No. 1400 05 February 2010

Towards 2020: ESA Realigns Regional Priorities

ESA retreat Participants of the ESA in-house retreat in Nairobi.

“We are in an exponentially changing world. How are we as a research institute going to adapt to that?”

ICRISAT scientists in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) attempted to answer this question posed by DDG-R David Hoisington in his opening remarks during the ESA in-house strategic planning retreat on 1-3 February in Nairobi, Kenya. This was the third and last regional in-house retreat of ICRISAT, which kicked off in Patancheru three weeks ago.

ICRISAT-ESA Director Said Silim encouraged the group to think beyond individual research priorities. “Think of what we can do rather than what I can do,” he said.

After setting the scene, ESA scientists began to delve into details by listing the major drivers and trends that impact agriculture in the region as well as defining some of the strategic challenges and options available to the Institute in addressing them.

ESA retreat Governing Board Chair Nigel Poole speaks at the retreat.

On the final day of the retreat, the ESA team looked at the implications and changes required for the Institute to be effective. This then led to defining possible research thrusts for the region in the areas of crop improvement, science-based influence on policy, building systems resilience and adaptive capacities of dryland communities and markets.

Since this was the final in-house retreat, the steering committee was able to provide a quick assessment of the three retreats that showed significant complementarities of results among all three locations.

Governing Board (GB) Chair Nigel Poole and GB Member Molapo Qhobela actively participated in the three-day retreat. “Molapo and I are very impressed by the enthusiasm and knowledge of the ESA scientists and their desire to revise a strategy to further help the poor. The ‘Yes we can’ attitude was really impressive,” Nigel Poole said.

The process in its entirety was judged to be a success. The participants appreciated the highly participatory nature and the open and relaxed atmosphere of the retreat.

Jurgen Hagmann who facilitated the event was also pleased with the outcome. “It is rare to have such a clear, rigorous, transparent process. I congratulate you on that,” he said.

The expert consultancy retreat will be held in Patancheru from 23 to 25 February 2010.

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ESA Director Said Silim listening to a presentation.   MCS Bantilan observing the proceedings.

ESA in-house retreat in pictures

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  ESA retreat

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Symposium on the use of high science tools in watershed management

Symposium on water management
Rita Sinha speaks at the symposium. Drs Prabhat Kumar, Rex Navarro and Suhas Wani are also present.

Senior policy makers and officials of various states participated in a national symposium on the Use of high science tools in integrated watershed management held in Delhi on 1 and 2 February. The two-day event was coordinated by ICRISAT’s GT-AES team led by Suhas P Wani along with ICRISAT-Delhi Office.

Other co-sponsors were the Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development, Sir Dorabji Tata Trust, Sir Ratan Tata Trust and the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).

In his inaugural speech, Director General William Dar thanked all partners in the Integrated Watershed Management Program (IWMP) and declared, “Watershed development programs implemented throughout India are silently revolutionizing the productivity of rainfed agriculture. Amidst this success, there is an urgent need for us to use new science tools for research planning, implementation, monitoring and evaluation in order to enhance impact.”

Dr Dar then challenged participants to help wage a second Green Revolution on behalf of all peoples of the developing world, especially the poor. His speech was delivered by Communication Director Rex Navarro.

Also during the opening program, Rita Sinha, Secretary, Department of Land Resources, acknowledged the strategic role of high science tools in IWMP and advocated bringing watershed management innovations to farmers and policy makers. She also recognized the impact of the comprehensive assessment of watershed programs in India, that was done by ICRISAT and partner Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) institutions. She released three ICRISAT publications marking the occasion.

Drs Suhas Wani and Prabhat Kumar underscored the importance of community watersheds in improving the predominantly rainfed agriculture of India and the need to deploy high science tools in this initiative.

Attended by 70 participants, the symposium aimed to:

  • Bring together learnings, and potential and actual experiences of practitioners using high science tools that benefit rainfed agriculture.
  • Sensitize senior policy makers to the potential of high science tools for increasing the impact of IWMP in India.
  • recommendations on harnessing high science tools for the effective and efficient implementation of IWMP.

The above mentioned objectives were attained through the 15 technical papers presented in five technical sessions and group discussions during the symposium. Among others, participants recommended that ICRISAT lead a national consortium to operationalize common guidelines critical to the success of the IWMP.

