No. 1405 12 March 2010

ICAR and ICRISAT Reinvigorate Strong Partnership

Taking off from the strong partnership that India’s premier agricultural research body, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and ICRISAT have nurtured over the years, the Directors General of the two institutions agreed to further strengthen ties at the Joint ICAR-ICRISAT Partnership Research Project Review Meeting held in New Delhi on 10 March.

Dr William Dar and his team with Dr Ayyappan Dr William Dar and his team with Dr Ayyappan at ICAR headquarters in New Delhi.

A fresh chapter of partnership has begun with the new Director General of ICAR, Dr S Ayyappan, who vowed to further cement the strong collaboration that ICRISAT has with ICAR, the Department of Agriculture and Cooperation (DOAC) and the Government of India.

In his opening remarks, Dr Ayyappan emphasized the importance of dryland agriculture to India’s food security and the immediate need for increasing the production of pulses in the country. He indicated the potential of using 12 million hectares of rice fallows for growing pulses and expanding the area under hybrid pigeonpea, and reiterated the Government of India’s plans to establish 60,000 pulses villages.

ICAR will also establish 6,000 demonstration plots of 1 acre each to showcase important technologies for increasing productivity in pulses, and requested ICRISAT’s support in this endeavor.

Dr William Dar and his team with Dr Ayyappan Dr Dar presenting ICAR-ICRISAT joint publications to Dr Ayyappan.

Additionally, Dr Ayyappan requested ICRISAT’s assistance in forging the South-South collaboration by involving sub-Saharan African countries. He also mentioned that he would like to involve ICRISAT scientists in various national-level committees and requested them to visit, give lectures at ICAR institutions and also mentor students. Dr William Dar reaffirmed the partnership with ICAR to improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers in India.

ICRISAT and ICAR scientists presented achievements and highlights of ICAR-ICRISAT partnership research projects in the 2006 – 2009 period, and plans for future areas of collaboration from 2010 to 2012. The group agreed to have a few new flagship research projects that include:

  1. Enhancing chickpea production systems (including rice-fallows and research related to heat tolerance),

  2. Enhancing pigeonpea production systems (hybrid pigeonpea and expanding pigeonpea to new niches),

  3. Enhancing soil-health, water-use-efficiency and productivity (including studies related to climate variability and change),

  4. Social science and policy interventions (including tracking rural poverty and development pathways and innovations for adaptation to climate change),

  5. Biotechnology research including marker-assisted selection and transgenics, and

  6. Knowledge management to enhance research-extension-farmer linkages.

    The thematic and umbrella projects involve the following areas:

    • Pre-breeding for biotic and abiotic stress tolerance, and

    • Umbrella projects for sorghum, pearl millet and groundnut to facilitate exchange of germplasm and breeding material, including areas related to capacity building.

Drs SK Datta and Dave Hoisington gave concluding remarks reiterating the commitment of both the institutions to research collaboration.

Team ICRISAT led by Director General William Dar included DDG-R Dave Hoisington, CLL Gowda, PJ Ninnes, Prabhat Kumar, V Vadez, P Craufurd, MCS Bantilan, V Balaji, HD Upadhyaya, SN Nigam, KN Rai, Belum VS Reddy, PM Gaur, KB Saxena, SP Wani, RK Varshney, P Parthasarathy Rao and Naveen Singh.

ICAR participants included Director General-ICAR, Dr S Ayyappan, Additional Secretary-Department of Agricultural Research and Education (DARE), Rajeev Mehrishi, Director-DARE, Ajay Kumar DDG (Crop Science), SK Datta, DDG Natural Resource Management, AK Singh, DDG (Horticulture), HP Singh, ADG (Plant Protection), TP Rajendran, ADG (Oilseeds & Pulses), VD Patil, ADG (Agronomy), PD Sharma, ADG (Field Crops), RP Dua, and Directors of Indian Institute of Pulses Research-Kanpur, National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources-New Delhi, Directorate of Groundnut Research-Junagadh, Directorate of Sorghum Research-Hyderabad, Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture-Hyderabad, National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research-New Delhi, Project Coordinator of All India Coordinated Pearl Millet Improvement Project and other scientists.

