No. 1416 28 May 2010

TL-II and Pigeonpea Make Headway at ICRISAT-Nairobi

It has been a busy week at ICRISAT-Nairobi with various meetings and field visits and even a farewell.

TL-II Review and Planning Meeting Prepares for Phase II

TL II project Participants of TL-II review and planning meeting in Nairobi.

The Tropical Legumes II (TL-II) project successfully held its planning meeting for preparing proposals for Phase II, from 17 to 19 May at the Lukenya Getaway outside Nairobi. Nearly 40 participants attended this meeting including the Deputy Directors General of ICRISAT, the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture and a representative of the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture – the three partner CG Centers of the project, and the Senior Program Officer from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

The meeting deliberated on the successes achieved and lessons learned during the first phase and spent much time discussing the way forward. The overall emphasis for the second phase is expansion of the knowledge and experience gained during the first phase. The need for developing country-specific activities in the coming phase was also emphasized.

Pigeonpea adopted on large-scale

TL II project CLL Gowda and Mrs Pricillah Mutie looking at the second flush of flowers in ICEAP 00557.

CLL Gowda, Global Theme Leader-Crop Improvement, visited Mrs Pricillah Mutie’s farm in Mbitini division of eastern Kenya on 16 May. Mrs Mutie is a progressive farmer who grows pigeonpea for both green and dry grain and has helped encourage large-scale adoption of pigeonpea in this drought-prone area.

During the ongoing pigeonpea season she planted both medium- (ICEAP 00557) and long-duration varieties (ICEAP 00040) on relatively large acreages in her field. She prefers pigeonpea to maize, as she says she can buy maize from the cash she earns from selling pigeonpea. Gowda was very impressed and remarked that her determination to spread agricultural technologies to smallholder farmers is commendable.

He also visited Kiboko and Kampi Ya Mawe research stations to look at pigeonpea experiments such as segregating and advanced generation progenies, which are being developed involving elite varieties and diverse germplasm from Malawi and Mozambique. He was impressed with the overall expression of the crop at both places.

On 20 May, Gowda visited Kabete farm under University of Nairobi where he looked at long-duration trials catering to Tanzania, Kenya, Malawi and Mozambique and shared his ideas on pigeonpea breeding for the region. He also examined breeding populations targeted for high altitude areas in maize-based cropping systems in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA).

Updates and farewell

TL II project ICRISAT-Nairobi staff members with Dr Jones.

During a staff meeting of ICRISAT-ESA on 20 May, staff members had an opportunity to meet with and hear from DDG-R Dave Hoisington and CLL Gowda. At the outset, Said Silim, Director-ESA, informed them about the on going/future activities in the region that are related to research. He mentioned the upcoming board meeting, which will be held in Arusha from 20 to 23 September.

Gowda briefed the staff members on the recently concluded Tropical Legumes II meetings. He made a point that the first phase of TL II has been a success due to the active involvement of the regional staff members and positive feedback from the Advisory board and external independent reviewer Greg Edmeades. He also explained the process and progress of Phase II of the project proposal development and various deadlines for submitting the project proposal.

Dave Hoisington gave an elaborate overview on various initiatives going on at the CGIAR level in general and the ICRISAT level in particular. He discussed various provisions and progress about ICRISAT’s strategic plan 2020 and asked for valuable ideas to make ICRISAT’s strategic plan more relevant to resource-poor smallholder farmers. He also highlighted the overall CG-level changes on new funding criteria, ICRISAT’s involvement in various mega-programs, and the role of full costing and full budgeting policies in effective implementation of research activities that are most relevant to the region.

The group then formally bid farewell to Dr Richard Jones, Assistant Director of ESA and Seed Systems Expert who was leaving to take up a new position with the International Center for Soil Fertility and Agricultural Development (IFDC) as Agribusiness Program Leader for the East and Southern Africa Division. All the staff members shared their experiences working with Dr Jones. He also shared his memories of his tenure at ICRISAT. Team ICRISAT thanked Dr Jones for his many contributions and wished him all the best in his future endeavors.

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HOPE project training on PVS in Tanzania

In order to meet specific milestones for the project Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE), a workshop was held in Tanzania from 17 to 19 May. The workshop was organized by the Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), Arusha, under the leadership of Frida Mgonja (HOPE project Principal Investigator - Tanzania) and in collaboration with ICRISAT-Nairobi. Frank Mmbando of SARI, Elias Letayo, Hombolo Agricultural Research Institute, Dodoma and Patrick Audi, Henry Ojulong and Eric Manyasa (ICRISAT-Nairobi) also assisted in the organization of the workshop.

The workshop was held at the Department of Social Services Training Institute, Singida and was attended by 41 participants (13 women and 28 men) comprising extension staff members, farmer seed producers, seed stockists and farmer groups leaders. The participants were drawn from HOPE project districts of Singida, Rombo, Iramba, Sumbawanga, Kishapu and Kondoa.

The training focused on use of participatory methods to identify key crop traits in the selection of sorghum/finger millet varieties, collect data using the Participatory Varietal Selection (PVS) protocols, identify and initiate information and seed dissemination mechanisms for the selected varieties, identify and prioritize sorghum/finger millet production and marketing constraints, and the formulation of an action plan for all the project districts based on the results of points two and four.

The participants recorded that the key traits that farmers consider in variety selection were earliness, drought tolerance, panicle size, seed size, seed color, taste and market value.

The participants visited sorghum trials hosted by Nkalakala Tumaini Farmer Field School (FFS) in Iramba district. The preliminary results of the field evaluation showed that the best variety was KARI Mtama I, a released improved sorghum variety in Kenya. Group discussions concluded that on-farm demonstrations and field days are good for the promotion of improved varieties, while stockists were identified as the most suitable seed supply outlets for certified seed and seed farmers as outlets for Quality Declared Seed of sorghum and finger millet. These are in line with the regulations of the Tanzania Official Seed Certification Institute.

