challenges in converting agricultural productivity into food security. The past symposia of Borlaug Dialogue have focused on the promises and challenges presented by biofuels for global development, the dual challenges of malnutrition and obesity, water insecurity and its impact on development and stability in the Middle East, and the Green Revolution.

The DG was also a panelist during a side event arranged by the US Department of Agriculture honoring the 2009 Borlaug Fellowship Recipients. On this occasion, Dr Dar made a presentation titled “Driving Development: The Role of Collaborative Research” focused on ICRISAT’s partnership with India. Elaborating ICRISAT’s role in Indian development, he said that scientific excellence and innovations were utilized to bring about sustainable livelihoods for the poor.

Enlisting the success stories of collaborative research in India, Dr Dar said that the Green Revolution has increased the real average incomes of the farmers from 90% to 125%. Giving the route map for achieving the set goals through collaboration, Dr Dar said that political will combined with policy reforms and national and local action would break the vicious circle of poverty.

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University of the Philippines honors Drs Dar and Navarro

The University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) honored Director General William Dar and Communication Director Rex Navarro as part of its 91st Loyalty Day and Centennial Celebrations on 9 and 10 October.

Dr Dar receiving the Outstanding Alumnus award
Dr Dar receiving the Outstanding Alumnus award from Dr Rey Luis Velasco, chancellor of UPLB. Looking on are Simeon Cuyson (left), UPLBAA president, and Dr Emerlinda Roman, UP president.

Dr Dar was awarded the 2009 Outstanding Alumnus in recognition of his transformational leadership at ICRISAT, turning the Institute around into a high-performing global R&D organization dedicated to the poor of the semi-arid tropics. In accepting his award, Dr Dar said, “We are in the forefront in generating knowledge and technologies, and are constantly reinventing ourselves to tackle serious challenges like climate change and desertification that are plaguing agriculture.” He then urged UPLB to revitalize itself and focus its efforts in dealing with emerging global challenges.

Dr Rex Navarro receiving his special award from the UPLB College
Rex Navarro receiving his special award from the UPLB College of Development Communication.

Dr Navarro likewise received a special award for his stewardship of the Institute of Development Communication, now one of nine colleges of UPLB. Propelled by the core values of empowerment, equity, environmentalism and entrepreneurship, Dr Navarro advocated for the Institute’s elevation into a full-fledged college during his term as Director. The event also marked the celebration of the college’s growth and evolution towards greater global relevance during the past decade. Dr Navarro was a faculty member of UPLB for 15 years before he joined ICRISAT in 2001. He was also awarded as Outstanding Alumnus of the College of Development Communication in 2005.

UPLB, a publicly funded academic, research and extension institution, is one of the six constituent universities of the University of the Philippines System, a premier institution of higher learning in the country. It started out as a College of Agriculture in 1909 and became a full-fledged university in 1972. Henceforth, it has emerged as a leading academic institution in Asia.

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Bill Gates announces HOPE to boost sorghum and millet production

ICRISAT has launched a new project that aims to increase food security for smallholder farmers in dryland areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The project, Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) of sorghum and millets in sub-Saharan Africa and South AsiaS, will be undertaken by 50 partners led by ICRISAT in ten countries of sub-Saharan Africa and four states in India. HOPE is supported by an $18 million, four-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Making a formal announcement of HOPE at the World Food Prize in Des Moines, Iowa, USA on 15 October, co-chair of the Foundation, Bill Gates laid out the foundation’s vision, which includes investments in better seeds, training, market access, and policies that support smallholder farmers. Gates also announced nine foundation grants totaling $120 million to illustrate the range of efforts necessary to empower millions of smallholder farmers to grow enough to build better, healthier lives.

“Melinda and I believe that helping the poorest smallholder farmers grow more crops and get them to market is the world’s single most powerful lever for reducing hunger and poverty,” Gates said, according to a draft of his speech.

Commenting on the project, Dr Dar said, “Scientists estimate that yields could be doubled or even tripled from their current low levels if farmers use the right crop varieties, fertilizer and other management techniques. Capturing even a modest portion of these potential gains would generate major impacts in reducing food insecurity.”

