No. 1507 24 February 2012

Fighting poverty and hunger in the drylands
ICRISAT and Africa Harvest team up in “Sorghum for Multiple Uses” project

Participants at the inception workshop of the sorghum for multiple uses (SMU) project held in Nairobi.

Sorghum plays an important role in ending hunger and malnutrition in the marginal and drought-prone areas of sub-Saharan Africa. It is the fifth most important cereal crop and is the dietary staple of more than 500 million people in the drylands. A multi-purpose crop, it is used mostly for food purposes, as a source of dry season fodder for livestock, for industries and as fuel for cooking, among others.

ICRISAT, Africa Harvest and partners in Kenya and Tanzania have joined hands to improve the livelihoods of resource-poor, smallholder farming households in rural areas in both countries by developing sorghum varieties and its value chain for multiple uses. This will be carried out through a project titled “Development of a robust commercially sustainable sorghum for multiple uses (SMU) value chain in Kenya and Tanzania” to be funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

As part of this initiative, a two-day inception workshop was held in Nairobi on 15-16 February. The activity brought together key collaborators and partners to map out workplans and identify opportunities for collaboration across the two countries.

ICRISAT-ESA Director Said Silim gives his remarks at the project launch.

According to ICRISAT’s Mary Mgonja, Project Leader, the project will support the development and demonstration of new multipurpose sorghum varieties that are high yielding and adapted to both biotic and abiotic stresses in Eastern Kenya and northern and central Tanzania. Farmers in these target areas experience perennial food shortages due to inadequate rainfall. Although sorghum is a major staple here, farmers continue to use low-yielding local varieties. The project will strengthen extension support for the promotion and distribution of quality seeds of improved varieties and in improving market linkages.

The project will also address constraints along the value chain in order to increase production, productivity and incomes. Farmers will benefit from capacity building, access to quality seeds and linkage to markets.

Dr Henry Ojulong describes his work in finger millet research during the field visit.

Speaking during the workshop, Dr Florence Wambugu, Africa Harvest CEO, said “each partner contributing in the area of their comparative strength will result in synergy and impact.” ICRISAT-ESA Director, Dr Said Silim, on the other hand, encouraged partners to own the project by getting fully involved, and to keep in mind that farmers in the drylands are the real beneficiaries of the project.

Chief Guest Mr Mong’ere, Director for Production Services, Ministry of East Africa Community, said that “the project could not have come at a better time, as the demand for sorghum is higher than what we are able to produce in the region.” He expressed confidence that the project would facilitate commercialization of smallholder agriculture, and improve food security and incomes of the communities.” Others who spoke at the workshop include Dr Fina Opio (ASARECA) and Joseph Ng’ang’a (IFAD).

Mary Mgonja proudly shows off a sorghum variety during the field visit.

The meeting concluded with a field visit to the ICRISAT/KARI Kiboko Station to observe activities on sorghum, finger millet and pearl millet breeding for yield potential, stress resistance and tolerance to drought, disease, insect and problem soils, and other preferred traits.

Most telling at the end of the meeting was a remark by a participant from Tanzania, who said that he now understood ICRISAT’s motto “Science with a Human Face” and how scientists are demonstrating the use of science to improve the lives of the poor.

ICRISAT’s previous collaborative partnerships with Africa Harvest include the Africa Bio-fortified Sorghum project and currently the ICRISAT-HOPE project.

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ICRISAT-HOPE field day
Sorghum production set to perk up in Rombo District, Tanzania

Farmers in Michael Shirima’s sorghum farm during the ICRISAT-HOPE field day.

It all began when Mr Michael Shirima, owner of Precision Air (a regional airline company in Tanzania), on hearing about the improved Macia sorghum being promoted by the ICRISAT-HOPE project, bought 30 kg of seed from Suba-Agro, a private seed company in Tanzania. He planted it on 8 acres of his land in October-November 2011. Next to the sorghum crop, he also seeded a field of maize. At harvest time, the sorghum crop was successful but the maize crop failed.

This prompted Mr Shirima to host local farmers in a sorghum field day on his farm in Leto village, Rombo District on 20 February to help mitigate the effects of climate change by promoting an alternative to maize in the semi-arid lower zone of the district.

Children get to taste a range of nutritious sorghum-based preparations.

The highlight of the field day was the organoleptic tasting of various drink and food preparations made from Macia sorghum – the local alcoholic brew, uji (porridge), ugali (stiff porridge), mkande (a boiled mixture of sorghum and cowpea grains) and pilau (cooked sorghum grain mixed with beef). The participants acknowledged the good beer and food qualities of Macia sorghum and showed eagerness to grow it in the next season beginning mid-March.

