No. 1427 13 Aug 2010

Plant Nutrition Conference calls for Research on Resilient Crops

Aquaporins, fondly referred to by molecular biologists as ‘the plumbing system of plant cells’ might hold the key to developing climate change resilient crops. They are proteins embedded in the cell membrane that regulate the flow of water in plants. The three-day, first International Conference on Plant Nutrition (ICPN 2010) at Patancheru highlighted threshold research such as on aquaporins in mitigating the adverse impact of extreme weather conditions in the drylands. The Conference organized jointly by ICRISAT and Infinitus Agri was inaugurated by Director General William Dar along with KS Raju, Chairman and Managing Director of the Hyderabad based Nagarjuna Fertilizers and Chemicals Ltd on 11 August.

Dr Dar, in his inaugural address, called upon scientists to use their expertise in ensuring food security to more than six billion people on earth today. He said that the 21st century has thrown up more challenges such as increasing land degradation and desertification, growing water scarcity and the need to produce more food to feed an ever-growing population.

“To compound matters, a perfect storm of warming temperatures, droughts, floods, loss of biodiversity, rising food prices, zooming energy demand and population explosion are creating extreme challenges to feed the world. Unless we find a way of tackling these crises that confront agriculture today, there is little hope for the poor,” Dr Dar added.

Dr William Dar delivering the inaugural address of ICPN 2010

Underscoring the need to spread the knowledge gained in the laboratories for the benefit of the smallholder, Dr Dar said, “Unless scientists and change agents work with farmers, they will not be able to fully appreciate their problems. How else will they handle balanced plant nutrition on their farms,” Dr Dar stressed.

He also urged Dr Maarten Chrispeels, Professor Emeritus of Biology, University of California, San Diego, USA, who received the ICPN 2010 award for his work on aquaporins, to help ICRISAT in increasing productivity of dryland crops under the regime of global warming. Dr Chrispeels responded positively to this.

KS Raju, who was the chief guest for the inaugural session, urged the scientists to deliberate on providing nutrition to farm animals as that adds to the welfare of the smallholder farmer. Y Durga Prasad, convener ICPN 2010, welcomed the delegates, SP Wani gave the overview of the three-day conference and CLL Gowda presented the vote of thanks. Eminent scientists and experts in soil sciences and plant biology, Drs Andre Bationo, Andreas Buerkert, Peter Barraclough, Alex Jhonson and Mohamed Badraoui are among the few that addressed the parallel sessions.

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Maarten Chrispeels honored at ICPN 2010

(L to R) Drs Durga Prasad, SP Wani, Maarten Chrispeels,William Dar and KS Raju at the award giving ceremony.

Dr Maarten Chrispeels, the distinguished Professor Emeritus of Biology, University of California, San Diego (UCSD) was honored by Dr William Dar and KS Raju with the ICPN 2010 award at Patancheru on 11 August.

“This award is a total surprise. The organizers informed me about this a few days ago when I was in New Delhi,” Dr Chrispeels said while accepting the award. He told the gathering that the research on aquaporins, which he started some 15 years ago, might take some time to bear fruit.

He said that he would be happy to share his experiences with ICRISAT in developing crops that could adapt to water scarcity. At Patancheru, it is possible that he will collaborate with Vincent Vadez who is also working on aquaporins.

Maarten Chrispeels, a Belgian, came to the United States in 1960 for graduate study at the University of Illinois. After receiving his PhD in Agronomy, he became a postdoctoral fellow at the Plant Research Laboratory at Michigan State University and studied plant biochemistry. His active research career at UCSD spanned 42 years. Professor Chrispeels was elected to membership in the US National Academy of Sciences in 1996. He served as the Director of the San Diego Center for Molecular Agriculture on the UCSD campus for a decade.

A year after aquaporins were described in animal cells (by Nobel Laureate Peter Agre’s laboratory) Chrispeels found homologous proteins in the tonoplasts of plants and aquaporins became the main focus of the laboratory where Chrispeels worked until his retirement in 2007. The discovery of aquaporins in plants has revolutionized the study of plant-water relations. Together with his collaborators Chrispeels published some 180 research papers and 50 reviews and book chapters.

Professor Chrispeels holds several patents, has consulted for a number of biotechnology companies and is the cofounder of two companies: Phylogics (with Dr Jeffrey Moore) and Arterra Biosciences in Naples, Italy (with Dr Gabriella Colucci).

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Pathway to end global hunger

Megaprogram Dr Dar speaking on climate change and its impact on the poor.

“Curbing the number of hungry people and doing business as unusual is a necessity and not an option” was the central message that Dr William Dar gave while addressing the International Conference on Priorities in Global Agricultural R&D in the context of Climate Change and Rising Food Prices held in Chennai from 7 to 9 August.

