18 October 2013
No. 1593

Strengthening seed producers’ organizations to become viable enterprises

A farmer appreciating a sorghum crop during the field visit in Koutiala, Mali. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

In Mali, farmer seed producers and cooperatives are the major sources of improved seed being marketed by emerging private seed companies. But while production volume has been increasing annually, these seed producers need enhanced skills and the physical and technical capacity to increase total output and meet the demand. In 2012, 70 tonnes of sorghum seed (pure line varieties and hybrids) were produced, but 500 tonnes are required to enable 20% of the total production area to be sown with new seed every year.

ICRISAT together with the Farmer Managed Seed Enterprises in Mali (FarmSEM) has stepped in to improve the skills and capacity of farmer seed producers’ organizations in the Sikasso and Mopti regions through the USAID Feed the Future project.

The two-year (2013-2015) project’s first planning workshop targeted at Sikasso was held on 8-10 October, where about 60 farmer members of associations and cooperatives of producers met in Koutiala. The workshop served as a platform for exchange of experiences, clarifying roles and expectations of partners in the development of a viable and sustainable seed system, and refining strategies with stakeholders for a wider use of improved seed and hybrids of sorghum and other associated crops. Significant time was spent identifying priority actions to strengthen the production and dissemination of improved seeds.

FarmSEM will use the value chain approach and capitalize on a decade of involvement with farmer seed producers and organizations which emerged from participatory sorghum and pearl millet breeding and Farmer Field School activities conducted by ICRISAT and partners like Mali’s Institut National d’Economie Rurale (IER). The program will help deliver the benefits of the 39 sorghum varieties and hybrids currently available for dissemination to Malian farmers. It will also enable them to achieve major yield gains through access to new sorghum hybrids that produce 30% more grain than the best traditional varieties.

A farmers’ cooperative working group session during the workshop. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT
Sanogo Fanta Diamoutènè, President of a farmers’ union describes in Bamanankan language her organization’s contribution to seed production. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Training them in business skills, seed storage, processing and packaging and creating fertilizer credit rolling funds are some ways in which this is possible. Farmers will be provided information on new varieties and hybrids to create a demand for improved seed. Knowledge about their performance and the profitability of combining improved soil fertility practices with new high yielding hybrids will be vital.

According to Dr Fred Rattunde, ‘’The improved varieties, hybrids and nutrient management techniques resulting from more than a decade of collaborative research by IER and ICRISAT have enormous potential for increasing sorghum and pearl millet productivity. This project will make a vital contribution to scaling up these technologies so that Malian farmers can reap the economic benefits.”

Said Mohamed Haïdara, National Coordinator of the Association Malienne pour la Sécurité et la Souveraineté Alimentaires (AMASSA - Afrique Verte Mali), a nongovernment organization which helped organize the workshop, said “We thank USAID and ICRISAT for initiating this new program. This gathering of all key players in the seed system will help in providing consistent action towards making quality seed available for food security”.

 “If we can access the market with our produce, we are ready to produce as much needed to meet grain and seed demand. We are willing and committed to do so,” said El Hadj Moussa Traoré, producer and President, Union des Coopératives Semencières du Cercle de Koutiala (USCK).

“We need support in terms of training and capacity building to produce quality seeds. We need threshers, cleaners, warehouses and processing materials as well as marketing skills,” said Mariam Sara, President of Uduayena, a women farmers’ cooperative.”

According to El Hadj Sekou Coulibaly, prefect of Koutiala, “The Government of Mali has always paid attention to seed system development since it is considered the basis for food security and is treated as a priority by the government.”

The workshop was conducted in the national language Bamanakan with Bougouna Sogoba, Director of the Association Malienne d’Eveil au Développement Durable (AMEDD) acting as facilitator. The next planning workshop will focus on farmers’ cooperatives and organizations in Mopti region.

Participants of the workshop. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

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Creating a new narrative for aflatoxin communication in Malawi

ICRISAT’s Joseph Maruwo demonstrates the use of a rapid test kit to detect aflatoxin levels. Photo: S Sridharan, ICRISAT

Mould and the aflatoxin it produces have always been around. What has not been there is the vocabulary to discuss these concepts in Malawi’s national language, Chichewa.

“This has resulted in the research and development community creating misunderstandings during discussions with farmers about aflatoxin and the mitigation measures,” says Nick Quist Nathaniels, an advisor with Danish Management, who is working with ICRISAT Malawi on the Innovative Communications Media and Methods (ICMM) project, funded by the McKnight Foundation.

