29 November 2013
No. 1599

Pioneering partnership for science communications to boost food security and improved livelihoods in the drylands

ICRISAT-HOPE Project communication and scientific specialists met in Arusha, Tanzania to form a pioneering partnership to better communicate agricultural scientific advancements and impacts.
Photo: J Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT

A dynamic and new partnership to better communicate agricultural scientific advancements and impacts promises to build the capacity of national organizations to use communication tools and approaches in helping achieve food and nutrition security and improved livelihoods in the dryland tropics.

In a pioneering and unique initiative, communication and scientific specialists from nine countries and from different ICRISAT locations have come together in a week-long workshop held in Arusha, Tanzania, 25-28 November, to set up the communication partnership.

The HOPE Project (Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia) has been selected as the initial platform for this “Partnering for Communications” initiative, with participants coming from Tanzania, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda and Ghana; and from the ICRISAT headquarters in India and regional offices in Kenya and Mali. There is a plan to expand the partnership to other francophone HOPE project partner countries (Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger), as well as to other agricultural research-for-development programs led by ICRISAT.

While it has become a common practice for international and national organizations to form partnerships for scientific research, the importance of partnering for communications has not gained much attention until this time. Partnership is a powerful tool, especially in communicating for development, which has now become critical in achieving global development goals of food and nutrition security and poverty reduction.

(L-R) Dr G Okwach (HOPE Project Coordinator), Mr Z Ghebremichael (Eritrea), Mr Martin Mandho (Associate Professor, Murdoch University, Australia) and Ms J Kane-Potaka (Director of SMC, ICRISAT) during the video training session. Photo: S Sridharan ICRISAT

“When we work in partnership for scientific research, capacity building of national scientists is a critical part and typically an essential requirement before an international donor agrees to any funding. It is really surprising that there isn’t the same support for building the capacity of the communications professionals in local and national organizations. Our vision for partnering for communications is to build the capacity of our national partners to effectively communicate science with more tools and better skills,” says Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director of Strategic Marketing and Communication, ICRISAT.

According to Dr George Okwach, Project Coordinator, HOPE Project, “Partnering for scientific research is important for so many reasons – including better understanding of the local environment, more sharing of ideas and knowledge, a greater likelihood of successful solutions and adoption, and to build the capacity of others. This is just as important to achieve through partnering with the communications professionals as it is to partner with the scientists.”

“We need to show the value of partnering for science communication to scientific organizations, donors and scientists so that the communications professionals can be more formally included and integrated into scientific research projects,” stressed Dr William D. Dar, ICRISAT Director General, in a message of support to the pioneering initiative sent from the ICRISAT headquarters.

The four intensive days of “Partnering for Communications” workshop were devoted to sharing knowledge from across the regions, enhancing the participants’ communication skills and approaches such as capturing and writing stories and video production, and communication planning to better spread the word about the HOPE project and its scientific advancements and impacts. Participants also identified their respective national communication channels and strategies to be linked to, as well as to be tapped, in the implementation of the HOPE project communication plan.

“On behalf of the Director of Research and Development of Tanzania, I would like to thank ICRISAT for choosing our country to host this dialogue, and to be one of the implementing partners of the HOPE Project. I will use the knowledge that I gained from this activity to communicate scientific advancements to help achieve food and nutrition security in our rural communities,” says Dr Fridah Mgonja from the Selian Agricultural Research Institute, Tanzania.

“I found the training very useful for communicating research and development, and for the continuous success of the HOPE Project,” noted Dr Bediru Beshir from the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research.

Mr P Mcharo, District Agricultural, Irrigation and Cooperative Officer of Moshi District being interviewed by (from left) Dr B Beshir (Ethiopia), Mr Francis Kpodo (Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa), and Mr Mandho (Murdoch University). Photo: Photo: MN Makelo

“Sharing knowledge across regions helped us to appreciate both the differences as well as the many similarities in challenges that we all face,”  says Mr Zeremariam Ghebremichael from the National Agricultural Research Institute, Eritrea.

