No. 1548 07 December 2012

Knowledge power for smallholder farmers
Using information technology to revitalize agricultural extension and education

Millions of smallholder farmers worldwide could improve their yields, incomes and resilience if only they had better access to appropriate information and knowledge that helps them make informed choices about farming practices. Yet, despite new information and communication technologies (ICT), reaching out to them with the right information is still a largely unmet challenge.

A farmer in Andhra Pradesh, India using a mobile phone to get information on farming practices.

Using ICT to revitalize agricultural extension and education towards providing knowledge access to smallholder farmers was the subject of the global consultation on “Innovative ICT and Knowledge Sharing Platforms for Revitalizing Agricultural Extension and Education: Opportunities and Challenges” held at the Infosys Campus, Hyderabad on 3-4 December. Organized by a global team led by ICRISAT, the consultation workshop brought together about 60 ICT, research, extension and education experts from India, USA and Africa.

“ICT innovations enable poor and drought-prone farmers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa greater access to research data and knowledge outputs. Working with partners and stakeholders, ICRISAT has developed and supported many information systems that have helped smallholder farmers become more food secure and resilient to drought,” said Director General William Dar in his message at the event’s inaugural session.

The consultation workshop laid the groundwork for the formation of a global partnership that will push the ‘knowledge to the poor’ revolution through ICT application in agricultural extension and education. Partners from India, USA and Africa have agreed to develop tri-lateral educational programs to enhance the capacities of students, faculty members, extension agents, smallholder farmers, and various stakeholders in using ICT to promote the sharing and use of agricultural information among the poor and marginalized. To initiate this activity, a global AgED open courseware platform was launched during the workshop.

Dr Dar delivering his message at the event’s inaugural session.

Partnering with ICRISAT in the workshop were Infosys Limited, Infrastructure Leasing & Financial Services Limited (IL&FS), National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management (MANAGE), University of Florida (UFL), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Samson David, Vice President and Global Head – Business Platforms, Infosys, emphasized on using the power of information technology in lifting smallholder farmers to a higher level of knowledge and productivity.

IL&FS Executive Director for Agriculture and Rural Development, AK Krishna Kumar, stressed the need to address the lack of information infrastructure to reach farmers in India, and to customize ICT solutions based on farmers’ needs.

B Srinivas, Director General of MANAGE, highlighted the importance of capacity building for agricultural officers in state governments, envisioning a single-window availability of agricultural information to farmers through ICT.

“India’s contribution in feeding 60 percent of the global population lies in its potential to upgrade its agricultural knowledge through ICT,” said ICAR Deputy Director General for Education, Arvind Kumar. On the other hand, ICAR Deputy Director General for Agricultural Extension, KD Kokate, emphasized on the link between research and extension and the need to strengthen partnerships to achieve a knowledge revolution through ICT innovations.

The workshop was coordinated by Radhika, Infosys Platform Head for Agriculture and G Dileepkumar, Global Leader, Knowledge Sharing and Innovation, ICRISAT.

Participants of the global ICT workshop at Infosys campus, Hyderabad.

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Gearing up for ASEAN integration
Exploring co-incubation and global business opportunities for food and agriculture

The upcoming ASEAN integration could pave the way for greater collaboration and partnership among Southeast Asian countries, opening up new markets, regulating trade and breaking down barriers, and providing immense opportunities for agribusiness incubators to promote agricultural growth and support smallholder farmers.

Dr Dar delivering his inaugural address during the conference in Bangkok.

The Thai-Business Incubators and Science Parks Association (Thai-BISPA), in association with the Asia-Pacific Incubation Network (APIN) and infoDev of the World Bank, organized a regional conference on “Co-incubation and the Opportunities for Food and Agriculture Start-up Businesses after the ASEAN Integration in 2015” in Bangkok, Thailand on 29 November.

In his inaugural address as guest of honor at the event, Director General William Dar spoke on creating opportunities for agri-business ventures in emerging markets, underlining the imperative for creating effective platforms for farmers to access the market, so that they can generate surplus cash that will help them to grow out of poverty. “We need to develop agro-technologies that are more oriented towards the needs of the market and those which can be taken up by farmer entrepreneurs. ICRISAT through its Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) approach has geared up to address this need,” he said. 

“Accelerated agricultural growth can be achieved by moving agriculture and allied sectors from the traditional subsistence mode to a more market-linked mode. Agribusiness incubators have a vital role to play in bringing about this transformation and in nurturing an ecosystem for entrepreneurship and innovation in the sector,” Dr Dar added.

The meeting evoked partnership interests from ASEAN countries to join the Global Agri-Business Incubation (GABI) Network initiated by ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) program and from infoDev.