This conference, hosted by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation with the partnership and support of over two dozen international and national organizations, attracted about 600 participants. Many policy makers from India (two Chief Ministers and three Union Ministers) and Ministers from Vietnam and Maldives joined in. From the CGIAR, Dr Ganesan Balachander, Member of the Consortium Board was a speaker, besides Dennis Garrity, the Director General of ICRAF.

Dr Dar was invited as the first speaker in the first technical session chaired by Policy Analyst Uma Lele. Representatives from ICARDA ,Bioversity, IFPRI and IRRI joined in. V Balaji was a presenter in a session on Information and Communication Technology in development.

Megaprogram Dr Dar wishing Dr MS Swaminathan on his 85th birthday.

Dr Dar pointed out that the strategy of adopting an Inclusive Market Oriented Development (IMOD) pathway is a win-win strategy and will be the best way to move more people from subsistence farming to farming that generates income. This was a point echoed by the moderator as a key idea in global AR4D.

The opening day of the conference coincided with the 85th birthday of Professor MS Swaminathan. Offering a special felicitation, Dr Dar called Swaminathan “an icon of agricultural science for development”. He mentioned the ICRISAT campus that was established in Patancheru in 1972 thanks to his intervention with the Prime Minister of India, his role in persuading the President of the Philippines to establish PhilRice, and his humanism as perceived by the staff members of IRRI where he served as the Director General.

Dr Dar pointed out that Swaminathan was able to articulate the vision of a repository for plant genetic resources in permafrost conditions back in 1983, which became a reality in 2008 with the opening of the Svalbard vault. He appreciated his advice and support to ICRISAT on many occasions, especially during the last ten years.

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Brainstorming for a global alliance on legumes

A two-day stakeholders meeting for the CGIAR Mega Program (MP) on Grain Legumes was held at Nairobi on 6 and 7 August. The overall aim was to develop a compelling proposal for coordinated global effort to ensure that consumers have access to healthy legumes that can improve nutrition, health and livelihoods.

MP3 on Legumes is one of the 15 mega program concept notes that has been approved by the CGIAR Consortium for conversion to a full proposal. The stakeholders were urged to contribute to the development of a strong Mega Program on Grain Legumes that can benefit poor smallholder dryland farmers across the globe.

About 32 participants representing ICRISAT, ICARDA, CIAT, IITA and AVRDC; NARS partners from Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Iran, Kenya, Morocco, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda; and development investors (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), private sector-(East African Seed Company Ltd, representing African Seed Trade Association) and farmers’ organizations participated.

CLL Gowda, GTL-Crop Improvement, who is coordinating the Mega Program, made a presentation on MP3 Grain Legumes: Raising and stabilizing legume productivity for health, income and sustainability. MP3 on Grain Legumes targets productivity increase of 13 grain legumes, namely chickpea, groundnut, pigeonpea, common bean, soybean, cowpea, lentil, faba bean, grass pea, bambara nut, mung bean, lima bean and tepary bean, for meeting food and feed security in the drylands globally.

Gowda urged everyone to put their minds together to develop a case for establishing a Global Alliance for Legumes (GALe). Based on the deliberations, participants endorsed the formation of GALe, with the following five components: (i) Innovation resources for legumes, (ii) Legumes for health and nutrition, (iii) Legumes for cash and livelihoods, (iv) Legumes for livestock revolution, and (v) Legumes for sustainable farming systems.

With the active participation of all the stakeholders, the twoday deliberations resulted in defining a conceptual framework of the program, finalizing thematic areas, possible roles of various partners, identification of expected outputs and outcomes from the program. A detailed time-line and responsibilities of various stakeholders were discussed and agreed upon.

The meeting concluded on a positive note with all the stakeholders fully committed to their participation and contribution to GALe. Further, the participants agreed to provide all necessary inputs to develop a better project proposal for submission to the CG consortium.

Stakeholders of the Mega Program on legumes in Nairobi.

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Pigeonpea project launched in Tanzania

Participants of the AGRA-funded pigeonpea project in Arusha. Said Silim inspecting a crop at SARI.

The Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)- funded project Improving soil fertility, productivity and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Tanzania through intensification and diversification of maize and pigeonpea cropping systems was launched in Arusha, Tanzania, on 27 and 28 July.

Around 66 stakeholders representing Arusha Regional Commissioner; ICRISATNairobi; Selian Agricultural Research Institute (SARI); AGRA-Nairobi; NARS-Tanzania; progressive farmers cultivating pigeonpea; Minjingu Mines and Fertilizer Ltd; Zanobia Seeds; African Soil Information Service (AfSIS-CIAT); agro-dealers; Agricultural Marketing Sector Development Programme; CNFA/TAGMARK; Research, Community and Development Associates; Tanzania
Agriculture Productivity Program; and TRENS Consultancy Ltd participated in the meeting.

