No. 1414 14 May 2010

DG Encourages Enhanced Toolkits to Battle Global Scourges

Molecualr tools training course Dr William Dar with the participants of the training course on Molecular tools for Crop Improvement.

Molecular tools can improve the efficiency of conventional plant breeding by allowing indirect selection for a trait of interest by looking for molecular markers linked to the particular trait. Molecular tools offer greater scope to assess the genetic diversity and to evaluate plant genetic resource pools; they can also facilitate the transfer of desirable genes among plant varieties.

Director General Dr William Dar highlighted these facts at the inaugural of the ICRISAT-Center of Excellence in Genomics (CEG) sponsored Seventh Training course on Molecular tools for Crop Improvement, being held from 10 to 21 May at Patancheru.

Dr Dar also emphasized the importance of biotechnology and modern techniques in developing improved varieties in general and ICRISAT’s mandate crops in particular. “Battling the scourges of poverty and malnutrition is going to become more difficult as increasing food prices, high population growth rates, land degradation, and climate change rage all around us to make up the perfect storm. Extraordinary scientific and technological advances are required to enhance humanity’s toolkit for confronting these challenges,” he continued.

Addressing the participants as ‘warriors’ of biotechnology, he advised them to disseminate the knowledge downstream. Molecular genomics can revolutionize breeding and research, for which scientists must be allowed to focus on the research problem. CEG is enabling this by making highly sophisticated research equipment available to the participants.

DDG-R Dave Hoisington termed the course as an important initiative to enhance the skills of the molecular breeding community in India and other developing countries, and said that the participants should look beyond ICRISAT’s mandate crops for future applications of their newly acquired skills.

Rajeev Varshney, Officer-in-Charge, Acting-Global Theme Leader, Biotechnology and Course Coordinator, stated that CEG has trained 137 participants including 17 overseas participants from developing and African countries since 2008. He emphasized the need of such interactive courses, which are immensely beneficial for the plant breeding community.

RP Sharma, former Director, National Research Centre on Plant Biotechnology of Indian Council of Agricultural Research, emphasized the need for application of molecular technology in crop improvement. A total of 24 participants representing India, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and Saudi Arabia are participating in this two-week training course.

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Australian Trade Minister and High Commissioner visit Patancheru

Simon Crean Australian Minister for Trade Simon Crean (third from left) and his delegation with the DG and his team.

A twelve-member delegation led by the Australian Minister for Trade, Simon Crean, and Peter N Varghese, High Commissioner, Australian High Commission, New Delhi, visited ICRISAT-Patancheru on 7 May.

The dignitaries were received by Director General Dr William Dar accompanied by Peter J Ninnes, Director, Resource Planning & Marketing. Addressing the delegation, Dr Dar said that Australia has been a long-standing partner of ICRISAT, and that the benefits of this partnership have been mutual. Terming the relationship with Australia as a two way process, Dr Dar said Australian support is vital during the ongoing change process in the CGIAR.

Pointing out the spiraling prices of pulses in India, he noted that export of pulses to India will be a very good trade option for Australia. “Not only the developing countries but countries like Australia benefit from our research,” Dr Dar added.

Reciprocating the sentiments expressed by the Director General, Simon Crean said, “This visit underpins the need to create a framework in which we can deepen our understandings.” He further assured the support of his government to ICRISAT’s endeavors.

Peter J Ninnes, CLL Gowda, Hector Hernandez, V Balaji, Nalini Mallikarjuna, GV Ranga Rao and PS Birthal were also present at the briefing. Later, Simon Crean planted a mango sapling at the sprawling campus of Patancheru in the presence of Dr Dar. This Minster for Trade then remarked, ”India is trying to export mangoes to Australia and this is a good trade planting!”

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Consortium Board Member G Balachander visits headquarters

Ganesan Balachander Dr Ganesan Balachander with Dr Dar and the Management Group.

Dr Ganesan Balachander, CG Consortium Board Member, visited ICRISAT-Patancheru on 12 May. He met Director General Dr Dar and the Management Group at the DG’s Conference Room for detailed discussions on the CGIAR-Mega Programs. This followed a brief visit to the SatVenture and individual meetings with Rajeev Varshney, KK Sharma, HD Upadhyaya and V Balaji.

Dr Balachander was earlier a member of the Board of Trustees at Bioversity International. His career interests have ranged from banking to environmental conservation. He is now starting up a Green Bank intended to have a triple bottom line: good for business, good for the environment and good for poor people. Balachander has represented the interests of South Asia at the Ford Foundation and has long experience in directing and implementing development projects with international and national NGOs.

He summed up his visit as being very fruitful and educative, and said that he was pleased to see the excellent work being carried out at the Institute, which will draw him back for future visits.

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Dr Meryl Williams honored for outstanding contributions

Meryl Williams Dr Meryl Williams.

