31 January 2014
No. 1608


Mapping out a research agenda for a market-oriented and resilient agriculture in Africa

(Left photo) ICRISAT DG Dr William Dar with Dr Bocary Téréta, Minister of Rural Development in Mali. (Right photo) Dr Wilson Songa, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development, Kenya, with ICRISAT’s incoming Board Chair, Prof Chandra Madramootoo (left) and
Dr William Dar (right). Photo: ICRISAT

A sustainable and market-oriented agriculture is the way forward in making smallholder farming in Africa more profitable and resilient, and in feeding its growing population using the limited resources available now and in the future.

Enabling farmers to adapt to changing environment and new opportunities, and making markets work for them were some of the key concerns raised at ICRISAT’s regional planning meetings for West and Central Africa on 22-24 January in Bamako, Mali, and for Eastern and Southern Africa on 27-29 January in Nairobi, Kenya.

West and Central Africa (WCA)

Tackling the question of how agricultural research can make smallholder farming more profitable and sustainable, scientists from the regional and country offices in WCA and from the headquarters in India, convened to map out its research agenda. 

On the challenge of improving the livelihoods of the poorest in the context of climate change, Dr William Dar, ICRISAT Director General, stressed that “Working with our partners, we can deliver on our mission to lift the people out of poverty and ensure food security for the present and future generations without compromising environmental integrity.”  

“Inclusiveness means that the very purpose of our research work is to help smallholder farmers out of poverty to self-sufficiency and prosperity. Smallholder farmers must be given access to scientific innovations designed for the poor, to help them connect to markets, but in a way that builds their own resilience rather than creating dependency,” added Dr Dar.

“Partnerships and collaboration are crucial in a holistic approach to research for development that covers all aspects of crop improvement, economics, socio-economics, strategic soil research, policy development and harmonization,” noted Dr CCL Gowda, Deputy Director General for Research, ICRISAT.

The planning meeting consisted of a review of the research activities being conducted by ICRISAT scientists based in WCA in the context of contributing to the CGIAR Research Programs, primarily on Dryland Cereals (millet and sorghum) and Grain Legumes (groundnuts). Progress reports were presented by Research Program Directors, all putting emphasis on climate change adaptation and mitigation, and on the need for an Inclusive, Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) approach.

Some successful cases of IMOD presented by WCA-based scientists include: the cluster-based approach used in Niger and in Mali to empower women; and formation of farmers’ and women’s groups in Niger to produce good quality seed, and training them on small-scale business skills and marketing.

While in Mali for the regional planning meeting, Dr Dar accompanied by Dr Farid Waliyar, Director of ICRISAT West and Central Africa, met with Dr Bocary Téréta, Malian Minister of Rural Development, where he expressed appreciation of “ICRISAT’s commitment to strengthen its research partnership with national institutes in critical areas of research such as resilience, up-scaling of improved technologies, processing and soil health.”

“We believe that all stakeholders need to come together and work towards a positive transformation in the agriculture sector. Public-Private Partnerships are a vital component of IMOD, especially in up-scaling technology interventions and science-based solutions for millions of smallholder farmers in the region,” Dr Dar emphasized.

“I am delighted that ICRISAT interventions in Mali focus on the improvement of millet and sorghum which are staple crops and form the base of the country’s national food security stock of 35,000 tons per year. Increasing millet and sorghum production and yield would mean reaching food security and raising the national cereals stock to prevent food issues. Therefore, we have great interest in whatever technologies are available for resilient farming,” said Minister Téréta.

The Minister also thanked ICRISAT for the ongoing research on climate change adaptation for millet and sorghum. “As we improve technologies for smallholder farmers to cope with climate change, we should take into account a value-chain approach, providing capacity building where needed for processing and access to markets to enable farmers to increase their revenues and improve their livelihoods,” the Minister added.

ICRISAT management and senior staff at the WCA regional planning meeting. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

As a result of the meeting, an up-scaling strategy will be drawn together by Mali’s Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER) and ICRISAT, an initiative that could be extended to partners in Niger and Nigeria.

Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA)

Dr C Madramootoo (left) and Dr WD Dar, (right) meeting with Dr Ephraim A Mukisira, Director of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) (2nd from right) and Dr Joseph Mureithi, Deputy Director of KARI (2nd from left).

In Nairobi, Kenya, the ESA planning meeting was attended by ICRISAT scientists and senior staff from Kenya, Malawi, Ethiopia, Zimbabwe, as well as from WCA and the ICRISAT headquarters in India.

“Inclusive market-oriented agriculture is the key to making farming more profitable for the poor and emerging farmers in Eastern and Southern Africa,” stressed Dr Dar. “Partnerships and collaboration are critical to developing tailor-made solutions that suit the context of the region and providing farmers with access to science-based innovations that will build their resilience,” he added.

The regional planning meeting consisted of a review of on-going research activities in ESA as well as brainstorming and interactive sessions to help identify new areas of research and opportunities for scaling out improved technologies and tools.

Incoming Board Chair, Prof Chandra Madramootoo, reiterated that science alone was not enough; it must be translated into impacts that make a difference to the lives of smallholder farmers in the drylands. He emphasized that efficient management of the natural resource base was critical to continued productivity in the smallholder cropping system and must be addressed, preferably at the watershed level.

“This planning exercise helps us to ensure that ICRISAT’s research is aligned with the CGIAR Research Programs on Dryland Cereals and Grain Legumes that we are leading. But more importantly, it serves as a check for us to make sure that we are still focused on the right questions, that we are relevant to the smallholder farmers we work for and that we have strategies and tools in place for maximum impact,” said Dr CLL Gowda.

While in Nairobi for the regional planning meeting, Dr Dar accompanied by Prof Madramootoo and the Director of ICRISAT Eastern and Southern Africa, Dr Moses Siambi, paid a courtesy visit to Kenya’s Principal Secretary for the Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise Development,

Dr Wilson Songa. Dr Dar shared with him ICRISAT’s experience in value-addition of its mandate crops and the successful development of the Business Incubator concept.

Dr Songa stated that it was important for ICRISAT to collaborate with the Ministry to contribute to the development of small and medium enterprises throughout Kenya. He indicated that whatever technology ICRISAT could provide would likely be adopted in other countries in the region if it proved to be successful in getting farmers and the youth out of poverty. It was agreed that a team of scientists from ICRISAT and a team from the Kenya Industrial Research and Development Institute (KIRDI) and the Ministry would meet soon to discuss the way forward in developing a strategic plan for the implementation of identified technologies.

Dr Dar, Prof Madramootoo, and Dr Siambi also paid a courtesy visit to the Director of the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI), Dr Ephraim A Mukisira and its Deputy Director, Dr Joseph Mureithi. During the visit, Dr Mukisira appreciated KARI’s long-term relation with ICRISAT, and proposed a partnership on a new major project in coastal Kenya where the Institute’s mandate crops are very important.

CRISAT management and senior staff at the ESA regional planning meeting. Photo: ICRISAT

In response, Dr Dar committed to provide technical contribution to the soil mapping and land suitability analyses for the new scheme, to draw from ICRISAT’s experience on sustainable natural resource management in the state of Karnataka in south India. 

Prof Madramootoo also shared with the KARI Director ICRISAT’s IMOD approach in making technologies profitable for smallholder farmers, and called for a stronger and more dynamic partnership as the way forward in creating a market-oriented agriculture.

As a result of the visit, a team will be identified to work out a timeline for a joint planning meeting between KARI and ICRISAT.

back to top Back to top

Reviving hopes of farmers with hybrid pigeonpea technology

Participants of the review meeting at a pigeonpea farm on the ICRISAT campus. Photo: ICRISAT

Over 70 smallholder farmers and seed producers from six states in India collectively endorsed and recognized the contribution of hybrid pigeonpea in achieving food and nutrition security, resilience and improved livelihood. The hybrids in the crop (first in world in any legume) are the results of the crop improvement efforts by ICRISAT.

