28 February 2014
No. 1612


Nigeria Minister of Agriculture named ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill

Dr Akinwumi Adesina (right) receiving the ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill plaque from Dr William Dar, ICRISAT Director General. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Dr Akinwumi Adesina , Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, has been named ICRISAT’s Ambassador of Goodwill for his vision and leadership in the agricultural transformation of Nigerian agriculture and his valuable achievements in the field of agricultural research for development in Africa.

Minister Adesina now joins Mr Bill Gates, Co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, India’s Former President Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, and Rt. Hon. James Bolger, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, as ICRISAT Ambassadors of Goodwill to help the institute promote science-based agricultural solutions in improving livelihoods and attaining food and nutrition security of smallholder farmers in the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The Ambassador of Goodwill plaque of recognition was presented to Minister Adesina by Dr William Dar, ICRISAT Director General, during the launch of the groundnut value chain project in Abuja, Nigeria on 24 February. The project is a partnership initiative between the Federal Government of Nigeria and ICRISAT aiming to rebuild Nigeria’s groundnut pyramids and to reclaim the country’s former prime position as the largest groundnut producing country in Africa.

“The main objective of the groundnut value chain transformation project is to rebuild Nigeria’s groundnut pyramids and drive the development of the groundnut subsector in the country in conjunction with stakeholders to improve production, processing, marketing and export,” said Minister Adesina. 

“ICRISAT is the world’s leading center for research on groundnut and sorghum and they are here in Nigeria to support our efforts on groundnut and sorghum transformation,” he added.

Drs Dar and A Adesina with Nigerian and ICRISAT scientists holding seed packets of improved groundnut varieties.
Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

The groundnut value chain project will produce an additional 120,000 metric tons of groundnut grains valued at US$155 million, to be supplied to small-, medium- and large-scale processors, to be implemented directly in 16 states in Nigeria. It will collaborate to develop high quality rosette- and aflatoxin-resistant groundnut varieties and seed supply systems, and improve market linkages locally and abroad. Strategies to reduce transaction cost and appropriate policies that promote rural enterprises for sustained production and processing in the country’s major groundnut growing states and building capacities of farmers and national organizations will also be pursued.

During the project launch, Dr Dar emphasized the importance of the outstanding partnership between the institute and Nigeria for 38 years. Nigeria benefited most from ICRISAT’s research for development activities on groundnut, sorghum and pearl millet in Africa.

“ICRISAT will continue to strengthen this very important partnership with Nigeria, in bringing back the groundnut pyramids through a science-based value chain approach which is embedded in its Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) strategy,” said Dr Dar.

ICRISAT’s activities in Nigeria date back to 1976, involving exchange of germplasm and breeding materials, scientific information and techniques, and capacity development. Nigerian farmers and communities have been benefitting from these collaborative activities through improved production, processing, and marketing and consumption of groundnuts, millet and sorghum.

The Nigeria groundnut value chain project is one of the signed agreements between ICRISAT and the Federal Government of Nigeria towards creating wealth through value chains. The second agreement is on “Boosting sorghum production, commercialization and industrial utilization through value chain public-private-partnerships.”

At the project launch, Dr Dar announced the appointment of two ICRISAT Breeders, who will join its System Agronomist at the ICRISAT Kano office and scientists from NARS partners to work on developing new improved lines of ICRISAT crops and associated systems to support the groundnut and sorghum value chains in Nigeria.

Nigerian officials with the ICRISAT team during the launch of the groundnut value chain initiative in Abuja. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

The project launch was attended by many dignitaries including members of Nigeria’s Senate Committee on Agriculture, represented by Senator Joshua Lidani, the Yobe State Commissioner for Agriculture, and state and national executives of Groundnut Farmers and Processors Associations.

The Nigeria groundnut value chain project will be undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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Boosting private-public partnerships through the Hybrid Parents Research Consortia Phase 4

Dr CLL Gowda interacting with the members of the HPRC Advisory Committee. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

The fourth phase of a public-private partnership on hybrid research kicked off with the first meeting of the Advisory Committee held at the ICRISAT headquarters on 26 February. The Hybrid Parents Research Consortia (HPRC) Phase 4 currently involves 39 seed companies (29 pearl millet, 6 sorghum and 4 pigeonpea) in partnership with ICRISAT from 2014 to 2018.

