30 August 2013
No. 1586

Natural resource management for productivity and sustainability
Drone technology to assess impacts of watershed programs in Eastern Africa

The project team monitoring the ‘SenseFly’ mini-drone’s flight path. Top right: The mini-drone. Bottom right: A technician programs the mini-drone’s flight path on the computer. Photo: KPC Rao, ICRISAT

In Eastern Africa, traditional, time consuming and labor intensive modes of data collection are slowly giving way to mapping using the drone technology. Mapping through field survey has proven to be cumbersome and is often prone to errors, while currently available satellite images have limitations with resolution, cloud cover (especially during the crop season), and availability in real time. An innovative and creative solution, the drone technology offers a lot more flexibility by making it possible to record the imagery when conditions are optimal and at a time when it is most useful.

Drone technology, also commonly known as  Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology, is the use of aircrafts without a human pilot. This technology is now being tested in Eastern Africa to arrest land degradation and to rehabilitate degraded lands to enhance productivity through sustainable intensification. Initiated by ICRISAT Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) with funding support from ASARECA, this effort is part of a project to test the adaptability of the watershed-based management of natural resources for productivity and sustainability. It builds on ICRISAT’s experiences in Asia and was initiated in Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda and Madagascar in 2011.

This image was developed by merging the 500 images covering 1 ha. The left-hand top corner shows the area treated with soil and water conservation structures and includes farms which adopted improved management technologies.

The drone technology is currently being used by some researchers and commercial farmers mostly in developed countries as an innovative way to assess and/or forecast yields. Prior to this project, very little work in terms of application in the area of watershed management for productivity enhancement has been done.

One of the approaches that the project is testing is the use of high resolution (up to 5X5 cm) maps developed using drone technology. The drone is an aircraft capable of autonomous flight and is an exciting new sensing tool capable of acquiring high-resolution, multi-spectral spatial data. It has the potential to provide imagery of high spatial and temporal resolution over a short period.

The usefulness of this technology was tested in a watershed near the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute’s Dryland Research Center at Katumani, Machakos County on 15 August. Using the ‘SenseFly’ make mini-drone mounted with a Canon Elph camera and GPS system, the drone flew over a height of 160 m recording images with a resolution of 5.65 cm. It undertook three flights over two hours and covered 100 ha. A total of 500 high-resolution multi-spectral images were recorded. By decomposition of this composite image, it is possible to extract blue, green and NIR bands with which it is possible to generate different indices such as Normalized Difference Vegetation Index.

The data collected is currently being analyzed to quantify the benefits from watershed interventions. Efforts are also on to collect ground observations to fully interpret the differences observed in the image and make a quantitative assessment of the impact of the interventions.

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ICRISAT-Unilever project on nutritional profiling of pearl millet reviewed

A review meeting on the ICRISAT-Unilever Project on nutritional profiling of pearl millet was held at Unilever’s R&D Centre in Bangalore, India, on 23 August. The project, funded by Unilever-India, is being jointly undertaken by ICRISAT’s NutriPlus Knowledge (NPK) Program of the Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) and the Pearl Millet Molecular Breeding Program of the Research Program – Dryland Cereals (RP-DC).

(L-R) Dr R Banerjee; Dr S Guttapadu, Principal Research Scientist, Unilever R&D; and Drs R Srivastava and SD Mazumdar at Unilever R&D, Bangalore. Photo: ICRISAT

During the meeting, Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar of NPK highlighted ICRISAT’s vision and mission and its Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) approach in the context of the on-going partnership with Unilever. Dr Rakesh Srivastava from RP-DC detailed the importance of pearl millet as a climate-change ready, nutritionally dense crop, and shared information on genetic and genomic resources being used for implementation of specific project activities. Dr Roopa Banerjee also from NPK presented the progress of the analytical work on nutritional profiling of the select Pearl Millet Inbred Germplasm Association Panel (PMiGAP) entries in order to identify traits to tackle lifestyle diseases.

Joining the ICRISAT team were Dr Sreeramulu Guttapadu and Dr Manoj Joshi from Unilever R&D Bangalore, along with Dr Mark Berry and Dr Francis Bligh from Unilever, UK (via telepresence). The ICRISAT team also met Dr Vilas P Sinkar, Vice President, Unilever R&D, Bangalore to brief him on the progress of the project.

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Strengthening management of pearl millet downy mildew in sub-Saharan Africa

Dr Stefania Grando, Research Program Director – Dryland Cereals addressing participants from the African NARS. Photos: PS Rao, ICRISAT

“ICRISAT is investing about USD 1.2 million this year on capacity building activities for the benefit of the NARS partners in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Under this capacity building initiative, this is the first in a series of training programs undertaken through the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals,” said Director General William D Dar. He was addressing participants from African NARS during the opening ceremony of the training on “Strengthening Management of Pearl Millet Downy Mildew in sub-Saharan Africa” held at the ICRISAT headquarters on 19-23 August.