The field day was attended by 100 farmers and extension staff from Rombo district; Peter Toima, Rombo District Commissioner; Hilary Shirima (representing his brother Michael); Frank Mwandry (Rombo DALDO); Fridah Mgonja (National Coordinator of ICRISAT-HOPE project); Bob Shuma (CEO, Tanzania Seed Traders Association); Daniel Gisiri (MD, Dunia Trust); Mary Mgonja and Patrick Audi (ICRISAT-ESA); and media representatives from Kilimanjaro Region.

Chief Guest Peter Toima said villages in the District, which has a population of 350,000, had experienced total to near failure of maize crop in the last five years, leading to food shortage and the government being called upon to intervene with food aid. He advised local farmers to plant sorghum instead in order to improve food security and farm incomes. The project, in turn will be able to assist them in terms of information on where to buy quality sorghum seed, recommended agronomic practices, various uses of sorghum grain at the household level, and reliable market outlets for their sorghum.

Mary Mgonja (ICRISAT) and Fridah Mgonja (ARD, Selian), on the other hand, assured farmers of the availability of adequate quality seed in March and promised targeted training for both farmers and extension workers.

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AgMIP South Asia Regional Meeting concludes today

Participants of the AgMIP South Asia Regional meeting at Patancheru.

The five-day workshop of the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP) South Asia at ICRISAT-Patancheru concludes today, 24 February. The workshop primarily aimed to build capacity for regional research activities at pilot locations using multiple agricultural models to understand important uncertainties of climate impact on production and food security.

The workshop also sought to determine the key climate variability and change-related questions for agriculture in South Asia; build a transdisciplinary community of agricultural scientists including expertise in agronomy, climate, agricultural economics, and information technologies; and learn about opportunities for collaboration with ongoing regional initiatives.

AgMIP is a global project funded by the Department for International Development (DFID)-UK aid and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and spearheaded by Dr Cynthia Rosenzweig, NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and Columbia University, New York; Dr Jim Jones, University of Florida; and Dr Jerry Hatfield, USDA-ARS, Ames, Iowa.

Drs Rosenzweig and Jones led the meeting this week along with the core AgMIP team and international and regional experts. Dr Yvan Biot, Head of Climate and Environment from DFID Research was also present.

The meeting was attended by 62 participants from eight countries, along with 14 ICRISAT staff, mainly crop modelers and economists.

Workshop deliberations to build capacity using agricultural models.

During the meeting small groups worked on climate models, regional economic and trade-off models and crop models, as well as with an IT group developing appropriate tools to link models and databases. The crop modeling group focused on groundnut in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh and wheat and rice in the Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP), using the crop models DDSAT, APSIM, STICS and INFO-CROP. Crop models have been compared with common data sets using long-term weather data plus future climate scenarios prepared by the climate group. The regional economics group worked on household and other data from Bangladesh. AgMIP works on many other crops and crop, economic and climate models.

AgMIP will henceforth form six regional teams in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and four regional teams in South Asia. Last month, a regional AgMIP meeting was held in Kenya for SSA.

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DBT projects hold annual project meetings at IIPR, Kanpur

Participants of the DBT project meetings in Kanpur.

The annual review and planning meetings of the projects “Deployment of molecular markers in chickpea breeding for disease resistance” and “Centre of Excellence in Genomics (DBT-CEG Phase II)” sponsored by the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, were held at the Indian Institute of Pulses Research (IIPR), Kanpur on 17 February.

Inaugurating the meeting, IIPR Director, Dr N Nadarajan, appreciated ICRISAT’s leadership of the two projects and underlined the role of molecular breeding and partnership in crop improvement. During the first session co-chaired by Dr Nadarajan and Dr Pooran Gaur (ICRISAT), progress and workplan of the respective partner centers were presented by Dr Aditya Garg (IIPR), Dr Anita Babbar (Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwavidyalaya), Dr PN Harer (Mahatma Phule Krishi Vishwavidalaya), Dr C Sivakumar (ICRISAT) for ARS-Gulbarga, and Dr Rajeev Varshney (ICRISAT).

The second session co-chaired by Drs SK Chaturvedi and Varshney, saw presentations on progress made by Dr KR Soren (IIPR), Dr Shailesh Tripathi (Indian Agricultural Research Institute), and Dr Varshney who spoke on behalf of Dr Anuradha (Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University). In summarizing the meeting, Dr Varshney initiated discussions for a chickpea research community to set the guidelines for multi-location field trials of Marker-assisted selection (MAS) products.

