No. 1394 24 December 2009

ICRISAT-Bamako and Nairobi celebrate Annual Days

Annual Day celebrations Team ICRISAT at the Annual Day celebrations in Bamako, Mali.

ICRISAT-Bamako celebrated Annual Day at le Lagon along the Niger River outside Bamako on 18 December. It was an occasion to look back on a successful year, and to honor staff members who have served the institute for several years.

In his address, Bonny Ntare, Country Representative-Mali reiterated the accomplishments of the year, including the addition of new staff in the SEEDS project of the West Africa Seed Alliance (WASA).

He welcomed those who will be joining in January 2010 and pointed out the successful organization of international meetings, including the one with the Governing Board. He said that the meetings were widely covered by the local print and electronic media. He emphasized that all this was due to the hard work of staff members and the encouragement and support of the management, especially Director General William Dar and Director WCA Farid Waliyar.

Richard Jones Richard Jones addressing his troops in Nairobi.

Amadou Sidibe, the Chair of the Personnel Council, enlivened the occasion with rib tickling tales that kept everyone laughing. Staff members took part in a number of games including chess, ludo, cards, and pentaque. The winners were presented with gifts.

Four staff members received distinction for 20 years of loyal service to ICRISAT. They were: Eva Weltzien Rattunde (Principal Scientist- Sorghum breeding), Abi Ouattara Diarra (Associate Secretary), Ibrahima Sissoko (Senior Scientific Officer - Sorghum breeding) and Boubacar Camara (Research Technician). They were all commended for this personal milestone and their dedication to ICRISAT. The ceremony was concluded with a splendid meal.

Nyama Choma lunch Nyama Choma lunch.

ICRISAT-Nairobi celebrated the 37th Annual Day on 11 December by hosting a ‘Nyama Choma’ lunch for all staff members and selected invitees in a specially-erected tent on the International Center for Research in Agroforestry campus. The master of ceremonies for the event, Richard B Jones, Assistant Director Eastern and Southern Africa, gave an overview of a very successful “Vintage Year” at ICRISAT before handing out the loyalty awards to long-serving staff members.

The group then bade farewell to Marcel van den Berg and Bekele Shiferaw and presented them with gifts in appreciation of their contribution to the institute. Marcel will be joining the International Fertilizer Development Center in January as the Chief of Party of the Agricultural Input Market Strengthening Project based in Maputo, Mozambique, while Bekele has been appointed Director of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) Economics Program and will continue to be based in Nairobi, Kenya. ICRISAT staff members were joined by partners from Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and Citizens Network for Foreign Affairs, as well as personnel from Bunson Tours and Travel, and Ecomedia, who had provided valuable support throughout the year.

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Global consultation on ICT in agricultural R&D

Communication experts from 25 countries and 7 international organizations gathered in Patancheru from 7 to 11 December to discuss the critical role that contemporary Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and information management can play in improving global food security. The smallholder farmer was in focus.

Our DG came up with the idea of a get-together of senior experts to discuss today’s challenges and opportunities. The Global Forum for Agriculture Research (GFAR) accepted to join in, along with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI). An action agenda on information and communication management in Agricultural Research and Development (ARD) was the expected outcome. The discussions will be presented in the Global Conference on Agricultural Research and Development (GCARD) 2010.

For a start, there were no symposium-style presentations during the consultations. Less than 30 minutes was spent on PowerPoint presentations. Instead, there was a marketplace where any participant could display a poster or a product or a prototype and could use subsequent group meetings to pitch the item. The workshop was soft-launched at dinner on 7 December. DDG-R Dave Hoisington, standing in for the DG, emphasized the increasing intensity of information and knowledge sharing processes in ARD. Ajit Maru of GFAR and Stephen Rudgard of FAO outlined their expectations. A Srinivas of APAARI also spoke at the launch. At ICRISAT, Knowledge Management and Sharing (KMS) was the hosting group.


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Huge potential of sweet sorghum

TThe diverse possibilities of sweet sorghum were recently discovered by participants of the sweet sorghum workshop, conducted by ICRISAT and (IER) Institute d’Economie Rurale at the Samanko research station in Mali. The workshop, which was conducted as part of the ICRISAT/IFAD Biofuels Project, focused on sweet sorghum as a multi-purpose crop. International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has a strong tie-up with ICRISAT for developing systems that increase agricultural productivity and income for rural populations.

Participants of the sweet sorghum workshop
Participants of the sweet sorghum workshop in Samanko.

Because of its modest grain yield potential, sweet sorghum (viewed simply as a ‘snack crop’) is traditionally relegated to a small section of the cultivation fields. Farmers in Mali have started to change their views after discovering that the new experimental sweet sorghum varieties can not only be processed into a variety of foodstuffs, but also into ethanol.