As most of the food-insecure population lives in developing countries – largely as small-scale and subsistence farmers – mitigating the losses from pearl millet downy mildew is a major challenge in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Working with national partners in India, ICRISAT has built an accumulated experience and developed the needed capacity to enhance the management of downy mildew at its headquarters.

However, there remains a need to strengthen national capacity in West and Central Africa (WCA) for screening for resistance and overall management of pearl millet downy mildew. The training course was conducted to build the needed capacity among African NARS, particularly in the use of advanced tools and state-of-the-art laboratories. 

Welcoming the participants, Deputy Director General for Research, Dr CLL Gowda said,
“Training is a two-way process. I therefore request all participants to learn as much as you can during this week, and to share the knowledge you have gained with your fellow researchers.”

Dr Stefania Grando, Research Program Director – Dryland Cereals, highlighted the importance of the training course and how this will help the participants to mitigate the losses caused by downy mildew in pearl millet. She likewise requested the participants to share the knowledge acquired during this training with colleagues at their host institutes.

Dr Rajan Sharma, Senior Scientist (Cereals and Pathology), briefed the participants about the five-day course which included both theoretical and practical aspects of management of downy mildew. The course was envisioned to ensure that national partners are exposed to the full complexity of the facilities currently available at the ICRISAT headquarters and to make use of related technologies for enhancing pearl millet breeding programs. Hands-on training in greenhouse and field screening of pearl millet lines for downy mildew resistance was provided to the participants. They were also trained on proper identification of downy mildew symptoms, maintenance of different isolates of the pathogen under controlled conditions, and data recording and analysis.

The course was attended by 13 participants from 6 countries namely, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal, and was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

Participants of the training. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

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Dryland Cereals undertakes sorghum scoping study in Mozambique

Members of the sorghum scoping study. Photo: Tilahun Amede, ICRISAT

A sorghum scoping study was recently conducted in Mozambique primarily to align the strategies of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals (Dryland Cereals) with the country’s national R&D strategies, towards identifying entry points for collaboration. ICRISAT Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) partnered with the Mozambique Institute of Agricultural Research (IIAM) in the conduct of the activity which also sought to draw a work plan for the 2013-14 cropping season and specific recommendations for sorghum R&D in Mozambique.

To start off the rapid assessment of the sorghum sub-sector, key presentations were made: an overview of the Dryland Cereals by Mary Mgonja (ICRISAT-ESA); an overview of the sorghum sub-sector in Mozambique by Joaquim Mutaliano (Sorghum Breeder, IIAM); and the purpose of the sorghum scoping study by Alastair Orr (Assistant Director, ICRISAT-ESA). These presentations were followed by two focus group discussions on the status of sorghum technology development and delivery and on sorghum product and input marketing.

Subsequent follow-up meetings were held with representatives from Mozambique’s Department of Agriculture and Natural Resource Management for detailed information on agro-ecological zonation for R&D, National Seed Services (NSS) for information on variety certification procedures, and Oruera Seeds and Morais Commercial (private seed companies in Nampula province, Mozambique) for information on the mechanisms for sorghum seed certification, production and marketing.

The development and dissemination of early- maturing, pest-resistant sorghum varieties with hard grain and other end-user preferences was identified as one of the objectives of the Dryland Cereals for Mozambique. Additionally, one possible intervention by the program is an audit of all promising and released improved sorghum varieties detailing their descriptors (including end-use qualities) and to undertake verification or adaptability/suitability trials through participatory variety selection (PVS). Linking the production segment of the value chain with other most efficient segments of the sorghum value chain would be critical in upgrading the sorghum sub-sector in Mozambique.

All the three components of formal (certified), semi-formal (community-based seed production) and informal (farmers’ own-saved seed) sorghum seed systems operate in Mozambique in a complementary manner although the informal component is the most dominant – supplying over 95% of sorghum seed in the country. Generally, government intervention in the distribution and marketing of sorghum seed through direct free seed distribution and provision of subsidies has had negative impacts on the growth of seed markets.

About 12 private seed companies are in operation in the country although only four are currently engaged in sorghum seed production. The demand for certified/formal seed is low because of high poverty levels among the smallholder farmers and high prices for commercial certified seed estimated at 45 meticais (USD 1.5) per kg, while the government’s subsidized seed sells at 25 meticais (USD 0.8) per kg.  Furthermore, agro-dealers which serve as certified sorghum seed retail outlets for commercial seed companies are located mainly in urban centers – far from the villages where sorghum farming is done. Farmers’ own-saved seed of improved varieties is usually of low quality due to admixtures and genetic impurity caused by non-renewal of seed of improved varieties.

Promoting semi-formal or community-based seed production, market-friendly relief seed distribution methods and training of farmers on better seed production techniques for own-saved seed are critical in improving accessibility of quality sorghum seed to smallholder farmers in Mozambique, as identified during the sorghum scoping study.