ICRISAT was represented by Drs Gaur (International efforts in chickpea research and community of practice for integrated breeding), Varshney (Use of molecular markers for DUS testing in pulses) and Sivakumar in the Rabi Pulse Scientist Meeting and DUS Training Course in IIPR.

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National training course on carbon sequestration held

A trainee receives a certificate of participation from DG William Dar.

The national training course on Carbon Sequestration and Carbon Trading concluded on 17 February at ICRISAT-Patancheru, with ICRISAT Director General William Dar distributing the certificates of participation to the 16 trainees from ICAR institutions, state agricultural universities (SAUs), and ICRISAT.

Congratulating the trainees, Dr Dar expressed hope for the participants to build on the technologies learnt from the training in contributing to climate change mitigation and adaptation and in improving the livelihoods of smallholders in the semi-arid tropics.

The concluding session saw Dr SP Wani sharing the outstanding performance of the participants in the post-course evaluation. During the course participants prepared four proposals on C-sequestration in different agro-ecoregions with different cropping systems and came up with a networking proposal. Two group leaders with the best proposals were awarded prizes. Trainee representatives Drs Ramesh and Vinod highlighted the high level of confidence they had gained from the training.

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ICRISAT joins World Radio Day celebration in Bamako

(L to R) Assa Diallo (Information Department, EU Delegation in Mali), Farid Waliyar (ICRISAT-WCA Director), Kevin Douglas Perkins (Director General, Farm Radio), Sidiki N’Fa Konaté (Minister of Communication, Mali), and Ouleymatou Diallo (Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mali).

Dr Farid Waliyar, ICRISAT-WCA Director, attended the celebration of World Radio Day at Hotel Azalai Salam in Bamako, Mali on 20 February. The program was organized by Farm Radio, with whom the Institute has collaboration.

The opening ceremony was chaired by Malian Minister of Communication, Mr Sidiki N’Fa Konaté. On the occasion, Dr Waliyar described ICRISAT’s use of radio to share information and new technologies to farmers.

In 2011, in collaboration with Farm Radio International, ICRISAT-WCA trained a number of rural broadcasters who now share new technologies like improved seed varieties and integrated soil fertility management options. This participatory approach of using rural radio involves farmers in collecting and sharing information.

World Radio Day raises awareness about the importance of radio in facilitating access to information and enhancing rural networking. The celebration was organized by Farm Radio’s regional office in Mali and was attended by many officials of agricultural research institutes.

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ICRISAT participates in international conference on climate change

Team ICRISAT at the international conference on Climate Change, Sustainable Agriculture and Public Leadership in New Delhi.

At the international conference on Climate Change, Sustainable Agriculture and Public Leadership held on 7-9 February at the National Agricultural Science Centre (NASC), New Delhi, ICRISAT’s Research Program on Markets, Institutions and Policies (RP-MIP) actively participated in the technical sessions and presented research findings on building a climate resilient agriculture in semiarid tropic (SAT) India. (Related story published in Happenings 1505, 10 February 2012).

During the conference, Dr Cynthia Bantilan, Research Program Director, MIP, chaired the session on “Climate resilient agriculture”. Meanwhile, Dr Naveen P Singh gave a presentation on “Building resilience and adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers of Semi-Arid Tropics: Policy making in a changing climate.” Piara Singh, Nedumaran Swamikannu and Byjesh Kattarkandi also attended the conference.

Key findings from research projects (e.g., ICRISATADB project “Vulnerability to climate change: Adaptation strategies and layers of resilience” and Global Futures) were also highlighted during the technical sessions. The conference ended with a resolution to form a consortium primarily to tackle challenges in rainfed areas through integrated mitigation and adaptation tools and by developing a climate-smart agriculture.

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Feeding the Forgotten Poor on CNBC TV

Dr Dar makes a point during the TV interview.

India’s leading business news channel, CNBC TV18 spoke to Director General William Dar in a special interview on 22 February at Patancheru. The said interview was about the recently released book, Feeding the Forgotten Poor, authored by Dr Dar with Arun Tiwari.

During the interview, Dr Dar pointed out that though India produces enough food to feed its more than one billion people, most farmers cannot afford rising food prices. Dr Dar highlighted the need for Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) which focuses on helping farmers access markets.

Elucidating the reasons for writing the book Feeding the Forgotten Poor, Dr Dar said that it expounds on issues of poverty and hunger by drawing attention to “orphan crops” and “hidden hunger”. Noting that more than one billion people are hungry and malnourished, the book critically examines political, economic and environmental issues affecting contemporary agriculture.

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