05 July 2013
No. 1578

ICRISAT and partners launch knowledge sharing and watershed initiatives in Karnataka

(L-R) Mrs Parvati Krishnan, Program Manager, Anandana Coca-Cola India Foundation; Mr SV Ranganath, Chief Secretary, GoK; Director General William D Dar; Mr Krishna Byre Gowda, Minister for Agriculture, GoK; Mr Sajjan Jindal, Chairman and Managing Director, JSW Group; and Dr SP Wani at the launch of knowledge sharing and watershed initiatives at ICRISAT headquarters.
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

“The large gaps between farmers’ current yields and what can be achieved through modern science can be bridged when all stakeholders act as a cohesive team. Today’s launch of projects shows that our collective aspirations to lift farmers out of poverty, to improve their livelihoods and ensure their food security and nutrition are not impossible.”

Speaking at the launch of three knowledge sharing and watershed projects along with the Government of Karnataka (GoK), JSW Foundation and Anandana Coca-Cola India Foundation at ICRISAT headquarters on 4 July, Director General Dr William D Dar added, “I can see a good future for the forgotten poor farmers of the semi-arid tropics as we have today with us representatives from corporates who share our vision of improving agricultural productivity and the livelihoods of rural people.”

“The programs launched today are initiatives that transform target villages into model villages through capacity building of farmers and science-led interventions,” he said.

The projects launched were “KrishiGyanSagar (KGS) and Krishi Vani: An Innovative Extension System” under Bhoochetana II; “Integrated Watershed Management in Bellary District”; and “Integrated Water Resource Management in Kolar District”.

Describing participatory watershed management as a tested, sustainable and eco-friendly option to upgrade rainfed agriculture to meet growing food needs, Dr Dar went on to explain how it offers multiple benefits in the form of addressing equity issues and biodiversity concerns.

(L) Director General WD Dar presents a memento to Agriculture Minister Mr Byre Gowda. (R) The Minister addresses the gathering. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Launching the KrishiGyanSagar and Krishi Vani project which is part of the Bhoochetana II project, Honorable Minister for Agriculture, Government of Karnataka, Mr Krishna Byre Gowda said, “With the launch of this project, the much needed strengthening of the extension system will take place, thereby empowering staff of the Department of Agriculture. The project will also ensure effective and timely monitoring of benefits to farmers.” He also appreciated ICRISAT’s ongoing initiatives with the Government of Karnataka.

The project will use Information and Communication Technology (ICT)-based tools and means to provide up-to-date information on soil nutrient status, package of practices, pests and diseases, taluk-wise nutrient recommendations, and crop related information in Kannada and English. In addition to tablet-based delivery of information in partnership with Digital Green, an NGO, farmer-to-farmer short videos will be made to be shown by Farmer Facilitators using battery-operated Pico Projectors. 

Dr Dar speaks at the launch of the projects.
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

The Integrated Watershed Management project, an ICRISAT-JSW-GoK public-private partnership (PPP), was also launched by JSW Group Chairman and Managing Director Mr Sajjan Jindal. “Together with the Government of Karnataka, industries like JSW and institutes like ICRISAT can help farmers with the best possible technical help,” he said. Apart from converging the activities undertaken under Bhoochetana, the project will address the safe use of wastewater in agriculture, and issues of human health and nutrition in the target watershed villages.

The third project on Integrated Water Resource Management in Kolar District of Karnataka with technical support from ICRISAT, was launched by   Mrs Parvati Krishnan, Program Manager, Anandana Coca-Cola India Foundation.

Underlining the success of Bhoochetana, an exemplar scale-up model covering more than 3.7 million hectares in Karnataka, Dr Suhas P Wani, Principal Scientist (Watersheds), Resilient Dryland Systems said, “More than 4 million farmers benefitted from Bhoochethana I which led to increased crop productivity by 20-66% in 30 districts through soil test-based integrated nutrient management, improved seeds and soil-water management interventions.”

Dr Dar took the opportunity to thank Mr SV Ranganath, Chief Secretary, GoK; Mr Kaushik Mukherji, Additional Chief Secretary, GoK, and Dr Sarvesh, Director, Department of Agriculture and his team for their support and for facilitating Bhoochetana’s success.