Part of the project is dedicated to capacity building, primarily targeting national program scientists participating in the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa and Program for Africa’s Seed System. ICRISAT will provide scientific supervision by a senior sorghum/millet breeder to such students.

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International conference on knowledge management

Communication Director Rex Navarro participated in an international conference to initiate an integrated regional knowledge management (KM)-based sharing of research experiences in agricultural biotechnology in Bangkok, Thailand on 1-2 October.

Dubbed International Conference on Knowledge Management in Agricultural Biotechnology: The Asian Experience, the conference was organized by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA) jointly with the International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications (ISAAA), Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS), and the Agricultural Biotechnology Support Project II (ABSP II).

Participants at the international workshop on knowledge management, Bangkok, Thailand
Rex Navarro (extreme left) with participants at the international workshop on knowledge management, Bangkok, Thailand.

Attended by about 80 high-level participants from the Asian region, the conference served as a venue where key actors in biotechnology shared experiences and lessons on advocacy, communication, capacity building and networking. It also updated participants on KM models and practices applicable to contemporary challenges facing agriculture R&D and agri-based industries, and identified collaborative KM initiatives in agri-biotech for Asia.

The conference featured speakers with diverse perspectives on thematic plenary sessions in KM and agricultural biotechnology, KM platforms for agri-biotech regulatory policies, capacity building, and KM networking. Dr Navarro presented ICRISAT’s experience in communicating crop biotechnology in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

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Ejeta receives 2009 World Food Prize

Gebisa Ejeta, ICRISAT Sudan’s sorghum breeder and now a professor of agronomy at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana, received the $250,000 World Food prize for the year 2009 on 12 October. He also delivered the Annual Norman Borlaug lecture on Revitalizing Agricultural Research for Global Food Security, at the Sun Room, Iowa State University Memorial Union, Ames, Iowa on the same day.

Dr Dar with Gebisa Ejeta
Dr Dar with Gebisa Ejeta (center) and 1996 World Food prize laureate Gurdev Kush at Des Moines, USA.

“Global hunger is a moral issue, a problem too big to ignore,” Ejeta said during his hour-long Norman Borlaug Lecture, an annual event named after the founder of the Food Prize.

Ejeta was honored for his development of sorghum hybrids that are resistant to drought and the devastating Striga weed. The hybrids have dramatically increased the production and availability of one of the world’s five principal grains and enhanced the food supply of hundreds of millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa.

Born in rural Ethiopia in 1950, Gebisa Ejeta grew up in a one-room thatched hut with a mud floor. Because of his mother’s deep belief in education and her struggle to provide her son with access to local teachers and schools, Ejeta achieved high academic standing and attended college. In 1973, he earned his bachelor’s degree in plant science. The following year, he was given the opportunity to study with a renowned sorghum researcher, John Axtell, at Purdue University, where he earned his doctoral degree in plant breeding and genetics.

As a sorghum researcher at ICRISAT in Sudan, Ejeta developed the first hybrid sorghum varieties for Africa that were drought-tolerant and high yielding. Because sorghum was so important to the local diet, and dryland agriculture in Sudan had such vast potential, his hybrids brought dramatic gains in crop productivity

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World Agroforestry Center supremo visits ICRISAT Sadoré station

Multiplying the Sahel Apple through grafting
The women of Sadoré show the DG of the World Agroforestry Centre how they multiply the Sahel Apple through grafting.

Director General World Agroforestry Centre, Dennis Garrity visited ICRISAT-Niamey on 6 October. He was accompanied by friends of ICRISAT, Zac Tchoundjeu and Larwanou, who worked at Sadoré in the past, and Antoine Kalinganire, the World Agroforestry representative based at ICRISAT-Bamako.

On behalf of Farid Waliyar, Director, West and Central Africa, Bettina Haussmann welcomed the visitors. Garrity stated that the ties between the two centers should have been strengthened a long time ago, and that he was very excited to be at Sadoré to see the fruits of collaborative work with his own eyes.

