No. 1401 12 February 2010

BioAsia 2010: DG Calls for a Paradigm Shift in Bio-Innovations

BioAsia 2010 Dr William Dar speaks at the valedictory function of BioAsia 2010.

Encouraging scientists to forge partnerships and innovate for social and economic upliftment, Director General William Dar called for a paradigm shift in bio-innovations. He said this in his valedictory address to the seventh consecutive edition of BioAsia 2010, at the Hyderabad International Convention Centre on 6 February.

Inaugurated by
K Rosaiah, the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh, BioAsia 2010 attracted more than 4,000 delegates that included entrepreneurs, senior executives of leading biotechnology companies, eminent scientists from R&D institutions and universities, investors and other industry experts to explore global business tie-ups.

The four-day forum on global bio business was organized by the Government of Andhra Pradesh, Federation of Asian Biotech Associations (FABA), University of Hyderabad and the All India Biotech Association. The forum was supported by 12 organizations, including ICRISAT and the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India.

Stressing the need for using scientific tools to mitigate adverse effects of climate change, Dr Dar said, “Biotechnology has already delivered improved crops, and there is greater promise in harnessing genetic and molecular processes for humanity much more for the poor. In addition, advances in information and communication technology are facilitating countries’ participation in science innovation.”

BioAsia 2010 Dr Dar releasing publications at BioAsia 2010.

Calling for greater investments in research and development for economic growth, Dr Dar said that increasing the profile of science and technology in developing countries would help policymakers understand how science innovations can help reduce poverty.

During the occasion Dr Dar also released two publications, Grant Thorton’s report on funding options for drug discovery companies and Biotech under public and private partnership model.

KK Sharma, Principal Scientist (Cell & Molecular Biology) was the convener of the conferences on the agri-biotech track. He also presented a lecture on the Role of public–private partnerships in overcoming the challenges of the development and commercialization of biotech crop and chaired the sessions on Biotech Crops: Development & Commercialization Challenges and Biosafety Regulations on Biotech Crops in India and Intellectual Property Rights. “It is important to discuss the potential of this field, so that researchers get to know the needs of entrepreneurs and can help provide more cutting edge solutions,” he said.

BioAsia 2010   BioAsia 2010
Team ICRISAT at the ICRISAT stall.   KK Sharma with participants of the agri-biotech track.

The Agri-Business Incubator (ABI) at ICRISAT also took part in the exhibition that showcased modern inventions and success stories. ABI’s stall attracted numerous scientists and biotech students who posed several queries on the incubation facilities at ICRISAT. SM Karuppanchetty, Deputy COO of ABI, said he was delighted to see young innovators come up with diverse applications of biotech.

On the sidelines of the conference, Abdul Rahman Ilyas, COO and Rudraraju Purushotham of Agri-Science Park@ICRISAT participated in the focused B2B meeting organized by the Federation of Andhra Pradesh Chambers of Commerce and Industry.


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ICRISAT and EC to strengthen ties

European Commission at ICRISAT
Dr William Dar meets members of the European Commission with CLL Gowda and Belum VS Reddy.

Mrs Maeve Rute, Director for Food, Agriculture and Fisheries and Biotechnologies Research, European Commission visited ICRISAT on 5 February. She was accompanied by staff members from her directorate, John Claxton and Piero Venturi, Philippe de Taxis du Poet, Science Counselor at the Delegation of the European Union to India, and Indraneel Ghose, Science and Technology Analyst, European Commission (EC) in India.

ICRISAT is implementing an EC funded project on SweetFuel.The four year project is being executed by Centre de Coopération Internationale en Recherche pour le Développement (CIRAD), France and ICRISAT are leading one of the sub-projects on sweet sorghum. On behalf of the sorghum team, Belum Reddy presented the progress made in the area of sweet sorghum under the SweetFuel project work package (WP 2), which deals with the crop’s adaptation to drought. P Parthasarathy Rao made a presentation on The integrated assessment of sweet sorghum as feedstock for ethanol including value chain (WP 6).The EC team appreciated the progress made in sweet sorghum under the sub-project.

The team met Director General Dr William Dar and discussed future collaborative research between ICRISAT and EC. On behalf of the visiting team, Maeve emphasized the EC’s enhanced collaboration with India in the areas of energy crops including sweet sorghum, nutrition, and exchange programs wherein EC scientists work in India and vice-versa. Dr Dar pointed out that ICRISAT can be a platform to leverage networking partnerships with Indian universities and national agricultural systems. He further outlined priority areas such as climate change and mitigation strategies and their improvements in Asia and Africa where the major section of the poor live. He emphasized the common interests of ICRISAT and EC with respect to India and other parts of semi-arid tropics in Africa. He appreciated the EC support in funding a part of ICRISAT’s sweet sorghum program.