The occasion also marked the release of the books Bhoochetana: Process Documentation, Bhoochetana Plus Work-plans, and Proceedings of Review Meetings and Innovative Institutional Partnerships to Boost Productivity of Rainfed Agriculture in Karnataka, India.

Releasing the publications. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT   Addressing journalists during a press conference at ICRISAT headquarters. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

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High-iron biofortified pearl millet released in India

High-iron pearl millet variety Dhanshakti.
Photo: AS Rao, ICRISAT

Spelling hope for the malnourished, ICRISAT’s high-Iron pearl millet variety ICTP 8203Fe was released as Dhanshakti in Maharashtra state of India early this year. Dhanshakti  is the first mineral biofortified crop cultivar to be officially released and reaching farmers’ fields in India. This was announced at a meeting of the Maharashtra State Seed Sub-Committee of the Commissionerate of Agriculture on 15 April.

The history of this variety goes back to 1988, when ICTP 8203, an open-pollinated variety  of pearl millet developed at ICRISAT in 1982 from selection within an iniadi landrace from northern Togo, was released for cultivation in peninsular India in 1988. It was rapidly adopted by farmers, occupying about 800,000 ha at the peak of its adoption in 1995.

ICTP 8203 is still cultivated on over 200,000 ha, mostly in Maharashtra, but also in Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. This variety was found to have the highest level of iron  density among a diverse range of populations, open-pollinated varieties and hybrids in several trials conducted during 2004-2008. By exploiting intra-population variability for iron density within it, one of its improved versions, ICTP 8203 Fe-10-2 (ICTP 8203 Fe for short), was developed. In 42 field trials conducted by the All India Coordinated Pearl Millet Improvement Project in peninsular India, and collaboratively by Mahatma Phule Krishi Vidyapeeth (MPKV), Rahuri, in Maharashtra state in 2010 and 2011, ICTP 8203Fe had 71 ppm of Fe density (9% higher than ICTP 8203) and 2.21 t/ha of grain yield (11% higher than ICTP 8203).

Based on its superior performance, Nirmal Seeds company produced and marketed truthfully labeled seed of ICTP 8203Fe to reach 25,000 households in Maharashtra in 2012. In 2012, MPKV, Rahuri had proposed this variety for state release as Dhanshakti.

The activity is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

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Dr HC Sharma elected Fellow of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences

Dr HC Sharma receiving the Fellowship Award from NAAS President Dr RB Singh. Photo: NAAS

Dr Hari C Sharma, Principal Scientist – Entomology, was conferred the Fellowship of the National Academy of Agricultural Sciences (NAAS) by its President Dr RB Singh at its Foundation Day and Annual General Body Meeting in New Delhi on 4 June. Dr Sharma was bestowed this honor in recognition of his contributions in the areas of insect bio-ecology, insect-host-plant interrelationships, identification and utilization of resistance, mechanisms and inheritance of resistance, identification/development of cultivars with insect resistance in sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea, cotton, and soybean.

During the meeting, Dr Sharma made a presentation on “Constitutive and induced resistance to insects: Potential for pest management and food security”.

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CGIAR Research Programs’ donor meeting discusses Intermediate Development Outcomes

A session of the CGIAR Research Programs’ engagement with donors and external stakeholders in Montpellier. Photo: CGIAR

The week of 17-28 June was stocktaking time for the 16 CGIAR Research Programs (CRPs) that stemmed from the reform process in the CGIAR over the last few years. One hundred and seventy participants from CGIAR donors, partners and research teams gathered in Montpellier in France to discuss and present the Intermediate Development Outcomes (IDOs) of the CRPs. The meeting, spread over 16 sessions, saw each team present their IDOs together with the impact pathways and theories of change to show how these outcomes would come about.

Representing the CGIAR Research Programs on GrainLegumes and DrylandCereals led by ICRISAT were incoming Directors Dr Noel Ellis and Dr Shoba Sivasankar respectively, along with Deputy Director General - Research and Acting Director for the Programs Dr Dave Hoisington. They were joined Dr CLL Gowda and Dr Stefania Grando and other partners.

Both Dr Ellis and Sivasankar made presentations on their respective CGIAR Research Programs, the first being a short overview in plenary to invited guests prepared by interim Product Line Coordinators from all partner Centers. Questions/comments were then received from the attendees, and the Research Program team developed responses which were presented to a smaller group of about 20 donors/partners on 28 June. This responsibility was shared by the Research Program team, with each person providing feedback on a specific area.