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Team ICRISAT meets top officials of Indian agriculture

Director General William Dar, accompanied by DDG-R Dave Hoisington, CLL Gowda, SP Wani, Prabhat Kumar and Arun Pal met with Dr S Ayyappan, Director General, ICAR on 9 March. This was a courtesy call by ICRISAT Management to congratulate Dr Ayyappan on assuming the office of Director General, ICAR and Secretary, DARE, and to welcome him as a Member of the ICRISAT Governing Board.

Team ICRISAT with Indian agriculture officials Drs Dar, Dave Hoisington, CLL Gowda and others with PK Basu (second from right).

Dr Ayyappan appreciated the visit and indicated that he had heard many good reports about ICRISAT and its contribution to global agricultural research and development. He said he was particularly impressed with ICRISAT’s role in enhancing crop production and productivity of its mandate crops, watershed management and policy advocacy. He requested ICRISAT’s support in ICAR’s research and development for enhancing the production of pulses in India. Dr Dar reiterated ICRISAT’s commitment to partnership with ICAR. Team ICRISAT presented copies of joint ICAR-ICRISAT publications as examples of research collaboration between the two institutions, and also gave examples of case studies of the impact of joint research on farmer livelihoods.

Later in the evening, the Team met the new Secretary of Agriculture, Government of India, Mr PK Basu. Mr Basu expressed his satisfaction with the joint efforts of ICRISAT and ICAR in enhancing agricultural research and development in India for better crop productivity and management of natural resources in the dry areas. Mr Basu also sought ICRISAT’s help in the Pulses Village Program announced during the recent budget speech of the Finance Minister, Government of India. Dr Dar promised to join hands with DOAC to increase the growth of pulses, including the exploration of double cropping with pulses in rice fallows and other areas where pulse production can be increased. The DG welcomed Mr Basu to participate in the Governing Board Meeting at Patancheru from 23-26 March.

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ABI trains entrepreneurs in agri-business

The Agri-Business Incubator (ABI) at ICRISAT in association with the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) conducted a training program for 15 entrepreneurs on 10 March at Patancheru. The participants attending the 6-week training program on entrepreneurship development organized by the ministry were graduates and post-graduates in biotechnology. SM Karuppanchetty and S Aravazhi of ABI gave sessions on potential business opportunities and agricultural biotechnology business. They also explained the incubation support available at ABI. The participants showed interest in micro propagation (tissue culture), food biofertilizers, and seed ventures. They also visited the ABI facilities, including the biotechnology laboratories and offices of ABI’s clients. The group was organized by Kiran Kumar, Assistant Director MSME.

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CGIAR Consortium Board Chair visits Kiboko field station

The Chair of the new CGIAR Consortium Board, Mr Carlos Perez del Castillo, visited the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)-Kiboko Field Station on 5 March. His visit coincided with the field day organized by ICRISAT-Eastern and Southern Africa cereal program. The distinguished guest was welcomed to the ICRISAT section by ICRISAT-ESA Director, Said Silim, who introduced staff members and briefed him about ICRISAT’s activities in the region.

Mr Carlos Perez del Castillo at Kiboko field station Said Silim briefs the CGIAR Chair, Mr Carlos Perez del Castillo, on ICRISAT activities.

M Mgonja and N Ganga Rao explained cereal and legume breeding activities respectively. Dr Mgonja noted that sorghum hybrids have a lot of untapped potential in the region due to lack of established seed systems and market chains. She observed that ICRISAT was working in partnership with seed companies, brewing industries and local banks to address the problem.

Dr Mgonja also informed the Chair that ICRISAT was generating scientific data to help policy makers and stakeholders make informed decisions on policy reforms to enhance productivity and profitability. Data were generated mainly on variety release systems and recent environmental risk assessment studies of genetically modified crops to help formulate regulations and policies. The Consortium Board Chair expressed satisfaction with the work domain of CGIAR institutes based in Nairobi. He was particularly impressed with the partnership with the banking industry that gives farmers access to resources for accelerated technology utilization.

