04 October 2013
No. 1591

USAID-supported project to apply genomics research to sorghum improvement

Improving sorghum’s drought and heat tolerance through the use of new genomic tools will benefit the smallholder famers in the drylands. Photo: ICRISAT

An international team led by the University of Georgia’s Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory will work toward sustainable intensification of sorghum production, in a US$4.98 million initiative recently funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

New genomics tools will be used to address urgent needs for a more drought resilient food supply, increase rates of sorghum improvement to better meet long-term population growth, and investigate production systems that promote sustainable farming, particularly regarding preservation and/or restoration of soil resources and water quality. 

“The project offers a unique opportunity to fully exploit the potential of new genomic tools in improving efficiency and effectiveness of sorghum improvement programs,” said ICRISAT Director General William D. Dar. “The smallholder farmers in the drylands will be the final beneficiaries of this research, contributing to move them from impoverished subsistence farming to prosperous market orientation.”

ICRISAT in its stations in Africa and headquarters in India, will actively participate in the project by coordinating and leading the major goal on improving sorghum’s drought and heat tolerance, and will have active involvement in the goal on improving ratooning ability in sorghum.

The project also plans to explore transforming sorghum production systems by initiating the development of perennial varieties of sorghum adapted to key agro-ecologies in sub-Saharan Africa.  The outcome from this research will help to evaluate possibilities of reaping multiple crops from single plantings, and increasing the extent and duration of soil cover by plant roots to mitigate disadvantages of conventional annual crops including soil erosion and nutrient leaching. Spreading seed and soil preparation/sowing costs over multiple cropping cycles may also permit smallholders to afford hybrid seed, and benefit from hybrid vigor.

“We have spent 20 years building genomic tools and fundamental knowledge of sorghum,” said the project director, University of Georgia (UGA) Regents Professor Andrew Paterson. “This is an exciting opportunity to put all this research to work, improving human lives in some of the most impoverished parts of the world while also advancing progress toward a more bio-based economy through sustainable intensification of agricultural production.”

Sorghum was the first plant of African origin to have its genome sequenced, as published in 2009 in an international effort also led by Paterson, who heads the UGA Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory. The research team includes partners from ICRISAT, Jimma University (Ethiopia), The Land Institute (Kansas, USA), and the Agricultural Research Council (ARC)-South Africa.

Discoveries during and beyond the 5-year project duration will feed directly into uptake and delivery programs through well-established links between our collaborating institutions with other partner institutions and farmer networks in West Africa, East Africa, South Africa, India and internationally.

For the project’s broad goal on improving drought and heat tolerance, ICRISAT in India is represented by Santosh Deshpande, who will coordinate activities on the development of new population(s), genomics activities and data analysis; Vincent Vadez and Jana Kholova, to perform crop simulation to assess prevailing stress scenarios and trait dissection for drought tolerance; and Ashok Kumar to advance the work on heat tolerance.

ICRISAT in Mali is represented in the project by Eva Weltzien and Fred Rattunde, who will advance and evaluate sorghum populations for testing in West Africa and involve farmers in variety evaluations. For the goal on transforming production system through ratooning in sorghum, ICRISAT in India is represented by HD Upadhyaya and Shivali Sharma, to generate test cross populations for evaluation and data analysis. As part of project activities in Eastern and Southern Africa, ICRISAT in Nairobi, Kenya will be involved in the field evaluation of sorghum populations. The project will be undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

back to top Back to top

Conservation agriculture and fertilizer microdosing workshop held in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe

Participants of the training program. Photo: A Khanye, ICRISAT

Personnel from national agricultural research and extension departments of Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe took part in a training workshop on conservation agriculture and fertilizer microdosing on 9-13 September at ICRISAT-Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

In his welcome remarks, ICRISAT Country Representative, Dr Andre van Rooyen impressed upon the participants the importance of understanding the needs and aspirations of farmers before introducing new farming technologies.

The workshop covered both theoretical and practical aspects of conservation agriculture and fertilizer microdosing and included a field visit to Nkayi District to interact with smallholder farmers who have been practicing conservation agriculture for up to six years.

The topics covered included manual and mechanized conservation agriculture systems, weed management, recommended cultural practices, crop-livestock interactions and conservation agriculture adoption trends in southern Africa. The topics in microdosing included the theory of microdosing, plant nutrient management and fertilizer management strategies under semi-arid conditions.

