23 August 2013
No. 1585

Surmounting climate change
Up-scaling climate information services in Kenya

Participants of the extension officers’ training workshop held at Machakos county, Kenya.

ICRISAT’s research has clearly demonstrated the benefits of using climate information in planning and managing farm activities, and in empowering smallholder farmers to make more informed decisions at the farm level. This translates to an improved understanding of the risks and opportunities associated with the climate at their location and the use of seasonal climate forecast information as a basis for preparing for the forthcoming season. However, the biggest challenge is in up-scaling this approach to reach millions of farmers.

ICRISAT Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) has developed and tested a two-step demand-driven approach to address this challenge. For targeted farmers in Kenya who are keen to learn, the first stage will consist of a series of three radio programs to be aired in collaboration with Mbaitu FM, a local FM station. The programs will make succinct presentations on how climate impacts agriculture either directly by influencing the amount of water available for crop production, or indirectly through the risk on returns on investment, role of climate information in making better informed farm-level decisions, and reliability and usefulness of seasonal climate forecasts in planning for the forthcoming season.

Farmers will be encouraged to listen to the programs and seek clarifications from local extension officers. In the second stage, farmers showing interest in learning more will be provided with the necessary climate information, historical trends as well as forecast for the coming season that is specific to their location, through local agricultural extension offices.

Makueni and Machakos counties in Kenya have been selected to test this program, in preparation for which a training program for extension officers from Machakos county was organized on 14-15 August. About 30 officers along with partners from the Kenya Meteorological Department (KMD) and Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) participated in the program.

Extension officers discuss best-bet technologies for season types. Photo: KPC Rao ICRISAT

The program explained the key climate terms, observed past rainfall trends, and interpreted probability charts, and thereby systematically derived the usefulness of seasonal climate forecasts in farm-level decision making. The extension farmers also developed a set of technologies that they consider are best-bet options for below normal, normal and above normal types of seasons for the areas that they are responsible for.

During the training program, it was agreed to encourage farmers to listen to the planned radio programs, interact and provide interested farmers with additional information, and keep a record of farmers who approached them for future monitoring purposes. Two posters explaining the key climate terms and location-specific climate information prepared for the training will be made available to all extension officers. They will be displayed prominently at all the divisional and district agricultural offices in the two counties and at other strategic points.

The participants appreciated the program and committed to its successful implementation. They will also install a rain gauge in every office and keep an accurate record of the rainfall received, put up weather boards in the offices displaying daily and seasonal rainfall, and communicate the seasonal climate forecast and follow-up updates to all the interested farmers.

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ICRISAT – Nairobi holds workshop on novel genotyping tool

A team of scientists based in Africa and working mainly on cereal genomics came together on 5 - 9 August to learn the ropes of genotyping-by-sequencing, a state-of-the-art genotyping tool.

Held at the Biosciences eastern and central Africa - International Livestock Research Institute (BecA - ILRI) hub as a collaboration between the Institute for Genomic Diversity at Cornell University and ICRISAT, the workshop was funded by the Basic Research to Enable Agriculture and Development, with facilitators from Cornell University and ICRISAT.

Welcoming the participants, outgoing Regional Director for ESA, Dr Said Silim highlighted ICRISAT’s interest in employing the latest technologies to enhance cereal production in Africa. Dr Appolinaire Djikeng, BecA - ILRI hub Director, further emphasized the need for both regional and intercontinental collaborations towards finding solutions to end food insecurity in the continent.

Participants of the workshop on genotyping-by-sequencing. Photo: ICRISAT

The workshop also benefited from the bioinformatics expertise and resources from the BecA - ILRI hub. Most of the participants were excited to learn command line-based analysis of next-generation sequencing data for the first time and provided very positive feedback regarding their experiences.

The workshop drew 32 participants from Tanzania, Malawi, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Niger and Zambia, representing both CGIAR centers and national programs.

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Radio program on Aflatoxin tested in Malawi

Doreen Sakala laughs as she records her views on the radio program. Photo: S Sridharan, ICRISAT
Everyone gathers to listen and watch a short video animation on mould and how it spreads through the soil and air to infect groundnuts. Photo: S Sridharan, ICRISAT

“Eating groundnuts with mould can cause cancer,” Doreen Sakala, a farmer in Kacheta village, Malawi, said after listening to a radio program on aflatoxin mitigation measures in groundnuts. “I thought it had no effect, but now I know it causes illness.”

Sakala is one of the 16 farmers who are part of the Chilanga Radio Listeners’ Club, whose members meet once or twice a week to listen to radio programs on agriculture and health and nutrition that are aired on M’mudzi Wathu, the local community radio station. Members of the club then debate the merits of the information they have heard. M’mudzi Wathu has a listener base of 50,000 people in Mchinji District, dubbed as the Home of Groundnuts in Malawi.