Ganga Rao and Mohamed Somo represented ICRISAT at the meeting, and Said Silim, Director-ESA, participated in the field visit to SARI. Arusha Regional Agricultural Commissioner Honorable Isidor Shirima gave the opening remarks. Bashir Jama, AGRA, Program Coordinator for the Soil Health program, also spoke.

The new project has outlined 10 outputs – increased productivity of pigeonpea and maize, promotion of varieties preferred by end users, using feedback to develop newer varieties that meet end user requirements and cropping systems, improved accessibility and use of inputs including agro-forestry by smallholder farmers, improved germplasm based upon feedback from on-farm research results to develop improved varieties, improving grain quality through use of grades and standards, increased utilization of pigeonpea in domestic and local foods, improving quality of research for development, enhancing capacity of stakeholders in pigeonpea production and marketing, and levels of inputs in integrated soil and fertility management refined and used by farmers in a 3-year project period.

During the two-day deliberations, a series of presentations were organized on pigeonpea production in Tanzania, a detailed presentation about the new project, AGRA and its Soil Health Program, production of Minjingu rock phosphate fertilizers, CNFA and how it links with agro-dealers, role of AfSIS in soil fertility work, formation of Producer Marketing Groups and markets for maize and pigeonpea and development of a soil health consortium in Tanzania.

On the second day, all the participants made a visit to pigeonpea experiments at SARI to observe performance of superior pigeonpea varieties planted as demonstration plots along with new elite breeding populations under medium and long maturity groups.

By the end of the launch meet, all the participants were in agreement about the role that pigeonpea could play in maintaining soil fertility under maize-based cropping systems in smallholder farming communities in Tanzania.

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China’s GZAAS and ICRISAT to promote collaborative research

Workshop participants Drs SP Wani, Peter Ninnes, Dave Hoisington and William Dar with the GZAAS delegation.

A six-member delegation from Guizhou Academy of Agricultural Sciences (GZAAS), China led by Chen Liang, Vice President, comprising directors of Office of International Cooperation and Exchange, Guizhou Institute of Integrated Agriculture Development, Guizhou Institute of Upland Crops, Guizhou Institute of Soil and Fertilizer and Guizhou Institute of Germplasm Resources visited Patancheru on 11 and 12 August.

The main objective of the visit was to strengthen the existing ongoing collaboration with Guizhou Institute of Integrated Agriculture Development in the area of watershed management and climate change through signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between GZAAS and ICRISAT.

During the discussions with Director General William Dar, the delegation requested him to strengthen the collaboration in the area of natural resource management, particularly rainwater harvesting, enhancing water use efficiency and genetic enhancement of groundnut, pigeonpea, chickpea and sorghum.

Dr Dar welcomed their suggestions and indicated ICRISAT’s willingness to strengthen the ongoing collaboration and expanding it to prepare joint proposals, mobilizing resources to undertake research and facilitating exchange of scientists between the institutions.

The delegation visited and discussed with scientists working on Genetic Enhancement, Agri-Business Incubator, on-station watershed and research facilities and Kothapally watershed. They made presentations to the GT-AE group highlighting the ongoing work in various spheres and discussed possible areas of collaboration.

The visit is the result of efforts made by Peter Ninnes, Director- RPM and Suhas Wani during their visit to Guizhou in 2009. The visit of the delegation to ICRISAT was organized by the watershed team led by SP Wani.

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ICRISAT Science Awards

Regardless of whether the CGIAR will continue with the Science Awards, the ICRISAT Management has decided to continue these awards internally to recognize and reward excellence in science at ICRISAT. For 2010, awards will be given in the following categories:

  • Doreen Margaret Mashler Award
  • Promising Young Scientist
  • Outstanding Scientist
  • Outstanding Partnership
  • Outstanding Scientific Support Team
  • Outstanding Scientific Article
  • Outstanding Communication Award

Please visit the “Awards” page under DDG-R Office on our intranet and click on “ICRISAT Science Awards 2010” for more information.

Note that all nominations must be submitted online by 15 September. The Research Committee will evaluate and recommend the awardees by 30 October. Upon Management approval, winners will be announced and awarded during the ICRISAT Annual Day scheduled in December.

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Farm operations in full swing at Patancheru

Foundation stone laying ceremony Mechanized fertilizer application operation in Patancheru.

Rainy season sowing of mandate crops—sorghum, groundnut, pigeonpea and millet—has been completed in an area of approximately 110 ha, including watersheds. The crops are looking vibrant as the rains have been frequent and widespread. Total rainfall in this season is 413.6 mm (from 1 June to 2 July).

On the flip side, the rainfall intensities are not high, so runoff is marginal and the lakes are yet to receive substantial inflows. The weather is also conducive for grass and weeds and these are growing profusely. The cropped areas are being kept clean and healthy by mechanical intercultivation, manual weeding, fertilizer application and a range of other mechanized operations. Grass and weeds around cropped areas and in uncultivated areas and fallow fields are being mechanically chopped.

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