21 Jun 2013
No. 1576

APJ Abdul Kalam underscores role of biotechnology to feed the world

Dr APJ Abdul Kalam receiving the ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill plaque from Director General
WD Dar. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Renowned scientist and the 11th President of India, Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, visited the ICRISAT headquarters on 20 June, to inaugurate the newly constructed greenhouse containment facility of the Platform for Translational Research on Transgenic Crops (PTTC).

“In science, everything is possible,” began Dr Kalam, as he addressed the ICRISAT Management, senior scientists, staff members and other invited guests. “In 1885, distinguished British scientist Lord Kelvin stated that anything heavier than air cannot be flown. A mere 18 years later, in 1903, the Wright brothers conducted their first flight. Challenges are many. It is up to us to find the solutions”.

Commenting on the greenhouse containment facility, Dr Kalam continued, “Research breakthroughs in agricultural biotechnology hold the potential for increasing crop productivity and the resistance of food crops to pests and diseases, thereby helping solve the food crisis. The future food demand cannot be met merely from incremental gains through conventional plant breeding. A quantum change in yield improvement is needed.”

Dr Kalam proposed a good list of research missions for ICRISAT, starting with, “For PTTC, the first and foremost task should be development of nutritionally enhanced foods and getting them approved.” He also listed the analysis of barren lands in India to retrieve at least 50% of it in the next 10 years, and the studying of water bodies towards rejuvenating them by 2020.

Dr Kalam inaugurating the greenhouse containment facility of the PTTC. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Dr Kalam recalled that this year marks the 30th anniversary of the first successful introduction of a foreign gene into a plant.  “There is clear evidence that the use of GM crops has resulted in significant benefits like higher crop yields, reduced farm costs, increased farm profit and improvement in health and the environment,” he said, “and yet there is a heated debate over GM crops. No illusionary fears can stop the advancement of what is rational and logical. The solution lies in developing beneficial transgenic crops locally. I find today a historical step taken in this direction. The PTTC will be the birthplace of a new generation of transgenic crops.”

Mentioning Dr Dar’s book, Feeding the Forgotten Poor, where Dr Dar drew a map for “second-generation” GM crops, Dr Kalam said that it is not hard to imagine the immense value of these genetically modified crops. “I have no doubt that the developing world stands to benefit from any technology that can increase food production, lower food prices, and improve food quality,” he said.

The PTTC, headed by Dr Kiran Sharma, was established jointly by the Government of India’s Department of Biotechnology and ICRISAT in 2009. This US$ 6.2 million project was launched to translate transgenic technology and harness its products to meet the needs of agricultural growth, strengthening national, regional and international linkages in transgenic R&D.

Welcoming the former President of India on the occasion, ICRISAT Director General Dr William D. Dar said, “Modern technologies, particularly agricultural biotechnology, has the potential to reduce crop losses from pests and diseases, improve the nutrient efficiency of food and animal feeds, extend the post-harvest life of fruits and vegetables, and increase the stress tolerance of crop plants allowing them to thrive even under various environmental extremes.”

Ever focused on uplifting the poor farmers of the semi-arid tropics, he continued, “Scientific solutions to improve crop productivity, where biotechnology plays an important role, can empower the rural sector by boosting food production, enhancing incomes for the smallholder farmer, and improve his nutritional security.”

“The containment facility that Dr Kalam inaugurated  was conceived and established after diligent planning in order to ensure absolute control in compliance with global standards,” stated Dr Dar.

A highlight of the event was the honoring of Former President Kalam as Ambassador of Goodwill of ICRISAT in recognition of his foresight, his support of science-based solutions, and his championing of the mission of the institute.

Dr Kalam addressing ICRISAT Management, senior scientists, staff members and other invited guests.
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

back to top Back to top

ICRISAT’s 4-point partnership plan for Andhra Pradesh elicits positive response

Director General WD Dar giving his presentation on ICRISAT and Andhra Pradesh’s partnership.
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

A new milestone was reached in the 40-year historic and fruitful ties between ICRISAT and Andhra Pradesh on 19 June. Invited to showcase ICRISAT’s contribution to the State and future opportunities, Director General Dr William Dar assured Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister Mr N Kiran Kumar Reddy, ministers and legislators of ICRISAT’s wholehearted support to the state’s dryland farmers.

Welcoming Dr Dar, Assembly Speaker Mr Nadendla Manohar said, “ICRISAT has been doing good research since its inception. We are proud to have   Dr Dar here today to give us insights into what his institute can do for the farmers.” The visit was the result of an invitation by Mr Nadendla Manohar following his visit with legislators to the ICRISAT campus early this year.