In a related development, the new Director General of ICAR, Dr S Ayyappan, called a meeting with all CGIAR Centers that have offices in Delhi. The focus of this meeting was to discuss present and future collaborative projects with ICAR. ICRISAT was represented in this meeting by Drs Rex Navarro, S Wani and P Kumar. Rex Navarro made a presentation on ICRISAT’s partnership with ICAR. A joint meeting between ICRISAT and ICAR will be held on 10-11 March.

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Madhya Pradesh farmers train at ICRISAT

A three-day training program for 70 farmers of Madhya Pradesh state was organized on 25 January at Patancheru. This training of farmers from Shajapur, Raisen, Sagar, Sehore, Vidisha, Barwani, Indore, Guna, Mandla and Jhabua districts was facilitated by the Sir Ratan Tata Trust and Sir Dorabji Tata Trust that support programs on Enhancing Agricultural Productivity in Madhya Pradesh. ICRISAT’s NGO partners also accompanied the farmers.

SP Wani, GT-AES Regional Coordinator welcomed the farmers and advised them to make maximum use of the visit and serve as ICRISAT ambassadors. He also urged them to share integrated watershed management technologies with fellow farmers in their respective villages. The program included topics such as watershed, land and water management, integrated nutrient management, improved crop management, integrated pest management and a demonstration of improved farm implements.

Madhya Pradesh farmers training
SP Wani addressing farmers from Madhya Pradesh.

This was followed by a visit to Adarsha watershed, Kothapally village on 27 January. In the village, the farmers observed various interventions, including soil and water conservation, groundwater recharging, improved crop varieties and livelihood initiatives, and interacted with the local community. The farmers appreciated the success of the Kothapally farmers. They expressed that the visit to Kothapally was an eye opener and excellent learning opportunity, as Madhya Pradesh is endowed with better rainfall and soils as compared to Kothapally. In the first session, farmers shared their experiences and sought clarifications from the team of scientists and scientific officers.

They also thanked ICRISAT for providing them with a great opportunity to learn about enhancing crop productivity. The farmers were able to understand more about improving their livelihoods through the community watershed approach for sustainable development.

The watershed team, comprising P Pathak, GV Ranga Rao, Piara Singh, G Pardhasaradhi, LS Jangawad, R Sudi, DS Prasada Rao and M Babu Rao, conducted the training-cum-exposure visit.

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ICRISAT completes major revision of AGROVOC

Over the past year ICRISAT has been working with the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) to revise and refine the terms in the agricultural thesaurus AGROVOC, which is available in 19 languages. The thesaurus was upgraded to a set of conceptual relations and the first phase of the work has been successfully completed.

Congratulating the team members on the completion of a very knowledge intensive work, FAO’s Senior Expert Gudrun Johannsen wrote - “Let me thank you so much for the excellent work the AGROVOC team has done on the revision of AGROVOC. We all know that it has not been an easy task, and without your outstanding effort it would not have been possible to achieve our goal to convert AGROVOC into a Concept Server.”

FAO has granted ICRISAT a second phase of the project to see AGROVOC converted into a full-fledged Ontology. The team members involved are Lavanya, Bharati, Sabitha, Deepak, Fathima and Gerard Sylvester under the guidance of V Balaji.

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Japanese scientists visit ICRISAT

Two Japanese scientists Dr Hisato Okuizumi, Genebank Chief Researcher of the National Institute of Agrobiological Sciences (NIAS), Tsukuba Ibaraki, and Dr Tomoyuki Takai of the National Agricultural Research Center for Kyushu Okinawa Region, Kumamoto and two students of Dr Hisato from the Tokyo University of Sciences, Tatsuya Sasguchi and Takuya Fujita are on a visit to ICRISAT from 1 to 9 February.

japanese visitors
Dr William Dar with Japanese scientists. Hari Upadhyaya is also present.

The visitors are at ICRISAT to discuss the evaluation of sorghum mini core collection in Japan, genotyping mini core collection and quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping, sorghum breeding including A and B lines with a brown midrib (bmr) gene, sorghum diseases, and hands-on training of Tatsuya Sasguchi and Takuya Fujita in characterizing sorghum germplasm using the mini core collection developed at ICRISAT.

The Japanese visitors paid a courtesy visit to Director General Dr William Dar with Hari Upadhyaya, Head, Genebank. The visitors updated the Director General on their research work and the benefits of the sorghum mini core collection in identifying germplasm lines useful for their breeding programs. They expressed a desire to work in tandem with ICRISAT in publishing the results of mini core evaluation in Japan as well as that in ICRISAT. Dr Dar appreciated their work and interest and hoped that the current research would provide the base for greater collaborative projects in future.