Chair of the Commission for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) and member of ICRISAT’s Governing Board, Dr Meryl J Williams, was honored with an Outstanding Alumni Award at a special ceremony as part of the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the James Cook University this week.

Dr William Dar in a message to Dr Meryl Williams on 12 May said, “We extend our congratulations to you on this occasion, and are very proud to be associated with you.”

Dr Williams, a world leader in fisheries research and research for development, received her Bachelor of Science with Honours Class 1 from James Cook University in 1975 and was awarded the Dr R Palmerston-Rundle Prize for biological sciences. Beginning with the Queensland government in 1977, working on fisheries research and analysis, she went on to the South Pacific Commission in the mid-80s before joining the Australian Department of Primary Industries and Energy in 1986. In 1990, Dr Williams became Executive Director of the Bureau of Rural Resources, and three years later Director of the Australian Institute of Marine Science (AIMS). She served as Director General of WorldFish from 1994 to 2004, and chaired the Board of Management and was President of ACIAR’s Policy Advisory Council from 2004 until 2007.

As Chair of the ACIAR, Dr Williams provides advice on agricultural research and development programs, and the funding of these programs to the Minister for Foreign Affairs.

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DG inaugurates HarvestPlus office in Patancheru

HarvestPlus inaguration Dr Dar inaugurating the HarvestPlus office in Patancheru.

Director General Dar formally inaugurated the office of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)-HarvestPlus at Patancheru campus on 12 May. Speaking on the occasion Dr Dar recalled how he advocated the inclusion of pearl millet in the mandate of HarvestPlus. “When HarvestPlus started, pearl millet was not in the picture. I demanded a place for this poor man’s cereal among the major cereals such as wheat and rice,” he said.

Thanking the representatives from HarvestPlus and Lawrence Kent of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, Dr Dar stressed the need for forging partnerships with scientific organizations at different levels and said, “No one can do it alone. ICRISAT is the living proof for showcasing partnerships for agricultural development.”

Harrie Hendrickx – Head, Product Delivery, HarvestPlus, pointed out that the new office in Patancheru would mainly concentrate on providing support to seed companies and the industry to pick up the seeds that are rich in micro-nutrients. “We focus mainly on staple crops like cassava, maize, beans, rice, wheat and pearl millet, and pearl millet is the reason why we are now in ICRISAT,” he said.

Explaining the Foundation’s experience in the developing world, Lawrence Kent said that micronutrient malnutrition is a major concern in Asia and Africa. “Despite the rapid economic and agricultural development in India, there is still a problem of micronutrient deficiency in children, leading to stunted growth and anemia,” he added.

Hector Hernandez; KN Rai, Director, HarvestPlus India, Biofortification; SN Nigam; KK Sharma and Binu Cherian, Product Delivery Manager-Asia, HarvestPlus; were also present on the occasion.

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Workshop on pearl millet and sorghum in Niamey

Niamey workshop Participants of the inaugural workshop for the BMZ-funded project at Niamey.

The inaugural workshop for the project Tackling abiotic production constraints in pearl millet and sorghum-based agricultural systems of the West African Sahel funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development (BMZ), was organized at ICRISAT’s Training and Visitors Centre in Niamey from 3 to 6 May.

The 3-year project aims at enhancing adaptation of pearl millet and sorghum to low-phosphorus soils and water stress in the Sahelian zone of West Africa covering Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal. Representatives from the relevant NARS participated together with Vincent Vadez, Acting Global Theme Leader Biotechnology, Heiko Parzies and Ludger Herrmann from the University of Hohenheim and Andreas Buerkert from the University of Kassel-Witzhausen, both in Germany.

The workshop focused on overviews given by the country representatives about previous research and strategies to cope with abiotic stress in sorghum and pearl millet. On the second day discussion focused on the five outputs of the project to be achieved through a combination of physiological experiments, classical and marker-assisted breeding research, and agronomic studies.

There was also a field visit at Sadoré research station and training on data management, conducted by Roger Stern from the University of Reading. Besides the workshop participants, partners involved in ICRISAT projects in Burkina Faso and Niger funded by the McKnight Foundation also took part in this course.

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TL II review a success

TL II revies Greg Edmeades (extreme right) with Said Silim, Ganga Rao and Tsedeke Abate in Tanzania.

Greg Edmeades, a consultant with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, visited Kenya, Tanzania and Malawi to review the Tropical Legumes II project from 21 April to 1 May. His trip began in Nairobi with meetings that took place from 21 to 23 April. The first day consisted of presentations of results by the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, ICRISAT and NARS partners on the common bean, chickpea, seed systems and baseline studies.