One example of the misunderstanding is that researchers and extension staff refer to mould and aflatoxin by the same word, “chuku”. By not differentiating between mould and aflatoxin, farmers are not provided with a comprehensive body of information on what mould is and how it produces aflatoxin and how mould spreads – all of which set the context for why the various mitigation measures (such as using tied ridges in the field or drying using Mandela corks) are effective.

The ICMM project attempts to increase information, ideas and solutions for aflatoxin control by developing communication interventions that work to change mindsets and make informed practice and policy decisions. This will ultimately contribute to decreasing the exposure of groundnut producers and consumers to aflatoxin.

The project held a Learning Alliance meeting in Malawi on 9 October to generate a new understanding of the basic cause, health and economic consequences of high levels of aflatoxin in the groundnut sector, and control options from field to store. The meeting was designed as a debate and interaction forum to encourage the sharing of information, ideas and experiences and also commitment and action from the various stakeholders to tackle Malawi’s aflatoxin problem.

ICRISAT’s Harry Msere and Wills Munthali facilitated the meeting while Joseph Maruwo and Oswin Madzonga served as resource persons on testing of aflatoxin and the mitigation measures.

Sixteen participants from different sectors (health, trade, private sector, media and research) started the day with short presentations in Chichewa to shed light on various aspects of the problem of aflatoxin and the most effective solutions. The participants then used their new knowledge as well as their prior experiences to vet some of the communication products that are being planned for release by ICRISAT and local partners. After the deliberations, the participants decided that the word ‘chuku’ should be used to describe mould and the word aflatoxin can be appropriated to be used in Chichewa as long as it was defined as ‘chipe cha chuku’ or poison from mould.

The activity is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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Promoting seed entrepreneurship among farmers in India

Mr SM Karuppanchetty and Dr K Sharma (speaking) during the training. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

The lack of good quality seed to resource-poor farmers of India remains a major constraint to crop production. In its efforts to explore opportunities in seed entrepreneurship, a training program on seed businesses was conducted at the ICRISAT headquarters on 30 September – 1 October for 30 rural entrepreneurs and farmers from Madhya Pradesh, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh.

The training program resulted in seed companies such as Akola Soya and Cotton producer company based at Akola; a Sehore producer company based at Sehore; NABARD seed ventures program at Dewas; Manthan, an NGO from Bhopal; and Mythri, an NGO based at Ananthapur agreeing to seed business incubation terms of implementation.

Conducted by the Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) of ICRISAT, the training aimed to promote and enhance the capacity of farmers, farmer intermediaries and seed entrepreneurs in the seed production business. The training adopted a unique methodology involving technical and scientific inputs and sessions from scientists, subject matter experts and partners, along with field visits.

In his keynote address, Dr Kiran Sharma, Chief Executive Officer, AIP said, “One of the best approaches to address the issue of availability of good quality seed is to train progressive farmers in seed entrepreneurship which would involve tools and techniques in producing seeds. The program is an important step towards implementing and achieving ICRISAT’s strategy of Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD)”. 

Mr SM Karuppanchetty, Chief Operating Officer of the Agri Business Incubation (ABI) Program of AIP-ICRISAT spoke about the growing prospects in seed businesses. Sessions were conducted on seed production, variety identification, improved cultivation practices, marketing, branding and seed quality control of sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut and soybean.

Mr Poomurugesan, Manager, Kazhi Kadaimadai Farmers Federation Thiruvengadu (KKFF), Tamilnadu, and also a client and partner of the ABI of AIP exposed the participants to the program and system of seed business incubation.

From ICRISAT, Dr HD Upadhyaya, Head of Genebank and Principal Scientist, Groundnut Breeding; Dr P Srinivas Rao, Senior Scientist; Mr R Vijaykumar, Manager, Field Research Operations; and Mr B Venkatewara Rao, Manager, Field Research Operations also gave presentations during the training.

Some entrepreneurs from Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu are now planning to cultivate around 13 acres of land with the groundnut variety ICGV 91114 and chickpea JG-11 for which ABI-ICRISAT will supply the seed material.

The training was held as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and on Dryland Cereals.

Participants of the Seed Business Training Program. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

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GCP meet in Lisbon discusses transition strategy and project progress

(From right) Drs Graham McLaren (Leader, GCP Theme 3: Crop Information Systems), Jean-Marcel Ribaut (Director, GCP), and Larry Butler (Leader, GCP Theme 5: Product Delivery) displaying the first copies of ISMU version 1.0 CDs received from Drs A Rathore and R Varshney. Photo: GCP

Progress on ICRISAT’s CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP)-supported projects was presented at the General Research Meeting (GRM-2013) hosted in Lisbon, Portugal on 27-30 September 2013.