The field day also provided collaborators and stakeholders an opportunity to appreciate available sorghum and millet varieties and hybrids that target different sorghum and millet agro-ecologies and market traits to enhance productivity and profitability. The event attracted 96 participants, comprising farmers (28 men and 21 women), scientists from KARI, CIMMYT, ICRISAT and Egerton University, representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, seed companies, Equity Bank of Kenya, Kenya and Tanzania Breweries and HOPE collaborators from Tanzania.

Participants were impressed by different sorghum and millet varieties and hybrids, and as AJ Odera of Planning and Development Options, summed up, “I have never seen such a large number of sorghum lines, and all of them good.” Participants got the opportunity to select varieties and identify hybrids for further evaluation and testing in their respective areas/countries. The materials will be provided to them after they make a formal request.

Participants were also shown a locally fabricated sorghum thresher. Equity Bank has agreed to offer loans to farmers to acquire the machine. Bank representatives explained different loan packages they offer to small-scale farmers and farmer groups.

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ICT interventions help drought-prone farmers

ICRISAT’s Virtual Academy for the Semi-Arid Tropics (VASAT) has been collaborating with the all women self help group Adarsha Mahila Samakhya (AMS) to empower vulnerable rural communities cope with drought since 2004.

Video conferencing session in progress A video conferencing session with ICRISAT scientist in progress at the hub located at AMS in Moosapet.

Rural communities have been using a technique pioneered at IIT-Bombay and perfected by ICRISAT to get advance warning about the intensity and impact of drought in individual villages in Addakkal mandal of Mahbubnagar district in Andhra Pradesh. This is followed up with regular advisories and suggestions, interventions that aid farm communities to cultivate drought-tolerant crops recommended by ICRISAT.

The Village Resource Center established by ICRISAT plays a key role in sharing information in the community. The inclusion of a videoconferencing facility in collaboration with the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) since 2006 has been an added advantage. The members of the Adarsha self-help groups from 8 neighboring villages attend the video conference every Thursday and Friday to interact with the scientists at ICRISAT-Patancheru.

Such interactions help farmers seek on-the-spot suggestions on types of crop, cultural practices, application of manure, tillage and cultural practices. Women volunteers transmit pictures of pest attack on crops to ICRISAT scientists through email and mobile phone directly from the field, and receive appropriate solutions.

The micro-level drought vulnerability maps created using advanced GIS techniques and ICT tools enable communities to make informed decisions. For example, they deferred from cultivating water intensive crops like paddy and instead cultivated dryland crops such as groundnut and ragi.

Farmers who depended on the nearby Peddavaagu (a seasonal rivulet) filled with previous flood water faced severe water shortage during mid-kharif season last year, while those who planted drought-resistant crops survived the onslaught of drought.

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Syngenta team visits tropical sugar beet trials

ICRISAT-Patancheru is conducting two tropical sugar beet (Beta vulgaris L.) trials in partnership with Syngenta India Ltd, under the ICRISAT-IFAD biofuels project Linking the poor to global markets: Pro-poor development of biofuel supply chains, to widen the opportunity in feedstock supply to commercial distilleries involved in ethanol production using sweet sorghum. The tropical sugar beet matures in five months and sugar is stored in modified roots (sugar beets account for 30% of the world’s sugar production). Yash Bhargava, Head-Business Development, Biofuels and Ajoy Sarkar, Head Marketing of Syngenta visited ICRISAT on 25 February to see the sugar beet trials and expressed satisfaction with trials in both red and black soils.

Pests and diseases Cercospora spot and Sclerotial rot have been observed in the experimental plots. The beets from the 125-day-old crop were harvested and Brix percentage was measured (17-19%). The Syngenta team also had detailed discussions with Belum VS Reddy and P Srinivasa Rao.

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ICRISAT to assess impact of ZEAIP

Isaac Minde discussing with a farmer Isaac Minde discusses improved varieties and access to seeds with a farmer in Zvimba district.

Smallholder farmers in Zimbabwe have struggled through a decade of local market collapse and almost zero access to improved seeds. In an attempt to address this situation, the World Bank has funded 16 NGOs in various districts of Zimbabwe to provide agricultural inputs to 300,000 farmers for the 2009-2010 agricultural season. ICRISAT has been invited by GRM International on behalf of the World Bank to conduct an impact assessment of the Zimbabwe Emergency Agricultural Input Project (ZEAIP) for the 2009-2010 cropping season.