Edmeades visited soybean and common bean on-farm experiments, large-scale seed productions and the Nangina Social Work and Youth project in western Kenya. He, along with Said Silim, Tsedeke Abate and Ganga Rao, then visited Tanzania from 24 to 26 April. Based on the presentations made by NARS representatives, Edmeades noted that the targets specified in the first phase document were achieved in most cases.

On 25 April the team attended a pigeonpea field day in Galappo village of Babati district, which drew around 120 farmers. They also visited on-farm sites and seed procurement places in the village. The next day was spent visiting on-station pigeonpea trials, seed production and PVS trials planted at Nane-Nane show site.

Edmeades, accompanied by Tsedeke and Ganga Rao, met with Moses Siambi in Lilongwe. The group participated in the review process in Malawi from 29 April to 1 May. The team also visited on-station and on-farm experiments in groundnut and pigeonpea on 30 April. On the last day, the group visited soybean and bean experiments.

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Senior USAID official visits Bamako

Sabinus Fyne Anaele, Regional Director, Office of Agriculture and Natural Resources, USAID/West Africa visited West Africa Seed Alliance-Seeds project (WASA-SP) on 10 May.

Accompanied by Jorge Oliviera, Agricultural Advisor, USAID/WA, Anaele visited Institut du Sahel in Bamako city where the WASA-SP team is currently based. SVR Shetty, Chief of Party gave an overview of the project highlighting the achievements of the three project components namely seed policy harmonization, seed value chain strengthening and seed business development. He emphasized the challenges faced by seed system development in West Africa and seed trade in general. At ICRISAT-Bamako, Anaele was received by Bonny Ntare, Country Representative.

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ICRISAT holds International Policy Dialogue on Climate Change in Bangladesh

International Policy Dialogue on Climate Change MCS Bantilan speaking at the workshop in Dhaka.

The month of May started with a bang with ICRISAT organizing the Second Annual Planning and Review Meeting of the project Vulnerability to climate change: adaptation strategies and layers of resilience on 3 and 4 May, followed by an International Policy Dialogue hosted by Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD) on Building Climate Resilient Agriculture in Asia on 5 and 6 May in Dhaka, Bangladesh.

At the review meeting, MCS Bantilan described the project as an opportunity for all partner countries to empower the people to use the layers of resilience along with empowerment of the key stakeholders. Naveen Singh provided a brief overview of the project and workshop. NS Jodha, representing the Steering Committee of the project, emphasized the need for using past experiences of the farming community and tracking changes in the grassroots across seven countries: India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, China, Thailand and Pakistan. This was followed by country-wise presentation of progress reports.

The review focused on a range of topics from climatic data analysis, variability and change, vulnerability analysis and insights from the field on farmers’ perception to climate change and their adaptation strategies. The review ended with the discussion on progress of activities as per the work plan. Timelines were revisited and established for the other activities in 2010-2011. ICRISAT was represented by MCS Bantilan, Naveen Singh, Rupsha Banerjee, R Padmaja and H Padmini.

The Policy Dialogue, held from 5-6 May, saw the who’s who of policy and planning of Bangladesh share a common platform with the research community across seven countries led by CPD and ICRISAT. Uttam Deb, Research Head of CPD and Project Collaborator from Bangladesh was a key player in conducting the event. Mustafizur Rahman, Executive Director of CPD, Rehman Sobhan, Chairman of CPD, AMM Shawkat Ali, Former Adviser to the Caretaker Government and Begum Matia Chowdhury, Agriculture Minister of Bangladesh, spoke on the occasion.

The closing session was chaired by M Syeduzzaman, former Finance Secretary of Bangladesh and attended by Members of Parliament. MCS Bantilan presented the synthesis of the two day dialogue in this session.

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VDSA Training-cum-Project Review Workshop

VDSA workshop Alamgir Chowdhury addressing the Review Workshop in Dhaka.

The Training-cum-Project Review Workshop of the Bangladesh Component of the Village Dynamics in South Asia (VDSA) Project was successfully organized during 7-9 May at the Socioconsult, Dhaka, Bangladesh. The workshop started with a visit to Nishaiganj village of Mymensingh district, which is one of the twelve villages selected for implementing the VDSA project in Bangladesh. A major shift from rice cultivation to fish farming in Nishaiganj was one example of the rapidity of village dynamics, which are being tracked in the project.

MCS Bantilan gave an overview of the project to the Bangladesh VDSA team. The project was reviewed following the presentation of the achievements of the Bangladesh component in the first year by Alamgir Chowdhury (Socioconsult) and UK Deb (Center for Policy Dialogue).

VR Kiresur and P Parthasarathy Rao imparted training to the Bangladesh team including field investigators, programmers and data entry operators on the quantitative methodologies for village/household surveys and meso/macro data collection. R Padmaja and Rupsha Banerjee guided the participants on the use of qualitative tools for data collection. Naveen Singh and
H Padmini also participated and contributed to the successful organization of the workshop.

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