No. 1393 18 December 2009

DG in Philippines Highlights Challenges of a Brewing “Perfect Storm

inaguration of  Pigeonpea Dal Processing center DG with ILARDEC officials fronting the newly inaugurated Pigeonpea Dal Processing center.

The Ilocos Agriculture and Resources Research and Development Consortium (ILARDEC) based at the Mariano Marcos State University (MMSU), celebrated its 30th Anniversary this week, at which Director General Dr William Dar was the keynote speaker. In his speech, he lauded the achievements of ILARDEC, including the significant emerging collaborative projects with ICRISAT, such as sweet sorghum and pigeonpea. He highlighted the importance of partnership and synergy not only in the implementation of the projects but most importantly in ensuring their sustainability.

Dr Dar focused his brief message on the brewing perfect storm, where he synthesized the effects of the interlocking elements of climate change, soil degradation, poverty, and overpopulation. A classic example he presented was the current devastation caused by the three typhoons that visited the Philippines during the last quarter of 2009. Agriculture, he said, left the country caught unawares, which led to the importation of 3 million metric tons of rice. He posed that those involved in agriculture R&D need to be proactive in the eventualities brought about by climate change, which is a reality to reckon with. The Mindanao area, dubbed as the ‘food security belt’ for the Philippines, has the potential for addressing food security of the country’s high annual growth rate pegged at 2.2 percent. Another challenge Dr Dar posed was to increase productivity per unit area with functional science and technology activities, mentioning examples from ICRISAT. He suggested that the best way to do this is to build an arsenal of solutions for the agriculture sector through teamwork or a consortium approach for the entire project cycle.

At the function, Dr Dar presented a partnership award to MMSU through its President Dr Miriam Pascua. ICRISAT bestows this annual award to its partners.

ICRISAT Partnership award DG presenting the ICRISAT Partnership award to Dr Mirriam E Pascua, President of the Mariano Marcos State University.

Dr Myer Mula, a scientist with the pigeonpea program, spoke on the importance of the crop during the farmers and extension forum, a key activity during the anniversary program. This was well attended by researchers, faculty, extension workers from various ‘magsasaka siyentista’ (farmer-scientists groups), which was one of the initiatives of Dr Dar while with the Philippine Council for Agriculture and Resources Research and Development (PCARRD). This was followed by a training session on operation of the ‘dhal’ machine, which was formally handed over by the DG to MMSU, the national lead agency for sweet sorghum and pigeonpea research. Dr Dar and Drs Myer and Rosana Mula made field visits with the various scientists of MMSU and Dr Santiago Obien, one of the consultants of the Bureau of Agricultural Research, in the various pigeonpea and sweet sorghum areas at MMSU research station and farmers’ fields.

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EC review panel visits ICRISAT

The European Commission review panel comprising Alistair Orr and Patrick Van Damme visited ICRISAT on 5 December as part of a monitoring and evaluation exercise. The panel especially focused on the work of the Global Theme on Institutions, Markets, Policy and Impacts (GT-IMPI). The series of interactions commenced in Africa where Patrick Van Damme held discussions with West and Central Africa (WCA) scientists in Bamako, Mali on 25 and 26 November. On 30 November and 1 December, Alistair Orr met the Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) team in Nairobi, including Isaac Minde.

EC Review Panel members GT-IMPI team and the National Partners with the members of EC Review Panel.

The GT-IMPI team under the leadership of MCS Bantilan highlighted the significance of the Village Level Studies (VLS), research on markets and innovations, diversification, social networks and climate change. They also stressed upon the importance of International Public Goods (IPGs) and spillovers in determining ICRISAT’s future research priorities. GT-IMPI explained the holistic approach it adopts in addressing prominent socio-economic issues and also arranged for the panel to interact with all the other global themes. DDG-R Dave Hoisington hosted a welcome dinner for the panel, which was attended by scientists from all themes.

Since ICRISAT works in partnership with both national and international bodies for research and development, the final day of the visit in Asia saw a presentation of the collaborative work with partners of GT-IMPI in particular and ICRISAT in general. The presentation had participants from Acharya NG Ranga Agriculture University, Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, who enthusiastically pointed out their contribution in the projects spearheaded by GT-IMPI.

The review ended on a high note with the panel expressing their satisfaction with the blend of sociological components and mainstream economic research. The panel also underscored the relevance of multi-disciplinary and development-oriented research for strategic planning as these would pave the way for potential innovations and subsequent IPGs.

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Training workshop on resource mobilization in the Philippines

Last week, 43 faculty and research staff members from a consortium of six universities in the Cordillera Administrative Region of northern Philippines successfully completed a four-day course on resource mobilization facilitated by Communication Director Rex L Navarro.

training-workshop on resource mobilization in the Philippines
Rex Navarro with participants in the training-workshop on resource mobilization in the Philippines.

Hosted by the Ifugao State University (IfSU), the hands-on course sharpened the knowledge and skills of participants in the conceptualization and development of programs and preparation of winning proposals. The importance of systems, processes and procedures in improving fund-raising and relations with local, national and international funding agencies was also explained.