Participants also visited farmers, the local government office and agri-business establishments in Moshi District, Kilimanjaro to learn more about their challenges and successes, and their involvement in the HOPE Project, particularly in the area of sorghum production. This was also part of the training on how to capture insights on video and through impact stories.

“The potential of sorghum as an alternative to maize is great in Moshi District in view of climate change. Through the HOPE project, farmers and extension officers were trained on sorghum production technology, as well as on how to utilize sorghum. The government has also passed a by-law that requires each farmer to put at least a quarter of their farm land under sorghum. We are targeting a total of 600 ha under sorghum in the district,” highlights Mr Paul Mcharo, District Agricultural, Irrigation and Cooperative Officer of Moshi District.

“Before, we were cultivating maize in more than 5 acres of land with very low yield and return. In the last cropping season, we planted 1 acre to sorghum, and not only can we see improved income, but better nutrition for my family as well,” says Mrs Zainab Ali, a 40-year-old woman farmer, and a mother of four.

Through the communication partnership, the HOPE Project envisions to enhance even more the benefits of research for development efforts to smallholder farmers in terms of improved livelihoods and nutrition security.

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Partnering for Communications: In Pictures

(L-R) Learning how to capture insights on video:
Dr F Mgonja (Tanzania) and Ms Stella Namazzi (Uganda). Photos: J Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT
Mr Z Ghebremichael from Eritrea sharing communication approaches and strategies.
Understanding the principles of video production: Dr Margaret N Makelo (Kenya) and Ms Agathe Diama (ICRISAT Mali). Photos: J Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT
Interview with Eliahidi and Zainab of Moshi District, Kilimanjaro, Tanzania, on how sorghum production has improved the income and nutrition of their family.
Interviewing a successful sorghum farmer in Moshi District: Mr Omenesa Zubairu (Nigeria), Ms Smitha Sitaraman (ICRISAT headquarters, India), Mr Jeremiah Sembosi (Tanzania), and Mr Yakubu Dodo (Nigeria). Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT
Capturing impact stories through video: Ms S Namazzi (Uganda) and Mr Tiberious Etyang from ICRISAT Kenya. Photo: J Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT
Writing for the media: Ms Cristina Bejosano from ICRISAT headquarters (India), Mr T Etyang from ICRISAT Kenya and Ms S Namazzi (Uganda).
Photo: J Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT
Mr Z Ghebremichael at the market capturing the story of a middle agent who buys sorghum produce from farmers and sells those to retailers.
Photo: S Sridharan ICRISAT
Interviewing a manufacturer of small agricultural tools planning to venture into production of sorghum threshers: Dr G Okwach (right) and Dr B Beshir (center). Photo: MN Makelo
Ms Swathi Sridharan from ICRISAT Zimbabwe sharing insights on assessing the effectiveness of communications. Photo: J Kane-Potaka, ICRISAT

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Concerns on GM crops can be addressed, experts say at workshop on safety assessment

(Left) Participants of the workshop on Safety Assessment of GM Crops; (Right) Dr Rajeev Varshney speaking at the event. Photos: PS Rao, ICRISAT

“The success of Bt cotton has clearly shown the need for genetically modified (GM) technology to deal with problems being faced by the Indian agriculture sector,” said Dr P Ananda Kumar, Director, Institute of Agri biotechnology, Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU).

Dr Kumar was speaking at the workshop on Safety Assessment of GM Crops organized by ICRISAT in partnership with the Biotech Consortium India Limited (BCIL) held at the ICRISAT headquarters on 23 November.

“Biosafety concerns can be clearly addressed by scientific institutions in the country as effective capabilities are available with us,” he added. He also emphasized on the need to streamline regulations so that technologies can be taken forward.