Presented during the meeting were updates on ICRISAT’s GCP-sponsored projects on “Improved chickpea productivity for marginal environments in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia” by Dr Rajeev Varshney; “Harnessing the potential of multiparent advanced generation intercross (MAGIC) populations for gene discovery and breeding applications in chickpeas” by Dr Pooran Gaur; and “Improved groundnut productivity for marginal environments in sub-Saharan Africa” and “Drought phenotyping across legumes species” by Dr Vincent Vadez. Dr Varshney also chaired the plenary session on project updates and project reporting for Comparative Genomics.

Invited by GCP for an update on the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and on Dyland Cereals were respective Directors, Drs Noel Ellis and Shoba Sivasankar, who explained the integration of GCP products into both programs.

Drs Varshney and Abhishek Rathore also gave an update on the functioning of ICRISAT’s Integrated SNP Mining and Utilization (ISMU) pipeline and Genomic Selection modules integrated in ISMU version 2. Dr Pooran Gaur (for chickpea) and Dr Patrick Okori (for groundnut) discussed and defined the Genomics and Breeding products as part of the GCP initiative. 

Poster presentations were also made by Drs Hari Upadhyaya, P Janila, NVPR Ganga Rao, Rachit Saxena, Mahendar Thudi, Manish Roorkiwal, Pawan Khera and Ms Anu Chitikineni.

Over 100 delegates from all over the world attended GRM-2013. The GCP also convened a Consortium Committee (CC) meeting on 29 September and Stakeholders’ meeting on 1 October. These were attended by committee members and about 30 representatives from several CGIAR Centers, foundations, national programs, regional organizations and universities, with Dr Varshney representing ICRISAT. The discussions centered on planning the next phase of the Integrated Breeding Platform (IBP), hosting IBP phase II, and the setting up of Regional Hubs across Asia, sub-Saharan Africa, and South America. In consultation with Dr Stefania Grando (Director, Research Program – Dryland Cereals) and with support from the ICRISAT leadership, Dr Varshney proposed ICRISAT’s interest in hosting the Regional Hub for South Asia at the Institute.

Dr Santosh Deshpande (Research Program – Dryland Cereals) also attended the meeting.

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Generation Challenge Programme recognizes outstanding ICRISAT scientist

Photo: GCP

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Grain Legumes was recognized by the Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) for his services  as its Theme Leader for Comparative Genomics since 2007, and congratulated him on receiving the Young Crop Scientist for 2013 Award from the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA).

GCP Director Dr Jean-Marcel Ribaut presented Dr Varshney with a plaque for his “services, dedication and commitment to the Generation Challenge Program (2007-2013) as he valiantly led the GCP genomics effort with an infectious enthusiasm which took GCP’s mission beyond new frontiers.” Dr Ribaut acknowledged Dr Varshney’s contribution to converting orphan crops into genomic resource-rich crops and for developing the draft genomes for chickpea and pigeonpea.

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A new batch of 6,200 ICRISAT germplasm accessions deposited at Svalbard Global Seed Vault

The Svalbard Global Seed Vault (left) and the ICRISAT germplasm seed samples in the vault chambers. Photo: Mari Tefre(Left) NordGen(Right)

As part of the agreement between ICRISAT and the Nordic Genetic Resources Center (NGRC - formerly Nordic Gene Bank), Norway, seed samples of 6,200 accessions from the ICRISAT Genebank were shipped for deposition into the Svalbard Global Seed Vault in Norway in the last week of September. The seed samples are now lying safely in their designated vault chambers and represent ICRISAT’s commitment towards saving agricultural biodiversity for future generations.

Between 2008 and 2012, the ICRISAT Genebank has deposited seed samples of 97,800 in-trust germplasm collections into the seed vault.

The passport and conservation information on these accessions is available at www.nordgen.org/sgsv. With these depositions, the total number of duplicate samples of ICRISAT germplasm deposited has increased to 104,000, representing sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut and six small millets.

In addition, 4,700 duplicate samples of these accessions were conserved in the seed vault to monitor germination. This has been possible through the support of the Global Crop Diversity Trust (GCDT), the NGRC and the National Bureau of Plant Genetic Resources (NBPGR), India.

This activity falls under the CGIAR Research Program for Managing and Sustaining Crop Collections.

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Farmer awareness training on sweet sorghum

Participants of the training program for progressive farmers. Photo: ICRISAT

In addition to its seed, fodder obtained from sorghum crops is a valuable resource for livestock production and improved livelihoods of smallholder farmers. A training program for progressive farmers of Rangareddy and Medak districts of Andhra Pradesh held on 14 October at ICRISAT headquarters highlighted this fact.

