No. 1389 20 November 2009

ICRISAT calls for critical look into ‘insecticide treadmill’

CAAS delegation Dr Dar with the participants of symposium on Biosafety.

In the wake of huge crop losses of over $10 billion due to insect pests, ICRISAT has called for a critical look into the “insecticide treadmill” to save crops and the environment.

This wake-up call was given by Director General Dr William Dar at the opening session of a two-day symposium on Biosafety and environmental impact of genetically modified organisms and conventional technologies for pest management which began today at Patancheru, coinciding with the 29th annual meeting of the Academy of Environmental Biology (AEB).

Stressing the need to reduce pest-induced losses, Dr Dar said, “The world needs to develop innovative techniques to address the most complex challenge to global food production. The annual losses caused by insect pests are expected to change in unpredictable ways due to intensification of agriculture and climate change.” He further said that crop production is constantly threatened by insect pests, which prevent poor farmers from earning better. As a result of overdependence on insecticides, an ‘insecticide treadmill’ situation has arisen due to the poor choice of insecticides, poor application equipment, and pest resistance to insecticides.

Apart from huge economic costs, indirect costs such as the deleterious effects of pesticides on the environment and human health are becoming increasingly severe all over the world, calling for appropriate technologies and guidelines for their judicious application. “Hence, the need of the hour is a comparative assessment of the protocols for evaluating the efficacy, biosafety, and environmental impact of various pest management techniques and the cultivars developed through conventional breeding approaches,” Dr Dar added.

According to Dr Dar, the outcomes of the symposium will be useful to researchers, research planners and regulatory agencies for developing environment-friendly strategies for pest management.

Hari Sharma, Principal Entomologist and the force behind the symposium said, “ICRISAT has been in the forefront of developing environmental friendly technologies for pest control through the use of insect-resistant varieties developed through conventional methods and breeding, and ICRISAT is also in the forefront of evaluating the potential of genetically modified crops for pest management, and assessing their biosafety on non-target organisms in the environment.”

PC Mahanta, President, AEB, Krishna Gopal, Secretary, AEB Lucknow and Hari Upadhaya were also present. Over 100 scientists from the Indian Council of Agricultural Research, Council of Scientific & Industrial Research, and Department of Biotechnology are participating in this symposium to have a critical look at the procedures and the guidelines for various pest management technologies.

The Academy of Environmental Biology honored outstanding scientists, research scholars and students during the opening session.

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ICRISAT to help establish agri-science parks

ICRISAT and the Chennai-based infrastructure major, MARG, signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) on 17 November for joint research on development and training of agri-science parks. The MOU was signed by Director General Dr William Dar and GRK Reddy, Chairman of MARG at Patancheru. Rex Navarro, Abdul Rahman Ilyas, KL Sahrawat and Rajesh Agarwal from ICRISAT and KS Shashidhar of MARG were also present.

unemployed youth of Medak district Dr William Dar and GRK Reddy, Chairman of MARG signing the MOU.

MARG is involved in the construction and development of infrastructure projects such as ports, airports and Special Economic Zones (SEZs). MARG is developing a science park with a world-class infrastructure to facilitate cutting-edge research in science and technology, particularly agri-science and food processing.

Through this tie-up, MARG seeks to learn from ICRISAT some of the best practices in natural resources management, watershed management, village dynamics studies and Agri-Science Park. It will use this expertise in the building of the Swarnabhoomi Project, 80 km away from Chennai. The 10,000-acre Swarnabhoomi Project is expected to extend Chennai to the outskirts while also creating livelihoods for 45 surrounding villages.

Dr Dar stated, “The technical expertise is proven at the research lab and farmers are given technical training but the value chain needs to be developed. It is timely that such collaboration with private sector leaders building urban infrastructure in rural areas make this linkage complete.”

MARG Chairman GRK Reddy said that the Swarnabhoomi project is the result of the vision of the former Indian president Dr APJ Abdul Kalam through PURA (Providing Urban Amenities in Rural Areas) Model. GRK Reddy invited Dr Dar to visit the project site and also visit the surrounding villages.

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DG advocates use of genomics for food security

Visitors from Bioversity Dr Rex Navarro, representing the DG with the participants of the sixth ICRISAT-Center of Excellence in Genomics training Course.

The genomic tools developed by ICRISAT will help increase food production and reduce hunger for the teeming millions in the semi-arid tropics. This assurance came from Director General Dr William Dar at the inaugural of the ICRISAT-Center of Excellence in Genomics (CEG) course in Application of Genomics Technologies in Plant Breeding, being held from 16 to 27 November at Patancheru. This is an important initiative to enhance the skills of the molecular breeding community in India and other developing Asian and African countries.

