No. 1411 23 April 2010

Championing the drylands

In these challenging times of climate change, the drylands can serve as a frontier for food security in the developing world. This was the main advocacy position of Director General
Dr William Dar during a dialogue with the Philippine press in Manila last week. This was also his core message at a colloquium on food security organized by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) at the National University of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. He was represented by Communication Director Dr Rex Navarro.

Press meet Dr William Dar explaining a point during the dialogue with Philippine media.With him are former top officials of the Philippine Department of Agriculture.

Conducted with the Philippine Science Journalists, Inc (PhiSciJourn) and the Department of Agriculture Information Services press corps, the Manila press dialogue focused on the effects of El Niño on the Philippines, global agriculture and food security. Dr Navarro helped organize the dialogue.

The Philippines and other Pacific Rim countries are now experiencing the adverse effects of El Niño, especially on the agriculture sector. Expected to last until June, this phenomenon has dried up thousands of hectares of farm lands and brought down water of major Philippine dams to critical levels. Likewise, about 40 to 60% rainfall has been lost, causing millions of dollars of crop damage.

Dr Dar warned, “Climate change will aggravate the problem because water will be scarce and hotter temperatures will reduce agricultural production.”

ASEAN colloquium Dr Rex Navarro representing the DG at the ASEAN colloquium on food security at the National University of Singapore.

To mitigate the effects of
El Niño and climate change, Dr Dar underscored the importance of mapping out a long-term strategy, particularly sustained investments in water conservation and management and dryland agricultural research.

“Beyond stopgap measures like the provision of deep well pumps, the construction of community-based water harvesting structures must be done on a war footing,” Dr Dar emphasized.

Dr Dar also advocated the establishment of a Philippine Dryland Research Institute (PhilDRI), a proactive research and development (R&D) organization that will generate appropriate innovations and policies for the country to cope with climate change.

At the ASEAN colloquium, Dr Dar expounded the major challenges affecting global food security and the role of international agricultural research organizations like ICRISAT. He also cited the global impact of CGIAR, which has helped add $9 worth of additional food in developing countries for every $1 invested in research. Essentially, it has helped farmers grow improved crops and varieties of CGIAR ancestry on more than half of their cultivated land.

William Padolina Atty Hector Hernandez and Dr Rex Navarro with IRRI's DDG-Operations William Padolina.

To attain global food security, Dr Dar discussed the major drivers such as breaking yield barriers, access to markets and credit, improved seed delivery systems, soil, nutrient and water management and supportive policies.

Meanwhile, Human Resources and Operations Director, Hector Hernandez, visited the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) early this week with Rex Navarro on the occasion of its 50th anniversary. During the visit, they shared experiences with Dr William Padolina, IRRI’s DDG for Operations.
Atty. Hernandez used to be with IRRI as HR Director, while Dr Navarro collaborated with IRRI during his stint as Program Leader for Technology Transfer at the Philippine Rice Research Institute (PhilRice).

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ICRISAT-Bulawayo’s seed multiplication project attracts visitors

The 36-hectare foundation seed multiplication project at ICRISAT-Bulawayo drew three groups of visitors in April. The project, which began in 2009, aims to improve the quantity and quality of foundation seed of cowpea, groundnut, pearl millet and sorghum available in Zimbabwe. It also aims to encourage private sector participation in distributing seed and raising the quality of seed produced by various communities working with NGOs.

Seed multiplication project FAO-led delegation and ICRISAT staff at Matopos.

The visits began on 12 April with S Muchokomori, a seed inspector with Seed Services (the Government of Zimbabwe’s seed regulations authority), inspecting the foundation seed multiplication plots for the purpose of certification. All the plots she inspected met the quality standards and were certified as foundation seed.

On 13 April, Savemore Ngirazi, Groundnut Breeder and Prince Matova, Cowpea Breeder, from the Crop Breeding Institute (CBI) visited the plots to monitor the progress of seed multiplication of their respective crops and offer valuable advice to the project’s implementation team.

The third group visited on 15 April and comprised the FAO Emergency Coordinator, Jean-Claude Urvoy as well as Fiona Shanks, Office of US Foreign Disaster Assistance’s Regional Coordinator for South, West and North Africa and Hallem Halle, USAID’s Regional Coordinator for southern Africa based in Pretoria, South Africa.

Sakile Kudita of our Bulawayo station gave an overview of the project to the visitors. This was followed by a field tour of Matopos, Lucydale and Mahiye, where the group took a look at the seed production plots with sorghum, pearl millet, and groundnut crops as well as the harvested cowpeas that were being processed. In a discussion led by ICRISAT-Bulawayo’s Country Representative, Isaac Minde, the team expressed their desire to continue working with ICRISAT and CBI to improve the quality and availability of seed for the farmers. They also urged the project to consider ways of improving the marketability of sorghum as a feed crop.