The wrap-up meeting with CLL Gowda, Global Theme leader, Crop Improvement and other scientists is scheduled to be held early next week.


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Commercializing low fat snacks' from NutriPlus

Agri-Science Park @ ICRISAT is all set to sign a Memorandum of Agreement with the Aricha Trading Co. Ltd. The Kolkata-based Aricha is part of one of the oldest business houses in India – the JALAN Group. Aricha’s mission is to provide the purest and the healthiest food to consumers. They have an established export market in organic produce.

Nutri plus low fat snacks
Pearl millet and sorghum crispies.

Aricha now plans to expand its operations into the processed food market, especially the premium health food snacks segment with a focus on organics, in India and abroad. As part of this initiative a team from Aricha led by Vishal Jalan, Managing Director, and NC Banerjee, Quality and Assurance Head, visited ICRISAT on 29 January and had detailed discussions with Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Abdul Rahman Ilyas and team. This is a follow-up visit by Aricha. They had earlier evaluated various new product ideas and shortlisted the ‘low fat snacks’ developed at NutriPlus with pearl millet and sorghum as major ingredients.

A collaborative research activity was discussed wherein a test batch will be prepared and evaluated, paving the way for commercialization of the product to get continued support. Apart from this, Aricha is also keen to develop new products with NutriPlus. The latter will focus on developing value added organic snack products, beverages and other processed items for Aricha.


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NutriPlus seminar on food products quality

Nutriplus Seminar participants
participants of the NutriPlus seminar in patancheru.

A one day interactive seminar on Emerging technologies/equipment to be used for grains, flour, food and feed extruded products was organized on 5 February at Patancheru by the NutriPlus Knowledge Center, Agri-Science Park @ ICRISAT (ASP).

The seminar was held to create awareness among scientists, researchers and members of the food industry about the quality of extruded food products, and also to introduce and discuss the latest technologies in the field of quality control. The seminar was attended by the team members of NutriPlus, ASP, Farm Engineering and Transport Services, Global Theme-Crop Improvement, representatives of universities, food industry and students of food science and technology.

Detailed discussions followed by demonstrations of equipment were held to explain two important technologies – the Near Infra Red (NIR) analyzer and the Rapid Visco Analyzer (RVA). These instruments can be used to monitor the quality of the extruded products. The seminar was organized in association with SDS Ltd., New Delhi and Perten Instruments, Sweden. The participants got hands-on exposure on both instruments.

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Smallholder farmers link up with markets in Asia

Skyrocketing fuel prices and the urgent demand for alternate sources of fuel has sparked critical thinking among many governments in Asia. For instance, India, Thailand and China are investing heavily to enhance their energy security through biofuels and reduction of carbon emissions and environmental pollution. While there are new market opportunities, the bioenergy revolution could marginalize the poor, degrade the environment as well as raise food prices if appropriate crops and production technologies are not used. In this context, sweet sorghum is a smart crop that does not compete with food production, produces food as well as fuel, and enhances food production under the right management.

With this as the backdrop, a project Enhanced livelihood opportunities of smallholders in Asia: linking smallholder sweet sorghum farmers to the bio-ethanol industry has been approved and will be implemented in India, Thailand and China over four years. An agreement has been signed to this effect by ICRISAT, the Intergovernmental Group on Grains (represented by FAO) and the Amsterdam-based Common Fund for Commodities (CFC).

CFC has approved a grant of US$1,997,579 for this project with ICRISAT as the implementing agency. Collaborating institutions are the Sorghum Research Institute of China, the Field Crops Research Institute, Department of Agriculture, Thailand and the Sorghum Research Station, Marathwada Agricultural University, India. The objective of the project is to improve the livelihoods of sorghum farmers and their families by establishing a sustainable commodity chain among farmers, development workers, NGOs and distilleries for increased sweet sorghum and ethanol production.

The aim is to increase the area of sweet sorghum cultivation to 1,500 hectares by the end of the project. This would directly benefit at least 2,000 farmers in each participating country. This will be pursued through a centralized model within a 50 km radius and an additional 200 hectares each in India and Thailand through a decentralized model beyond the 50 km radius, benefiting another 200 farmers in each of these countries.

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