Dr Dar, in his message read by Dr Rex Navarro, Director of Communication, drew the attention of the scientific fraternity to the ‘perfect storm’, which is a confluence of enormous problems converging around the poor. He says, “The Institute uses promising genomic tools and approaches for the genetic improvement of its mandate crops (pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut), with the larger goal of reducing poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation in the semi-arid tropics.”

He pointed out that selection based on DNA analysis of the plants takes less time compared to the conventional selection process. He said that ICRISAT’s CEG has the capacity to generate about one million data points every year.

According to Dr Dar the newly-launched Platform for Translational Research on Transgenic Crops with the support of Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, will study potential genetic engineering options and then advance them to meet specific objectives in agriculture.

Dr Navarro stressed the need for training courses in India, highlighting how a researcher can use molecular markers for crop improvement even without generating data in the laboratory. Mike Butterfield, Global Theme Leader, Biotechnology; V Balaji, Global Leader, Knowledge Management; Rosana Mula, Coordinator, Learning Systems Unit and Rajeev Varshney, Course Coordinator also spoke on the occasion.

A total of 28 participants representing Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania and India are participating in this two-week training course. The Director General interacted with course participants on 17 November and said that learning is a mutual process. The course will conclude with a graduation ceremony.


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Fat-free snacks from NutriPlus

Abdul Rahman Ilyas with Ben and Michiel Van Mil Dr Dar samples pearl millet and sorghum crispies developed at NutriPlus.

NutriPlus Knowledge Center at Agri-Science Park@ICRISAT (ASP) has developed healthy snacks using pearl millet and sorghum. As part of the new ASP foundation stone laying ceremony, pearl millet and sorghum crispies were offered to Director General Dr William Dar. Samples of both the products were also distributed among the guests.

Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Technical Director, NutriPlus said the crispies had been developed using extrusion technology. The technology doesn’t involve roasting in oil, unlike most of the snacks available in the market, and hence the products are low in fat and good for the heart. Both pearl millet and sorghum are also known to be rich in antioxidants that are necessary for good health.

Abdul Rahman Ilyas, chief operating officer of ASP, said that NutriPlus focuses on developing products that can go into the institutional supply chain in bulk. ASP is closely working with manufacturers to bring the crispies into the market.


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ASP foundation stone unveiled

Hans Lambers of University of Western Australia
Dr Dar unveiling ASP complex corner stone. B Venkatesham IAS, secretary of tourism is also present.

Agri-Science Park@ICRISAT (ASP) will be moving to a new location near the ICRISAT main gate. Dr William Dar unveiled the ASP Complex Corner Stone on 17 November. The Management Group, unit heads, staff and private sector partners of ASP were present at the ceremony.

Prabhakar Reddy, Buchappa and Abdul Rahman Ilyas presented the ASP Complex plan to the Director General. The new ASP Complex will initially have 18,000 square feet of laboratory space. Once complete, ASP and its wings such as the Agri-Business Incubator and NutriPlus will move in. ASP will eventually house new pilot plants, common laboratories and training facilities.

Addressing the gathering, Dr Dar said that the idea is to create a one-stop shop Agri-Science Park for private sector partners to help further ICRISAT’s mission. He also said that ASP will become a core division of ICRISAT and a new name will be given to make its partnerships and innovations visible. The DG especially thanked the Government of Andhra Pradesh for financially supporting ASP.

B Venkatesham IAS, Secretary of Tourism, Government of Andhra Pradesh was present as a guest of honor at the ceremony.

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Moz-SAKSS provides APSIM training in maputo

The Mozambique-Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support (Moz-SAKSS) project for agricultural development aims to improve the policy and decision-making of the Directorate of Economics (DE) at the Ministry of Agriculture, Mozambique.

Expanding information to formulate better policy is a key part of this initiative and a closer partnership among the Policy Analysis Unit (PAU) of DE, the Instituto de Investigaçao Agraria de Mozambique (IIAM), Centre for Socio-Economic Studies and the IIAM Department of Natural Resources is crucial to this. ICRISAT strengthens this partnership by focusing on policy and sharing skills on soil fertility and water management.

Participants of the NutriPlus seminar
Learning to model – participants learning to simulate crop responses to fertilizer application.

