05 April 2013
No. 1565

Bioenergy for the poor
Linking smallholder farmers to sweet sorghum ethanol distillery in China

“Sweet sorghum is a brilliant option for the poor farmers to improve their livelihoods. They stand to earn greater incomes from the sale of stalks to distilleries, over and above income from the sale of grain and bagasse.”

Director General William Dar and ICRISAT scientists with officials of the ZTE ethanol distillery and the Sorghum Research Institute (SRI), at the ZTE ethanol distillery, Wuyuan, Inner Mongolia, China.

Speaking at the inaugural program of the annual review and planning meeting of the ICRISAT-CFC-FAO project  on “Enhanced Livelihood Opportunities of Smallholder Farmers of Asia: Linking Smallholder Sweet Sorghum Farmers with Bioethanol Industry”,

Dr Dar emphasized that “sweet sorghum, as a viable bioethanol source, is in many ways better than sugarcane and maize because of its shorter growing period, less water requirement, less cost of cultivation, and lower production cost of ethanol at the distillery.” In this context, he emphasized that ICRISAT’s Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) approach addresses not only farm productivity but also marketability of the produce to help smallholder farmers improve their livelihoods.

Dr Zou Jianqiu (left) and Mr Hao Ji Yuan (right) with Dr Dar.

The two-day meeting held on 27-28 March at Wuyuan, Inner Mongolia, China primarily aimed to showcase progress made under the project, and discuss work plans to further expand the benefits of the initiative among smallholder farmers, enhance baseline survey report, and deliberate on policy changes required to upgrade value chain implementation, operational problems of contract and leased land models with farmers for supply of stalk, and sustainability of activities upon project completion.

Under this project, sweet sorghum was cultivated in over 2500 ha in 2012 in Inner Mongolia, China for use as ethanol feedstock by ZTE, an ethanol distillery. Mr Hao Ji Yuan, ZTE Deputy General Manager for Agriculture, reported that to augment stalk supply chain management, contract farming was implemented successfully in 2012 resulting in lower cost of stalk production. Areas are mostly cultivated with improved cultivars provided by the Sorghum Research Institute (SRI), Shenyang, ICRISAT’s partner in sorghum research for the last 30 years.

ICRISAT and SRI have trained farmers and staff of the ZTE distillery in improved crop production technologies to enhance sweet sorghum production. Adoption of said technologies has resulted in a 20% increase in stalk yield in 2012 compared to the previous year.

In 2012, ZTE crushed 80,000 tons of sweet sorghum stalks and produced about 4000 tons of ethanol. The sale of ethanol, according to Mr Yuan, will start after testing the use of ethanol-blended petrol in vehicles for two years.

The two-day program included presentations of the meeting objectives by Dr Belum VS Reddy; progress of work at ZTE by Mr Yuan; overall progress of the project by Ch Ravinder Reddy; baseline survey results by P Parthasarathy Rao;  progress of work in China by Dr Zou Jianqiu, Director of SRI; and discussions on work plan development for year 4 and steering committee meeting. 

Dr Dar receiving a gift from SRI and ZTE officials.

Participants of the meeting visited the ZTE distillery to observe its structure and various operations, and interacted with sweet sorghum farmers. The team also visited the Hetao Liquor Industry, located about 40 km from Wuyuan, which uses mainly sorghum grain (70% sorghum, and 30% rice, maize and wheat) in producing various liquors.

The area under sweet sorghum cultivation in Inner Mongolia has been increasing every year during the project period (2010-2013), and has been replacing sunflower, maize and wheat crops. Smallholder farmers in Inner Mongolia are showing interest in cultivating sweet sorghum as it promises higher income compared to growing sunflower.

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Ghana hosts Tropical Legumes II regional meeting for West and Central Africa

Participants of the Tropical Legumes II WCA regional meeting held in Accra, Ghana.