Rajeev Varshney, Principal Scientist GT-BT, apprised the delegates about activities in biotechnology both in genomics and genetic engineering. The EC delegates also visited the Agri-Business Incubator and were highly impressed with ICRISAT’s turnaround during the last decade, the facilities it had built up and the enthusiasm it showed to partners on common research agenda.


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NutriPlus at National Food Security Convention

Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Technical Director, NutriPlus Knowledge Center, Agri-Science Park@ICRISAT was the invited speaker at the National Convention of Food Security and Preservation organized by the department of Food Technology and Management of the Loyola Academy Degree and PG College, Hyderabad on 28 January. Speaking on the topic Trends in Ready to Eat (RTE) traditional foods, he pointed out that the RTE traditional foods segment is undergoing a revolution, in trying to align itself with the latest trend of health and wellness in the food industry. In this context, he reviewed the existing products and technologies available in the Indian market, the latest trends, and the ways to further align this segment with the health and wellness movement. He touched upon future trends based on food crisis and climate change and the need to tap the traditional RTE foods segment for the benefit of the masses.

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Chinese University keen on ICRISAT’s water saving technologies

The Northwest A&F University (NWAFU), Yangling, China signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with ICRISAT for collaboration in the fields of teaching, training and research for development. The NWAFU is the Chinese national platform for research in dryland farming and a designated demonstration zone for arid and semi-arid agriculture.

MOU signing
Peter Ninnes and Sun Wuxue signing the MOU.

Peter Ninnes, Director, Resource Planning & Marketing, representing Director General Dr William Dar, and Sun Wuxue, President of the university, signed the MOU at Patancheru on 9 February. The five-member team consisting of Yang Gaihe, Jia Zhikuan, Xue Jiquan and Luo Jun led by Sun Wuxue were on a three-day visit to Patancheru.

While the MOU facilitates collaborative workplans, exploration of joint funding activities and exchange of scientific materials and publications, the university sought ICRISAT’s help in introducing water saving technologies and breeding for drought resistant varieties in the dryland Shaanxi province.

Wishing a long and fruitful relation with ICRISAT, Sun Wuxue said, “We will soon have a concrete workplan for collaboration in the areas identified. However we wish that ICRISAT establishes a regional center for semi-arid farming in our Shaanxi province.” While describing the current collaboration with China, Peter Ninnes mentioned ICRISAT’s support to the Center of Excellence for Dryland Agriculture (CEDA) established under the aegis of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. CEDA was inaugurated in Beijing on 4 August 2009.

Future areas of collaboration between ICRISAT and NWAFU will include the introduction of pigeonpea as a new crop in North-West China, reciprocal visits of scientists in areas related to socio-economics, biotechnology, and crop improvement, and the introduction of improved germplasm of sweet sorghum and groundnut for testing. Also, NWAFU will be considered for the establishment of a CEDA center. Furthermore, graduate students from NWAFU could conduct thesis research at ICRISAT in any one of the 3 regions.

Rex Navarro, CLL Gowda and MCS Bantilan were also present at the meeting.

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Efforts to conserve rain water recognized

The Andhra Pradesh Environment Connect (APEC), a Hyderabad-based networking platform recognized the efforts of Murli M Sharma, Manager, Visitors Services in conserving rain water, and bestowed him with the “Environmentalist worth Emulating” award at a function in the Exhibition Society building on 31 January. Dr VP Dimri, Director of the National Geophysical Research Institute, Uppal was also felicitated.

Sharma received this award for his pioneering initiative in rainwater conservation by incorporating its principles while building his house at Secunderabad in 1995. The award includes a shawl and a citation. Sharma, whose deeds encouraged many others, including fellow staff members to build water conserving houses in and around the twin cities, dedicates this award to his mentor Professor David Sen of University of Jodhpur and to ICRISAT.

Team ICRISAT congratulates Sharma on this award.


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AMGs significantly improve diet and incomes in West Africa

The lives of people in the rural Kalale district of northern Benin (West Africa) have improved radically due to the African Market Garden (AMG) developed by ICRISAT. In the first year, rural women producers succeeded in enhancing household incomes and nutritional intake of their community. Stanford University and ICRISAT-Niger recently published the results of the socio-economic study in the proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

African Market Garden
Queen of African Market Garden in Benin..

It all started in 2007, when an American NGO, Solar Electric Light Fund (SELF), started the solar powered African Market Garden project to boost vegetable production from community gardens in Kalale. Water pumping in these gardens works entirely on solar energy and the force of gravity. Solar energy is reliable, sustainable and running costs are very low. As solar radiation increases so does transpiration, but pumping capacity also increases with increased radiation, fully compensating for the increased water demand. On top of that, water is applied to the field in the most efficient way, through drip irrigation.