In his closing remarks, Dr Nyamangara reiterated ICRISAT’s preparedness to help build the capacity of national partners to effectively service farmers and thereby contribute to food security, household nutrition and environmental protection.

back to top Back to top

Call for global action on nutrition at the ISPC Science Forum 2013

(L-R) Drs H Upadhyaya, ISPC Chair Ken Cassman and M Osiru in Bonn, Germany. Photo: ISPC

The Science Forum 2013 called for the “use of recent evidence across a range of disciplines to identify priority research needs and new scientific approaches and facilitate new and stronger partnerships, through which the agricultural community can add most value to the delivery of nutrition and health outcomes.”

Organized by the Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC) of the CGIAR, the Science Forum held in Bonn, Germany on 23-25 September brought together close to 300 professionals (including 30 donors) in the field of agriculture, economics, nutrition and health. In a bid to be more forward looking, 21 early career scientists were supported to participate in the event, and were linked to mentors to support their future research careers. The Forum is to make available funding opportunity through competitive mechanisms of up to US$10,000-15,000 for strengthening partnerships involving the young scientists.

According to ISPC Chair, Ken Cassman, “The ISPC serves as an intellectual bridge between CGIAR funders and implementers, thereby seeking to improve the productivity and quality of CGIAR science, catalyze the partnering of the Consortium and Centers with other institutions of international agricultural research, and support the CGIAR by serving as an honest broker in relevant international fora.”

The Science Forum provided an opportunity for CGIAR scientists to explore the agriculture, health and nutrition nexus together with experts from outside the CGIAR and across the fields of agriculture, economics, nutrition and health. In the deliberations, it became evident that all forms of under-nutrition are responsible for 45% of avoidable child deaths; over 165 million children across the globe are stunted; and close to 20% of all stunting can be ascribed to in utero conditions. 

The meeting was organized into five scientific plenary events, with background presentations highlighting the current status of knowledge in areas relevant to agriculture, nutrition and health, and parallel side events or break-out sessions.

ICRISAT was represented at the Forum by Drs Hari Upadhyaya, Eva Weltzein and Moses Osiru. Drs Upadhyaya and Osiru delivered presentations on groundnut breeding for aflatoxin resistance and integrated management of groundnut aflatoxin contamination, respectively, during the break-out session on Food Safety organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). Dr Eva Weltzien participated in the knowledge fair and shared ICRISAT’s work on strengthening nutrition in Mali using the farmer field schools as an example.

back to top Back to top

Sharing knowledge on sorghum hybrid parents improvement and seed production

Ms J Kane-Potaka (center) makes a point at the opening of the training course. Also seen are (L-R) Drs Trushar Shah, JV Patil (DSR), Rajesh Agrawal and Ashok Kumar. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT
Participants during the field demonstration.
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

“Knowledge sharing is an important component for harnessing the full potential of latest technologies to achieve greater crop productivity and enhanced value chains. Sorghum being one of the largest food-feed crops, this course will contribute to ICRISAT’s mission of improving food security, ending poverty and sustaining the environment through research for development and purposeful partnerships,” said Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director, Strategic Marketing and Communication.

She was speaking on behalf of Director General William D. Dar at the opening of the two-week Fourth International Training Course on Sorghum Hybrid Parents Improvement and Seed Production held at ICRISAT headquarters on 30 September.

Jointly organized by ICRISAT and India’s Directorate of Sorghum Research (DSR), the course will train young and new scientists in the theory and practice of sorghum breeding with reference to yield, nutrition, biotic and abiotic stresses; integrating new tools with sorghum improvement, efficient data management methods, seed production, processing and marketing; alternative uses and commercialization; and Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD).

Welcoming the participants, Dr Rajesh Agrawal, Assistant Director General spoke on the advancements in sorghum productivity due to new technologies, particularly the development of hybrids, and stressed that partnerships
under the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals would lead to synergies and ensure that research advances are quickly disseminated.

Dr Trushar Shah, Scientist, Bioinformatics called for greater interaction among the participants, which he emphasized would help in understanding the issues in productivity enhancement and value chain development and contribute to networking among the individuals and institutions, paving the way for future collaborations. Dr Ashok Kumar, Senior Scientist and Course Coordinator briefed the participants about the goals of the training course.

