No. 1412 30 April 2010

ICRISAT-IFAD biofuels project review focuses on industry and farmer needs

The second Annual Progress Review and Workplans Development meeting of the ICRISAT-International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) biofuels project Linking the poor to global markets: Pro-poor development of biofuel supply chains was held at Patancheru during 27-28 April. The two-day review meeting was followed by the steering committee (SC) meeting in the same period. The project focuses on sweet sorghum, jatropha and cassava as biofuel feed stocks.

ICRISAT-IFAD Participants of the second Annual Progress Review meeting of ICRISAT-IFAD Biofuels Project at Patancheru.

A total of 28 participants (4 partners from the other countries in Asia and Africa, 8 from public-private sector organizations, 2 midterm review (MTR) members and 14 scientists from Patancheru) took part in the deliberations. Vineet Raswant, Senior Technical Advisor, IFAD and two members of the project midterm review team, Rabindranath Roy and Virendra Pal Singh also participated.

Peter J Ninnes, representing the Director General, Dr William Dar, inaugurated the meeting on 27 April. He highlighted the importance of the research and development (R&D) in sweet sorghum, jatropha and cassava in meeting global energy requirements apart from making a shift to a low carbon society. He appreciated IFAD for funding this important multi-feedstock and multi-dimensional project. Ninnes also lauded the role of partners, such as CIAT (International Centre for Tropical Agriculture) and the national agricultural research systems partners from China, Vietnam, Columbia, Philippines, Mali and India besides the private sector – Tata Chemicals Ltd (TCL) and Praj Industries. Earlier, KN Rai, while chairing the inaugural session on behalf of CLL Gowda, welcomed the participants from different countries, and the representatives from TCL, Praj Industries, Indian government programs and ICRISAT.

Vineet Raswant said that this is the first project on biofuels funded by IFAD with the objectives of making bioenergy available for local consumption and also linking farmers with national and international markets.

The highlights of the project were presented by Belum VS Reddy, the project coordinator. Detailed progress reports were presented: sweet sorghum improvement in India by
P Srinivasa Rao, sweet sorghum socio-economics by P Parthasarathy Rao, sweet sorghum research in the Philippines by Ravinder Reddy on behalf of Heraldo Layaoen, sweet sorghum research in Mali by Eva Weltzien Rattunde, Jatropha research in India by Suhas P Wani and Jatropha research in Mali by Albert Nikiema. The comprehensive annual progress report on cassava improvement in Vietnam, Lao PDR, China and Colombia was presented by Rod Lefroy.

Some of the major observations were:

  • There is a need to strengthen breeding for ethanol traits and grain (fodder) traits and to increase tolerance to pests and diseases.
  • Productivity targets need to be fixed for sweet sorghum and cassava for bioethanol production and Jatropha for biodiesel vis-à-vis other competing feed stocks. Also, there is a need to enhance direct breeding efforts and agronomic approaches to reach the targets.
  • A consortium of ICRAF (World Agroforestry Centre) and Tamil Nadu Agricultural University will facilitate Jatropha material and technology exchange.
  • Use of standard terminologies in the reports
  • Strengthening research in nutrient budgeting, carbon sequestration and standardizing agronomic management to enhance productivity of Jatropha
  • Breeding for multipurpose cassava varieties
  • Establishing mini-pilot plant for production of hydrated ethanol in Vietnam
  • Minimizing efforts in capacity building
  • Vietnam will hold the next steering committee and annual review meetings.

Rabindranath Roy gave a brief account of the MTR findings: Redefine the sweet sorghum objectives with emphasis on industry requirements (for example, ethanol yield) while also protecting farmers’ interests; identify a partner who could facilitate the exchange of germplasm from various countries and help in developing linkages with the Jatropha consortium in India. Also, strengthen intercropping and nutrient management of cassava besides initiating multi-location trials to meet industry needs.

Vineet Raswant suggested substantial increase in on-farm productivity levels of all the feed stocks – sweet sorghum, Jatropha and cassava so that industry requirements are met and the crops are commercially viable as biofuels. The work plans for 2010 were modified accordingly with significant inputs from MTR members, TCL and Praj Industries and were presented by Belum VS Reddy (sweet sorghum), Albert Nikiema (Jatropha) and Rod Lefroy (cassava) in the plenary session that was chaired by Peter J Ninnes.

