06 December 2013
No. 1600

Excellence in Agricultural Leadership conferred on DG William D. Dar

Director General William D. Dar receiving the “Excellence in Agricultural Leadership Award” from
Prof Kasem Soytong, President of AATSEA.

"I have dedicated my whole life and career to helping empower smallholder farmers in Asia and Africa alleviate their socioeconomic conditions and to contribute to feeding the poor,” said ICRISAT Director General William D. Dar.

Dr Dar was speaking as he received the “Excellence in Agricultural Leadership Award” from the Association of Agricultural Technology in Southeast Asia (AATSEA) during the 2nd International Conference on Integration of Science and Technology for Sustainable Development at King Mongkut’s Institute of Technology, Bangkok, Thailand on 28 November.

The award was given in recognition of Dr Dar’s “outstanding achievement, dedicated service, untiring efforts, exemplary vision, unwavering commitment and unselfish support in the field of agriculture in Southeast Asia and beyond.” It was conferred on him by Prof Kasem Soytong, President of AATSEA.

At the conference, Dr Dar also delivered a keynote presentation on “Biological Diversity, Food and Agricultural Technology in Smallhold Agriculture,” speaking lengthily on the unprecedented challenges faced by agriculture due to global warming and the increasing demand for safe and nutritious food.

“An integrated genetic and natural resources management approach should be adopted to develop dynamic production systems to produce sufficient and nutritious foods/feeds,” Dr Dar said. He stressed that the focus, among others, should be on protecting agro-biodiversity, developing climate-ready crops and climate-smart production systems, and above all, adopting agri-technologies and policies that favor smallholder agriculture.

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Tropical Legumes III – Developing the next phase to ensure benefits to smallholder farmers

Participants of the Tropical Legumes III meeting at the ICRISAT headquarters in Patancheru.
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

"Grain legumes make an important component of the diet and a rich source of protein for poor people in the developing countries of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. ICRISAT and its partners need to continue to work together not just to enhance the crop productivity of legume crops but also to ensure to take improved varieties to farmers’ fields so that we should be able to touch the lives of several millions of poor farmers,” said Director General William D. Dar in his inaugural address at the Planning Meeting for Tropical
Legumes III.

The Planning Meeting for Tropical Legumes III aimed to develop the next phase of the tropical legumes project. Held on 2-4 December at the ICRISAT headquarters, it was attended by about 12 partners from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), 33 scientists from ICRISAT headquarters and Africa locations, and key representatives from the CGIAR Generation Challenge Program (GCP).

Tropical Legumes I was coordinated by the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme, while Tropical Legumes II was coordinated and managed by ICRISAT.

“As these projects (Tropical Legumes I and II) are nearing completion this year, we need to plan the next phase to be called Tropical Legumes III,” Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Grain Legumes and Principal Investigator of the Tropical Legumes II project, said.

Dr Jeff Ehlers, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, said, “The Tropical Legumes projects are considered as flagship projects at the Gates Foundation. We would like to see that genomics, breeding, and delivery of products including Integrated Crop Management (ICM) as well the socio-economics impact are integrated into Tropical Legumes III. Gender should be inclusive in this phase.”

At the meeting, Dr Dar emphasized that Tropical Legumes III should exploit genomic resources and tools developed in phases I and II. This is to guarantee leaving behind functional and efficient national breeding programs capable of exploiting genetic gains while up-scaling successful innovations to achieve the goal of increasing production and productivity of legumes in the target countries. These should ideally have components for research, up-scaling and intensification in an Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) framework.

Dr CLL Gowda, ICRISAT Deputy Director General for Research and former Principal Investigator of Tropical Legumes II, outlined the objectives and expectations of the workshop. He said, “Partnership is very important for making an impact. The Tropical Legumes community needs to continue to nurture partnership in all different areas and this workshop should help the community to develop the outline of the proposal.”

During the workshop, the Tropical Legumes community has developed an outline and agreed to develop the first version of the proposal, to be coordinated by Dr Varshney and Dr Emmanuel Monyo, Project Coordinator, Tropical Legumes II, in collaboration with key partners from different collaborating centers.

Subsequently, the community will have a Stakeholders’ Consultation Meeting scheduled to be held in Nairobi, Kenya sometime end of February or early March 2014, for further development of the proposal. The final proposal will be submitted by 30 July 2014.

The three-day workshop was facilitated by the PicoTeam from South Africa and Dr Monyo, and Mr P Ramakrishna, Senior Administrative Officer, ICRISAT. The activity was undertaken under the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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Moving sorghum genomics ahead

The annual meeting of the BREAD (Basic Research to Enable Agricultural Development) projects was held at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on 31 October – 1 November in Seattle, Washington, USA. Three projects under BREAD were called for a ‘pre-meeting’ session on 30 October which saw the presence of Mr Bill Gates, Co-chair of the foundation.