The visitors were very impressed by the diversity of work done at the Center and praised the level of integration achieved by the team of scientists. They were particularly interested in the work of Albert Nikiema on domestication of local fruit trees, but also on conservation practices like the zaï hole and half-moon, studied by Fatondji. Garrity proposed a planning workshop to work out the best modalities for much stronger collaboration.“ The World Agroforestry Center should have somebody based here”, Garrity said.

Garrity proposed three main areas of collaboration: tree domestication and germplasm collection, building a strong consortium for the development and implementation of the new initiative on “creating an evergreen agriculture in Africa” and sharing of results on bio-energy among the two Centers, and developing joint projects.

Before the visitors left, Garrity announced that he will meet Director General Dr Dar at the end of October to discuss the ways to collaborate.

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Dissemination of chickpea in Kenyan Rift Valley

chickpea improvement team
Bomet MP Beatrice Kones with the chickpea improvement team.

Four months ago the Bomet Member of Parliament (MP) Beatrice Kones, Keiyo South MP, Jackson Kiptanui and Eldoret East MP, Margaret Kumar visited ICRISAT-Nairobi to request for promotion of chickpea in Bomet, Keiyo and Eldoret East constituencies. During the deliberations, MP Kones earmarked some money from her Constituency Development Fund (CDF) to promote chickpea in drought-prone divisions such as Longisa and Siongiroi.

ICRISAT-Nairobi in close collaboration with Egerton University distributed 350 kg of highly proven superior chickpea varieties representing both kabuli (ICCVs 95423, 96329, 00305) and desi (ICCVs 97105, 00108, 92944) varieties and planted them in 80 farms in Longisa and Siongiroi divisions of Bomet constituency.

On 27 September, an ICRISAT team (Pooran Gaur, Ganga Rao and Peter Kaloki) along with Egerton University staff members (Paul Kimurto and B Towett) and Kenyan Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)-Njoro staff (Ms Mursoy) visited Bomet to monitor progress made, along with MP Kones and CDF staff.

MP Kones and Pooran Gaur were pleased to see the huge untapped potential and the efforts made in dissemination of chickpea in this area. Farmers who participated in field visits were sensitized to the cultivation of ICRISAT bred high-yielding chickpea genotypes.

The ICRISAT team also took the opportunity to visit Farmer Participatory Varietal Selection of chickpea − one of the activities undertaken under Tropical Legumes-II project in close collaboration with KARI. Six improved chickpea varieties, two desi (ICCVs 97105, 00108), four kabuli (ICCVs 00305, 97306, 96329, 95423), and Ngara local (local variety) were planted on 12 farmers’ fields to reconfirm the farmers’ preferences. Chickpea was among the best performing crops under prevailing drought conditions and farmers were very impressed.

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Trainers trained on enhancing chickpea production

A two-day orientation program for the Research Associates posted under the National Food Security Mission (NFSM) project in the states of Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh on Establishing and enhancing chickpea production in Rainfed Rice Fallow Lands (RRFL) was held on 8 and 9 October at ICRISAT-Patancheru.

Participants of orientation program on chickpea production in RRFL
CLL Gowda with participants of orientation program on chickpea production in RRFL.

The orientation program focused on different components such as demonstration of improved pulse (chickpea) production and protection technology, village level seed system (VLSS), and farmers’ empowerment. Global Theme Leader – Crop Improvement CL Laxmipati Gowda, inaugurated the trainees-training meeting and emphasized the expectations of the donor (NFSM-Pulses) and the role of partnership between ICRISAT and National Agricultural Research System. He also stressed on the collection of robust and relevant data sets and timely reporting.

Suresh Pande, Project Coordinator, recalled the important components of the project and associated outputs. He emphasized the importance of collecting quantitative and qualitative data sets and their use in this model project in the RRFL environment and in further expansion.

The trainees were also exposed to different components of the project such as the importance of baseline data, soil sample collection and dispatch, RRFLs and cropping system, Rhizobium treatment, assessment of pod borer and IPM, assessment of diseases and IDM and chickpea crop and seed production. Mamta Sharma spelled out the details of the activities, milestones and timeline for each and every objective of the project.

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