One hundred and thirteen new legume varieties have been released in the 15 project countries and 150,289 metric tons of improved legume seed were produced and distributed by the Tropical Legumes II project since its inception in the West and Central Africa (WCA) region. These are among the many achievements of the project revealed at the first Tropical Legumes - II Regional Workplan Meeting held in Accra, Ghana on 18-21 March.

In his inaugural address, Dr AB Salifu, Director General of Ghana’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), highlighted his country’s major strides in legumes research in spite of not being part of the project’s Phase I. He said at least eight improved cowpea and four groundnut varieties are now available in Ghana.

Dr Jeff Ehlers, Program Officer for Legumes, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation commended the project for choosing Ghana to host the workshop, which he said would stimulate sharing of lessons from the Phase-I countries for the benefit of new participating countries like Ghana.

Speaking of the project’s key achievements, Project Coordinator Dr Emmanuel Monyo underlined the four major areas: (1) enhancement of market opportunities, partnerships and policies; (2) development of farmer and market preferred crop varieties; (3) establishment of sustainable seed production and delivery systems; and (4) capacity building of NARS. He reported that baseline studies have been completed and data collection instruments and guidelines developed and validated for early adoption studies in Nigeria, Ghana and Niger.

Preliminary results show that 72% of sampled households in Borno state and 81% in Kano, Nigeria have adopted improved cowpea varieties. About 79% of farmers adopted improved soybean varieties. Meanwhile, 31% of households were aware of improved groundnut varieties, 27% of which adopted those in 17% of the cultivated area in Nigeria.  In Ghana, of the sampled households, 12% adopted improved cowpea varieties and 22% adopted improved storage technologies. In Niger, 80% of the sampled households were reported to have been exposed to modern varieties, of which 69% adopted them on 49% of groundnut cultivated area.

Interventions have led to the release of 113 new legume varieties in all 15 project countries. The WCA region released 5 new groundnut varieties (Nigeria-1 and Niger-4,), 4 soybean varieties in Nigeria, and 11 cowpea varieties (Niger-4, Nigeria-3, and Mali-4). Under Phase II of the project, two students (Niger and Mali) successfully defended their master’s theses.

The project also led to the production and distribution of 150,289 metric tons of improved legume seed since its inception. Over 30 million smallholder farmers benefitted from the distribution of small seed packs (5 kg/household), providing legume protein requirement of 150 million individuals (5 persons/ household). This calculation is based on a smallholder legume land holding of approximately 0.2 ha per household as determined by the project’s baseline study for sub-Saharan Africa.

Based on the results of the previous year’s research, partners discussed and prepared workplans for the next year for cowpea, soybean and groundnut research. A total of 37 partners and stakeholders drawn from the six WCA NARS and partner institutions (Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal) attended this meeting organized by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture’s (IITA) Ghana office.

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Morocco-India food legumes initiative project launched

Firming up ties with Morocco: Participants at the project launch.

Adoption of improved technologies for increased food legumes productivity guarantees increased incomes and enhanced livelihoods for smallholder farmers. This is the rationale behind the new project on “Increasing food legumes production by smallholder farmers to strengthen food and nutrition security through adoption of improved technologies and governance within South-South Cooperation” formally launched at the ICRISAT headquarters on 3 April.

The project aims to boost food legumes productivity and production in India and Morocco, thereby improving food security and nutrition, soil health, incomes, employment opportunities and empowerment. Funded by the OCP Foundation of Morocco, it will be implemented in Morocco and in six states in India. In India, implementation will be in Tamil Nadu and Orissa by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation; in Tripura, Madhya Pradesh and West Bengal by the International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA); and in Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka by ICRISAT for chickpea and pigeonpea.

Welcoming the participants, Dr CLL Gowda, Director, Research Program - Grain Legumes stressed the initiative’s goal to promote smallholder adoption of improved technologies to increase productivity of food legumes through participatory knowledge management systems and South-South collaboration.

