No. 1435 08 October 2010

Sorghum Scientists hold Field Day at Patancheru

The Global Theme on Crop Improvement (GT-CI) organized a Sorghum Scientists’ Field Day at ICRISAT-Patancheru on 6 and 7 October to showcase the depth and variability in the sorghum material bred for various traits at ICRISAT. Thirty scientists from the public sector, 11 from the private sector and 3 international training participants joined the program.

On behalf of Director General William Dar, DDG-R Dave Hoisington delivered the inaugural address. Welcoming Dr JV Patil, Director, Directorate of Sorghum Research, and the participants, Hoisington said that the field day was an opportunity for clients, partners and customers to see what ICRISAT had produced, the improvements made in the past few years and the future of the crop in India and the semi-arid regions of sub-Saharan Africa. He called on the scientists to use this material and information to deliver improved products to benefit the smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tropics.

Participants of the Sorghum Scientists’ Field Day with DDG-R Dave Hoisington and senior scientists.

Dr Hoisington also spoke about the CGIAR change process, establishment of a formal Consortium Board with a legal status and appointment of a CEO (Mr Lloyd Le Page) to manage Consortium activities. He dwelled on the new Strategic Plan 2020, elucidating the ‘Inclusive Market Oriented Development’ and ‘systems perspective’ adopted by ICRISAT.

Further, he emphasized the need for reinforcing existing partnerships and developing new ones to bring about a visible difference, not only in terms of productivity enhancement, but in increasing the incomes of smallholder farmers.

Speaking about the changes in the use of sorghum in recent years, it being used more for non-food purposes as feed, fodder and biofuel than for food, Hoisington said that the research community should analyze how an economic balance can be maintained. He said that our products need to be much more versatile to be effectively cultivated in changing climatic conditions and pointed out the need to communicate to farmers how crops can perform better under a wider range of climates.

Earlier, Pooran Gaur officiating for CLL Gowda, welcomed the participants to the conference and requested them to go through the material and provide feedback on the materials and approaches ICRISAT has adopted in the sorghum improvement program so as to improve its efficiency.

Belum VS Reddy gave a brief account of the weather during the 2010 rainy season, status of sorghum crop at ICRISAT and the program schedule for Day 1. There was 50% higher rainfall than the normal during the 2010 crop season but sorghum withstood this with all its resilience and adaptability, lifting the spirits of sorghum scientists.

All the participants visited the demonstration plots near the main gate to see the best material under demonstration for various traits. The group then moved to various fields to see the variety of the material.

Belum Reddy makes a point in the field while participants look on.

Belum VS Reddy, HC Sharma, P Srinivasa Rao, A Ashok Kumar, HD Upadhyaya, RP Thakur, Rajan Sharma, CT Hash and V Vadez explained the progress of work in various areas and the organization of material in different fields to facilitate the selection by scientists on the second day.

The field visit was followed by in-house presentations by Senthilvel, Parthasarathy Rao and Michael Blümmel. On the second day, the participants were taken to different sorghum fields to enable them to select the material of their choice.

Tom Hash made a presentation to the group on the importance of moving towards marker assisted breeding in the light of reduced costs of genotyping services.

Participants gave feedback on various aspects of the program, which were noted by respective scientists to be addressed in the future. Dr Hoisington called on the participants to make use of new information available particularly the full genome sequence and genotyping by sequencing in real time at a very low cost. HC Sharma presented the vote of thanks.

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CGIAR Consortium Board meets in Syria

The members of the Consortium Board (CB) had a meeting with representatives of the Centers at Aleppo, Syria on 4 and 5 October. Director General William Dar and Board Chair Nigel Poole participated in the meeting.

Here are some of the highlights of the meeting:

  1. On transitional funding for 2011, the CB agreed to further pursue with the Fund Council (FC) their earlier submission/proposal to the FC that unrestricted funding for 2011 is necessary to stabilize and sustain the work of Centers. This amount will be 10% more than the 2009 funding. The Centers also proposed that the 2010 funding level will be considered once the financial reports are out. It was agreed that the higher of the two values will be followed, taking into account that CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) will be started and funded.
  2. Fast tracked CRPs like rice and climate change have been endorsed to the FC. The other two CRPs being fast tracked (wheat and maize) may not yet be considered by the FC in their November meeting. For the other 11 CRPs, the CB will give their decision/comments on 1 December.