The impact assessment will specifically quantify the impact ZEAIP has made through the two relief distribution systems (direct distribution and voucher-based retail distribution) and their results on crop yield level, household and national crop production levels, and household food security. Also, this exercise will provide useful feedback for improving the design of the vouchers program and develop it for wide-scale use in different seed systems in the future.

By going ahead with this assessment, ICRISAT intends to add to the Institute’s experience in relief seed delivery mechanisms and create a foundation for testing emerging hypotheses on seed systems in semi-arid tropics. Given that political instability and natural disasters have affected and continue to affect many countries in ESA, assessments such as these can generate important knowledge on what works best and why.

ICRISAT is implementing the impact assessment by conducting: (i) a post-planting survey to evaluate the timing of seed procurement by 1080 farmers and the increase in the cropping area by recipient households, (ii) a retail voucher assessment interviewing about 10 agro-dealers, to assess the effectiveness of the voucher based input distribution system and possibilities for future use, and (iii) a post-harvest survey to evaluate the production impacts and food security gains from the direct distribution and the voucher program. Drs Kizito Mazvimavi and Isaac Minde are leading the project. ZEAIP activities have begun in 12 districts with survey enumeration, and key discussions with seed companies and agro-dealers.

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ABI camp to promote innovative technologies

The Agri-Business Incubator (ABI) at ICRISAT conducted the fourth Agri-Business Innovators Camp on 22 February at Patancheru, to identify innovative technologies and products. As we know, ABI has been entrusted by Technopreneur Promotion Program (TePP) of Government of India Department of Scientific and Industrial Research (DSIR) to identify, promote and commercialize innovative technologies in India.

Participants of the Agri-Business innovators camp Participants of the Agri-Business innovators camp at Patancheru.

Twenty innovators from various parts of Andhra Pradesh attended the camp and presented technologies for various types of funding assistance. The TePP screening committee, comprising Brigadier P Ganesham, VSM (Retd.), Honeybee AP, National Innovation Foundation; Pratap Singh, Scientist C of DSIR; DSK Rao, Global IT & Innovation Consultant; J Durga Prasad, Managing Director, Vaishnavi Biopower; Sanjith Aradhye, Manager, Biotechnology, SeedWorks India Pvt. Ltd.; Kiran Sharma, SM Karuppanchetty and S Aravazhi, scrutinized the proposals and gave recommendations to the innovators. Some of the innovations presented to the committee included enhanced liquid biofertilizer, probiotic poultry feed, cocolife, banana fibre machine, and a low cost power tiller.

Kiran Sharma and SM Karuppanchetty interacted with the participants and assured innovators and DSIR of support services and cooperation in operating the TePP program successfully at ICRISAT.

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Team ICRISAT in annual sorghum group meeting

N Seetharama N Seetharama, (sitting) being felicitated on his retirement.

ICRISAT scientists took part in the 40th Annual Group Meeting (AGM) of the All India Coordinated Sorghum Improvement Project organized at the Tamilnadu Agricultural University (TNAU), Coimbatore from 27 February to 1 March.

The AGM was inaugurated by P Subbaian, Registrar TNAU and SN Shukla, former Assistant Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research. Shukla was the Chief Guest. Nearly 100 delegates from the state agricultural universities and Directorate of Sorghum Research (DSR) attended the AGM-2010. Belum VS Reddy, RP Thakur, P Srinivasa Rao and HC Sharma represented ICRISAT and participated in the respective sessions on the 2010 workplan development.

Belum VS Reddy presented the significant results of the research carried out during 2007-09 under the ICAR-ICRISAT Partnership Projects (SG1-SG4) apart from the new (umbrella) project proposed for sorghum partnership research. N Seetharama, Director, DSR, sought additional areas of collaboration, such as wide hybridization, breeding/allele mining for drought and shootfly resistance, and fodder improvement. He also mentioned that there are good prospects for inclusion of sorghum in the food security mission of India. Team ICRISAT felicitated Dr Seetharama on the eve of his superannuation and acknowledged his research contributions to sorghum improvement both at ICRISAT and DSR.

Team ICRISAT wishes him a healthy, joyful and useful retired life with his family!

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