Dr Punna Ramu illustrating the development and progress of the BREAD project to Mr Bill Gates. Photo: Mari Smith, BMGF

Dr Punna Ramu, Special Project Scientist at ICRISAT Patancheru, presented to Mr Gates the aim, developments, current status and capacity building of the on-going project on developing an integrated platform, pipeline, and analytical tools for next generation genotyping to serve breeding efforts in Africa. The project is led by Cornell University, USA with ICRISAT (sorghum), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) (maize) and the University of South Carolina, USA as collaborators. BREAD projects are co-funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the Gates Foundation.

Dr Geoff Morris, collaborator from the University of South Carolina, USA, presented the case studies of association mapping of agroclimatic traits and flavonoid traits in sorghum using genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) technology which were published in PNAS and G3 journals.

Dr Edward S. Buckler (Principal Investigator of the project, Cornell University, USA) summarized the overall project. In this project, more than 7000 sorghum lines (from ICRISAT) and 45,000 maize lines (from Cornell University and CIMMYT) have been genotyped using GBS technology.

In just two years, GBS technology has been adopted in more than 150 species (plants and animals) and genotyped more than 200,000 lines for various applications. Mr Bill Gates appreciated the broader adaptability of the technology in such a short period of time.

In 2013, ICRISAT in collaboration with Cornell University organized two training courses on utilization of GBS technology in crop improvement programs, one at ICRISAT Patancheru and another at ICRISAT-Nairobi. The project is being undertaken under the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

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Training course on microdosing, warrantage and input shop development at Niamey

Eleven participants from three countries (Benin, Nigeria and Niger) took part in ICRISAT’s short training course on fertilization by microdose technique, warrantage and input shops on 16- 20 September at ICRISAT Niamey, Niger.

Participants were trained on various topics including integrated soil fertility management and principles of implementation; fertilization by microdose, history, principles, implementation, strengths and weaknesses; input shops, creation, functioning and management; and warrantage and economic analysis.

The workshop was facilitated by Dr Mahamadou Gandah, ICRISAT Country Representative, Niger; Dr Fatondji Dougbedji, Scientist - Agronomy (Resilient Dryland Systems); Dr Jupiter Ndjeunga, Principal Scientist (Markets, Institutions and Policies); and Mr Hassane Ousmane, Research Assistant.

Participants of the training course at ICRISAT Niamey. Photo: ICRISAT

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Genetic Engineering workshop highlights biosafety and regulatory compliance

Participants of the workshop on “Application of Genetic Engineering in Grain Legumes and its Translation”. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

“There is a need for stringent, scientifically driven and globally harmonized regulatory systems approach to evaluate and ensure safe use of transgenic technology, hence, the conceived risks should not be a limiting factor for the deployment of technological advances,” Director General William D. Dar said.

Dr Dar expressed this view at the inauguration of the workshop on “Application of Genetic Engineering in Grain Legumes and its Translation” organized by the Genetic Transformation Laboratory and the Platform for Translational Research for Transgenic Crops (PTTC) on 18-27 November at the ICRISAT headquarters.

“ICRISAT is committed to providing strong leadership in key research areas to ensure scientific excellence and in applying new scientific technologies to enhance food security and income generation for resource-poor farmers,” Dr Dar added.

Dr KK Sharma, Principal Scientist, Biotechnology and Director, PTTC, stated that building human capacity in genetic engineering tools and technologies is the need of the hour. Since the development of transgenic varieties requires much more than the basic scientific expertise, the workshop focused on the translational aspects of transgenic product development and emphasized on the need to create awareness on biosafety and regulatory compliance besides, addressing critical areas such as IP management, seed systems and partnerships. 

The event featured 27 sessions focusing on diverse topics including current state of genetic engineering technologies and challenges in adoption/commercialization of genetically engineered crops in the Asia and Africa.

Drs KK Sharma and Pooja Bhatnagar-Mathur briefed the participants about ICRISAT’s research activities and capabilities on genetically modified crops. Over 22 scientists and biosafety officers from 11 countries including Ghana, Nigeria, Uganda, Kenya, Zambia, Philippines, Malaysia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Bangladesh and India attended this ten-day workshop.  

Participants were exposed to laboratory demonstrations and hands-on training, and to the process of conducting freedom to operate searches for ensuring non-infringement and litigations. Field and lab visits to ICRISAT research and containment facilities and to the Dupont Knowledge Centre were also organized.

Dr CLL Gowda, Deputy Director General for Research, chaired the valedictory ceremony. He stressed on the importance of translation of transformed event and termed it as herculean task which demands huge investments. Dr Noel Ellis, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director, Grain Legumes also emphasized  on the importance of translation of genetic engineering technologies.

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Farmers experiencing increased pigeonpea yield in Mahabubnagar, Andhra Pradesh, India

Drs E Monyo (2nd from left), S Kumar (Center) and C Ojiewo (2nd from right) inspecting a pigeonpea farm in Vasantapuram, Mahabubnagar district.
Dr E Monyo interacting with students at RARS-Palem. Photos: Sreeram Banda, ICRISAT

There is steady increase in productivity of pigeonpea and area in which it is cultivated, in Mahabubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, India. Farmers in the region have been reporting a yield of 600-800 kg per acre, thanks to the implementation of the Tropical Legumes II project by ICRISAT and its partners. 

