No. 1429 27 Aug 2010

Management Group re-energizes team spirit

Management group ICRISAT Management Group and senior staff members in Ramoji Film City.

Amidst the sprawling Ramoji Film City complex in Hyderabad, members of the Management Group (MG) led by Director General William Dar and five other senior ICRISAT officials re-energized their camaraderie and team spirit in a two-day retreat this week. This exercise was anchored on ICRISAT’s new Strategic Plan to 2020 and the ongoing CGIAR change management process.

In his opening remarks, Dr Dar emphasized that the exercise was aimed at reinvigorating the MG+ team even as they were quite busy mapping out ICRISAT’s new Strategic Plan to 2020 and its corresponding Business Plan, and writing proposals for the CGIAR Mega Programs.

As part of the teambuilding process, the retreat participants articulated learning expectations on learning to unlearn, stress management, being less individualistic, improving one’s self, team communication, knowing each other better, self-rejuvenation and discovery, enhancing individual and team attitudes, exercising common sense and understanding the team’s milieu and diversity.

The facilitator, Dr Abhimanyu Acharya, an internationally-reputed Management Trainer, took the group through challenging but enjoyable outdoor management simulation games and linked these to real-life organizational and individual management scenarios.

The MG+ team participated in all the games very actively. The most challenging and interesting one was climbing and rappelling a 65-foot rock in the woods. This was part of a simulated search and rescue mission for an injured pilot whose plane crashed in the area. Participants performed the exercise with anticipation and anxiety as they watched each other climbing and rappelling. The experience was then compared to the initial hesitancy and anxiety of people towards organizational change and the eventual embracing of it as it unfolds.

Participants surprised the facilitator and his team with their clear understanding and sharp accomplishment of each game. Abhi (as he was called) complimented the participants on their active and positive participation, and revealed that it was the first time he and his group encountered such a talented team in their training career.

The MG+ team also had great fun and were entertained on the evening of 23 August by a professional cultural group associated with the Ramoji Film City. This was accompanied by group dancing and singing.

The retreat concluded with the summing up of learnings and a wrap-up session on the forenoon of 24 August. Most of the learning expectations were met and the simulation games were enjoyed by the participants as they collectively assessed the exercise with the facilitator. This positive assessment was summed up during the MG meeting on 25 August.

Similar exercises are slated for ICRISAT staff members with the MG looking forward to another one in February 2011.

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MASA brand a success in Malawi

Malawi E Liam MacGabhann, Irish Ambassador to Malawi, encouraging smallholder farmers in Malawi to use certified seed.

More than 300 smallholder farmers and representatives of various organizations helped to launch the Malawi Seed Alliance (MASA) umbrella brand on 12 August in Mchinji in the Central Region of Malawi. The brand development and launch was facilitated by ICRISAT-Lilongwe through the Malawi Seed Industry Development Project with funding from Irish Aid.

The idea behind the umbrella brand development and launch is to encourage local small- and medium-scale entrepreneurs in the seed industry and consequently to help bring certified legume seed closer to the doorsteps of smallholder farmers. Besides improving the distribution network, the MASA brand would also help smallholder farmers to make a quick choice at the input supplier’s sales outlet. In other words, it will be easier for customers to identify their preferred brand as the MASA brand will be positioned as a symbol of quality.

The launch venue was well decorated attracting attention from motorists driving along the Malawi – Zambia road as Mchinji is located close to the border between the two countries. The Ambassador of the Republic of Ireland to Malawi, His Excellency Liam MacGabhann disembarked from his official vehicle amidst great ululation and jubilation by smallholder farmers. Then Andrew Daudi, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security of Malawi and the Guest of Honor, arrived.

Ambassador Liam MacGabhann expressed his happiness to see how the ICRISAT-implemented Malawi Seed Industry Development Project is bearing fruit. “It’s not about the money you spend, but the problems you solve that matters most,” MacGabhann said. He said an assessment conducted by Ireland’s hunger task force in Malawi in 2006 led to the implementation of a number of programs in the country.

He encouraged smallholder farmers to start using certified legume seeds to improve productivity. He further emphasized the importance of legumes as a source of protein and also as a way of improving soil fertility. MacGabhann singled out post-harvest losses as a major challenge faced by farmers in the country. “About 40% of farmer’s produce is lost at post-harvest stage,” he added. He also urged stakeholders to come up with better ways of controlling post-harvest losses.

Andrew Daudi also expressed his gratitude and happiness at the way the launch was organized, and noted that legumes play a vital role in people’s lives as they are a rich source of nutrients. Daudi hailed ICRISAT’s approach in facilitating the development of a legume seed brand. He said he expected to see more legumes being sold through the Malawi Government’s Farm Inputs Subsidy Program.

Besides fertilizers, Daudi disclosed that 8,000 tons of maize seeds and 3,000 tons of legume seeds will also be included in the subsidy program. He stressed the need to create awareness towards orphan crops in order to improve livelihoods. Finally, Daudi officially announced the launch of MASA umbrella brand.

Impressed by the success of the event, Moses Siambi could not contain himself and announced that all groundnut seed under the MASA brand at the launch would be sold at a 50% discount. He said this was one way of thanking members of the public for the support they give to ICRISAT. The happily surprised audience instantly started queuing for the seed.