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World Bank team appreciates Adarsha Watershed

World Bank team SP Wani explaining aspects of Adarsha Watershed to the World Bank team in Kothapally.

A World Bank team visited Adarsha Watershed, Kothapally in Ranga Reddy district of Andhra Pradesh on 18 April. The visit was made as part of the Agricultural Research for Development Learning Exchange program on Rural and Agricultural Livelihoods. Drs Peter Q Craufurd and SP Wani briefed the team members about integrated watershed management and the distinctive features of the consortium approach adopted by ICRISAT and its partners for managing and developing community watersheds, which help improve livelihoods in dryland regions of Asia. A documentary on Adarsha Watershed, Kothapally was screened, which provided them with a preview of the watershed system before the tour began.

In Kothapally, the team received a traditional welcome by the members of the women self-help groups (SHGs) and the watershed committee. SP Wani welcomed the participants and introduced the functionaries of the Watershed Committee. The Watershed Committee members Narayan Reddy and Narsimha Reddy provided a brief account of what the situation
in the village was in 1998 and the changes that took place in their livelihoods from then on. Attributing the low yields (sorghum - 1 ton, maize - 1.5 ton and pigeonpea - 200 kgs per ha) to lack of water, they said that the women used to trek long distances to fetch drinking water. They pointed out that it was only during the rainy season that 90% of the agricultural land was put to use, and at other times villagers used to migrate to other areas to eke out a living.

The watershed program initiated by the Government of Andhra Pradesh, with technical backstops from ICRISAT and its consortium partners, has changed their lives for the better. Rainwater harvesting, soil conservation, improved water and nutrient management practices, improved seeds of crops and micro-enterprises such as vermicomposting, nursery raising and livestock improvement through the artificial insemination center have increased incomes of the rural families of Kothapally.

The transformation is visible. The World Bank team members after alighting from their vehicles said, “This is a very prosperous village. Are we sure that we are in Kothapally? This village stands out from our normal imagination of a village in Asia or Africa.”

A member of the Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation livestock improvement center explained the methods and strides made through cross breeding and improved cattle health initiatives in the village. The World Bank team visited the milk procurement center set up by Reliance Industries and enquired about the milk consumption of the families in Kothapally. They got answers that highlighted the benefits of watersheds in improving nutrition for children and women. Women self-help group members provided them with insights into their group activities and micro-enterprises.

The team visited the low-cost rainwater harvesting structures as well as dried, open well recharging masonry check dams and assessed the benefits of improved water availability in the watershed. Even in this hot month of April, open wells have 25 to 30 feet of water and farmers are able to diversify and grow high-value vegetables and green fodder.

The team members said, “There are a lot of lessons we can apply in our rainfed and watershed programs in Rwanda, Malawi and Nigeria in Africa as well as in different countries
of Asia.” A small poster exhibition was organized in the village by the GT-AES watershed team, which provided in-depth information about the various aspects of integrated watershed management. The visitors were also keen to learn about the soil loss and runoff gauging stations as well as the detailed process of vermicomposting undertaken by the SHG women.

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ABI incubates entrepreneurs under MSME scheme

ABI at ICRISAT has been selected by the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), Government of India, as one of the incubators to implement their scheme Support for Entrepreneurial and Managerial Development of SME through Incubators. Under the scheme, 10 potential entrepreneurs were selected and given a grant to develop their innovative ideas and technologies into small-scale viable ventures with support from the incubator. The scheme provides early stage funds (around $14,027) for nurturing innovative business ideas, which could be commercialized in a year. It also seeks to promote networking and forging of linkages with other constituents of the innovation chain for the commercialization of their developments.

ABI Sunita Chhibba with senior MSME officials, entrepreneurs and senior staff members of ABI-ICRISAT.

Of the ten proposals submitted to MSME, eight were approved for an overall funding of Rs 46 lakhs (around $4.6 million). Sunita Chhibba, Additional Development Commissioner & Economic Advisor, Office of the Development Commissioner (MSME), visited Patancheru on 17 April. She was accompanied by D Chandra Sekhar, Director, and NT Naidu, Deputy Director, MSME, Hyderabad. The team also visited the incubator facilities. On behalf of Dr William Dar, Peter J Ninnes, Director, Resource Planning and Marketing, welcomed MSME officials and explained the support provided to entrepreneurs through the incubator. SM Karuppanchetty gave an overview of Agri-Business Incubator activities and the progress made in the MSME incubation scheme.