The Innovative Communication Media and Methods (ICMM) project, funded by the McKnight Foundation has been developing products that clearly articulate the definition of aflatoxin and its relationship to mould. The project hypothesizes that this deeper understanding of mould, how it spreads, and the health and economic costs associated with it will provide farmers with the rationale behind the mitigation measures that have long been promoted by researchers and extension services in Malawi. Increasing this understanding could result in behavioral changes that decrease exposure to aflatoxin and improve the health and incomes of the various stakeholders along the groundnut value chain.

One of the products developed by the ICMM project has been a 30-minute radio program in Chichewa that includes interviews with farmers, vendors, health experts, Malawi’s Bureau of Standards, researchers from ICRISAT and the National Agricultural Research Program. The program uses an interactive dialogue format to establish what various stakeholders currently believe aflatoxin to be and then brings in expert interviews to strengthen and refine this information and also offer possible solutions to various problems.

The program was played to two listeners’ clubs in Mchinji and their opinions on various aspects of the radio program such as the order of the information, the length of the program, the relevance, and the key messages were gathered from focus group discussions facilitated by Harry Msere, Scientific Officer at ICRISAT-Lilongwe. Emmanuel Mkuwamba, Field Technician at ICRISAT-Lilongwe and Swathi Sridharan, Regional Editor, also participated in guiding the focus group sessions. Luciano Milala, the program producer from M’mudzi Wathu Radio Station and Patrick Chivumi, the Agricultural Extension Development Officer for the area as well as Field Radio Extension Officer for Farm Voice Radio participated in the meetings as well.

The pre-test of the program revealed some interesting lessons. “Based on the responses from both groups, it is clear that we need to further define the relationship between aflatoxin and mould and focus on highlighting specific mitigation measures such as grading instead of listing all of them,” Msere said.

The project staff will now work with Luciano Milala to produce another version of the radio program that addresses some of these issues, to be aired on M’mudzi Wathu in September. Feedback from the actual live airing will be collected via SMS and calls made to the radio station.

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Bhoochetana to boost agricultural productivity in Philippine rainfed areas

(L-R) Dr J Soriano, Visiting Scientist, ICRISAT; Dr N Eleazar, Director, DA-BAR and Dr LR Velasco, Professor, UPLB at the workshop. Photo: LD Padilla, DA-BAR

Highlighting the crucial role of rainfed agriculture in achieving sustainable food security and improved rural livelihoods of smallholder farmers in rainfed areas, the implementation of the program “Adoption of Bhoochetana Principles and Approach in Boosting Agricultural Productivity in the Philippines” moves ahead at full speed with a planning workshop held on 12-14 August at the Southern Luzon State University, Lucban, Quezon, Philippines.

The collaborative program between ICRISAT and the Philippines’ Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) of the Department of Agriculture (DA) is envisioned to make the country’s rainfed agriculture more productive through the adoption of the Bhoochetana (land rejuvenation), a farmer participatory model that emerged from ICRISAT’s long-term strategic on-station research on natural resource management. This science-based productivity enhancement approach is now being successfully up-scaled in Karnataka, India, and has benefited three million smallholder farmers in the state in the last three years.

During the workshop, a roadmap of the Bhoochetana adoption as an integrated, holistic approach to rainfed agriculture development in the country was mapped out. Among the initial activities lined up include: Participatory Rapid Appraisal (PRA) in every pilot region or province, outputs of which will be used to identify the crops, target areas, technology interventions and other forms of services required during the entire project duration; scientific visit to India by the project team members and Provincial Agriculture Officers; and technology demonstration with Farmers’ Field Schools (FFS). Best-bet management options for inclusion in the training courses for the FFS will be based on the results of PRA.

Participants of the national planning workshop for Bhoochetana adoption in the Philippines held at the Southern Luzon State University, Lucban, Quezon, Philippines. Photo: LD Padilla, DA-BAR

The program’s national planning workshop was facilitated by the technical working group led by Dr Luis Rey Velasco, Professor, University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) and Dr Nicomedes P Eleazar, Director, DA-BAR, and was participated by project team members from the lead agencies.

ICRISAT was represented in the activity by Dr Junel B Soriano, Visiting Scientist, who gave a presentation “Bhoochetana for Boosting Agricultural Productivity in the Philippines.”

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Resilient Agriculture Investigators Network launched in Bengaluru, India

Participants at the Resilient Agriculture Investigators Network workshop. Photo: ICRISAT

That partnerships and identifying common priorities are the way to go was once again reiterated by ICRISAT with the formation of the Resilient Agriculture Investigators Network (RAIN) at the Karnataka State Natural Disaster Monitoring  Center (KSNDMC) in Bengaluru on 19 August.

Part of the Government of Karnataka – ICRISAT Bhoochetana project, the network is aimed at forming a team of investigators to identify common priorities for developing resilient agriculture systems.