The minutes of the last SC meeting chaired by KN Rai and the modified workplans were approved after a thorough discussion with the private sector partners. The SC specifically recognized the participation of Tata Chemicals Ltd and Praj Industries in this project and expressed hope that ICRISAT research products reach smallholder farmers in the semi-arid areas though the active involvement of the industry.

In his closing remarks, Vineet commended the efforts of all the partners. MTR team members expressed satisfaction about their association with the project progress review and hoped that the project would help in boosting biofuel industry in the semi-arid tropics. Belum VS Reddy proposed a vote of thanks.

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Partners of HOPE meet in Koutiala

From 19 to 23 April, 40 representatives of partner organizations working on the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) project met in Koutiala in south-east Mali for a training program to facilitate the implementation of farmer participatory trials. HOPE is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF).

Hope Brainstorming session in progress in Koutiala.

The sorghum and pearl millet programs of the three national agricultural research systems, the Institut d’Economie Rurale, Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles and National Research Institute for Food and Nutrition, were represented. Similarly, farmers’ organizations from all the countries were present. The host was the Mali NGO, L’Association Malienne d’Eveil au Développement Durable (AMEDD), which will be implementing HOPE activities in Koutiala.

The AMEDD Director, Bougouna Sogoba, also served as the facilitator of this training program. He was widely appreciated for his good sense of humor and his ability to keep everyone involved and focused. The training got off to a good start with a welcome dinner hosted in the yard of the Sinyege center in Koutiala.

The course started with a brainstorming session to identify changes required to ensure that farmers can produce 35-40% higher yields of sorghum and pearl millet in the target areas, based on partners’ experiences. The wide range of suggestions helped to shape the discussions during the week in a constructive manner.

The group then moved on to discussing issues, methods, tools and record keeping for identifying villages, cropping systems and growing conditions in which yield increase would be targeted. Options of identifying appropriate fields and plots for experimentation were also discussed. The selection of farmers, who would conduct the trials on behalf of specific farmers’ organizations, or the village as a whole, was elaborated, especially in view of the sharing of responsibilities among researchers, local facilitators and farmers themselves.

The group worked on key methods to gather farmers’ evaluation and feedback on new varieties and other yield improving technologies.

The last day was dedicated to developing agreed procedures for seed exchange between partners and planning the preparation and sale of seed mini-packs. Plans for field demonstrations, and farmer managed mini-trials were also talked about.

The group agreed that seed producing agencies (private sector, farmer cooperatives and other initiatives) are responsible for seed production and marketing. All other mini variety trials will be conducted with a set of best bet agronomic practices, focusing on those that are easily adoptable by small-scale and women farmers.

The group reverted to their areas of work with a detailed plan of activities. The focus will be on the training of their colleagues and local partners, which is necessary to achieve the large scale dissemination of technologies intended by the HOPE project.

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ABI participates in national workshop on knowledge sharing

ABI workshop SM Karuppanchetty speaks at the workshop.

Agri-Business Incubator (ABI), ICRISAT participated in a 3-day Agri-business Knowledge Workshop organized at the National Academy of Agricultural Research Management (NAARM), Hyderabad from 22 to 24 April.

The purpose of the workshop was to harness the synergies of the stakeholders across the agricultural value chain by sharing knowledge. Around 40 participants from across the country, including farmer organizations, agri-input companies, agribusiness professionals, agri-finance institutions, food processors, infrastructure companies, logistics providers, policy advisors from central and state governments, ICRISAT, quality control institutions, retail chains, government organizations such as Food Corporation of India, National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development, Small Industries Development Bank of India and North Eastern Regional Agricultural Marketing Corporation Limited participated in the workshop.

The workshop paved the way for the Agribusiness Knowledge Centre (AKC) at NAARM. The center will provide a favorable ecosystem that will nurture and facilitate value addition, business development and growth among the stakeholders across the agricultural supply chain. The participants presented an overview of their companies’ offer in the value chain, what they expect from the value chain and the challenges they face in this process. The idea was to dwell on the processes based on the five principles of trust and cooperation, governance, market power, innovation and knowledge, and intervention points. SM Karuppanchetty and Aravazhi Selvaraj attended the program. Karuppanchetty gave a presentation on the role that ABI at ICRISAT can play in the knowledge center.

