No. 1525 29 June 2012

ICRISAT and Ghana
Strategic partnership towards sustainable agricultural development in West & Central Africa

Director General William D Dar presenting the ICRISAT-Ghana flyer and the book Feeding the forgotten poor to Dr AB Salifu, Director General, CSIR during a visit to Ghana.

The impact of investing in agriculture is clear: Agricultural development is two to four times more effective in reducing hunger and poverty than any other sector. In Ghana, where 90% of farmers are smallholders, increasing farm productivity is the smartest way to fight hunger and poverty.

Aiming to further strengthen partnerships for sustainable agricultural development in West & Central Africa (WCA), Director General William Dar, along with ICRISAT-WCA Director Farid Waliyar recently visited several partners and donors in Ghana.
In a meeting with Dr AB Salifu, Director General of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Dr Dar stressed the importance of a strong national partner to enable ICRISAT to serve as a bridge, broker and catalyst, and work with partners to help empower the poor in overcoming poverty, hunger and a degraded environment through better and resilient agriculture.

Dr Mamadou Ouattara, Coordinator for Capacity Building of WASCAL and a former ICRISAT GB member; Dr Farid Waliyar; and Dr Elias Ayuk, Director of UN University for the Institute of Natural Resources of Africa.

Dr Salifu, on the other hand, emphasized the importance of CSIR’s collaboration with ICRISAT over the years, particularly with institutions like the Savanna Research Institute (SARI) in Tamale, Ghana, on research, capacity building and knowledge sharing. He added that the collaboration with ICRISAT’s groundnut team through the WASA Seed project, now reinforced by the implementation of Tropical Legumes II, has helped boost production of this important crop and build successful businesses, which are crucial for the economic prosperity and nutritional security of resource-poor farmers in the country. He urged ICRISAT to invest more in sorghum research-for-development in the northern part of Ghana.

During Dr Dar’s visit to the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Deputy Executive Director, raised the importance of collaboration with ICRISAT in the area of climate change. He also recognized ICRISAT’s support to major stakeholders in agricultural research and development in Africa, especially the private sector, in terms of capacity building and commercialization.

Dr Tim Williams, Director of IWMI for West Africa, stressed the importance of members of the CGIAR Consortium to work together, and expressed interest to cooperate with ICRISAT in the region, particularly under the sorghum-based USAID-funded project.

The meeting with Dr Bashir Jama, Director of Soil Health Program and of the Accra office of AGRA (Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa) focused on the outcomes of the fertilizer micodosing project. Dr Dar mentioned about the importance of looking at micronutrients as part of soil health enhancement, sharing ICRISAT’s experience in this area in India. The prospect for future funding and collaboration in a major initiative on micronutrients in combination with microdosing (to be called “microdose plus”) in Africa will be pursued.

Drs Dar and Waliyar with former ICRISAT scientist Dr Ramadjita Tabo, who is now Deputy Executive Director of FARA.

In a visit to the United Nations University (UNU), Dr Elias Ayuk, Director, briefed Dr Dar on the main focus of the university’s new strategic plan for managing Africa’s natural resources – to build human capacity while exploring partnership opportunities. The initiative on adaptation to climate change in northern Ghana is a good entry point for ICRISAT and UNU Ghana to work closely. Dr Dar also met with Dr Mamadou Ouattara, a former ICRISAT board member and now Coordinator for Capacity Building of WASCAL (West African Science Service Center on Climate Change Adapted Land Use). Dr Ouattara noted that there is a good opportunity for WASCAL to collaborate with ICRISAT as a host institution for students undertaking post-graduate programs.

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ICRISAT-IFAD Sorghum Multipurpose Use project holds inception meeting in Tanzania

Participants during the deliberation in Tanzania.

ICRISAT in partnership with Africa Harvest (AH) and the NARS initiated the IFAD-funded Sorghum Multipurpose Use (SMU) project to improve access to well-adapted and higher yielding sorghum varieties and agronomic practices for enhanced household food security and incomes in Kenya and Tanzania.

The SMU project in Tanzania is being implemented in 8 major sorghum growing districts of Singida Rural and Iramba (Singida Region); Kondoa and Kongwa (Dodoma Region); Moshi, Same and Mwanga (Kilimanjaro Region); and Serengeti District in Mara Region.
To kick-start the project, ICRISAT in collaboration with the Department of Research and Development (DRD) and the Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA) of Tanzania, held an SMU inception workshop in Singida, Tanzania on 13-15 June. A total of 40 participants from each of the 8 mandate districts represented by 2 extension officers and 1 sorghum farmer attended the workshop.

Launching the meeting, Deusdedit Rugangila, Regional Administrative Secretary (RAS) for Singida Region acknowledged ICRISAT and IFAD for their timely initiative in promoting the production and marketing of sorghum. He pointed out that with climate change, sorghum production has become more suitable and attractive than that of other cereals and hence more innovative household and industrial uses of sorghum grain have to be explored. He further challenged the SMU project to help stimulate sorghum production growth in the eight districts to meet the 55,000 mt of white grain sorghum demanded per year by Serengeti Brewery, a subsidiary of East African Breweries Limited (EABL).