The RAIN partners – University of Agricultural Sciences, Bengaluru, Dharwad, Shimoga, Raichur; University of Horticultural Sciences, Bagalkot; KSNDMC, Indian Space Research Organisation, Department of Agriculture, Department of Horticulture and ICRISAT – met to work out the details of the activities to be undertaken by the network.   

As leader of the network, ICRISAT will form a team of investigators and identify common priorities for developing resilient agriculture systems; discuss common sets of data, methods and simulation modeling to be adopted to undertake studies; and prepare the workplan and bring together teams in each district to work towards developing resilient systems.

Inaugurating the workshop, Dr KV Sarvesh, Director, Department of Agriculture, Government of Karnataka, highlighted the need to develop resilient agriculture to protect farmers from climate variability and climate change. He underlined the importance of convergence among researchers and between related departments such as those of horticulture, watershed, animal husbandry and water resources.

Dr VS Prakash, Director, KSNDMC explained his organization’s role in providing short range forecasting as well as support through online  phone calls.  

Dr DL Maheswar, Director, Department of Horticulture also highlighted the need for RAIN. Describing Karnataka State’s excess rains this year which have damaged plantation crops, he said there was an urgent need to empower farmers through capacity building.  

In his presentation on “Resilient Agriculture Investigators Network (RAIN) 4 Sustainable Development in Karnataka”, Dr SP Wani stressed the need for depicting the lens  of  resilience and vulnerability which calls for change in the mindset of all the  actors to provide support to farmers.

About 50 participants deliberated on topics such as: Resilient agriculture – Concept, principles and current status in the State; Standard data needs to develop resilient agriculture; Resilient agriculture through adaptation and mitigation strategies; and Social and institutional lens to build resilience. Outcomes were presented and ways to move the initiative forward were explored. Vice-Chancellors from each Agricultural University have nominated a team of four scientists as the primary network members. 

Dr Sarvesh concluded by stressing the need for the network partners to meet regularly with Department officials in order to establish a mechanism to provide information to  extension officers and work out ways to reach farmers.
The ICRISAT team was led by Drs SP Wani, K Krishnappa, AVR Kesava Rao, KH Anantha, Rajneet Kaur Uppal and Kaushal Garg.

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Workshop on e-Extension strategies for knowledge sharing held

A two-day workshop on e-Extension strategies for knowledge sharing was organized on 20-21 August at the ICRISAT headquarters. Supported by the Government of India’s Rubber Board, the training attended by 30 participants from different regional offices of Rubber Boards from Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, was intended to update extension personnel on the different Information and Communication Technology initiatives in agriculture, including those developed at ICRISAT. 

Inaugurating the workshop, Acting Deputy Director General for Research CLL Gowda highlighted ICRISAT’s pioneering role in ICT4ARD and in building the capacity of scientists all over the world. Mr Pradyut Modi welcomed the participants on behalf of  Knowledge Sharing and Innovation.

Among those who spoke were Dr Rasheed Sulaiman, Director, Centre for Research on Innovation and Science Policy; Dr VP Sharma, Director - IT, National Institute of Agricultural Extension Management; Dr TV Prabhakar, IIT Kanpur; Dr Shaik Meera, Directorate of Rice Research; Dr Gopalakrishna, All India Radio-Hyderabad; and Dr NT Yaduraju and Mr Sumanth Kumar from ICRISAT. This was followed by a demonstration of Agropedia and vKVK and hands on training on vKVK by Dr Kiran Yadav with Ms Prerana.

Thirty more extension personnel will be trained in the second round of workshop on 3-4 September.

Participants of the workshop for extension personnel held at ICRISAT headquarters. Photo: ICRISAT

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Training held on data collection in multilocation trials in energy sorghum and pearl millet

Scientists during the field visit held as part of the training. Photo: ICRISAT

A training program to strengthen capacity in conducting multilocation trials, specifically on collection of data in biomass sorghum and pearl millet was held for partner organizations of the project on “Indo-US joint clean energy development center – Development of sustainable advanced lignocellulosic biofuel systems” at the ICRISAT headquarters on 16 August. The project is funded by the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India and the US Department of Energy.

Twenty participants from seven public sector organizations and a private company were exposed to the challenges of conducting multilocation trials in feedstocks, crop management, data collection, different methods of seed production of hybrids and varieties, and on experimental design and data analysis. The training was jointly organized by ICRISAT and the Directorate of Sorghum Research (DSR) and conducted at both locations.

Among those who spoke on the occasion were Drs  P Srinivasa Rao, Senior Scientist, Sorghum Breeding, Research Program – Dryland Cereals; AV Umakanth, Principal Scientist, DSR; SK Gupta, Senior Scientist, Pearl Millet Breeding; and Abhishek Rathore, Senior Scientist, Biometrics. A  field visit to energy sorghum and pearl millet trials  enabled the participants to have first-hand information on the feedstocks and data collection for different quantitative and qualitative traits. At DSR, Drs Umakanth and HS Talwar exposed the trainees to MLT-energy sorghum and salinity and drought screening facilities.

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