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eIndia award for ICRISAT-led Consortium

NAIP-ITC project NAIP-ICT Project, UAS Raichur/Dharwad representatives receiving the award from Ms Agatha Sangma in Hyderabad.

eIndia is an annual event that brings together stakeholders and actors in the sector of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) for development, covering non-profit, corporate as well as government agencies and departments. Normally, 25 countries from Asia and Africa participate in the eIndia event, which concludes with an awards ceremony. In 2007, Dr William Dar had served as the Chief Guest in the awards ceremony. eIndia awards are given to winners in five categories such as education, health, governance and agriculture. The awardees are selected by popular vote and on the basis of jury assessments.

The eIndia 2010 award for the best ICT-enabled project was presented to the ICRISAT-led consortium that implemented a project to build new linkages in the farmer-extension-research continuum. eIndia 2010 had received several hundred nominations, from which a short list of 30 projects covering all the sectors was made. Based on jury assessment and popular online voting, two projects were selected. The awards were given away on 5 August by Dr Agatha Sangma, India’s Union Minister of State for Rural Development, at Hyderabad. LB Hugar, Dean of one of the partner universities in the consortium, received the award on behalf of all the partners. This project was funded for two years (about $2.2 million) in 2008-10 by National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP) and was implemented by the Knowledge Management and Sharing on behalf of the Institute.

The consortium has built and demonstrated approaches in outreach that involved mobile telephony and advanced semantic web technologies. Close to 27,000 farmers joined in trials held over two seasons in three different agro-eco regions in India. The rapidly emerging area of semantic web technology has been applied for the first time in agricultural research and extension in this consortium. Scientists and technologists from agricultural universities and national research centers and advanced institutes of engineering technology worked together to create and test new ICT-mediated technologies on a large scale.

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Recognition for research on Mini Core

The Second International Conference on Climate, Sustainability, and Development in Semi-arid Regions (ICID 2010), was held at Fortaleza in Brazil from 16 to 20 August. More than 1,300 delegates from over 100 countries attended the conference. Jeffrey Sachs, Director, Earth Institute Columbia University, USA delivered the keynote speech. Hari Upadhyaya, Principal Scientist and Head Genebank and Piara Singh, Principal Scientist, Soil Science, represented ICRISAT at the event. Hari Upadhyaya made presentations on Genetic Resources for Food Security in Climate Change Affected Semi-Arid Regions and Climate change and agriculture in semi-arid tropics (coauthors: William D Dar and CLL Gowda). Piara Singh made a presentation on Integrated watershed management for adapting to climate change and preventing desertification in Asia (coauthors: SP Wani, P Pathak and William D Dar). The research on mini core collection as a public good was highlighted in the briefs of the conference with the quotation, “Hari Upadhyaya, International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), India, underscored ICRISAT’s mini core collection, which provides a gateway to genetic resources to identify traits in creating climate ready crops.”

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Godrej AgroVet to tie up with ICRISAT

Godrej AgroVet AgroVet senior officers with Dave Hoisington, Peter Ninnes and Dr Dar.

Godrej AgroVet’s key officials Mark Kahn and Atish Babu visited Patancheru on 19 August and discussed a possible strategic collaboration with ICRISAT. Godrej AgroVet, with a turnover of $350 million, is a sister concern of the $2.6 billion Godrej Group. AgroVet is working in the areas of agri-inputs, animal feed, plantations and poultry.

After a detailed discussion with DDG-R Dave Hoisington, Peter Ninnes, Oscar Riera-Lizarazu, CLL Gowda, AR Ilyas and B Hanumanth Rao, the group met the Director General and further discussed the possible collaboration. The visitors also met scientists from the Crop Improvement division and V Balaji. The visitors toured ICRISAT and Agri-Science Park, which was facilitated by Murli Sharma and Ilyas.

As an offshoot, AgroVet has started a new Agri Venture Capital Fund – OMNIVORE – focusing on creating companies through commercialization of agricultural technologies from various research institutions and scientists. Their focus is on sorghum and pearl millet and they are predominantly looking for options in agricultural inputs. Godrej AgroVet’s mission is to improve the productivity of Indian farmers by innovating products in India and Africa.

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ICRISAT evaluates Hand in Hand program

Hand in Hand (HiH) is a development organization based in Kancheepuram district in the state of Tamil Nadu. They work in four states of India and have established programs in Afghanistan, Brazil and South Africa. The objective of HiH is to eliminate poverty by creating enterprises and jobs. The model has proven very successful in Tamil Nadu, where the organization has mobilized and motivated more than five lakh women in 37,000 Self Help Groups.

Hand in Hand has implemented a Capacity Development Program (CDP) for Micro Entrepreneurs in Vegetable Production and Dairy Farming, funded by one of the leading donors, FMO (Entrepreneurial Development Bank of the Netherlands). ICRISAT’s Agri-Science Park Team, led by AR Ilyas evaluated the HiH program. This activity was coordinated by R Purushotham and Rosana Mula with experts from the Dairy Farming and Vegetable Cultivation sectors. The Livelihoods, Documentation and Reporting team from Dharani Foundation led by their Director (Livelihoods) Sarikala Sadanand assessed the impact created by the CDP-FMO program among the beneficiaries.

The team presented a new benchmarking approach to HiH by segmenting focus areas into strategy, operations and monitoring & reporting. Various activities involving Focus Group Discussions, Stakeholder meeting, Spill over group meetings and random individual interviews were taken up to generate data sets that were then run through various evaluation tools such as Analysis of variance. The draft outcome was presented to HiH, which was appreciated by their top management.

Hand in Hand was pleased with the outcome of the evaluation study and has expressed interest to work towards institution level collaboration, which is now actively pursued by the Agri-Science Park.

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