The first phase of HPRC started in 2000 as a novel way of public-private partnership which has become highly successful over the past two decades, serving as a model for similar partnerships in other CGIAR Centers.

The relationship between ICRISAT and private sector seed companies in India has evolved over the years. Scientists now recognize the importance of public-private partnerships in enhancing on-farm adoption of improved cultivars, and in opening up important opportunities for pro-poor agricultural investment and innovation.

With HPRC, farmers have benefitted through access to seed of improved hybrids at affordable cost, and are experiencing enhanced income from their participation in hybrid seed production programs. HPRC has enabled ICRISAT to better serve smallholder farmers through enhanced crop productivity.

The members of the newly formed HPRC Advisory Committee include: Dr Paresh Varma, Research Director, DCM Shriram Bioseeds Limited; Dr VN Kulkarni, Vice President-Research, JK Seeds; Dr AK Jayalekha, Lead Pearl Millet Breeder, Bayer CropScience; Dr IS Khairwal, Senior Advisor, Shaktivardhak Seeds; and Dr Surendra Kumar, Senior Breeder, Godrez Seeds. Dr P Varma was elected unanimously as the chair of the committee for 2014-15.

Dr CLL Gowda, ICRISAT Deputy Director General for Research, in his message at the meeting highlighted the significant contributions of hybrids developed using ICRISAT-bred parental lines through partnerships, in enhancing the crop productivity and income of rainfed farmers in the semi-arid tropics of India.

He also appreciated the efforts of members of the consortia while stressing on the need for more strategic research and product development based on the needs of smallholder farmers.

Dr P Varma emphasized the need for effective implementation of the consortium roadmap by developing well-defined targets for Phase 4 of HPRC. He also envisaged the need to encourage more partners to join the consortia.

Others representing ICRISAT in the committee include: Drs Stefania Grando, Director, Research Program (RP) – Dryland Cereals and Rajeev Varshney, Director, RP – Grain Legumes.

ICRISAT Crop Breeders Drs KN Rai, SK Gupta, Ashok Kumar and CV Sameer Kumar also took part in the discussions.

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Highlighting the power of next generation genomics and integrated breeding

Dr Dar speaking at the inaugural of the international workshop. Also seen in the picture are (From L-R) Prof PK Gupta, Dr SK Datta, Dr Wang Jun and Dr R Varshney. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

"Next generation genomics has been projected as the seventh most important disruptive innovation technology in the context of potential economic impact in 2025, as per a recent survey of McKinsey Global Institute. The areas that could benefit from this technology include human health and agriculture,” ICRISAT Director General Dr William D Dar said.

“ICRISAT is in the forefront of deploying these technologies in integrated breeding to develop resilient crop varieties with increased yield and quality in order to sustain and elevate the livelihood and health of millions of resource-poor farmers of the world. It is important to bring genomics, phenomics and breeding informatics together to make best use of next generation genomics in improving agricultural crops,” Dr Dar added.

The Director General was speaking at the inaugural of the 4th international workshop on Next Generation Genomics and Integrated Breeding for Crop Improvement (NGGIBCI-2014) held at the ICRISAT headquarters on 19-21 February.

Also speaking at the event, Prof PK Gupta, Chair, Accelerated Crop Improvement Programme of the Department of Biotechnology, Government of India, emphasized on the use and need of integrated breeding for accelerated crop improvement. He also underlined the importance of identifying false positive and false negative results to make best use of technology.

As the chief guest, Dr Rajendra Singh Paroda, Secretary, Asia Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), highlighted the importance of biotechnology and most importantly its adoption in developing countries.

Dr Swapan K Datta, Deputy Director General, Crop Science, Indian Council of Agricultural Research, detailed the importance of modern genomics for crop improvement.