Participants of the meeting in Singida, Tanzania.

The launch was followed by representatives from the mandate districts presenting their bio-physical and socio-economic profiles, challenges and opportunities for improving sorghum production and marketing, as well as their progress in implementing the project. While citing great potential for increased sorghum production, they also reported lack of information on timing of planting of improved varieties, lack of high quality seed and lack of post-harvest equipment as major challenges faced by farmers. The industry and traders also reported poor marketing infrastructure, low grain volumes and high prices demanded by farmers as major constraints. 

Participating in the inception meeting were Ayub Sengo, District Agricultural and Livestock Development Officer (DALDO) for Singida; Elias Letayo, SMU Project Coordinator for Tanzania; Kusekwa Dalali, Marketing Manager, Kibaigwa Board of Trade; Gerald Mandara of Serengeti Brewery – a major sorghum grain buyer; Prof Joseph Hella and three others from SUA; Ms Doreen Marangu, AH; and Mary Mgonja, Henry Ojulong, Anthony Gakinya and Patrick Audi from ICRISAT.

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First marker-assisted bred sorghum varieties released for cultivation by farmers in sub-Saharan Africa

This past week, the National Crop Variety Release Committee in Sudan approved the release of four Striga-resistant varieties in the genetic backgrounds of popular, but Striga-susceptible, improved sorghum varieties “Tabat”, “Wad Ahmed” and “AG8”. These four experimental varieties released are ASARECA.T1” (T1BC3S4); “ASARECA.W2 Striga” W2BC3S4; “ASARECA.AG3” AG2BC3S4; and “ASARECA.AG4” (AG6BC3S4).

Prof Abdalla Mohammed showing one of the Striga-resistant varieties
in the field.

This is the first time where an African national program adopted and implemented marker-assisted backcrossing, through multi-institutional collaboration to generate improved cultivars against Striga, the bane of cereal farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.

The marker-assisted backcrossing program to develop these four varieties was initiated under a BMZ-supported project involving ICRISAT, the University of Hohenheim, and national program partners in Eritrea, Kenya, Mali and Sudan in 2004. All  genotyping activities were carried out at the BecA facilities in Nairobi by MSc students from participating countries under supervision of ICRISAT scientists, Dr Rolf Folkertsma and later Dr Dan Kiambi.

The three-year project attempted to transfer and validate previously-mapped Striga-resistance QTLs from resistant donor parent N13 (from Nandyal, Andhra Pradesh, India), which had been identified by Bettina Haussmann and colleagues in an earlier BMZ-funded collaborative research project involving ICRISAT, the University of Hohenheim, KARI-Kenya and IER-Mali.
The backcross/QTL validation project advanced to the second backcross generation (BC2) in several locally-adapted, farmer-preferred, open-pollinated varieties for each target country. The resulting early-generation backcross progenies, although Striga resistant, were not agronomically superior enough for national trials and considered for release.

Striga-resistant MABC product W2BC3S4.   Recurrent parent AG8.

The national programs in Sudan, Eritrea and Kenya, led by Dr Abdalla Mohammed (a Purdue University-trained sorghum breeder with well-developed skills in phenotypic screening for Striga resistance) and with ICRISAT providing backstopping, then obtained funding through the regional agricultural science network (ASARECA Competitive Grant System for 2006) to fine-map the Striga-resistance QTLs and complete the task of recovering recurrent parent eliteness for materials in the genetic backgrounds of farmer-preferred improved sorghum varieties for Sudan, Eritrea and Kenya.

In Sudan, targeting different agro-climatic zones, a third popular drought-tolerant background (“AG8”) was  added to that of recurrent parents “Tabat” and “Wad Ahmed,” and the crossing program advanced to the third backcross generation (BC3). The fine-mapping and marker-assisted backcrossing program was the subject of the PhD thesis research program of Ms Rasha Ahmed, of Sudan’s Agricultural Research Corporation. Rasha visited ICRISAT-Patancheru for the genotyping required to fine-map the Striga-resistance QTLs and for the SSR genotyping of three additional generations of the marker-assisted backcrossing program (up to BC4), where she received support and guidance from Drs Tom Hash and Santosh Deshpande.

Ms Rasha Ahmed pipetting some material during a practical session.   A Sudanese farmer shows Dr Kiambi the devastation caused by Striga.

Genotyping for the last generation of marker-assisted selection was completed in 2011 at the BecA facility of the ILRI-Nairobi campus under the guidance of Dr Santie de Villiers, before the product lines could reach the required state of agronomic eliteness combined with high and stable levels of host plant resistance to Striga hermonthica.

Standard variety trials were conducted in Striga-infested plots over three rainy seasons (2009-2011) at the Gezira Research Station (GRS), Damazine, Sinnar and Gedaref in Sudan. Results from these trials revealed that backcross-derived lines T1BC3S4, AG6BC3S4, AG2BC3S4 and W2BC3S4 were Striga resistant and agronomically superior, giving 180-298% increases in grain yield over their recurrent parents in the infested plots.

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