No. 1550 21 December 2012

Enhancing sorghum R&D strategy for India

Sorghum is a major dryland crop of resource-poor farmers in India. For the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets (HOPE) project led by ICRISAT with a wide array of partners, one major challenge is to develop a strategy for India to address the decline in sorghum production by stimulating research, enhancing technology utilization, linking farmers with markets, and strengthening the capacity of national and civil partners.

For farmers in dryland Marathwada and Western Maharashtra regions, known as the ‘Sorghum bowl of India’, improved sorghum varieties and crop management practices, along with better market linkages can make a huge difference (File photo).

Upscaling current gains from on-farm work to new areas in Maharashtra and Karnataka and taking a pragmatic approach in identifying targeted locations in Eastern India were among the major issues shared by Indian national program partners at a recent HOPE project meeting.
Held at ICRISAT-Patancheru on 12 December, the meeting sought to develop a sorghum research country strategy for India, particularly in improving post-rainy season sorghums. The deliberations focused on sorghum genetic enhancement, better targeting of project locations, large-scale technology testing and demonstrations, and exploring market opportunities particularly in the states of Odisha, Jharkhand and Bihar.

“The time has come to revamp the sorghum R&D strategy to meet the specific demands of sorghum farmers and markets in order to arrest the decline in sorghum area and make the crop more remunerative to smallholder farmers,” said Director General William Dar in his inaugural message.

During his inaugural address, Director General William Dar exhorts scientists to meet the specific demands of sorghum farmers.

While commending the project team for developing a successful partnership model in enhancing grain yields by over 40% and stover yields by over 20% in 25,000 farmers’ fields in Maharashtra state over the last three years, Dr Dar urged the team to elevate the game and replicate the success to new areas to reach and benefit more farmers.

Dr Cynthia Bantilan, Director, Research Program – Markets, Institutions and Policies (RP-MIP), acknowledged the efforts of sorghum workers in India in enhancing productivity by 2% every year, which helped give up the rainy-season sorghum area to other crops in the last 15 years.
Presentations were made highlighting the role of sorghum in the Indian economy; progress in sorghum R&D; lessons learned in disseminating sorghum products and technologies; targeting and enhancing market linkages; and the revised strategy paper.

The meeting was attended by sorghum scientists from the Directorate of Sorghum Research (DSR), Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Marathwada Krishi Vidyapeeth (MKV), University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS)-Dharwad, and researchers from four private sector partners (M/s Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd, Advanta Seeds Ltd, Vibha Seeds Ltd, and Hi-Tech Seeds).

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Country strategy meeting for pearl millet

To further boost pearl millet productivity and help improve income and nutrition of rural poor in India, the HOPE project held its India strategy and planning meeting for pearl millet on 19 December at Patancheru. State-specific strategies were presented by partners from Rajasthan, Haryana and Gujarat states, with the group discussing the way forward for pearl millet research.

Commending the group for working in harmony towards delivering pearl millet hybrid technology for drought-prone environments, Dr Cynthia Bantilan, Director, RP-MIP stressed the importance of a country strategy to guide future research.

Seed companies expressed commitment to start producing seed of promising hybrids from the project. An action plan in case a no-cost extension is granted to the project beyond June 2013, was also discussed. Sateesh Kumar, Member, Project Advisory Board urged for a greater participation by the private sector to ensure the delivery of identified technologies to smallholder farmers.

Progress reports and discussions on tentative activities for 2013 were discussed by ICRISAT’s N Nagaraj, P Parthasarathy Rao, SK Gupta and Rajan Sharma. Participants from national partner organizations, representatives from the private sector, G Narendra Kumar (ICRISAT’s Director - Business and Country Relations), and IS Khairwal and OP Yadav (formerly of the All India Coordinated Pearl Millet Improvement Project) attended the meeting.

Participants deliberate on the HOPE project’s research strategy for pearl millet in India.

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Exploring digital opportunities for farmers

How to bridge the digital divide in agriculture and create new digital opportunities for farmers in the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa was the focus of the Agropedia workshop conducted for 35 research scholars/fellows of ICRISAT on 13 December in Patancheru.

Participants of the Agropedia workshop held in Patancheru.

Agropedia is an innovative knowledge-sharing platform, similar to Wikipedia, built on open access and featuring a digital library, a social networking site, and other knowledge-sharing functionalities. It was created under the National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP) of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR).

“With about six billion connected people in the world, a new paradigm for development should take into account the free flow of information and sharing of ideas among people, and exploring the potential impact of information and communication technology (ICT) on poverty alleviation,” according to Director General William Dar, in his message delivered by Richard Burgos, Chief of Staff, DG’s Office.

ICRISAT has always been a leader in knowledge management. Realizing the importance of digital content and the requirement of information architecture for content aggregation and management, ICRISAT together with the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) - Kanpur conceptualized and developed Agropedia in 2009.