Making his presentation on “ICRISAT and Andhra Pradesh: Champions of the poor in dryland agriculture,” Dr Dar proposed a four-point program to take the partnership forward and that would elevate the game for farmers.

“Farmers’ yields are lower by 2 to 5 folds than achievable yields. We should capitalize on the large potential of rainfed agriculture in the state,” underlined Dr Dar. “We can together harness new opportunities for AP farmers by increasing productivity and profitability of groundnut cultivation in Anantapur; promoting high-yielding pigeonpea hybrids; intensifying  sorghum production in rice-fallow system; and by sustainable agricultural intensification with soil mapping and innovative delivery systems,” he emphasized. 

Earlier during his presentation, Dr Dar enumerated the past successes of ICRISAT’s research in the State, such as the release of high-yielding cultivars, the chickpea revolution that saw a 9-fold increase in production, ICGV 91114 in Anantapur that brought 30% more yields, bridging yield gaps with science-led interventions such as Bhoochetana, the APRLP-ICRISAT partnership  and the Adarsha community watershed model among the many initiatives ICRISAT has undertaken.

Andhra Pradesh Chief Minister N Kiran Kumar Reddy (2nd from right) felicitating Dr Dar. Also seen are (L-R) Assembly Speaker N Manohar, Minister for Agriculture and Agriculture Technology Mission K Lakshminarayana and Deputy Speaker Bhatti Vikramarka Mallu.
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Following his presentation, members were encouraged to seek clarifications and ask questions. These ranged in topic from the lack of a market for some crops, efficiency of fertilizers, labour shortage, how to manage thirsty soils,  to biomass generation, hailstorms in the area near Siddipet, Husnabad, Jangaon and Sircilla, and awareness building for farmers.

The importance of policy support to neglected crops in view of the fact that they don’t find a good market was reiterated by some members, underlining its ability make a difference to the food security and nutritional status of poor farmers. “Dryland cereals and grain legumes are suited to the drylands. A higher level of policy support to them would mean that 65% of India is being tapped as a major food source,” said Dr Dar illustrating the magnitude of difference such a move would make.

Queried about how to solve the problem of hungry soils, Dr Dar cited measures such as soil sampling and innovative delivery systems to be undertaken under the Bhoochetana project statewide. 

Chief Minister Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy, who attended the presentation despite a busy schedule, welcomed the opportunity to use technologies developed by ICRISAT in a big way. He honoured Dr Dar with a shawl.
Later, Dr Dar honoured Mr Nadendla Manohar; Mr D Sridhar Babu, Minister for Civil Supplies, Food and Consumer Affairs, Legal Metrology and Legislative Affairs; and Minister for Agriculture and Agriculture Technology Mission Mr Kanna Lakshminarayana.

Earlier on, members of the State Assembly went through an exhibition of technologies developed by ICRISAT.

back to top Back to top

Innovation Platform initiated for S Asia component of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems

The first innovation platform workshop to introduce the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems to stakeholders and new platform members was held in Jodhpur, Rajasthan on 14 June.

The Research Program is to be implemented across five regions (West Africa; East and Southern Africa; North Africa and West Asia; Central Asia; and South Asia) in collaboration with local representatives. Actions sites in western Rajasthan (Barmer, Jodhpur and Jaisalmer districts); Andhra Pradesh (Anantapur and Kurnool districts); and Karnataka (Bijapur district) were selected in 2012.

As part of implementing the program, existing technologies that enhance the productivity and resilience of dryland agricultural and livelihood systems will be identified, tested and out-scaled. The meeting also aimed to review village level technologies identified by ICRISAT and partners and develop Terms of References for the local innovation platform.

Participants during the meeting. Photo: A Haileslassie, ICRISAT/ILRI

This platform was initiated by the South Asian regional component of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. More than 30 participants from CGIAR partner institutes, NGOs, the private sector, and representatives from the Government of India line departments attended the meeting. Similar meetings are scheduled in Anantapur and Bijapur districts. 

Organized by ICRISAT in collaboration with partner institutions Gramin Vikas Vigyan Samiti and the International Livestock Research Institute, the meeting was hosted by the Central Arid Zone Research Institute. The regional component of the program is led by ICRISAT.

back to top Back to top

CAAS-ICRISAT joint laboratory for aflatoxin management inaugurated

(L-R) Drs Li Peiwu, Director of Quality and Safety Inspection, OCRI; Liao Boshou, DDG, OCRI; Feng Dongxin, DDG, International Cooperation, CAAS; Wang Hanzhang, DG, OCRI; Li Jinxiang, Vice President, CAAS with the delegation from ICRISAT.
Photo: H Sudini, ICRISAT

In an attempt to improve research on groundnut aflatoxins and its comprehensive management, a joint Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences (CAAS)-ICRISAT laboratory for groundnut aflatoxin management was inaugurated at the Oil Crops Research Institute (OCRI) of CAAS, Wuhan, China on 8 June by Director General William Dar and Dr Li Jinxiang, Vice President, CAAS. This collaboration heralds a new era in ties between ICRISAT and China to benefit the farming community and consumers.