Participants at the workshop in November included the collaborative scientists, A Boubacar and M Sidibé of IER, a representative of the biodiesel conversion plant Malibiocarburant and a representative of a sugarcane plant in Dougabougou, which produces bio-ethanol for medicinal purposes. Other visitors included farmers from Koutiala and Kati, representatives of the agricultural department of the Segou area and two NGOs (AMEDD and AEDR Teryabugu), which are active partners of ICRISAT and IER in Mali.

Visitors were surprised by the diversity of sweet sorghum cultivars at the Samanko research station. They were equally excited about the numerous production objectives, ranging from increasing grain yield and fodder potential to syrup and ethanol production. On show at the workshop was the locally designed sorghum juice press, a concrete proof that local juice production is feasible. All the participants were fascinated by the possibilities of sorghum syrup as a sugar substitute. On subsequent field visits, farmers were introduced to several sorghum germplasm accessions, including IS23541 and IS23566. Farmers showed interest in using bagasse as an alternative energy resource.

Farmers at the workshop revealed their concerns about the poor vitrosity of the grain of the introduced varieties of sweet sorghum, which makes it difficult to convert them into local dishes. K vom Brocke stated that breeders in Mali and India are aware of this concern.To improve the quality of the grain, they have been crossing a range of different sweet and grain sorghums.

Farmers stated that further training and improvement of the juice extraction technology are required. Participants stressed the need for conserving sorghum juice in the village itself. It was explained to the participants that ICRISAT scientists at their headquarters in India are currently working towards creating different options for both the machinery and juice storage, so that syrup could be produced with a long shelf life.

Various tie-ups for the next growing season were proposed during the workshop. The Malibiocarburant representative suggested an association to test out Jatropha and sweet sorghum planting. The department of agriculture proposed to collaborate on a livestock project in the Segou area, while sorghum breeders from the IER Cinzana station agreed to start farm activities with AEDR, an NGO in the far northern Soudanian rainfall zone.

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ICRISAT Germplasm for Svalbard Global Seed Vault

As part of the agreement between ICRISAT and the Nordic Genetic Resource Center (earlier known as the Nordic Gene Bank or NGB), ICRISAT is committed to transferring duplicate seed samples of the 111,000 in-trust accessions to the Svalbard Global Seed Vault over a five-year period. Therefore, seed samples of 20,000 accessions representing the five mandate and two small millet crops were deposited at the Nordic Genetic Resource Center in 2008. Director General Dr William Dar represented ICRISAT at the opening ceremony of the seed vault on 26 February 2008 (Happenings 1299). Similarly, this year the second batch of 23,000 seed samples were dispatched in November and December to the seed vault in Norway.

Hari D Upadhyaya
Hari D Upadhyaya with the 2nd batch shipment of seeds for Svalbard Global Seed Vault, Norway.

These samples were received in excellent condition and shifted to the designated vault chamber. The passport and conservation data on these accessions was successfully uploaded on the public data portal The total number of duplicate samples of ICRISAT germplasm at the seed vault increased to 43,000, representing sorghum (13,000), pearl millet (8,050), chickpea (6,000), pigeonpea (5,000), groundnut (4,550), finger millet (4,400), foxtail millet (1,000), proso millet (600) and little millet (400). Thus, ICRISAT is fulfilling its role in the great initiative of saving global agricultural biodiversity for future generations. ICRISAT acknowledges the support of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), the Nordic Genetic Resource Center and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources, India in this huge task.

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World Bank team visits ICRISAT-Niamey

World Bank’s Prodex team
World Bank’s Prodex team in Niamey.

Moussa Bola, the coordinator of a new World Bank project and his senior team visited ICRISATNiamey on 16 December. The project called PRODEX (Project de Développement des Exportations et des Marches Agro-Sylvo-pastoraux au Niger) aims to alleviate rural poverty in Niger by promoting regional and international exports of the agricultural sector of the country. The main areas to be covered are: livestock and hides, onions, cowpeas, gum arabic and tiger nuts. The promotion of small-scale irrigation is a major target.

Twenty percent of the PRODEX budget (a total of US$40.0 million) will be dedicated to research and training.

In their visit to the Sadoré village, Bola and team were impressed by the activities of the women folk. The Acacia Senegal research, Sahelian Eco Farm, nursery, vegetable research activities and the African Market Garden (AMG) also made an impact on them. Dov Pasternak, Sanjeet Kumar, Lennart Woltering and Albert Nikiema presented the technologies that are ready for dissemination and the ones that require further research. Kumar represented ICRISAT / AVRDCThe World Vegetable Center (formerly the Asian Vegetable Research and Development Center). Bola acknowledged that ICRISAT can contribute greatly to the objectives of the PRODEX project. He was happy to see that the AMG research had evolved a lot since its inception, focusing on communities and using alternative energy with the help of existing infrastructure and resources.