Dr SA Patil, OCP Advisor in India, gave an overview of earlier initiatives and lessons learnt, and the importance of South-South collaboration. Dr BV Patil, Vice Chancellor, University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS), Raichur underlined the need to develop sustainable seed systems to enhance legumes production in the semi-arid tropics of India. Dr Dharma Reddy, Associate Director - Research, ANGRAU, Palem, underscored the project’s intent to help improve productivity of legumes in Andhra Pradesh. 

The launch meeting was also attended by project partners from Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, scientists from different KVKs from Karnataka, representatives from Criyagen Lab and Carborendrum Universal Ltd from the private sector, the Departments of Agriculture of the states of Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka, and APARD NGO. ICRISAT was represented in the event by Drs CLL Gowda, Ch Ravinder Reddy, KB Saxena, PM Gaur, CV Sameer Kumar, S Srinivasan, and BV Rao.

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ICRISAT participates in Bioenergy and Biorefinery Conference

Developing ecologically sustainable solutions and harnessing renewable sources of energy were the theme of the Bioenergy and Biorefinery Conference South East Asia – Biobased Fuels and Chemicals 2013 held in Singapore on 26-28 March. About 100 researchers from 15 countries participated in the conference organized by the Bio-Energy Society of Singapore.

Dr Srinivasa during his presentation.

Representing ICRISAT at the conference was Dr P Srinivasa Rao, who spoke on potential ethanol yields from energy sorghum cultivars in the semi-arid tropics and on the plant’s resilience in the face of abiotic stresses. Citing data from 2011-2012 multilocational trials, he said that theoretical ethanol yields were around 380-430 liters per ton of sorghum stover while the yields of improved biomass sorghum cultivars were about 30-40 tons of stover per hectare.

Mr Tsoi Mun Heng, Director, Energy and Environment Research Directorate, Prime Minister’s Office, National Research Foundation, Singapore, highlighted the need to tackle food and fuel security issues and the imperative to develop cost-effective renewable sources of energy. Many delegates expressed interest in developing industrial chemicals from sorghum biomass.

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Knowledge and skill development training for Africa food testing lab staff begins

Dr U Venkateswarlu, Joint Secretary, MoFPI -GoI, delivering his inaugural address.

Twenty-four participants from nine African countries – Zimbabwe, Gambia, Republic of Congo, Nigeria, Mozambique, Ghana, Senegal, Zambia and Tanzania – are currently at the ICRISAT headquarters for a two-week training program on “Knowledge and Skill Development of Food Testing Laboratory Personnel from African countries” being held from 30 March to 12 April.

Conducted by the NutriPlus Knowledge Program (NPK) under ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP), the training is part of the India-Africa Forum Summit II initiative of the Government of India (GoI) to set up five Food Testing Laboratories and five Food Processing Business Incubators through AIP. The training is sponsored by the Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI) and the Ministry of External Affairs, GoI.

Inaugurating the training, Chief Guest Dr U Venkateswarulu, Joint Secretary, MoFPI said: “Food standards are expected to acquire greater importance given the increasing concerns on food safety and the growing consumer demand for products which are healthy. There is an urgent need to sensitize food processing industries to meet the increasing stringent food safety measures.”

In his opening address, Dr KK Sharma, CEO, AIP-ICRISAT emphasized that the training was a step towards achieving ICRISAT’s vision of ensuring a prosperous, food secure and resilient dryland tropics. He added that ICRISAT’s engagement in the IAFS II projects are consistent with ICRISAT’s Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) approach and more specifically aligned with the ICRISAT South-South Initiative (IS-IS) to boost India – Africa partnership in agricultural research for development.

Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, COO, NutriPlus Knowledge Program, explained how the training program will fill gaps with respect to food testing, accreditation, skilled manpower, instrument maintenance and servicing which recent visits to the African countries had revealed.

The training will include sessions on laboratory accreditation (ISO/IEC 17025:2005); food safety and regulatory standards; rules and regulations in food industry and their implications for international trade barriers; a five-day hands-on training on analytical aspects of food testing at the National Collateral Management Services Ltd (NCML), Hyderabad; troubleshooting and maintenance of high-end food testing equipment by experts from Agilent India Ltd; and management practices for managing food testing laboratories and team building by AIP staff.