In attendance during the activity at the Maputo meeting were Anabela Tecarias (Technical Director, Department of Agriculture and Natural Resource Management, IIAM), Tilahun Amede (ICRISAT Country Representative in Mozambique), Takuji Tsusaka (ICRISAT- Malawi), Patrick Audi (ICRISAT- Nairobi), and six IIAM researchers and two participants from extension services.

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Sharing of results for tracking the successes and failures of crop improvement investments in South Asia

Partners of the Tracking Varietal Change for Future Assessment of the Impact of Crop Genetic Improvement Research in South Asia (TRIVSA), a two-year project supported by Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, met in New Delhi on 26-27 August for the project’s final completion workshop.

Participants of the TRIVSA project completion workshop.

TRIVSA primarily aimed to lay the groundwork for tracking the successes and failures of crop improvement investments and for understanding the impact of those investments on poverty, nutrition, and food security in South Asia. Six major crops (rice, sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut) are covered in the project from five South Asian countries (Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka). This joint project between ICRISAT and the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) collaborates with numerous national program partners working on rice and on all five ICRISAT mandate crops.

Around 25 representatives from IRRI, ICRISAT, International Centre for Maize and Wheat Improvement (CIMMYT), International Potato Centre  (CIP), MIT and NARS participated in the workshop.   Dr Sam Mohanty, Head of Social Science Division, IRRI delivered the opening remarks and highlighted the significant accomplishments and contributions of the project. Dr Takashi Yamano, Principal Investigator, presented the key synthesis results on rice crop in South Asia. This was followed-up by the country-wise rice presentations by NARS partners from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, and the states of Chhattisgarh, West Bengal and Odisha of India. The ICRISAT team led by Dr MCS Bantilan together with Dr D Kumara Charyulu also made a comprehensive presentation on the five ICRISAT mandate crops in India and shared key findings of the project.

Detailed discussions were likewise held on project findings and further completion of project milestones among the partnering institutions. Drs Moses Shyam and Naveen P Singh also represented ICRISAT in the workshop. The SPIA represented by Drs Sushil Pandey and Mywish Maredia conducted a brainstorming discussion during the last day on possible collaborations for strengthening impact assessment at CGIAR Centers and in sustaining these activities in the future.

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General management training program held

Director General Dr WD Dar delivering the opening remarks. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT
Participants presenting their workshop outputs. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

A five-day training program on General Management Program for Executives was organized by the faculty of the Asian Institute of Management (AIM), Manila, Philippines at the ICRISAT headquarters on 24-28 August to sensitize senior scientists and managers on leadership and management.

Director General William D Dar, in his opening remarks, emphasized the importance of working as a team and the need to have a synergy at the workplace. The training session exposed 42 participants to experiential learning with a mix of lectures, presentations, demonstrations and case studies.

The AIM team consisting of Professors Mila Lagrosa, Nani Roxas and Guli Go provided the participants with a broad overview and understanding on contemporary issues in management and leadership keeping the motto “Science with a Human Face” as the central theme. This helped the participants in viewing ICRISAT’s mission and vision from a new perspective. 

During the five-day course, participants were exposed to issues such as Principles of Management, People Dynamics, Leadership, Social Return on Investment (SROI), Social Innovations, and Blue Ocean Strategy.

Participants of the training course. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

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ICRISAT: Knowledge partner for FOOD 360°

Dr SD Mazumdar (far left) with dignitaries at the curtain raiser event.
Photo:PV Sivakumar, FICCIT

ICRISAT shall be participating as a knowledge partner in the third FOOD 360° (International conference-cum-exhibition on Agribusiness and Food Processing). This event is scheduled to be held on 6-7 November in Hyderabad, in parallel with the World Agriculture Forum (WAF) Congress 2013. 

The conference aims to bring out new business opportunities for agribusiness start-ups, explore ways for financing, and assess the potential of food processing in India. It will also showcase various products and services related to agribusiness and food processing technologies, playing a central role in connecting business opportunities in agriculture, food processing and allied areas.

The event is in line with ICRISAT’s Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) approach, which focuses on linking smallholder farmers to the markets. As part of FOOD 360°, ICRISAT will be preparing a knowledge report and sharing its learning in the area of agribusiness incubation.

“We will bring in all the expertise of ICRISAT in the area of agribusiness and food processing along with our expertise in agriculture, in order to enable the harnessing of markets to benefit the smallholder farmers. The next wave of opportunities lies in the agricultural services and food processing sector,” said Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Chief Operating Officer, NPK-AIP, at the curtain raiser event held at Hotel Marigold, Begumpet, Hyderabad on 19 August.

The event will also host FOOD 360° Awards 2013 that will recognize significant contributions made by individuals and institutions in the field of agriculture and food processing.

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