Each participant was required to draft a concept note and a full proposal on six priority research, development and extension themes of the region. Senior faculty of the Mariano Marcos and Isabela State universities, ICRISAT’s outstanding partners for this year, co-facilitated the course. This course, originally offered by the International Service for National Agricultural Research (ISNAR), was also attended by Rex L Navarro in the Netherlands in 2002. It was also conducted at ICRISAT last year by the original ISNAR trainer, Marian Fuchs, an international resource mobilization consultant.

The province of Ifugao is renowned worldwide since it is the location of the Banaue rice terraces, one of the eight wonders of the world. The Banaue rice terraces are one of the three man-made structures visible from the moon.

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ICRISAT Day celebrated in Matopos

CRISAT-Bulawayo celebrated its Annual Day on 7 December at ‘The Farmhouse’, a lovely retreat in the Matopos hills. After breakfast, staff members divided into teams to compete for the ICRISAT cup. The sporting activities consisted of netball, volleyball, 100 meter sprint, and relay races before the erratic rains of the semi-arid tropics made an appearance, forcing staff members to go indoors for the afternoon.

But that was not really a damper! Staff members danced the afternoon away to the latest tunes played by a local DJ. The day concluded after a few speeches that thanked and honored our partners and neighbors such as Matopos Research Station, the police station, as well as staff members who have served for 20 years such as Juliet Ndlovu, Communications Associate, and Johnson Masuku, Driver. It was an incredibly happy day and set the tone for the upcoming Christmas season.

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ICRISAT-WCA celebrates Annual Day 2009

ICRISAT-WCA celebrated its Annual Day 2009 at Sadoré station on 14 December. It was not only a great occasion to look back on a labor intensive and successful year, and to honor staff members, but also a time for some sports following the motto: “Mens sana in corpore sano”.

Farid Waliyar
Farid Waliyar addressing the team.

In his address to the staff members, Farid Waliyar, Director-WCA said, “Together we have succeeded in improving the conditions at Sadoré significantly. Salaries have been raised, new staff members were hired, and at the same time, general costs, especially on electricity have been reduced.” He pointed out that all this would not have been possible without the support from Director General Dr William Dar. About challenges such as climate change and the institutional changes of the CGIAR, Waliyar demonstrated confidence that ICRISAT-WCA is well prepared for the future and the strategy planning of 2010. New projects such as the microdosing project supported by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa are the first milestones, he said.

A very personal milestone was set by Laure Anthony, Senior Associate in the Finance Office, who received her distinction for 25 years at ICRISAT. The uncontested winner of the Annual Day trophy was “Hassane’s team” with two landslide victories. It is rumoured that it was not only the winner’s performance but also the losers’ strategy that led to these results. After all, everybody at WCA wants to stay friends with team captain Hassane Amadou who is the Head of Finance at ICRISAT- WCA!

While the young and the feeling-young ones fought over the leather ball, the more experienced ones competed in Scrabble and Belote, a French 32-card trick-taking game. In between, Pétanque, a game where the goal is to throw hollow metal balls as close as possible to a small wooden ball, was played. Originally a man’s game, Adama Djibou braved the masculine dominance and was hard to beat. Later, Tobias Dierks, Regional Information Officer, gave a demonstration of self defence techniques. He was joined by Hadjara Ressy who had done Taek Won Do in previous years. Together they demonstrated that force is not about physical strength but about proper techniques. This is true for martial arts and for science.

In a hilarious skit, Adamou Moumkaila and Lennart Woltering enacted a conversation between a deaf village chief and a visitor. In the play, the deaf chief tries to describe people from ICRISAT with the help of his hands and feet. There was laughter all around.

After 37 years, ICRISAT, like an old tree, is deeply rooted in the semi-arid tropics. This might be what Waliyar had in mind when at an earlier occasion he suggested planting of saplings in front of the main entrance. Every scientist and staff member has now planted their own small tree on the campus.

WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures

WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures   WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures
WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures   WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures
WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures   WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures
WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures   WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures   WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures
WCA and Bulawayo Annual Days in pictures

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Bill Gates and Gebisa Ejeta visit BecA in Nairobi

ICRISAT staff members, scientists, technicians and affiliated students – based at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa (BecA) hub in Nairobi were thrilled to receive Bill Gates as a visitor to BecA and other projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in Kenya.

Bill Gates with BecA staff members
Bill Gates with BecA staff members in Nairobi, Kenya.

Bill Gates’ visit to BecA on 4 December focussed on the recently-commissioned research facilities in the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and included a guided tour through the laboratories. He was briefed on the activities of BecA and its CGIAR partners hosted in the hub. BecA scientist Santie de Villiers presented an overview of the projects and also talked about our partners and achievements, including sorghum lines developed through marker assisted breeding. Bill Gates was very interested in the work that ICRISAT does and asked numerous questions that led to lively discussions.