Participating in a panel discussion on Food and Agriculture Co-Incubation, SM Karuppanchetty and agribusiness incubator specialists’ from Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand, discussed co-business incubation opportunities, and modes and structures to nurture agribusiness development via softlanding and technology transfer among Southeast Asian countries.

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ICRISAT pigeonpea breeders develop a new CMS system

Pigeonpea breeders at ICRISAT have developed a new cytoplasmic-nuclear male-sterility (CMS) system. Designated as A8, it has been derived by crossing cultivated pigeonpea and Cajanusreticulatus, a wild relative perennial shrub originating in northern Australia. This research development, led by Dr KB Saxena (ICRISAT Principal Scientist – Pigeonpea Breeding), will facilitate strong and broad-based hybrid breeding.

Androecium of normal pigeonpea cultivar (left) and new male-sterile plant (right).

Plants of this male-sterile line do not produce pollen grains. The anthers and their filament in the new male-sterile plant do not develop normally, while the stigma and style achieve their normal growth. This orientation results in the placement of the stigma at a much higher level than that of anthers. In breeding hybrids, this may prove to be highly beneficial in terms of greater chances of insect-aided out-crossing, and absolutely no chance of self-pollination in the event of a breakdown of the male-sterility system under any specific environment.

This development is highly significant in view of the sustainability of hybrid technology and potential dangers associated with a single cytoplasm. Six diverse maintainers have also been identified that will provide nuclear variability to this system.

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Annual Social Scientists’ Meet
Revisiting the role of social scientists in research

Dr C Bantilan speaking at the Annual Social Scientists’ Meet.

What value do social scientists bring to ICRISAT’s research? How important is their role and work? These were some of the questions posed during the Annual Social Scientists’ Meet conducted by the Research Program – Markets, Institutions and Policies (MIP) at ICRISAT-Patancheru on 3-7 December.
Speaking about the goals of the meeting, Dr Cynthia Bantilan, MIP Program Director said that the whole exercise would help identify the value of social scientists in ICRISAT; develop their impact pathway; develop work plans for individual scientists aligned with the CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs); and identify each social scientist’s role.

The workshop saw group activities, sharing of ideas, concerns and plans in engaging ways, revealing very inspiring messages and stories of value. A critical interactive session was the one with the biophysical and natural scientists on the second day, in which the two groups shared insights on their expectations from each other and what they could offer the other, revealing a great degree of convergence. However, the challenge lies in how the collaboration between both groups could be operationalized along the impact pathway of the CRPs.

Facilitated by Nancy White from Seattle, who has been involved in CGIAR workshops and CRP development, the meeting was highly interactive and learner-centric. Director General William Dar also gave an inspirational talk on the occasion.

Social scientists’ impact pathways.

This session was followed by the development of work plans, where participants worked alone and then shared their ideas with others, especially with those whom they had no prior interaction with.

The discussions and sharing and exchanging of ideas, all done in a very open and positive manner, culminated in a synthesis of concrete learnings and tangible work plans in line with the goals of ICRISAT, RP-MIP and CRP impact pathways.

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Partnerships enhance productivity and profitability of sorghum in Kenya and Tanzania

Members of the SMU Project Committee during the meeting.

That partnership is vital to success was proven once again when the Project Management Committee (PMC) of the Sorghum for Multiple Uses Project funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) met on 5 December in Nairobi, Kenya to review the project’s progress.

Partnership has linked smallholder farmers with seed companies in Tanzania and Kenya to ensure that they have access to quality seed from reliable sources of already released improved sorghum varieties such as Gaddam, Macia, KARI Mtama IandTegemeo. Sorghum is an important crop in Eastern Africa and is most adapted to areas where rainfall and water are major limiting factors to production.

The project, being implemented by ICRISAT and Africa Harvest since 2011, supports the development and demonstration of new sorghum multipurpose varieties that are high yielding and adapted to both biotic and abiotic stresses in arid and semi-arid agro-ecologies of Kenya and Tanzania. It uses a value chain model which begins and ends with the market and responds to the demands of the marketplace that has demonstrated efficiency in linking farmer production activities to market demands. Sorghum has the potential to significantly improve food security and incomes of smallholder subsistence farmers as they derive their livelihoods from agricultural-based enterprises.

The Committee, composed of Output Leaders from ICRISAT and Africa Harvest and ICRISAT-Nairobi’s Communication Officer, reported that the team had initiated efforts to build capacity of actors along the sorghum value chain, such as training courses on crop husbandry, post-harvest handling, and marketing for extension officers and farmers in both countries.

This project is aligned with the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Dryland Cereals and will contribute to IFAD’s goal and strategic objectives of enabling poor rural women and men to have access to and take advantage of improved agricultural technologies and effective production services.

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