Summing up their visit, the PRODEX team stated that ICRISAT-Niamey is known for its large portfolio of technology options for farmers, which can help them climb out of poverty. They are eager to start formalizing the partnership agreements, they added.


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ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubator receives Villgro award

The Agri-Business Incubator or ABI@ICRISAT has been conferred with the ‘Best Incubator Award 2009’ by the Villgro Foundation at its annual event ‘Unconvention’ in Chennai, held from 10 to 12 December. The event included a conference, innovation fair, business plan competition and awards. It was attended by over 350 high profile delegates.

Team ABI-ICRISAT with clients and partners.

Paul Polak, Founder and President, International Development Enterprise, USA acted as the Chief Guest and handed over the award to SM Karuppanchetty, Deputy COO and Senior Manager, ABI. The award comprises a certificate, a memento and a cash prize of Rs 50,000. Paul Basil, CEO and Founder of Villgro said, “This award is a fitting tribute to the spirit that proudly toils for a better future for the rural poor. It is recognition of the effort to champion a cause with far-reaching societal impact. Villgro salutes the valiant accomplishments that proclaim in one voice: it’s possible.”

Karuppanchetty thanked Villgro for choosing ABI@ICRISAT for the award and said, “This award is unique since it is in synchronization with our vision and goal of helping the poor through innovation, incubation and impact on livelihood. It’s just the beginning and we have a long way to go in supporting entrepreneurs, innovators, farming and rural community.” While thanking Director General Dr William Dar and Kiran Sharma, Head-ABI for their leadership and guidance, he dedicated the award to Team ABI and its clients and partners.

The other nominees for the incubator award include Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (IIMAhmedabad), N S Raghavan Centre for Entrepreneurial Learning (IIM-Bangalore), Mitcon Biotechnology Park, Society for Innovation and Entrepreneurship (IIT Mumbai), PSG - Science & Technology Entrepreneurial Park, and Vellore Institute of Technology– Technology Business Incubator.

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Training Program for Maharashtra and Karnataka Sugarcane Farmers

A two-day introductory training in Principles of Sustainable Sugarcane Initiative (SSI) was given to 30 farmers – 22 from Maharashtra and 8 from Karnataka – at Patancheru on 17 and 18 December. This was conducted as part of the ICRISAT-World Wildlife Fund (WWF) project for promoting farm-based approaches and improving agricultural productivity. The objective of SSI training was to highlight the importance of water and soil conservation, climate change adaptation by farmers, reduction in farm expenditure, and improved yields through better management practices.

ICRISAT-WWF Project team
Participants of the two-day training with the ICRISAT-WWF Project team.

A detailed presentation was made on the different principles of SSI by Loganandhan, the visiting scientist, and members of the ICRISAT-WWF Project. Later, the participants were taken for a brief tour of the ICRISAT campus after which Loganandhan and Manisha Agarwal, Communication Officer, ICRISAT-WWF Project, held an interactive meeting with some of the farmers. Details of the participating farmers were gathered by distributing questionnaires.

On the second day, the farmers were taken to the research station of Acharya N G Ranga Agricultural University in Basanthpur and were introduced to several varieties grown on the experimental fields for making sugar and jaggery. Different machines being used for various levels of sugarcane cultivation were also described. They were then taken to visit the sugarcane fields of Panduranga Reddy, a progressive SSI farmer of Zaheerabad town in Medak district. There they got to see the mechanized bud chipper in action and the preparation of trays in the nursery. Farmers also saw the harvesting of cane in the fields.


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ABI scouts for agripreuneurs

The Agri-Business Incubator conducted one day camp at ICRISAT on 19 December to identify potential entrepreneurs in Agri-Business for its Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise (MSME) incubation scheme to extend the incubation support.

Prospective agripreuneurs with ABI-ICRISAT team.

Recently, ABI has been selected by Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise as one of the incubators to implement their scheme Support for Entrepreneurial and Managerial Development of SME through Incubators. Under the scheme potential entrepreneurs will be selected and given financial assistance in the form of grants to develop their innovative ideas and technologies into a small-scale viable venture with support from the incubator. The scheme provides early stage funding for nurturing innovative business ideas that could be commercialized.

Around 70 participants attended the camp, wherein 25 innovative business ventures were screened. ABI formed a technical committee comprising Kannan, Advisor on Venture Capital Funding from Chennai, Logananathan from WWF, Kiran Sharma and Karuppanchetty for evaluation of the proposals.

Eleven proposals were selected for the incubation support scheme. Some of the innovations include Kisan Mitra e-card, hydraulic agro digger, steviaroid, Electric Tractor and Quail Farming.

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