The workshop was organized by Knowledge Sharing and Innovation (KSI) with support from the CGIAR Research Programs on Dryland Cereals and Grain Legumes.

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Farmers’ field day held in Gulbarga district, Karnataka

Shiva Prasad Sajjan of Farhatabad, Gulbarga district, Karnataka, India was all smiles as he showed off his fields to nearly 120 farmers from nearby villages on 7 December. The event was a farmers’ field day organized as part of the National Initiative on Climate Resilient Agriculture (NICRA) and ICRISAT project and the Bhoochetana project.

Shiva Prasad Sajjan demonstrates the working of the Automatic Weather Station.

Gulbarga in Karnataka is the leading district for pigeonpea cultivation. Farmer-participatory field experiments are being conducted using four cultivars – ICP 8863 (Maruti), ICPL 87119 (Asha), ICPH 2671 and TS-3R – to assess the impacts of weather on growth, phenology and productivity. 

During the field day, farmers shared their experiences and gains from the Bhoochetana project followed by a demonstration of the Automatic Weather Station installed in the area and a discussion on the importance of weather monitoring. A farmer-interactive session was chaired by Dr IE Balatkar, Joint Director of Agriculture, and the Assistant Directors of Agriculture, Gulbarga.

The field day was participated in by the president and vice-president of the Farhatabad Gram Panchayat and progressive farmers from nearby villages. Resource persons discussed topics on: climate variability and change and their impacts on crops (Dr Kesava Rao, ICRISAT); improved pigeonpea cultivation practices (Dr DM Mannur, UAS Gulbarga); and soil test-based nutrient management options and improved management practices (Dr SP Wani, ICRISAT). Other representatives from ICRISAT included Junel Bueno Soriano, Sudi Raghavendra Rao and MA Ghaffar.

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ICRISAT to help set up first private sector seed bank in India

The first-ever private sector seed bank in India is on its way with the signing of the Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) between ICRISAT and Gubba Cold Storage Ltd. ICRISAT will facilitate the establishment of a state-of-the-art seed bank by Gubba, provide training to its staff on seed handling and management, apart from onsite consultancy and advisory on required infrastructure and technical parameters for setting up the seed bank.

(L to R) HD Upadhyaya, Prashant Gubba, Saikat Datta Mazumdar and Gubba Nagender Rao during the MoA exchange.

The project will be executed by the Innovation and Partnership (INP) program of the Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) of ICRISAT, with the scientific/technical support of the Institute’s RS Paroda Genebank. Gubba is into cold chain services, with over 83,000 cubic feet storage capacity in 10 cold storage units, a team of trained professionals and top seed companies as clients.

The MoA, signed by Director General William Dar, was exchanged between Prashanth Gubba, Director – Technical, Gubba Cold Storage Ltd and Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar representing AIP- ICRISAT. This coincided with the conference on “Preserving the Life called Seed” organized on 15 December as part of Gubba’s 25th year anniversary celebration. The event, represented by seed and biotechnology companies, deliberated on challenges of seed preservation, importance of technology in preservation, and the future of seeds. Dr HD Upadhyaya, Principal Scientist and Head, RS Paroda Genebank, spoke on “Very long term seed preservation”in one of the conference sessions.

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Promoting entrepreneurship at KISAN 2012

Farmers’ access to advanced technologies and innovations spurs growth within the agriculture sector. On this premise, ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) program took the opportunity to promote agricultural entrepreneurship and showcase agro-technologies that are ready for commercialization at KISAN 2012, the largest agri-exhibition in India, held on 12-16 December at Pune.

Farmers visit the ABI stall at KISAN 2012 in Pune.

As part of its ongoing National Agricultural Innovation Project (NAIP) on Handholding and mentoring of Business Planning and Development (BPD) units, ABI represented the Network of Indian Agri-Business Incubators (NIABI) at the event. About 1500 people visited the ABI stall, from which 132 potential leads were generated for technology commercialization support. Some of the key leads were on training programs for goat farming, promoting precision farming, and seed production, as well as incubation services from NIABI.

At the event, NIABI’s clients had the chance to promote their ventures and products. Meanwhile, ABI’s clients namely, ORLAB System Pvt Ltd (on soil testing kits) and Spectrum Renewable Energy Pvt Ltd (on bio-fertilizer from sugarcane waste/byproducts), and the BPD unit of Anand Agricultural University’s client Kemrock Agri-Chem (on liquid bio-fertilizer),  created awareness and generated sales and prospects for new dealers.

Over one hundred thousand visitors, mostly farmers and youth, visited the fair, where about 327 agro-companies from India and abroad showcased technologies on farm mechanization, pre- and post-harvest management of food crops, food processing, marketing and retailing

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Harmonization of data for better policy analysis across VDSA project regions

With the high demand for Village Dynamics Studies in South Asia (VDSA) household data across the globe, maintaining high quality survey activities and harmonizing data management across the three project regions –  semi-arid tropic (SAT) India, east India and Bangladesh – have become vital. This was emphasized during the VDSA project workshop organized on 12-14 December at Patancheru. 