Among the comments received for the CGIAR Research Program on GrainLegumes were: What were the lessons learned from projects like TL, N2Africa and how are these used in the Research Program?; the importance of biological nitrogen fixation; handling expanding area vs intensification;  addressing systems challenges and how to blend with systems or cereal-only systems; the need to consider climate change effects on pests and pathogens; how to consider market vs household consumption requirements/traits for different legumes; how Product Lines will be linked; and the need to consider markets that can be reached.

In the case of the CGIAR Research Program on DrylandCereals, the comments centered around the rationale behind the crop x geography Product Line concept; whether  the Impact Pathways are realistic; the need to explore linking with the Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems (WLE) regarding water conflicts; and the need for a nutrition-specific IDO.

On the whole, both the Research Programs were considered important by the donors/partners present. As for all the Research Programs, more details on the IDOs, target, impact pathways, theories of change, partnerships, and product lines will be required. The Research Programs have until September to make any further revisions based on the Montpellier meetings.

The common thread running through all the sessions was the reiteration by donors and partners of their interest in research that leads to development outcomes (rather than simply interesting research outputs), the importance of having a clear set of indicators and specific measurable targets for each of these, and the growing importance of having a credible means of measuring progress towards these targets. Coming to scaling, they are looking for credible pathways to outcomes for each CGIAR Research Program that improve the lives of millions of people.

Also discussed was the importance of developing “true” partnerships with national and regional agricultural research systems and networks, and with advanced research institutes; capacity development and specifically the investments that the Research Programs would make to build capacity amongst partners; integration of IDOs and Research Programs; collaboration between Research Programs; gender; exploring “game changers” that can bring about transformative change; and the centrality of building effective partnerships with development partners.

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Credit linkage platform organized for finger millet value chain actors in Western Kenya

A participant and his wife in their U-15 finger millet field. Photo: P Audi, ICRISAT

For the last three years, the finger millet component of the ICRISAT-led project on Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) in Western Kenya has focused on enhancing grain productivity and marketing by improving access to quality seed, recommended agronomic practices, production inputs and product markets. In the process, it has developed partnership with the Kenya Agricultural Institute, farmer groups, Ministry of Agriculture (Extension), local NGOs, agro-dealers, grain traders, processors and financial institutions.

Although grain productivity rose from 4 bags to 8 per acre, farmers and other stakeholders cite inaccessibility to credit and grain markets as major constraints to sustainability and impact. With this in mind, a credit linkage platform for finger millet value chain, consisting of 20 finger millet value chain actors and service providers, was organized in Busia Town on 19 June to assess credit needs in all segments of the chain and to identify the range of available credit products in the financial sector to match the identified needs.

The assessment started with a key informant survey, followed by focus group discussions and meetings  with key financial institutions operating in the project. The platform was attended by Daniel Otwani and Patrick Audi (ICRISAT-ESA) and facilitated by Charles Muigai of Enterprise Institute Ltd, Nairobi. 

Results indicate that farmers needed credit to finance purchase of fertilizer and postharvest equipment while agro-dealers needed them to increase their fertilizer and seed stocks. At harvest time, producer groups require credit to buy grain on cash payment from their members for aggregation before accessing buyers who may take a while to pay. Finger millet grain processors reported they needed credit to buy grain from farmers in cash as supermarkets and other retail outlets only pay them a month after product delivery and also to buy additional equipment to facilitate increase in processing capacity.

Subsequent discussions with four different banks rated highly by farmers revealed that only Equity Bank provided a suitable loan product, “Kilimo Biashara” (farming as a business), to match the credit needs of the finger millet farmers and other stakeholders. To qualify for a Kilimo Biashara loan, farmers have to be a member of a producer group, two group members have to stand guarantee, monthly loan repayment must be made before grain harvest, and a maximum loan amount of Kshs 100,000 (US$ 1200) at 15% interest is given.

Stakeholders attending the finger millet value chain platform.
Photo: P Audi, ICRISAT

Further discussions with the Bank revealed that successful repayment of the loan hinged on a reliable grain market, the presence of aggregation centres, a loan repayment enforcement tool, a contract with clear terms for all parties, and automatic channeling of income from produce to the farmers account in Equity bank.