Despite facing challenges such as resource scarcity, climate change and degradation of soil fertility, the farmers cultivating the ICRISAT hybrids reported significant increase in pigeonpea yields. A medium-duration ICRISAT hybrid, ICPH 2740, demonstrated 38% higher yields than other local varieties. The states involved were Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Gujarat.

The Review Meeting on Hybrid Pigeonpea Seed Production, held at the ICRISAT headquarters on 24 January, brought together, farmers, seed producers, entrepreneurs, non-governmental organizations and scientists to formulate a road map on expansion of pigeonpea production in India.

Answering the challenge of producing more food to meet the demands of a growing population, ICRISAT raised its target to achieve a pigeonpea yield of 5 ton/ha (by developing the high yielding hybrids), which is expected to help smallholder farmers maximize the returns while securing their food and nutritional needs.

“It is prosperity that we want for farmers. Our aim is to enable smallholder farmers to create wealth for themselves and their communities and fuel the engines of economic growth of nations. Hybrid pigeonpea technology has great potential to lift millions of farmers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa out of the hunger trap. We are equipped with the means, science and technology and most importantly a strong will to achieve our targets and efficiently serve the interests of the agricultural community,” ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar said.

Bringing new hope to farmers, the scientists at Acharya N G Ranga Agricultural University’s (ANGRAU) Agricultural Research Station (ARS) in Tandur of Ranga Reddy district in Andhra Pradesh, reported a pigeonpea yield of nearly 3 ton/ha in their on-station fields using the ICPH 2740 hybrid.

“We have experienced a significant increase in production and now we hope to harness the full potential of ICPH 2740 using resourceful management practices,” Dr C Sudhakar, Senior Scientist, ARS-Tandur said at the gathering.
Dr MV Nagesh Kumar, Principal Scientist, Regional Agricultural Research Station (RARS), Palem briefed the participants on the strategies for large scale seed production of hybrid pigeonpea.

Many farmers at the meeting took inspiration from Mr Gurubhagawan Reddy, a farmer from remote Vasantapuram village in Mahabubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, who managed to sell his pigeonpea hybrid seed at Rs 12,000 (Approximately US $190) per 100 kg. This case study is the perfect example of the IMOD strategy of ICRISAT which emphasizes on progress from subsistence agriculture to profit-oriented agriculture.

“I am extremely happy with the results. To increase the chances of cross-pollination, I have been cultivating sunflowers around my farm as suggested by ICRISAT scientists. It boosted my production and income as well,” he informed the participants.

“Pigeonpea has the potential to secure the future of global food production and hybrid technology will be the catalyst in this process,” Dr KB Saxena, Principal Scientist - Pigeonpea Breeding, ICRISAT said.

Dr A Vishnu Vardhan Reddy, Associate Director of Research, RARS, Palem, appreciated the efforts of ICRISAT scientists and promised specialized training sessions for smallholder farmers on pigeonpea cultivation, in the coming months.

Dr Ravinder Raju, Manager (production), Andhra Pradesh State Seed Development Corporation (APSSDC), Government of Andhra Pradesh, appreciated the cooperation of ICRISAT scientists in large-scale seed production of pigeonpea hybrid in the state.

The activity was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

back to top Back to top

ICRISAT facilitates establishment of first agribusiness incubator in West Africa

The Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) Program under ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) has facilitated the establishment of the first ever full-fledged agribusiness incubator in West Africa. The West African Agri-Business Resource Incubator (WAARI) was officially inaugurated on 23 January in the Selingue province of Mali.

Dr Dar examining agribusiness products at the stalls set
up by women cooperative groups. Photo: R Bhubesh, ICRISAT

WAARI is one of the six agribusiness incubators being established under the Universities, Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (UniBRAIN) project of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), in which ABI is the handholding and mentoring partner. The incubator was inaugurated by Professor Moustapha Dick Monsieur, Minister of Science and Technology, Government of Mali, in the presence of Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT.

Dr Dar congratulated the FARA-UniBRAIN project team, ABI and the team of WAARI for establishing this agribusiness incubator and emphasized on the importance of agribusiness incubation in promoting entrepreneurs in sub-Saharan Africa.