The Consortium Board will have their next meeting on 14 and 15 February 2011 at ICRISAT-Patancheru. The Chair of the CB invited the Centers to attend this meeting. ICRISAT will prepare for this and showcase our work and our collaboration with various Centers and partners.

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HOPE-Team in action: Training, planning, sharing

The Sorghum and Millets (HOPE) team in Mali had an action packed week as it pursued Objective 6 of the Project — stimulating adoption of improved technologies by smallholder farmers.

On 24 September, two days after Mali’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the organizers conducted a one-day training course on radio script writing for rural radios in HOPE project areas in Mali. The 25 participants included technical personnel from each local partner organization, radio programmers from the same locations, research technicians from IER, our national research partner, and ICRISAT technicians who support local partners.

Dr Paul Van Mele, a Belgian communications specialist with extensive West-Africa experience and Tony McGowan, a resident journalist, were the trainers for the program. The creation of captivating and memorable radio programs was taught and practiced by sharing of experiences, role plays, and actually writing and reading scripts based on participants’ experiences and project themes. The participants were encouraged to exchange successful scripts. They were also introduced to options for interacting with international and rural farm radio networks.

Hybrid seed production training at Siby, Mali.

Gatien Falconnier, MSc student from France, conducted a farmer-feedback session on 27 September in Banco village, Dioila district. He presented conclusions of his surveys on options for increasing legume cultivation in cereal-based production systems in southern Mali. This study had a special focus on identifying options for enhancing incomes of women farmers.

More than 50 farmers participated in lively discussions on the different cropping systems, their key constraints and options for soil fertility management, in view of reduced fertilizer availability, increasing herbicide use, and gender roles and responsibilities.

IER and ICRISAT conducted a series of three one-day Hybrid Seed Production training courses to provide a clearer understanding of exactly what sorghum hybrids are and practical knowledge required for successful hybrid seed production. A total of 59 participants were trained in workshops in Dioila (27 September), Siby (28 September) and at ICRISAT-Samanko (1 October). Each workshop was held in a different zone, permitting farmer, farmer seed-producers, rural radio and technical personnel from each zone to participate. 

The trainers, Abdoulaye Diallo and Bocar Diallo of the Mali IER Sorghum Program and Fred Rattunde of ICRISAT, were assisted by Mr Yalali Traore, sorghum advisor to the Cereal Producers Union of Dioila, ULPC and Mamadou Coulibaly from the National Association of Farmer Organizations (AOPP) who supports the seed producers’ cooperative COOPROSEM.

The participants were excited to see the hybrid yield results from on-station and on-farm testing, and insisted that this information be more widely communicated, as well as the fact that hybrids are not GMOs. The farmers, seed-producers cooperatives and private sector participants highly appreciated the presentations of practical methods and techniques for hybrid seed production. Their motivation to continue and expand hybrid seed production is now setting the stage for large-scale sorghum hybrid seed production of locally bred hybrids in Mali.

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ICRISAT’s Strategic Plan to 2020 in Capsule
A road map towards prosperity in the drylands

Ending pessimism in the drylands. Dryland agriculture has long been viewed with pessimism and hopelessness. Dryland areas are usually seen as resource-poor and perennially beset by shocks such as drought, trapping dryland communities in poverty and hunger and dependent on external aid.

ICRISAT challenges this pessimistic view. Working with diverse partners in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa for almost four decades, ICRISAT has found that dryland farmers are ingenious and resourceful. By applying scientific innovations backed up with adequate policy, marketing and other support services, they are able to increase their crop productivity and incomes by several-fold, while improving the resilience of their lands and livelihoods.

Hence, prosperity can be brought about in the drylands. Hope should reign instead of pessimism. This is the overarching theme of ICRISAT’s new strategic plan for the next decade.

Vision and mission. In its new strategy, ICRISAT envisions “a prosperous, food-secure and resilient dryland tropics.” This will be relentlessly pursued through its mission, which is to “reduce poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation in the dryland tropics.”