A meeting between the actors in the finger millet value chain and the Equity Bank to discuss possible loan product negotiations is on the cards. The activities are part of the CGIAR Research Program on DrylandCereals.

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Extension workers trained in climate services to benefit farmers in Kenya

Extension officers learn how to generate rainfall time series graphs.

Gaining new insights and knowledge about climate change and its variability are critical for a better understanding of the climatic uncertainties ahead and their implications on farmers. Conveying such information to farmers is critical.

A training program was held for extension officers from Makueni County, Kenya at Wote Town on 24 and 25 June, to improve their ability to understand and interpret probabilistic climate information and communicate the same lucidly for use by smallholder farmers in planning and managing their farm activities. 

Organized by ICRISAT-Nairobi, the training was attended by 30 extension officers representing 12 divisions from the county and representatives of local FM radio stations – Mbaitu and Syokimau. The event is part of the commissioned activity that ICRISAT-Eastern and Southern Africa is implementing in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and is built on the lessons learnt from pilot studies that were carried out in eastern Kenya since 2006. 

The training program provided new insights into climate and its variability in various divisions of the county, a better understanding of terms like uncertainty and probability and their implications in interpreting climate information, and the role of El Nino, La Nina and other influences on local climatic conditions. It helped participants understand seasonal climate forecast and weather forecasts, reliability of seasonal climate forecast and the potential application of climate information that includes historical and future forecasts.

The participants highly appreciated the approach tested in the pilot studies and felt that providing the type of climate services tested would greatly enhance farmer capacity to make more informed decisions and contribute to improved productivity while reducing risk. “We definitely see the significant benefits that farmers can obtain with the type of information that we have been exposed to during this training program,” remarked Julius Kinywee, divisional agricultural extension officer, Wote Division. The participants showed a high level of commitment to assisting as many farmers as possible.

As a way forward, it was agreed that ICRISAT and Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) would develop brochures and extension material around the topics identified to assist extension officers in presenting the climate information to smallholder farmers. Each extension officer will contact at least 500 officers within his/her area and closely follow and monitor the changes that the farmers with improved climate information are making to their farms during the forthcoming short rain season that starts in October. The extension officers agreed to incorporate the same into their routine extension activities that include conducting barazas (local meetings), farm visits, and farmer field days.

Extension workers who participated in the training. Photo: KPC Rao, ICRISAT

It was agreed to develop 4-5 radio programs explaining various aspects of climate variability, its impacts on agriculture and options to manage them. The extension officers will motivate  farmers to listen to the programs aired and get their feedback. The program aims to reach at least 20,000 smallholders and about 500,000 through radio programs during 2013.

The training’s resource persons drawn from ICRISAT, Kenya Meteorological Department, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute and the Ministry of Agriculture Extension Division, were closely involved in the pilot testing of the components included in the training.

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ICRISAT signs MoU with FOOD 360: A step towards strengthening the IMOD strategy

Director General WD Dar exchanging the MoU with Mr KS Raju. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

As part of its initiative to help smallholder farmers through agribusiness and nurture innovations to stabilise, safeguard and enhance their livelihoods, ICRISAT signed an MoU with the FOOD 360 Foundation, an establishment which promotes the concept of metropolitan agriculture and agriculture-related activities.

The agreement was signed by Director General William Dar and Mr KS Raju, Chairman, Nagarjuna Group and President, FOOD 360 Foundation, who led an 11-member delegation to ICRISAT headquarters on 28 June.

Speaking during the event, Dr Dar stressed the need to promote entrepreneurship in agribusiness and food processing to empower farmers with market linkages to tackle food inflation and the challenges posed by climate change. “This partnership,” he remarked, “is an important step towards implementing and achieving ICRISATs strategy of Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD). To achieve the same, ICRISAT will provide intellectual support as a “Knowledge Partner” in the activities of the foundation.”

AIP-ICRISAT will provide support and guidance on priority areas of collaboration in the MoU, which aims to identify and select agri-based technologies to benefit farmers, set-up Farmer Producer Organizations in select villages, promote entrepreneurship, create value-added products and seed business ventures, channel capacity building and trainings to various stakeholder groups and advise on watershed management practices.

Also present on the occasion were Dr Kiran Sharma, CEO, AIP-ICRISAT and Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, COO, NPK-ICRISAT.

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