ICRISAT trained 8 members of partner institutions on Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) modeling at the IIAM Training Centre in Maputo from 19 to 25 October. The participants included Sofia Manusa and Arlindo Miguel of PAU, Feliciano Mazuze and Alda Tomo of the IIAM Centre for Socio-Economic Studies and Ricardo Maria and Suzie Aly of the IIAM Department of Natural Resources. Lucia Luciano, Deputy Director of DE, attended the first day of the workshop and Eulalia Macome, Head of PAU, attended the second day of training. Sebastiao Famba, lecturer at University Eduardo Mondlane, Faculty of Agronomy, and a current APSIM user, also attended the workshop.

The workshop will provide training on installing of APSIM to analyze the seasonal changes in maize after fertilizer inputs. Climate change impacts as well as crop rotation exercises were also brought up.

The workshop suggested that participants track down data on Mozambique climate, soils and cropping systems. In particular, it was suggested that APSIM could help redesign the government input subsidy program to distribute fertilizer beyond current target areas.

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ICRISAT’s competency development initiative

A Core Competency Task Force (CCTF) has been created by the Director General to launch the ICRISAT Competency Development Program (ICDP).

CCTF is composed of Directors-ESA and WCA, Global Theme Leaders, Director-Communication Office, Director-Finance and Program Leader-FETS. CCTF is facilitated by Hector V Hernandez, Director, HR and Operations.

On 9 November, CCTF had its first meeting where an overview of the ICDP was presented by Hector V Hernandez. In his opening remarks, he emphasized the need to have an appropriate competency framework for ICRISAT to ensure that its talents will be prepared for whatever changes the new Consultative Group will offer.

Director General Dr Dar said that it is relevant to identify ICRISAT’s core competencies as it is now preparing its 2020 Strategic Plan. He said that in these challenging and exciting times, strengthening the core competencies of staff will ensure successful achievement of our vision and mission.

The Terms of Reference for the CCTF are: Identifying an appropriate competency framework for ICRISAT; determining, ICRISAT’s core competencies and defining the same; and establishing the behavioral descriptors for each of the core competencies to be identified.

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ICRISAT to help Egypt establish an Agri-Science Park

ICRISAT will help the Egyptian government to establish an Agri-Science Park (ASP). Abdul Rahman Ilyas, chief operating officer of the ASP, recently finalized a memorandum of agreement (MoA) with Ayman Abou Hadid, President of the Egyptian Agricultural Research Council (ARC) in Cairo.

Participants of the NutriPlus seminar
Abdul Rahman Ilyas with members of Egyptian Agricultural Research Council in Cairo.

During his visit, Ilyas met with the officials at the Ministry of Agriculture & Land Reclamation, Ministry of Trade & Industry and Ministry of Scientific Research. The President of ARC agreed to sign the MoA soon. The initiative will be accommodated in their Food Technology Center (FTC). Ilyas presented the ASP model in three workshops – at FTC, at the Ministry of Trade and Industry and at the Center of Applied Research & Advanced Studies.

ASP presented plans of strengthening ASP-West Central Africa in Nigeria. Thierry H Amoussougbo, Regional Advisor, Information and Communication Technology Initiatives, United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, will help bring UN support to increase ASPs in Africa.

ASP has succeeded in projecting ICRISAT as a regional knowledge partner in Africa. This is significant as Egypt is positive after the recent successful visit of Barack Obama to Cairo and is looking at tie-ups with other African countries.


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Promoting entrepreneurship to solve global food crisis

Kiran K Sharma, Principal Scientist at the Genetic Transformation Laboratory and Head of Agri Business Incubator (ABI), participated in the 3rd annual infoDev Global Forum on Innovation & Entrepreneurship in Florianopolis, Brazil from 26 to 30 October. He delivered a speech on Sustainable agriculture and food production.

InfoDev is a major global forum created by the World Bank for innovation, incubation and entrepreneurship. ABI-ICRISAT had successfully held the second Global Forum in Hyderabad in 2006.

Participants of the NutriPlus seminar
Kiran K Sharma at the third annual infoDev Global fourm in Florianopolis, Brazil.

The event was organized by the Information for Development Program (infoDev), in partnership with the Brazilian Association of Incubators and IT Parks and the Brazilian Service of Support for Micro and Small Enterprises. The conference focused on innovation and technology entrepreneurship, financing small and medium enterprises and start-ups, new sectors such as clean technology, agribusiness and mobile applications. More than 300 experts from many countries participated.

InfoDev promotes entrepreneurship and innovation in developing countries to solve global food and climate crises as well as to provide economic opportunities for women and young entrepreneurs.

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