“Public-Private Partnerships hold the key for activating the IMOD strategy in order to replicate and scale-up the benefits of technology interventions and science-based solutions for millions of smallholder farmers. One of the best ways of achieving this is to promote entrepreneurship in the agricultural sector. Agribusiness incubation creates agro-enterprises and jobs which ultimately benefit the smallholder farmers,” Dr Dar said.

Dr Dar also interacted with several entrepreneurs and urged them to efficiently utilize the services and facilities of WAARI. Products from women cooperative groups of WAARI were on display at the event. 

Dr Kiran Sharma, Chief Executive Officer (CEO), AIP-ICRISAT congratulated Dr Ibrahim Togola, CEO, WAARI and his team for their contributions in establishing the incubator. He assured the team and UniBRAIN that AIP and its component programs were committed towards providing full support and services in facilitating the establishment and successfully operating all incubators in the project.

Participants of the training program.
Photo: SM Karuppanchetty, ICRISAT

ICRISAT’s ABI Program also organized a one-day training program on Seed Business Incubation (SBI) on 21 January for seed entrepreneurs in the Selingue province with support from ICRISAT scientists from West and Central Africa.

The scientists provided technical inputs in seed production to the seed entrepreneurs. The objective of this training program was to promote and enhance the capacity of farmers, farmer intermediaries and seed entrepreneurs on seed production business. A unique methodology involving technical awareness, scientific inputs and sessions was adopted for this workshop.

During the training program Mr SM Karuppanchetty, Chief Operating Officer, ABI and Mr R Bhubesh Kumar, Deputy Manager, ABI emphasized on the importance of the SBI Program in bridging the demand and supply gap in the seed industry. They also explained how the program could create a system which will replicate itself in supplying seeds to more number of farmers, thereby creating an impact and making it a business venture for the rural entrepreneurs, thus, promoting entrepreneurship in the areas of agribusiness.

back to top Back to top

ICRISAT scientists receive best research paper award

A research paper by ICRISAT scientists on “Assessment of different methods of the rice (Oryza sativa L) cultivation affecting growth parameters, soil chemical, biological, and microbiological properties, water saving and grain yield in rice-rice system” has been judged the best research paper at the Annual Awards 2013 of the Directorate of Rice Research (DRR) – Indian Council of Agricultural Research. The paper was authored by Dr S Gopalakrishnan, Senior Scientist – Bioproducts, ICRISAT, and co-authored by others from ICRISAT, DRR and World Wildlife Fund including Drs R Mahendra Kumar, Pagidi B Ratna Kumari, R Vijayabharathi, Amit Singh, K Surekha, Ch Padmavathi, N Somashekar, P Raghuveer Rao, P C Latha, L V Subbarao, V R Babu, B C Viraktamath, V Vinod Goud, N Loganandhan, Biksham Gujja, Om Rupela, Mr Humayun, and Mr V Srinivas.

back to top Back to top

Advancing research on heat tolerance in pearl millet

To chart the future course of heat tolerance research in pearl millet, plant breeders and crop modelers from ICRISAT and scientists from five member seed companies of the Pearl Millet Hybrid Parents Research Consortium (PMHPRC) met at the ICRISAT headquarters in Patancheru on 24 January.

Delegates of the consortium with ICRISAT staff. Photo: ICRISAT

Dr SK Gupta, Senior Scientist (Pearl Millet Breeding), Research Program on Dryland Cereals, presented the results of pearl millet heat tolerance research trials planted in 2013, and informed the group that the crop is rapidly expanding during summer in northwestern India. He also shared information on the breeding lines identified as heat tolerant, based on multi-year and multi-location evaluation in the targeted ecology.

Other topics discussed at the meeting included crop modeling opportunities to track heat tolerance in pearl millet by Drs DK Murthy and Piara Singh, and molecular approaches which can be integrated in the research by Dr Rakesh Srivastava. The group also reviewed the 2013 trials and planned the activities for 2014. The activity was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

back to top Back to top