To achieve the foregoing, ICRISAT will adopt a partnership-based international agricultural research-for-development approach embodying science with a human face.

Aspirational targets. ICRISAT has set four bold targets for 2020 that will enormously benefit the well-being of the dryland’s poorest people:

  1. Help halve rural poverty by increasing farm incomes through more productive, stable, diverse and profitable crops and crop products.
  2. Help halve hunger by contributing innovations that increase yields by 30% on a wide scale and through policy advice that stabilizes food prices and availability.
  3. Help halve childhood malnutrition by enhancing the nutrient content of staple food crops and helping the poor diversify their crops, delivering more nutritious and safer food.
  4. Increase resilience of dryland farming through innovations that stabilize, safeguard and enhance natural resource capital, biological and systems diversity, and land health.

Prosperity through inclusive and market-oriented agriculture. For a long time, dryland farm families have been marginalized out of the development loop. An inclusive (broad-based) strategy puts them into the mainstream to participate and reap the benefits of development. Moreover, an inclusive strategy will enable the poor, particularly men, women and the youth, to participate rather than be sidelined in the development process.

Along with this, ICRISAT will implement research programs in ways that will benefit poor farmers and the women and children that depend on them, including disadvantaged groups such as the landless, ethnic communities, unemployed youth and the elderly.

Enabling farmers to go beyond subsistence farming to produce surpluses that are stored and sold to markets pave the way for prosperity in the drylands. Surplus produce, which is stored as food, serves as a buffer in times of hunger. Income from marketed produce enable farm families to purchase more food when needed, including inputs such as seeds, fertilizer, labor, tools, livestock, insurance and education. These will further raise farm productivity, kicking off a series of investments that bring about economic growth. As this is sustained, it creates a self-reinforcing pathway to prosperity.

The foregoing describes a socio-economic process called inclusive market-oriented development on which ICRISAT’s new strategy is anchored. Through this, ICRISAT will help bring about a new level of development for the dryland poor so that they can escape poverty for good.

Systems perspective. To pursue this pathway to prosperity, ICRISAT will employ a systems perspective in setting its priorities to ensure that all important issues are addressed holistically. At a macro level, systems thinking allows ICRISAT to study the interaction of various economic, social, political, physical and technological factors influencing dryland agriculture. At a micro level, this perspective is valuable in viewing how the things influence one another within a dryland farming system. This way, a systems perspective enables ICRISAT to plan, implement and evaluate its research programs for optimum impact along the whole dryland agriculture value chain.

Strategic thrusts. To implement its strategy, ICRISAT mapped out four research-for-development thrusts, which will generate innovations that help provide the poor with goods and services to participate in inclusive market-oriented development:

  • Strategic Thrust 1 – Resilient Dryland Systems: Reducing vulnerability to drought and climate change while increasing crop diversity and value
  • Strategic Thrust 2 – Markets, Institutions and Policies: Harnessing development pathways for inclusive prosperity
  • Strategic Thrust 3 – Dryland Cereals: Increasing dryland cereal crop productivity to help end hunger
  • Strategic Thrust 4 – Grain Legumes: Raising and securing legume productivity for health, income and sustainability.

Critical focus areas. Cutting across the strategic thrusts are a host of capacities that will be strengthened during the plan period. These are monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment; gender and diversity analysis; geospatial science methods; modeling and scenario analysis; modern breeding platforms; information and communication technology/knowledge sharing and innovation and fostering agro-enterprises.

The Strategic Plan at a glance.


Inclusive Market-Oriented Development.

A systems perspective.


Impact pathways.

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First Global Scientists-Managers Dialogue

A visual of the screen seen by participants of the dialogue.

Smiles abounded as scientists and managers at Patancheru settled down in anticipation last Friday afternoon (1 October) for the first ever “Global” Scientist-Managers Dialogue called by Director General William Dar.

Through a video/teleconferencing facility set up by KMS-ISU, the first ever dialogue involving ICRISAT headquarters and sites in Bamako, Bulawayo, Lilongwe, Nairobi and Niamey was made possible.