Twenty-two participants from Mali, Sudan, Ethiopia, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Togo and India are attending this interactive lecture-cum-field demonstration-oriented course, where over 35 resource persons drawn from ICRISAT, DSR and the private sector will share their knowledge. The participants will also visit ICRISAT and DSR facilities, and experience a hands-on session in seed processing, grading, treatment and seed packing for marketing at Nuziveedu Seeds Ltd.  The training program which concludes on 11 October is supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

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

back to top Back to top

Zambia Agriculture Minister appeals to scientists to bring technologies to the farmers

Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture, Mr Robert Sichinga (2nd from left) interacts with workers at the Eastern Province Farmers’ Cooperative who are sorting groundnuts for export. Photo: S Njoroge, ICRISAT

“I appeal to the scientists present here not to be too caught up in the development of the technologies themselves. More importantly, focus on delivering these technologies and making sure they are adopted by farmers if we are to effect real and meaningful change in their lives. Otherwise, all these will be for nothing,” said Mr Robert Sichinga MP, Zambia’s Minister of Agriculture and Livestock. He was interacting with ICRISAT staff during the Second Annual Review Meeting of the Feed the Future (FtF) – Zambia projects held in Zambia’s Eastern Province of Chipata on 18-20 September.

Minister Sichinga noted that the six Feed the Future research and development projects were supposed to benefit 120,000 households. He underlined the importance of diversification in improving the agriculture sector since maize production was not as cost effective in all regions of Zambia and the government was spending a lot of money in subsidizing its production. He challenged the research and development programs to be visible and have impact on smallholder farmers.

ICRISAT leads two out of the six projects in the FtF – Zambia Research and Development program: I-FINITE - improving groundnut farmers’ incomes and nutrition through innovation and technology enhancement; and Aflatoxin mitigation in maize and groundnuts. The review meeting was held to take stock of progress made on these and other projects and to decide on future directions. Attending the meeting were the Deputy Director for Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), Dr Phiri; the Provincial Agriculture Officer, Dr Kabinda; USAID’s Harry Ngoma; IITA Southern Hub Director Dr Chikoye, and ICRISAT Eastern and Southern Africa Director Dr Moses Siambi.

The delegation, including Minister R Sichinga, Dr Moses Siambi, USAID Food Security Specialist Harry Ngoma, along with Whytson Sakala of EPFC, and the District Agricultural Coordinator (DACO) for Chipata, discusses value addition outside EPFC’s warehouse. Photo: S Njoroge, ICRISAT

During the field visit, Minister Sichinga insisted on hearing from the farmers. He visited the Eastern Province Farmers’ Cooperative (EPFC) which is working closely with ICRISAT and is for the first time exporting groundnuts to South Africa. He urged the cooperative to focus on value addition activities to further increase income. To date, the cooperative has exported 120 MT of groundnuts, clearly demonstrating the sort of impact the Minister wanted to see. Drs Moses Siambi and Sam Njoroge led the delegation to EPFC.

Over the years, ICRISAT’s interventions with shellers, improved varieties, and, more recently, on sorting to reduce aflatoxin contamination, have been key in achieving this important milestone.

back to top Back to top

Sorghum hybrid seed production a profitable option for producers in West and Central Africa

Sorghum breeder Fred Rattunde (2nd from right) addressing participants of the Open Field Day. Photos: A Diama, ICRISAT
Farmers at the demonstration trials.

“This open field day gave me an opportunity to learn many things about new varieties of sorghum hybrid, integrated soil fertility and agronomic management options. The discussion on post-harvest management and on how to calculate the cost of production will benefit me and my fellow farmers in the future,” said Dramane Diabaté, a member of the Union des Sociétés et Coopératives de Producteurs de Mais de Dièdougou (USCPMD).

Dramane Diabaté was among the many farmers who attended an Open Field Day on 24 September organized by ICRISAT and the Institute of Rural Economy (IER) to facilitate information exchange about a range of sorghum hybrids adapted to climatic conditions in the region developed by ICRISAT during the last decade in collaboration with partners in Mali and West Africa.

“Such field days will promote interaction between researchers and producers and demonstrate research achievements in sorghum and hybrids that have led to enhanced productivity,” said Dr Bonny Ntare, Assistant Regional Director, West and Central Africa, welcoming the gathering of 60 producers, members of farmers’ organizations and cooperatives and staff of ICRISAT Samanko station.

According to Dr Fred Rattunde, Sorghum Breeder at ICRISAT,“The high level of interest in sorghum hybrids lies in their high yield. They are 30% superior in terms of performance compared to local varieties, both under poor and fertile soil conditions. Varietal trials conducted with farmers in Mali have shown that hybrids were more productive than local varieties. Where the local variety yielded 11 bags per hectare, hybrids gave 15 bags, an increase in 4 bags. So when the local variety yielded 21 bags per hectare and the hybrid 28 bags, it translated into an increase of 7 bags.”