“The project is on track and all the systems are in place,” said ICRISAT’s Dr Emmanuel Monyo, Project Coordinator, Tropical Legumes II, after reviewing its progress at the Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), Palem in Mahabubnagar district. 

Tropical Legumes II is a joint initiative of three international agricultural research centers, ICRISAT (chickpea, groundnut and pigeonpea), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) (cowpea and soybean), International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) (common bean), and many organizations from the national agricultural research systems. The project has formed a wide range of partnerships with advanced research institutions, nongovernment organizations, and several other projects funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

“Under the project nearly 500,000 kg seed has been multiplied and a total of 62 acres of land has been utilized for seed production,” Dr K Dharma Reddy, Associate Director of RARS Palem said during Dr Monyo’s visit to the station on 27 November.

Dr Monyo along with Drs Christopher Ochieng Ojiewo, Senior Scientist – Legumes Breeding (ICRISAT Nigeria) and CV Sameer Kumar, Senior Scientist – Pigeonpea Breeding interacted with local farmers during the visit and answered queries on inter-cultivation and pest control.

Gurubadhan Reddy, a farmer from nearby Vasantapuram, informed the ICRISAT team that he managed to sell his seed at Rs 12,000 (approximately US $190) per 100 kg.

“I am extremely happy with the results,” he said.  To increase the chances of cross-pollination, he is cultivating sunflowers around his farm, as suggested by the RARS Palem team.      

“We have distributed 300 mini-kits of seeds in four districts along with printed information. We are also promoting improved varieties of seed through demonstrations on farmer’s field days,” said Dr N V Nagesh Kumar, Principal Scientist, RARS Palem.

“The farmers here are seeking new technologies. They are very enthusiastic and the station has a clear vision of the project,” Dr Ojiewo said after the review.

Dr Kumar also informed farmers that the new PRG 176 variety of pigeonpea seed will be released next year. “It will be resistant to wilt and the crop will mature in 135 days,” he said. The team also visited a private seed packaging unit in the region. The activity was undertaken under the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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Insect rearing and bioassay lab inaugurated at ICRISAT

Dr Sharma explaining insect rearing protocols to (L-R) Dr Gowda, DG Dar, Dr Varshney, Ms Kane-Potaka, and Dr Grando. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

A new and larger infection-free (axenic) condition insect rearing and bioassay laboratory was recently established to meet the demand for insect culture at ICRISAT.

The renovated laboratory was inaugurated by Director General, Dr William D. Dar on 3 December, in the presence of Deputy Director General for Research, Dr CLL Gowda; Directors of Research Programs on Grain Legumes, Dr Rajeev Varshney and on Dryland Cereals, Dr Stefania Grando; and  Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director of Strategic Marketing & Communication.

The ever increasing demand for large number of laboratory reared insects for studies on host plant resistance to insects involving evaluation of germplasm, breeding lines, mapping populations and transgenic plants for insect resistance, and evaluation of bio-efficacy of insecticides, biopesticides, natural plant products and natural enemies has necessitated the development of efficient and economical methods for mass production of insect pests.

To meet these demands, efforts have been made at ICRISAT to rear most important insect pests of chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut, sorghum and millets. Over the past 40 year, scientists in entomology have mastered the art of rearing Helicoverpa, Maruca, Spodoptera, Mythimna, Chilo and Sesamia on artificial diets.

Dr Hari Sharma, Principal Scientist – Entomology, explained the insect rearing protocols and the research outputs on host plant resistance to insects in different crops, transgenic chickpea with resistance to Helicoverpa, and morphological and molecular markers for insect resistance. The entomology staff also demonstrated the insect bioassays, and olfactometer studies involving the Helicoverpa parasitoid, Campoletis, and showed artificial rearing and oviposition systems for Helicoverpa and Chilo.

Dr Sharma also presented plans to develop an insect museum for preservation of insect reference collection for future use, develop display boards for insect pests of ICRISAT crops, and depict insect biodiversity at ICRISAT, through live/preserved specimens, and in slide shows.

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ICRISAT and FARA-UniBRAIN discuss project up-scaling

Dr Dar presenting ICRISAT information materials to Mr Alex Ariho (2nd from right). Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

To review the project activities of ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubation program and the way forward in up-scaling the UniBRAIN project (Universities, Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation) of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), Mr Alex Ariho, UniBRAIN Facility Coordinator visited ICRISAT.

Director General William D. Dar, in a meeting with Mr Ariho, discussed strategic plans of FARA and ICRISAT in scaling up incubation operation in the rest of the African continent. FARA is an apex organization bringing together and forming coalitions of major stakeholders in agricultural research and development in Africa.

UniBRAIN is an initiative for advancing agribusiness incubation and improved agribusiness education in Africa. It is supported by the Royal Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (Danida) and facilitated by a team of seven partner institutions. ICRISAT, through its Agri-Business Incubation program, is one of the partners, which has been entrusted with the mentoring activities of the UniBRAIN Agricultural Innovation Incubator Consortia.

Mr Ariho also met Dr Shoba Sivasankar, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals and the Center Commissioned External Review (CCER) Panel of experts which was reviewing ICRISAT’s strategy for sub-Saharan Africa (SSA).

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