Speaking on the occasion, Dr Dar underlined the importance of improving research on  groundnut aflatoxins for the benefit of farmers and consumers. “There is an alarming rise in aflatoxin-tainted groundnuts that poses a threat to human and animals through carcinogenic effects,” he said.

This collaboration will facilitate the producing of drought-tolerant and aflatoxin-free groundnuts as part of the CGIAR Research Programs on GrainLegumes and Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

Also present during the inauguration were Drs CLL Gowda, Research Program Director-Grain Legumes; Farid Waliyar, Director-West and Central Africa; Liao Boshou, Deputy Director General, OCRI; and Hari Sudini, Senior Scientist, ICRISAT.

back to top Back to top

Indo-US biofuel project review and planning meeting held

The Indo-US Sustainable Advanced Ligno-cellulosic Biofuel Project’s half-yearly review and planning meeting was held at Udhagamandalam, Tamil Nadu on 12-13 June, hosted by Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU). Inaugurating the meeting, the university’s Vice-Chancellor Prof K Ramasamy spoke on the demand-supply gap for transport grade ethanol in the country and the project’s role in bridging the gap. Project Investigator Dr Ahmed Kamal (Indian Institute of Chemical Technology) gave a brief account of the progress made over the last 8 months since its launch in 2012. The meeting was attended by 35 researchers from 11 consortium partners.

Representing ICRISAT, Senior Scientist Dr P Srinivasa Rao gave a detailed progress report of feedstock development and supply and addressed the issue of bringing marginal lands under biofuel feedstock cultivation and its implications for the livelihoods of marginal farmers in terms of food and fodder security in the states of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat.

Drs Ganesh Kumar and Beena Patel spoke on the progress made in conversion technologies and sustainability and markets. Partners from the Directorate of Sorghum Research, Rajmate Vijayaraje Scindia Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Junagadh Agricultural University, TNAU, IICT, Abellon Clean Energy, Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd, Indian Institute of Technology - Chennai and Delhi shared their progress.Commending the progress made, Dr Rajiv Sharma, Executive Director, Indo-US Science & Technology Forum underlined that threadbare discussions would help in developing a clear roadmap for success. Problems faced by partners were discussed and possible solutions were suggested by the consortium. Work plans for the next six months were finalized.

Participants of the review and planning meeting. Photo: Yuvaraj, TNAU

back to top Back to top

Statistical training course on agricultural field trial and data analysis held at Benguet State University

Participants of the statistical training course held at Benguet State University, Philippines. Photo: Metor , BSU

ICRISAT believes in providing its partners with skills to improve research capacity. In line with this, a four-day Statistical Training Course on Agricultural Field Trial and Data Analysis was conducted at Benguet State University (BSU), Benguet, Philippines on 11-14 June, to enhance the statistical knowledge and skills of researchers of the Philippine national agricultural research system to improve the quality of their research outputs. The course was organized by ICRISAT’s Learning Systems Unit and the Biometrics Unit in collaboration with BSU and the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR), Philippines.

Thirty-five researchers, including faculty members-cum-researchers from the Department of Agriculture in the CAR region and various state universities and colleges within the region and from Mindanao were exposed to statistical analysis techniques related to appropriate analysis, interpretation, writing of results, and the use of statistical software GenStat v15 dovetailed with hands-on practice.

Participants had the opportunity to learn and update their knowledge on statistical concepts necessary to understand and interpret research results; statistical principles and techniques in setting up laboratory and field experiments; analyzing and interpreting data of statistically designed experiments using concrete instances; and improving their current techniques in sharing research results and innovations with the scientific community in conferences and through publications.

The training course was led by Dr Abhishek Rathore with support from Roma Rani Das of the Biometrics Unit (ICRISAT) and Alex Arizabal, Jr (BAR), coordinated jointly by Learning Systems Unit Coordinator Rosana P Mula and BSU Director of the Climate Smart-Agriculture Center, Carlito P Laurean.