Fifteen out of the 40 organizations will be provided with offices at the proposed Agri-business Knowledge Centre at NAARM in the first phase. Plans are on to ramp it up to house 500 organizations in the future depending on the feedback on phase-I.

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Platform for agricultural research launched in Maputo

Platform for Agricultural Research and Innovation for Mozambique (PIAIT) was launched in Maputo on 19 April. This platform aims to make better use of research to serve the needs of the agriculture sector in the country by making technologies, management practices, and information more relevant and useful to farmers.

By bringing together all the organizations working in the agricultural sector on a common platform based at the Mozambique Agricultural Research Institute (IIAM), agricultural research in Mozambique will be better coordinated and implemented.

“With this platform, we intend to make better use of the resources available for research to benefit the producers,” Mozambique’s Deputy Agriculture Minister, Antonio Limbau, said at the launch. “We want research that is operational and relevant, and offers solutions to the farmers’ problems,” he added.

The main partners of the platform are IIAM, EMBRAPA (the Brazilian Enterprise for Agrarian Research) and the Consortium of the International Agriculture Research Center accredited in Mozambique, including the International Potato Center, ICRISAT, International Rice Research Institute, International Institute of Tropical Agriculture, International Livestock Research Institute, International Food Policy Research Institute, and International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center. Michigan State University and the International Fertilizer Development Center are also members of the platform. Cross-cutting programs already identified by the platform include soil fertility, climate change, development of seed system, gender, and food and nutritional security.

An administrative unit will support PIAIT and coordinate the cross-cutting issues as well as align the platform to the principles of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme. Carlos Dominguez took on the position of the Coordinator of the platform. For the last eight years, Dominguez was ICRISAT’s Country Representative in Mozambique. Moses Siambi has now assumed that position. “This is an innovative challenge and an interesting way to assist and enhance the research process in Mozambique,” Domiguez said.

PIAIT is supported by USAID and ICRISAT serves as its host institution.

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New Global Theme Leader - Biotechnology

Oscar Dr Oscar Riera-Lizaraju.

Dr Oscar Riera-Lizaraju, a Bolivian national with American Citizenship, has been appointed as our Global Theme Leader-Biotechnology. Oscar will be joining ICRISAT during the third week of June.

Oscar received his PhD in Plant Breeding and Genetics from the University of Minnesota in 1996. He is currently Associate Professor of Crop Science at the Oregon State University, Corvallis, USA. He has expertise in the areas of cytogenetics, genetics, genomics and biotechnology.

Oscar has experience in basic and applied research on hexaploid wheat (Triticum aestivum) and appropriate related grass species. His areas of research include gene discovery, chromosome manipulation, gene transfer and gene flow. In the areas of gene discovery, he established projects that utilize map-based methods to identify and characterize genes and genetic mechanisms contributing to traits of agronomic interest. He utilizes plant genomics and molecular cytogenetic technologies to engineer chromosomes and to incorporate genetic variation for disease resistance and quality traits in to select germplasm.Oscar will be accompanied by his wife Maria Isabel Vales, who will also be joining ICRISAT, and children.

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European Union delegation in Patancheru

Seeking to provide a “new dimension” to their relations with India beyond trade and commerce, a 30-member delegation from the European Union was on a visit to Hyderabad. A section of the delegation led by Graham Watson, Member of Parliament from UK and the chairman of the delegation arrived at Patancheru today.

EU delegation EU delegation at Patancheru..

The delegates, who were accompanied by Mrs Daniele Smajda, Ambassador and Head of Delegation of European Commission to India, included Members of Parliament from UK, Poland, Romania, Portugal, Austria and the Netherlands. Gross Philipp Oliver, First Political Secretary EU Embassy, New Delhi and EU Vice-Chairperson Lena Kolarska Bobinska from Poland were also part of the delegation.

At Patancheru they were received by DDG-R Dave Hoisington on behalf of the Director General. Director-Resource Planning and Marketing Peter Ninnes presented to them ICRISAT’s mission, vision, strategy and an overview of the partnership with EU.

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