MCS Bantilan explains a point during one of the sessions of the VDSA project workshop.

In her opening message, Dr Cynthia Bantilan, RP-MIP, highlighted the importance of maintaining integrity and harmonizing the survey process and data management to produce a quality, cross-regionally comparable database for better policy analysis by stakeholders, regionally and globally.

Participants critically reviewed and discussed issues related to collection of panel household survey data, survey process, survey instruments, survey modules, variables, unit of measurements, etc. Data entry and data management processes adopted by the project team in the three regions were also discussed.

The participants likewise reviewed data collection and data management processes for collecting meso data across the three regions. A manual will be developed to document the collection process adopted, and the specification of variables included in the Bangladesh component, similar to the one followed for the SAT India component.

The workshop was attended by 20 core project scientists and team members from India and Bangladesh, including scientists from ICRISAT, National Center for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP-ICAR), IRRI/Bangladesh program, and Socio consult of Bangladesh.

The workshop was coordinated by Madhusudan Bhattarai, Anjani Kumar, Uttam K Deb, P Parthasarathy, and other scientists of RP-MIP.

Participants of the workshop held in Patancheru.

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Promising high-iron pearl millet hybrids, breeding lines identified for multilocation re-evaluation

Pearl millet, biofortified with iron (Fe), is now targeted to those populations in India that rely on the crop as a staple food. To contribute to this goal, HarvestPlus and national partners working on pearl millet held a Review and Planning Meeting on 18 December at ICRISAT-Patancheru to review the results of the 2012 trials, and to identify promising hybrids and breeding lines with high Fe levels for multilocation re-evaluation in 2013. The identification and commercialization of an improved high-Fe version of ICTP-8203 in Maharashtra, and the development of two improved high-Fe versions of ICMV 221, were also highlighted in the meeting.

V Vadez (2nd from left) addresses participants of the HarvestPlus Review and Planning Meeting. Also seen are (L to R) Pfeiffer Wolfgang, KN Rai and SK Gupta.

Dr Vincent Vadez, Acting Director, Research Program – Dryland Cereals, stressed the nutritional importance of pearl millet and urged researchers to come up with nutrient-dense crop cultivars that could be integrated with natural resource management technologies to produce food crops that meet human nutritional needs in the era of climate change.

The work plan session chaired by Pfeiffer Wolfgang, Head of Production Development, HarvestPlus, discussed the 2013 trials and nurseries in consultation with partners; 14 multilocation trials for northern India and 13 trials for peninsular India were planned.

Among those who spoke during the meeting were Dr KN Rai (ICRISAT) and Pfeiffer Wolfgang (on HarvestPlus Phase III: Crop development and delivery). The technical session consisted of presentations on breeding biofortified pearl millet (KN Rai) and biofortified pearl millet delivery (Binu Cherian, HarvestPlus), followed by presentations from public and private sector partners.

Participants of the meeting held in Patancheru.

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Brainstorming on life cycle assessment of sweet sorghum energy pathway held

A brainstorming session on “Life cycle costing assessment of sweet sorghum as an energy pathway in Asia” (India and the Philippines) was held on 17 December at ICRISAT-Patancheru. The session was part of the research work on energy use under sustainable agricultural intensification of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets. The deliberations outlined the need for sweet sorghum’s comparison with other energy pathways, inclusion of farmers’ opinions in the assessment of societal benefits, and water saving and resilience traits in environmental assessment.

Participants of the brainstorming held in Patancheru.

Dr Cynthia Bantilan, Director, RP-MIP, highlighted the importance of the biofuel research under the Program. P Parthasarathy Rao, Assistant Program Director, RP-MIP gave an overview of the objectives and rationale of the study. Presentations were made on the potential of sweet sorghum as an energy crop (Dr Belum VS Reddy); sweet sorghum crop improvement at ICRISAT (A Ashok Kumar); key findings from collaborative projects on bioethanol production from sweet sorghum (Srinivas Rao); and the need for assessment from the perspective of sustainability and policy (G Basavaraj).

Discussions revolved around the need to promote alternate feedstocks to meet ethanol blending mandates, and sustainability assessment and methodology design for life cycle costing.  Anil K Rajvanshi (Nimbkar Agricultural Research Institute, Phaltan, Maharashtra); SS Raju  (National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research, New Delhi); AV Umakanth (Directorate of Sorghum Research, Hyderabad); Ratna Reddy (Livelihoods and Natural Resources Management Institute, Hyderabad); and Ramana Reddy (International Livestock Research Institute) contributed to the brainstorming.

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