Dr Amare Haileslassie (ICRISAT/International Livestock Research Institute) spoke on fodder demand and supply and challenges of climate change and competition for biomass resources. He further highlighted that when properly planned and provided to a productive animal, sweet sorghum increases the current average milk yield per day per animal by a significant proportion, implying better income for smallholders and also increased resource-use efficiencies.

Dr P Srinivasa Rao, Senior Scientist, Research Program – Dryland Cereals highlighted the objectives of the program and made a presentation on cultivation and disease/pest management practices in sweet sorghum. Ms KS Vinutha spoke on seed production practices in sorghum.

The farmers were taken on a field day. They were impressed with the crop growth of improved sweet sorghum varieties without lodging.

Dr Srinivasa Rao explained to them the potential of sweet sorghum and high biomass sorghum in alfisols and vertisols. The farmers also visited ILRI’s experimental area, where Dr Sai Butcha Rao explained the advantages of sweet sorghum as a fodder, and displayed the different forms of sweet sorghum bagasse such as pellet, mash and feedblock. Seed of improved varieties was distributed to the farmers for multiplication in the 2013-14 postrainy season.

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Global Food Security Consortium inception workshop

Participants of the inception workshop held at Iowa State University. Photo: Amy Pitcher, ISU, USA

The Global Food Security Consortium (GFSC) is a worldwide initiative based in Iowa State University, bringing interdisciplinary, comprehensive, and innovative approaches to the problems of food insecurity through focused research efforts. The GFSC proposal recently received an internal research grant from the Iowa State University presidential initiative for interdisciplinary research awards.  ICRISAT is a co-leader in the initiative.

An inception workshop took place at Iowa State University on 1-2 October to lay out the work plans and implementation guidelines. Members of the consortium believe that food security needs can only be met by combining sustainable crop and livestock systems as both plants and animals provide the way out of poverty for many poor smallholders. 

GFSC will fulfill its food security goals by developing and promoting interdisciplinary teams and innovative research along with education and engagement programs to discover new science, transfer technology, and educate future leaders.

The expected outcomes of GFSC are a worldwide network of food security experts that build human and institutional capacity to help feed the world; the development of new science and technology; increasing entrepreneurship opportunities, market participation, education and job opportunities; and promoting sustainable rural livelihoods and social capital through an increase in household food security.

The consortium comprises of US universities; CGIAR Centers [ICRISAT, International Livestock Research institute (ILRI), International Centre for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA)]; private companies, public organizations such as the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and other international organizations such as the Crops Research Institute, Nebraska Water for Food Center. 

Representing ICRISAT at the meeting was Dileepkumar Guntuku, Global Leader, Knowledge Sharing and Innovation and Coordinator for the ICRISAT South-South Initiative.

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Philippines - ICRISAT partnership for food security and improved livelihoods of smallholder farmers

ICRISAT Director General William Dar with Philippine DA Undersecretary Dante Delima. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Rainfed agriculture innovations are the best bets in alleviating poverty and improving food security in resource-poor, rural communities of the Philippines. In a week-long visit to Patancheru on 15-19 October, the Philippines’ Department of Agriculture (DA) Undersecretary Dante Delima, along with a delegation of senior official, farmers and media, interacted and worked with ICRISAT scientists in jointly mapping out agricultural research-for-development initiatives to boost rainfed agriculture in the country.

Intensive meetings and deliberations with ICRISAT management and scientists, and visits to fields and facilities within and outside the campus resulted in the identification of technical assistance initiatives between ICRISAT and the DA, in the areas of: 1) enhancing the Bhoochetana program to boost agricultural productivity in rainfed areas; 2) strengthening agro-ecosystem management for a climate-smart agriculture; 3) improved seed system of dryland crops for sustainable livelihoods of smallholder farmers; 4) design and implementation of small water impounding projects; 5) setting up of agribusiness incubators in the Philippines; and 6) ICT innovations for smallholder agriculture.

Appreciating ICRISAT’s work which resonates with the DA’s mission to boost rainfed agriculture in the country, Undersecretary Delima expressed his commitment to work for the approval and funding of the proposed  initiatives which, he said, “are consistent with the Department’s goal to build sustainable, science-based solutions for food security, poverty alleviation, and efficient natural resource utilization for the benefit of smallholder farmers .”

The Philippine delegation with ICRISAT management and scientists mapping out technical assistance initiatives to boost smallholder agriculture in the Philippines. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

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