It is proposed to conduct a second training towards the last quarter of this year.

back to top Back to top

Progress in setting up Food Testing Laboratories in Africa reviewed

The progress made in setting up five Food Testing Laboratories and five Food Processing Business Incubators under the India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) – II being implemented by the Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) of ICRISAT, was reviewed at an Implementation Committee meeting of the Government of India held at ICRISAT headquarters on 27 May.

Director General WD Dar and AIP staff with the delegation from the Government of India. Photo: L Vidyasagar, ICRISAT

Director General Dr William Dar interacted with the delegation that consisted of Mr U Venkateswarlu, Joint Secretary; Ms Kiran Puri, Joint Secretary (Finance), Ministry of Food Processing Industries; and Mr Alok Ranjan Jha, Deputy Secretary, Ministry of External Affairs. The delegation expressed their satisfaction on the project implementation and sought ICRISAT’s support in developing and implementing the upcoming IAFS-III initiative. 

Dr Kiran K Sharma, Chief Executive Officer, AIP presented an overview of the progress made in both the projects. Among the others who spoke were Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Chief Operating Officer, NutriPlus Knowledge Program and  Mr Aravazhi Selvaraj, Manager - Agri Business Incubator Program and Acting Chief Operating Officer, Innovation and Partnership Program who informed that the feasibility study for Uganda and Cameroon had been completed and business plans for both were under review by external experts.

The Implementation Committee approved all the feasibility studies and business plans for the Food Testing Laboratories

back to top Back to top

Rainfed rice fallow lands project reviewed

Participants of the project review meeting pose with children and farmers. Photo: ICRISAT

The project on “Enhancing the income of resource poor farmers through introduction and expansion of improved crop production technologies (ICPT) of chickpea and other crops (lentil, field pea, linseed and mustard) in rainfed rice fallow lands (RRFL) in Jharkhand aims  to harness improved crop protection technologies in the rainfed rice fallow lands with farmer participation. This Department of Science and Technology-supported project was reviewed in Birsa Agricultural University (BAU), Ranchi on 30-31 May.

The project is being implemented in the two districts of Ranchi and Palamau in Jharkhand covering the tribal population in 7 blocks and 105 villages. The improved crop production technologies have been introduced and expanded to over 9000 farmers till now.

The monitoring team of Drs SK Sharma (Vice Chancellor, Chaudhary Sarwan Kumar Himachal Pradesh Krishi Vishwavidyalaya, Palampur), SK Khare (Indian Institute of Technology - Delhi), Malvika Dadlani (Indian Agricultural Research Institute), Sunil Agarwal (DST) and Rajeshwari Raina (National Institute of Science, Technology and Development Studies) reviewed the progress and sustainability of the model developed by the project. Principal Investigator Dr Mamta Sharma presented the project accomplishments. A detailed progress report was presented by Co-Principal Investigator Dr CS Mahto (BAU).

The team visited the site and interacted with the farmers who evinced interest in cultivating improved high yielding varieties of chickpea, lentil, field pea, mustard and linseed in their rice fallows as a second crop due to their adaptability and profitability in comparison to other crops. The team appreciated ICRISAT’s role in harnessing improved crop production technologies in rainfed rice fallow lands.

The meeting was also attended by Dr MP Pandey (Vice chancellor, Birsa Agricultural University), ZA Haider (Head, Plant Breeding), DK Singh Dron (Additional Director - Research), DN Singh (Chief Scientist, Plant Breeding) all from BAU and Raju Ghosh from  ICRISAT.

back to top Back to top

Agribusiness investors meet – sharing ideas and funding assistance

The Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) program held an Agribusiness Investors Meet, a platform for idea presentation and funding assistance through the Technology Development Board (TDB) seed grant fund on 14 June at the Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP).

Mr SM Karuppanchetty, Chief Operating Officer, AIP, introduced the participants to the program, elaborated on the services provided by  ABI and  explained the selection process, investment criterion and documentation required to avail of the Technology Development Board seed fund.

Mr Rahul Joshi, from Brand Capital (Times Group) made a presentation on the genesis of his organization, and the value creation abilities offered to entrepreneurs through branding and advertising by the group. Clients of ABI, Mr Sreeram Raavi, from Eruvaka Technologies, who had availed of the Technology Development Board seed fund and Mr Rami Reddy of BR Cooking Sprays shared their experiences with the participants.

Eighteen participants attended the meeting, of which seven innovators were found eligible for the screening round by a panel comprising of Dr PS Raju, Mr J Durga Prasad, Mr Rahul Joshi, Dr Nedumaran and Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar.

The panel recommended three innovations to be evaluated by the Technology Development Board Seed Fund Committee for funding through the seed fund.

back to top Back to top