The field day included a visit to sorghum hybrid demonstration trials that use different agronomic options. Visitors were keen to know about the profitability of sorghum hybrid compared to traditional varieties. The nature and potential of sorghum hybrids were explained by Dr Rattunde and colleagues in French and in the national language, Bamanankan.

Says Abdou Sangaré, a producer and member of the Union Locale des producers du Cercle de Dioila (ULPC): “I learnt a lot about the new varieties of sorghum hybrid and how they can benefit farmers in my region because of their short cycle and grain yield. I have noted all the information on names, dates of planting and harvesting and will propose them to farmers of my organization for future trials in our area.”

 “Such events are very useful in promoting exchanges and networking among farmers and producers organizations. It allows learning from each other,” was how Tenemakan Konaté, a producer and member of the Coopérative des producteurs Semenciers du Mandé (COPROSEM) described his experience at the field day. Farmers were invited to discuss ways of hybrid seed production and how to get the most from commercialization, which they will share with their communities.
The activity has been undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

back to top Back to top

Farmers’ field day conducted in Gambawa village, Nigeria

A locally fabricated grain mill (right) and groundnut oil mill (left) being demonstrated during the field day.
Photo: Abubakar Inua , ICRISAT

September 10 was a happy and fulfilling day for the farmers of Gambawa village in the Gumel Local Government Area of Jigawa State, North West Nigeria, where a Farmers’ Field Day was being conducted by ICRISAT-Kano.

The villagers of Gambawa mainly grow sorghum, millet, sesame and rear animals. They have been plagued by drought and low soil fertility, and have to contend with Striga infestation in sorghum and millet, and poor access to markets, improved crop varieties and agronomic practices.

The village, which is about 10 km from Gumel, had never had contact with extension agents until 2011, when they were introduced to ICRISAT by a local non-government organization, the Green Sahel Agricultural and Rural Development Initiative. 

ICRISAT encouraged the farmers to increase their cultivation of legumes, mainly groundnut and cowpea, to break the cereal-cereal cropping cycle. Improved varieties and management practices in sorghum, millet, groundnut and cowpea were demonstrated and new processing machines were introduced.

An on-farm, researcher-managed millet trial was set up in 2013, consisting of two improved varieties (GB 8735 and SOSSAT C88) and a local variety under three fertilizer treatments using different intra-row spacing (25 cm, 50 cm, 100 cm and 150 cm).

During the field day, the farmers gathered at Village Head Hardo Habu’s house, from where they headed off to a trial farm to observe the effect of different treatments on millet growth and yields and sorghum and cowpea multiplication. The Village Head and farmer leader Malam Sama’ila reminisced about the meager millet yields (about 200 kg) per ha due to Striga infestation and low soil fertility prior to ICRISAT’s intervention. Today, the selective use of manure, inorganic fertilizer and improved varieties has made life easier for them.

Following the field visit, a local fabricator from Kano displayed a grain mill and groundnut oil milling machine. The farmers, who have to walk up to a distance of 5 km to mill grain, sought ICRISAT’s assistance in sourcing these machines.

The activity has been undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Programs on Dryland Cereals and on Grain Legumes.

back to top Back to top

Partnership to promote agricultural innovations, market linkages and food safety

Dr SD Mazumdar and Mr Sanjay Kaul exchanging the MoU. Also seen is Mr Shyamal Gupta, Chief Business Officer, NCML. Photo: NCML

To help smallholder farmers achieve market linkages and nurture innovations to stabilize, safeguard and enhance their livelihoods, ICRISAT and the National Collateral Management Services Limited (NCML) signed a Memorandum of Understanding at the NCML headquarters in Mumbai on 25 September. The partnership aims to develop a framework to enable smallholder farmers to access markets and get the right price for their produce. NCML is India’s leading player in warehousing services, supply chain management solutions, testing and certification, and crop and weather intelligence.

The MoU signed by ICRISAT Director General William D. Dar, was exchanged between Mr Sanjay Kaul, MD and CEO of NCML, and Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, COO, NutriPlus Knowledge Program of ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP).

As part of the agreement, AIP shall work closely with NCML to develop a framework to work towards facilitating and promoting innovative agri-food processing technologies and primary processing, create value added products, food product testing and training, surveys, quality control, quality assurance and documentation, practices to deal with contamination in food commodities – for the benefit of smallholder farmers and the small and medium enterprises sector.

NCML provides linkages for growers and traders with spot and future markets, accurate and incisive market intelligence, advisory services and effective collateral and risk management services. It works in partnership with more than 43 leading banks and in more than 900 locations across India.

back to top Back to top