After the workshop Henry Ojulong and Eric Manyasa visited several PVS trial sites in Singida, Iramba and Rombo districts.

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ICRISAT partners win two BREAD awards

Chickpea roots UC Davis and ICRISAT will study symbiotic nitrogen fixation in chickpea.

ICRISAT is a sub-awardee in the two projects that won the Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development (BREAD) Award for 2010, the inaugural year of the BREAD Program. The two projects are: Overcoming the domestication bottleneck for symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes (Total funding: $1,750,340; ICRISAT share: $700,000) and Platform, pipeline and analytical tools for the next generation genotyping to serve breeding efforts in Africa (Total funding: $1,697,331; ICRISAT share: $270,000)

BREAD is a five-year research program that the National Science Foundation (NSF) of USA and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF) are partnering to foster new collaboration among a broad range of scientists and engineers who can find solutions to the major problems facing agriculture in developing countries.

BREAD is administered through the Plant Genome Research Program of NSF, and proposals for the BREAD Award are judged through an international competition. In 2010, NSF awarded BREAD support to15 projects (involving 42 institutions, both within the USA and internationally).

BREAD: Overcoming the domestication bottleneck for symbiotic nitrogen fixation in legumes – In the developing world the costs of nitrogen fertilizer are prohibitive. As a result, crop yields suffer, and poor farm communities endure the consequent poverty and malnutrition. The eventual purpose of this project, therefore, is to improve the livelihoods of resource-poor farmers in the developing world (especially in India and sub-Saharan Africa) by increasing the efficiency of symbiotic nitrogen fixation in cultivated legume crops.

Scientists from the University of California-Davis and ICRISAT will study the genetic mechanisms that underlie efficient symbiotic nitrogen fixation in chickpea as a first step toward optimizing legume crop improvement strategies. Rajeev Varshney is coordinating the ICRISAT team, which includes Hari Upadhyaya, Pooran Gaur, Vincent Vadez and Mahender Thudi. The team will select the chickpea germplasm from ICRISAT’s collection to secure the basic material for research, which will include multi-location field studies in India and Africa, as well as controlled greenhouse experiments at UC-Davis.

BREAD: Platform, pipeline, and analytical tools for next generation genotyping to serve breeding efforts in Africa – Genomic selection has the potential to significantly increase the rate of gain in agricultural productivity per year in the developing world. In this coordinated project, efforts will focus on solving key technology components necessary to give a major portion of the world’s population access to advanced approaches. These technological innovations will in turn help farmers’ access better crop varieties specifically tailored to challenging environments and production systems.

A number of scientists from Cornell University, University of South Carolina, ICRISAT and CIMMYT will work on this project. Tom Hash is the Co-Principal Investigator from ICRISAT.

Rob Horsch, deputy director of the Agricultural Development Program at BMGF, said, “By engaging leading scientists worldwide, the BREAD Program will creatively address critical agricultural challenges. Resulting solutions will help smallholder farmers in the developing world grow more and earn more so they can lift themselves and their families out of hunger and poverty.”

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DG champions Open Access mandate

Last week, Subbiah Arunachalam, the Open Access (OA) activist from India, organized a letter to the CGIAR. The letter spoke of the need for, and advantages of, making all of CGIAR’s research output Open Access.

He pointed out that ICRISAT has already introduced the OA mandate, and this has proved hugely successful. Since the mandate was introduced, the letter says, OA has grown fast and “the portal now has virtually all the research papers published in recent times, and all the books and learning material produced by ICRISAT researchers”.

ICRISAT and the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) are the only international agricultural research centers today with the OA mandate.

Since the ICRISAT mandate has proved very successful, the letter suggests, now would be a good time for other research centers to follow suit.

The letter adds “Such a development would provide a high level of visibility for the work of CGIAR and greatly advance agricultural research. Besides, journals published by CGIAR labs could also be made OA.” Along with Subbiah Arunachalam, fifteen other OA advocates signed the letter.

Responding to the letter Director General Dr William Dar assured Arunachalam, “I will definitely champion and promote the open access system to be adopted by all the Centers during this meeting in Rome. I believe in sharing freely and openly the knowledge and the research products that have been generated and developed by the Centers and our partners with researchers, farmers, civil society organizations, the private sector and other development institutions.”

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Peter Ninnes visits ICRISAT-Bulawayo

Bulawayo Peter Ninnes with staff members in Bulawayo.

Peter Ninnes, Director of Resource Planning and Marketing, visited ICRISAT-Bulawayo from 1 to 22 May. During his visit, Ninnes took the opportunity to meet individually with scientists to ascertain their opinions on the process of resource mobilization and the involvement of his department. He also had a meeting with the Finance staff at the location for the better integration of accounting and financial reporting requirements with project development.

During a group meeting, Ninnes briefed the Internationally Recruited Staff (IRS) on the CG-level changes and the development of mega-programs as well as ICRISAT’s involvement in the process. He discussed ICRISAT’s strategic plan saying that there is good agreement around the research thrusts and that they are also consistent with the CGIAR mega-programs.

On the final day, Ninnes went on a short tour of the research fields and had tea with all staff members. “There is a strong vibrant team here in Bulawayo,” he said during the tea. “We should be optimistic about our future as we are very relevant to the future of the CG system,” Ninnes added. Isaac Minde, Country Representative, thanked Ninnes for his visit and appreciated the work that he has done so far. “We have seen more coordination now since Peter has joined, and we believe we are heading in the right direction in the concept note and proposal development stage,” he said.

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