Dr B Sesikeran, former Director, National Institute of Nutrition and Chair, Review Committee on Genetic Manipulation of India, spoke on science and safety issues with emphasis on food safety. “Indian food safety standards are based on best international practices, and are in accordance with the principles and guidelines of Codex Alimentarius,” he said.

More than 80 participants including scientists from various public and private sectors engaged in the development of GM crops took part in the workshop conducted parallel with the ongoing international workshop on Genetic Engineering Applications in Grains and Legume Crops, also organized by ICRISAT. Presentations were made by scientists from India’s Directorate of Rice Research, the Directorate of Sorghum Research and ICRISAT.

Dr Vibha Ahuja, Chief General Manager, BCIL introduced the objective of the workshop, highlighting the need for extensive capacity building efforts in the area of safety assessment and of confined field trials using state-of-the-art guidelines.

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Grain Legumes, ICRISAT said that the Platform for Translational Research on Transgenic Crops (PTTC) is regularly involved in the conduct of awareness workshops to promote scientific and factual information about biotechnology.

BCIL, supported by the Department of Biotechnology, Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India and the All India Financial Institutions facilitates commercialization of biotechnology and promotes awareness on the latest developments in the field.

At the workshop, BCIL also introduced an “e-Learning Module on Compliance Management of Confined Field Trials” as a useful tool for Trial-in-Charges, for members of various committees at center and state levels, scientists from various public and private sector institutions, and other stakeholders engaged in the development of GM crops.

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Key principles for agricultural innovation systems discussed

Achieving effective integration between international agricultural research and international development organizations and their investments is critical to encourage the agricultural innovation process leading to effective development outcomes at scale.

In a joint GIZ-CGIAR workshop on “Innovation System of Driven Agricultural Research-Bridging the Implementation Gap” held on 19-22 November in Feldafing, Germany, more than 40 participants brainstormed for four days to identify key principles for agricultural innovation systems. The participants include representatives from the CGIAR Consortium Office, CGIAR Research Centers and CGIAR Research Programs; and from the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), African national agricultural systems and nongovernment organizations.

Investments in agricultural innovation should be guided by key organizing principles to strengthen innovation processes in agriculture and natural resource management. These include: 1) Plan for scaling from the outset of an intervention process;   2) Work through multi-stakeholder engagements;    3) Focus on demand driven approach to research topics and issues; 4) Create open communication and learning spaces; 5) Recognize that innovation is not only about technologies, but an interactive process with social, cultural, economic, organizational, institutional, political and technological dimensions; 6) Adopt a long-term perspective that allows for the innovation process to evolve and mature; 7) Provide incentives and capacity strengthening for different actors involved; and 8) Recognize the need for investing in research.

Participants at the workshop committed to applying these principles through a new learning partnership that fosters more effective integration of agricultural research and development investments to achieve innovation and outcomes at scale.

In the “Market Place” organized as a side event, ICRISAT’s experiences in transferring postrainy sorghum technologies under the HOPE project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation were showcased in a poster presentation.

Dr Ashok Kumar, Senior Scientist, represented ICRISAT and the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals in the meeting.

Participants of the joint GIZ-CGIAR workshop. Photo: BMZ

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Hari D Upadhyaya honored with Frank N Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic Resources

ICRISAT Director General Dr William D Dar congratulating Dr Hari D Upadhyaya. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Dr Hari D Upadhyaya, Head of Genebank, ICRISAT, received the 2013 Frank N Meyer Medal for Plant Genetic Resources Award at the Crop Science Society of America (CSSA) meeting held in Tampa, Florida, USA on 5 November. In his award lecture on “Crop germplasm to overcome challenges to global food and nutritional security,” Dr Upadhyaya emphasized on how large germplasm collections can meet the food and nutritional needs of the ever increasing world population, which would be over 9 billion by 2050, requiring over 70% increase in food production.

The Frank N Meyer Medal is presented in commemoration of Frank N Meyer who served as Agricultural Explorer in the Office of Foreign Seed and Plant Introduction in the USA for outstanding achievements in the area of plant genetic resources. The memorial award was created in recognition of his contributions in the field of germplasm.