Sunita Chhibba held discussions with the entrepreneurs on their planned ventures. The entrepreneurs include Murali Krishna Mutyala (Jytra Engineering Services Pvt. Ltd), VVLN Prasad (Solax Bio Sciences), D Rupesh Kumar planning contract farming of quails, Suresh Suryadevara developing a cotton picker-cum-compacter, Y Narayana Rao working on the concept of M3 (Milk, Methane, Manure), B Rami Reddy (BR Cooking Spray Pvt. Ltd), Gangineni Subba Rao (Aakruthi Agricultural Associates of India) promoting Seed Business Ventures and Raghavendra Prasad (Wifin technologies Pvt. Ltd). ICRISAT signed incubation agreements with these eight entrepreneurs. Impressed by the activities of ICRISAT in the semi-arid tropics, Chhibba said she expected more entrepreneurs to be supported by ICRISAT in the future.

To implement the scheme Support for Entrepreneurial and Managerial Development of SME through Incubators, the MSME team also met prospective incubators located in and around Hyderabad such as Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University, Osmania University, ICICI Knowledge Park, Association of Lady Entrepreneurs of Andhra Pradesh and Indian Institute of Chemical Technology.

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Tropical Legumes II project mid-term review held in WCA

Gregory Edmeades, a consultant with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) visited Kano, Nigeria on 12 and 13 April and interacted with TL-II team members from ICRISAT, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and other key partners from Nigeria. The meeting was held at the IITA office in Kano.

TL II project Dr Gregory Edmeades, with participants of the review meeting.

The team from ICRISAT consisted of Farid Waliyar and Bonny Ntare. The latter gave an overview and presented the achievements vis-à-vis objectives 1 (targeting Groundnut), objective 2 (Groundnut breeding) and objective 8 (Seed systems groundnut) in the three project countries – Mali, Niger and Nigeria – in the last two cropping seasons since the project launch in September 2007. The partners in Nigeria, including the Institute for Agricultural Research, agricultural development authorities of Jigawa, Kano and Katsina as well as the Bayero University of Kano made presentations on variety development and variety testing and farmer-led seed production.

In the afternoon Greg visited a farmers’ community 50 kilometers east of Kano. IITA organized the visit. At the village, Greg interacted with groundnut and cowpea seed producers, both men and women. Discussions focused on the challenges farmers face, how to increase productivity of legumes (mainly cowpea and groundnut) and marketing issues.

On the second day, Greg interacted with individual principal investigators and the partners on how best to consolidate and scale-up and out successful interventions from Phase 1 and build coalitions along the legumes value chains. Greg commended the project teams and partners for their enthusiasm and dedication to improving the livelihoods of legume farmers in Nigeria specifically, and West Africa in general.

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AWF visits ICRISAT-Bulawayo

The intersection of wildlife and agriculture was the subject of ICRISAT-Bulawayo’s meeting with the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF) on 16 April. Simon Munthali, AWF Regional Director for southern Africa, and Francis Mkanda, AWF Heartland Director, initiated a meeting with ICRISAT scientists to learn more about ICRISAT’s mission and to explore areas of mutual interest.

AWF Dr Francis Mkanda (left) and Dr Simon Munthali listen to Dr Isaac Minde's brief presentation on ICRISAT's research in southern Africa.

“We’re here to learn what ICRISAT is doing because we also work in the semi-arid tropics (SAT) and one of the areas conflicting with wildlife is agriculture. We believe that the two can co-exist, provided creative solutions are found,” Munthali said.
He added that the pressure on natural resources in SAT is very high because people are hungry and agriculture in these drought-prone areas is often unsuccessful.

Isaac Minde, ICRISAT Country Representative, briefly presenting the Institute’s mission said, “We must first identify where the shoe is pinching, then we can think about possible solutions.”

The AWF representatives were particularly interested in conservation agriculture and the use of geographic information system to model land use cover. The group decided to develop concept notes to further clarify the way forward for collaborative research.

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IBERS team assess pearl millet drought project

Rattan Yadav from the Institute of Biological, Environmental and Rural Sciences (IBERS) of Aberystwyth University, UK and his postdoctoral fellow Deepmala Sehgal visited Patancheru on 13 and 14 April.

IBERS team Rattan, Deepmala and Ramu listen as Vincent Vadez explains.

They joined pearl millet team members Tom Hash, Vincent Vadez, Jana Kholova,
K Aparna and Punna Ramu to assess the progress made to date. They also gauged plans for the coming year for field and controlled environment phenotyping of agronomic and physiological traits, and marker genotyping and subsequent analysis, of the pearl millet drought tolerance Quantitative Trait Locus (QTL) fine-mapping population, QTL introgression line testcrosses, and an inbred germplasm panel for linkage disequilibrium mapping.

The team also took the opportunity to visit drought nursery field trials (some of our best ever) and cylinder-culture experiments in the rainout shelter. A list of much-anticipated publications of the project was also developed.

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