The women and young girls are very happy as they do not have to spend hours fetching water to irrigate their fields anymore. Now they could increase their plots from 20 to 120 m2, while using half of the time they earlier spent hand-irrigating the fields.

More than 80% of the produce from solar irrigated AMGs was sold in the market; the rest was consumed by farm families. As a result, vegetable consumption reached the daily allowance recommended by the US Department of Agriculture. In financial terms, the women made an average US$200 per year from a plot of 120 square meters. With the extra income, they significantly increased their purchase of staples, pulses, oils and proteins.

Lennart Woltering, scientist at ICRISAT-WCA said, “Solar pumping and drip irrigation are two cutting edge technologies that were adapted and combined to fit the needs of the poor. This successful marriage proved very powerful as energy is the most limiting factor in irrigation. I see a bright future in the development of this technology as prices of solar equipment go down fast.”

Encouraged by the successful outcome, Dov Pasternak, Head of Crops and Systems Diversification ICRISAT-WCA added, “We have been supporting these women for more than 2 years, providing training, technical support and especially superior vegetable seeds that we have selected and multiplied. All these changed their lives. Year round availability of healthy vegetables has benefitted many families in the entire district. The women produce 12 times more than before. They are making money, they are feeding theirs and many other children and they are healthy.”

Based on the success of this project, ICRISAT was able to receive finances from the US African Development Foundation to install more models of the AMG, using alternative energy sources in Niger and to receive support for expanding the project in Benin to four more villages.

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Workshop on orange fleshed sweet potato organized

Nutriplus Seminar participants
participants of the NutriPlus seminar in patancheru.

Following the tripartite MOU between ICRISAT, CIP (International Potato Centre) and Rudraram Research Institute for Agricultural Sciences (RRIAS), a consultation workshop on Orange fleshed sweet potato crop value chain development: Partnerships for improving nutrition and livelihood security was organized on 10 February at Patancheru.

Orange fleshed sweet potato (OFSP) in the tribal regions of Andhra Pradesh is considered a possible solution to combat Vitamin A deficiency among the tribal population through increased availability of the cheap source of Vitamin A rich food with high beta carotene content.

Dindo Campilan, Regional Director, Valerie Gwinner, Head, Communication and Public Awareness and Sreekanth, Sweet Potato Agronomist and Research coordinator from CIP, Abdul Rahman Ilyas COO-ASP and team, RRIAS and Nandan Biomatrix Ltd. (ASP Partners), officials from Government of Andhra Pradesh including Department of Horticulture, Tribal Welfare, Industries and Food Processing, Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), National Institute of Nutrition and NGOs participated in the day long deliberation on potential benefits of OFSP in combating Vitamin A deficiency and strategies for value chain development in the tribal areas of Andhra Pradesh.

Campilan presented the global overview on OFSP opportunity and Sreekanth presented the current status of OFSP in India and the work in progress in Andhra Pradesh undertaken by RRIAS and Dharani Foundation.

Spearheading the initiative, CIP and ICRISAT will be proposing to the Government of Andhra Pradesh a project for a period of 5 years. Apex agencies such as NABARD and MSME will be approached to fund extended components of the project. While the Tribal Welfare Department will be implementing the project, the Horticulture Department will help in crop propagation and provide training support.

It was concluded that a core team will be formed from the consultation group, which will visit project locations in Orissa and CIP will organize a workshop on value addition of OFSP. Campilan and Ilyas thanked the participants and stated that a detailed project proposal will soon be developed for submission to the Principal Secretary - Tribal Welfare, Government of Andhra Pradesh.

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Training course on G×E held at Niamey and Mali

“Genotype × environment interaction (G×E) can be ignored and avoided, or it can be exploited for enhancing productivity under specific environmental conditions.” With these words, Abishek Rathore, accompanied by his assistant Roma Rani Das, both from ICRISAT-India, started the training course in G×E analysis held at the Training and Visitors Centre, ICRISAT-WCA from 8 to 11 February.

Genotype × environment interaction training course
Participants of the Genotype × environment interaction training course in Mali.

The training is part of the implementation of an External Program and Management Review (EPMR) recommendation to enhance capacity of ICRISAT and national agricultural research systems (NARS) scientists to exploit present and future multi-location data. A better understanding of the concept of G×E can help target improved cultivars through the definition of varietal adaptation domains to enhance spill-over effects from one testing site to other sites with similar environmental conditions, and to render multi-location testing more efficient.

The 20 participants comprised of scientists, research assistants, and students from Lake Chad Research Institute-Nigeria, Institut National de Recherché Agronomique du Niger-Niger, Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles-Burkina Faso and ICRISAT-Niger. A similar course was conducted in Mali with 20 participants drawn from Institut d’Economie Rurale du Mali-Mali and ICRISAT-Mali. The training course was funded by ICRISAT with complimentary support from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation-HOPE and German Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ)-CODEWA special projects.

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