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Training program on PRINCE2® for project management

Scientists and project managers from ICRISAT and partners came together for a training course on the latest methods and tools in project management.

A total of 22 participants from nine countries took part in the interactive course “An Overview to PRINCE2® – Introductory Course” on 21-23 November at the ICRISAT headquarters in Hyderabad.

The participants included NARS scientists from the Council of Scientific Industrial Research (CSIR), Ghana; Industrial Technology Institute, Sri Lanka; and Action Freterna Ecology Centre, India; and 19 scientists and managers from various ICRISAT locations (Ethiopia, India, Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Niger, and Zimbabwe).

The course was inaugurated by the Director General Dr William D. Dar, and the opening remarks were given by the Director of Strategic Marketing and Communication (SMC), Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka.

Prince2 (Project Management in Controlled Environments 2) outlines the necessary elements for effective project management in any context so that effective control is exerted and risk minimized in order to maximize successful results. It has grown in popularity and is now widely used across international agencies. The course was organized by the Ms J Kane-Potaka, R Narsing Rao and KP Ch Subba Raju of SMC, and was conducted with the help of the QAI Global Services, New Delhi.

Participants of the PRINCE2® training program. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

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Foundation day lecture delivered at the University of Horticulture Sciences, Karnataka, India

Dr CLL Gowda giving the Foundation Day Lecture at the University of Horticulture Sciences, Bagalkot. Photo: ICRISAT

“Horticultural scientists should use available technologies such as tissue culture and high-end tools of genomics and genetic engineering for enhancing crop productivity and improving nutrition content,” said Dr CLL Gowda, ICRISAT Deputy Director General for Research, in his Foundation Day Lecture at the University of Horticulture Sciences, Bagalkot, Karnataka on 22 November. He spoke to the students about “Enhancing food and nutrition security and export potential of horticulture crops.”

The Foundation Day celebrations also included a Horticulture Fair on 23-24 November where the University showcased the latest technologies in production, storage, processing and value-addition for vegetable, fruits and medicinal plants. The fair was inaugurated by a group of ministers including Karnataka Agriculture Minister, Hon. Krishna Byre Gowda.

Others who spoke at the event were: Mr SR Patil,  Minister for Information Technology, Biotechnology, and Science and Technology, Karnataka; Dr RR Hanchinal, Chairman of Protection of Plant Varieties and Farmers’ Rights Authority, India; Dr NK Krishna Kumar, Deputy Director General (Horticulture), Indian Council of Agricultural Research; and Mr MK Shankaralinge Gowda, Principal Secretary (Horticulture).

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Collaboration for a biomass-based green economy

Dr Dar with Dr Praveen Vadlani of KSU (2nd from left). Also seen are Drs P Srinivasa Rao and Heraldo Layaoen.
Photo: Vismitha S, ICRISAT

Realizing the importance of biomass-based green economy, ICRISAT and the Kansas State University (KSU) have initiated work on producing industrially valuable products like butanediol and lipids from sorghum biomass under the collaborative project: “Production of advanced biofuels from salinity tolerant brown midrib (bmr) sorghum genotypes”.

The project is funded under the USAID linkage program of US varsities with International Agricultural Research Centers. Dr Praveen V Vadlani (Principal Investigator, KSU) and Dr P Srinivasa Rao (Senior Scientist - Sorghum Breeding, ICRISAT), met with ICRISAT Director General William D. Dar to brief him on the objectives and expected outputs of the project.  

At the meeting, Dr Dar emphasized the need to explore means for increasing efficiency of feedstock production and processing as this makes the production chain economically viable. Dr Praveen shared recent developments in bioprocessing and the details of the Kansas Bioenergy Centre’s close involvement with the National Agricultural Research Systems in the Philippines. Dr Heraldo Layaoen, Consultant, Philippine Bhoochetana Project also took part in the discussion.

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