Participants of the training program at ICRISAT-Patancheru.

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Capacity building-cum-training program for agribusiness consortia staff

Participants of the training program in Uganda.

As part of the implementation phase of the Universities, Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (UniBRAIN) project, ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) program conducted a week-long capacity building-cum-training program for staff of six Agribusiness Innovation Incubation Consortia (AIIC). Eighteen participants from the consortia and five from ABI project partners took part in the program held in Kampala, Uganda on 18-23 March.

The program consisted of sessions on business incubator models, agribusiness module, client selection, financial management, preparation of effective business plans, and project management skills. The courses were handled by infoDev certified trainers namely, Mr Jim Thaller, Mr Jonathan Philroy, Ms Louise de Klerk and Mr Aravazhi Selvaraj, and by the MTAC team composed of Dr George Tumwesiege, Mr Bernard Kintu and Mr Grace Musoke-Lwanga. UniBRAIN facility coordinator Mr Ralph von Kaufmann also guided the trainees in preparing for the upcoming DANIDA review.

Participants visited the Food Business Incubator of the Makerere University, the Mara Launchpad, and the National Agricultural Research Laboratory (NARL) of Uganda. Market visits were also organized for lessons in value-added products, and communication and team-building exercises conducted. Discussions were also held between Mr SM Karuppanchetty, COO, ABI and Mr Kaufmann on the proposed business model for UniBRAIN.

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Multiple Crop Model training at ICRISAT headquarters

Participants during the training program.

To train participants in using multiple crop models for the Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project (AgMIP), a five-day training program was organized at the ICRISAT headquarters on 25-29 March.

Addressing the 50 participants from 20 countries, Director General William Dar highlighted the importance of crop models and Information Technology (IT) tools, and explained how they aid decision-making by policymakers, smallholder farmers and other stakeholders.

The training included sessions on DSSAT, APSIM and AgMIP IT tools that facilitate use of multiple crop models for simulating crop production variations associated with farm survey data. The course was designed for contributors to AgMIP regional research projects in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and those already familiar with the use of crop models.

The training program was organized by ICRISAT together with AgMIP, University of Florida, Washington State University, Columbia University, United states Department of Agriculture (USDA), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO) and Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR). It was coordinated by Ms Carolyn Mutter, AgMIP international coordinator; Mr Job Kihara, AgMIP sub-Saharan Africa coordinator; and Dr Dileepkumar Guntuku, AgMIP South Asia coordinator and ICRISAT’s Global Leader for Knowledge Sharing and Innovation (KSI).

The program was partially supported by the Department for International Development/ UKaid; ICRISAT/CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security; and CIMMYT/Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA).

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Workshop on ADOPT tool held

PG Kuehne explains a point to a participant.

A one-day workshop-cum-training program on ADOPT (Adoption and Diffusion Outcome Prediction Tool) for evaluating the adaptability of agricultural innovations was held at ICRISAT on 4 April for the staff of the Research Program – Markets, Institutions and Policies (MIP).

ADOPT, a tool originally developed for commercial agricultural farms in Australia, has been used to assist those involved in agricultural research, development and extension to apply and understand factors that are likely to affect innovation adoption. It also considers potential adoptability of agricultural practices based on a structured application of well-established understanding of the socioeconomic factors influencing adoption of agricultural innovations.

Twenty participants from MIP led by its Director, Dr MCS Bantilan took part in the workshop conducted by Dr Geoff Kuehne from the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Adelaide, Australia.

The workshop discussed various adoption principles and the conceptual framework of the tool and its applicability for those planning and delivering agricultural practice change. A hands-on training and use of the tool for different ICRISAT innovations was carried out. Participants enthusiastically gave their feedback on the various components of ADOPT and their application to ongoing adoption/diffusion studies. A smaller version of the tool has been tested in workshops with the support of the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR).

Participants of the ADOPT workshop.

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