Bill Gates’ visit was followed by the visit of Gebisa Ejeta, winner of the 2009 World Food Prize. Dr Ejeta visited ILRI and BecA on 11 December. He was introduced to staff members during the weekly ILRI Friday morning coffee ceremony and later toured the refurbished laboratory facilities.

Dr Gebisa Ejeta
Dr Gebisa Ejeta sharing his views with BecA staff members.

Dr Ejeta was received by Dan Kiambi and Santie de Villiers, who briefed him on ICRISAT’s work in BecA facilities. Dan elaborated on the activities around sorghum and millet marker-assisted breeding. He also explained the introgression of Striga resistance quantitative trait locus (QTL) gene into Kenyan, Sudanese and Malian sorghum and that of Staygreen QTLs into sorghums locally adapted and preferred by Ethiopian and Kenyan farmers. Dr Ejeta also discussed the efforts of our scientists in mapping sorghum midge resistance in Kenya.

Santie de Villiers provided an overview of ICRISAT’s biotechnology initiatives on legumes and genetic transformation. Dr Ejeta emphasized that improving the skills of farmers and other stakeholders is one of the most important issues that need to be addressed in Africa.

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Hari C Sharma elected co-chair of IUBS

On 9 October at the general assembly of the International Union of Biological Sciences (IUBS) in Cape Town, South Africa, HC Sharma was elected as Co-Chair of the Biological Consequences of Global Change program of the IUBS. The program encompasses biodiversity, species extinction, alien invasions, migration, climate change, and food security.

IUBS is considered the highest authority in biological sciences research under the auspices of the International Council of Scientific Unions (ICSU). IUBS is also the highest body that approves international laws on biological nomenclature and bioethics. Hari Sharma participated as a scientific member of the council of IUBS. He is the President of the International Congress of Entomology (ICE) and a Governing Board Member of the International Congress of Plant Protection.

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Training on screening for resistance to Helicoverpa

In response to a request from the All India Chickpea and Pigeonpea Improvement Projects, ICRISAT organized a training program on Techniques to Screen for Resistance to Helicoverpa from 3 to 11 December at Patancheru. The program was funded by the Technology Mission on Oilseeds, Pulses and Maize (TMOP) of the Government of India and was attended by 12 participants from India and one from Kenya. Five participants from ICRISAT also took part in the training program.

participants of the training course on techniques to screen for resistance to Helicoverpa
DDG-R Dave Hoisington with the participants of the training course on techniques to screen for resistance to Helicoverpa.

CLL Gowda, Global Leader for Crop Improvement, welcomed the participants and Anil Pratap Singh, Assistant Director, Ministry of Agriculture, addressed the participants on behalf of TMOP. DDG-R Dave Hoisington inaugurated the training course on 3 December.

Dave Hoisington, stressing the need to fight the ravages of Helicoverpa armigera, said, “It has the ability to feed and multiply on more than 200 plant species, causing an estimated loss of US$927 million in chickpea and pigeonpea, and over US$2 billion in other crops in the semi-arid tropics, despite application of insecticides costing over US$500 million annually.” Because of widespread and indiscriminate use of insecticides, Helicoverpa has developed high levels of resistance to commonly used insecticides, he stated. The DDG-R called for alternative ways of control, such as exploiting host plant resistance (HPR) through introgression of genes from cultivated germplasm and wild relatives of crops using conventional and molecular marker-assisted selection and genetic engineering.

Highlighting the importance of host plant resistance, the course coordinator, HC Sharma, emphasized the need for long-term efforts to develop crop cultivars with resistance to this pest. He talked about identification of genotypes with diverse resistance mechanisms and about pyramiding resistance genes into locally adapted cultivars. Tapping resistance genes from wild relatives, and combining the phosphocarrier protein HPr with Cry toxin genes from Bt, soybean trypsin inhibitor and plant lectins are also viable options in pest management.

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CPWF concludes in South Africa

The final meeting of the South African arm of the Challenge Program for Water and Food (CPWF) was held in Polokwane, South Africa, on 25 November. Close to 100 project participants attended the workshop including 20 farmers from each of the three project districts. Representatives of the Limpopo Department of Agriculture, Agricultural Research Council (ARC), and Progress Milling were also present. Moses Siambi, CPWF-PN1 Project Leader, attended the workshop.

CPWF aims to increase water productivity in the Limpopo basin in a manner that is environmentally sustainable. The program operates in Mozambique, South Africa and Zimbabwe and tests water harvesting technologies such as tied ridges and drought-tolerant varieties. The meeting was opened by a representative of the Members of the Executive Council, who said that the regional leadership was excited about the project’s results and was willing to provide funds to continue project activities. Members got to know of new varieties of maize, groundnut, and sorghum as well as water harvesting technologies.

Farmers in Sekukhune district on the other hand liked the drought-tolerant Macia variety of sorghum that they had used during the trials and the Extension department promised to help farmers multiply these seeds. Timothy Simalenga of ARC informed the participants that plans were underway for Phase II and that a meeting will be held soon.

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