Director General William Dar commenced the dialogue with his presentation on ICRISAT’s Strategic Plan to 2020. Later, Peter Ninnes presented on Implementing our Strategic Plan: 2011-2015, and Hector Hernandez presented the Gender and Diversity Staff Policy. All presenters responded to queries raised by all locations.

The voice of Rex Navarro who anchored the program, cutting through the expectant air asking, “Nairobi, are you in? Niamey, can you hear us?” brought the dialogue to life. The cooperation and assistance of regional leaders Said Silim, Bonny Ntare, Moses Siambi, Sabine Homann and Jupiter Ndjeunga facilitated the active participation of African locations.

The KMS-ISU team used the “Microsoft Live Meeting” system to connect all the ICRISAT sites, which enabled live viewing of presentations over video. Some sites were also linked through telephone lines to receive audio signals as backup.

Prior to the dialogue, the team led by Rex Navarro and Pradyut Modi and comprising Audrey Jayaraj, M Fareeduddin, DV Rao and A Ravikumar worked hard to ensure success of the dialogue.

After the 2-hour session, Dr Dar thanked the ISU/KMS team for their successful efforts and encouraged further development of this very useful technology. Static in cyber space might have garbled some of the voices, but the warm feeling of being united with colleagues across the globe has left a lasting impression.

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NIABI Mentors’ Orientation Program at ICRISAT

ABI-ICRISAT, as a part of its NAIP Project Handholding and mentoring of BPD Units of NARS, kick-started the Network of Indian Agri-Business Incubators (NIABI) Mentors’ Orientation Program with a seminar on Best Practices of Agri-business on 28 September.

Director General William Dar and Dr VR Muthu (CEO, Idhayam Group of Companies) were the chief guests at the function. SN Nigam, Principal Scientist-Groundnut breeding, Kiran Sharma, Principal Scientist-Biotechnology and Head – ABI, were also present. Seventy participants, including mentors, entrepreneurs, and Business Planning and Development (BPD) Managers (from Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Indian Veterinary Research Institute, Central Institute for Research on Cotton Technologies, National Institute for Research on Jute and Allied Fiber Technologies, Central Institute of Fisheries Technology, Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, were present.

Dr Dar addresses the participants of the workshop at Patancheru.

The Mentorship program aims at supporting our entrepreneurs and incubators at the technical and business front. The program was conceptualized taking into consideration the mentoring needs of the 10 business incubators (BPD units) across the country. The mentors base is a mix of expertise from nine major domain areas (agriculture, horticulture, agri-input, agri-processing, incubation, dairy, fisheries, biotechnology, agri-engineering) and 6 functional areas (marketing, consultancy, business, fund rising, quality control, legal/IPR).

S Aravazhi gave a brief presentation on the entire project and NIABI, while SM Karuppanchetty gave insights on NIABI Mentorship program initiation and process from the trigger point up to the selection of final mentors.

Director General William Dar gave the keynote address and spoke about the need and impact of modern agro food systems for direct and indirect growth and poverty reduction in developing countries. He also highlighted the escalating need for innovation, entrepreneurship and technology commercialization felt by the stakeholders in agriculture R&D, and how agri-business incubators can pursue this need.

He said that the ICRISAT Governing Board had appraised the PPP initiatives of ICRISAT, especially ABI, and suggested that it should be integrated as a strategy of ICRISAT for 2020. He added that other such initiatives may be taken up under NIABI that would help the entrepreneurs commercialize their technologies and benefit the farmers.

The session was taken forward by Mr VR Muthu, CEO, Idhayam Group of Companies, who presented a seminar on Best Practices of Agri- business. Mr Muthu spoke about the importance of business mantras through historic Sanskrit slokas. The seminar was informative and the enthusiasm of the audience was evident during the question and answer session.

In the post-lunch session, Karuppanchetty presented on Working modalities of mentorship program (Operational system, Mentorship Agreements, Membership feedback system). The session was shared by Mr Raghavendra Prasad, who explained the practicalities in “Online management of mentorship program”.

The program ended with a one–to-one interaction (mentor, mentees and BPD managers). This provided the participants the opportunity to put forward their views, needs and expectations about the program. For the first time, as many as 19 agreements were signed by the BPD managers with mentors during this session.

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