Dr Wang Jun, Executive Director, Beijing Genomics Institute (BGI)-Shenzhen – the largest sequencing center in the world – was the event’s inaugural speaker. He delivered an inspiring presentation on “Digital revolution of agriculture – what -omics can do”. Dr Jun also appreciated the ongoing collaboration between BGI and ICRISAT.

The workshop concluded with a lecture on “Adoption of modern breeding tools in developing countries: challenges and opportunities” by Dr Jean-Marcel Ribaut, Director of CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme. Dr CLL Gowda, ICRISAT Deputy Director General for Research suggested including genomics in the breeding program, while Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director – Grain Legumes, thanked the ICRISAT Management, workshop delegates, partners, sponsors, and ICRISAT staff for the successful workshop.

ICRISAT organized this international workshop as part of its activities on Critical Focus Area (CFA)-Molecular Breeding, in collaboration with the CGIAR Generation Challenge Programme (GCP) and the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), Government of India, and in partnership with the CGIAR Research Programs on Grain Legumes and on Dryland Cereals.

This is the fourth such workshop on NGS data analysis to help understand next generation genomics and integrated breeding methodologies for crop improvement. Over 150 delegates from 20 countries took part in the event; presented were 37 high-quality presentations covering topics including next generation genomics, novel mapping approaches and QTLs, sequence to phenotype, genomics-assisted breeding, integrated breeding, breeding for target environments, genomic selection, decision support platforms for breeding, and new horizons for crop improvement.

Participants of the 4th international workshop on ‘Next Generation Genomics and Integrated Breeding for Crop Improvement’. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

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Blue Sky Research project on pigeonpea launched

(From L-R) Drs D Cook, B Duguma, WD Dar, EA Siddiq, R Varshney and S Jackson during the launch of the BSR project. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

The recently approved Blue Sky Research (BSR) project on pigeonpea was launched at the second annual review and planning meeting of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded project on ‘Pigeonpea improvement using molecular breeding’ held on 18 February at the ICRISAT headquarters.

The BSR project aims at converting the three-line hybrid pigeonpea technology to two-line hybrid breeding system using environment-sensitive breeding materials to enhance crop yields. Two-line hybrid breeding system can considerably reduce the production cost of hybrid seed to the benefit of smallholder farmers.

“Pigeonpea is an important crop which supports the livelihood of millions of poor smallholder farmers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It is really important that we take up more and more activities to improve the crop productivity and also enhance nutrition,” ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar said at the project launch.

Dr Dar also acknowledged the support of USAID and stressed upon the need to use science-based technology to elevate the current level of pigeonpea production and enhance the micronutrient/protein content in the crop.

Dr Bahiru Duguma, Director, Food Security Office, USAID, India appreciated the efforts of the pigeonpea research group at ICRISAT. “We are very pleased to see the progress of the project, and how efforts of ICRISAT have worked in both Africa and Asia continents,” Dr Duguma said.

Dr EA Siddiq, Professor and Honorable Director- Biotechnology Centre, Acharya NG Ranga Agricultural University (ANGRAU), mentioned the importance of enhanced genetic base and application of molecular markers for crop improvement.

Drs Doug Cook, Professor, University of California, Davis, USA; Scott Jackson, Professor, University of Georgia, USA; and Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director - Grain Legumes, ICRISAT, were among others who took part in the meeting. Dr Rachit Saxena, Scientist, Applied Genomics presented an overview of the BSR project.

The USAID and BSR project teams included Drs RK Varshney, RK Saxena, CV Sameer Kumar, Vikas K Singh, Vinay Kumar, Pallavi Sinha, PT Lekha from ICRISAT; Dr HA Shimelis, Professor, University of KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa; Drs G Anuradha and KN Yamini from ANGRAU; and Dr PS Dharmaraj and Mr S Muniswamy from Agricultural Research Station, Gulbarga. The Project Advisory Committee (PAC) composed of Drs B Duguma, D Cook, S Jackson, Srivalli Krishnan, Activity Manager, USAID, India reviewed the progress of the project.

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CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals maps out R4D priorities

Participants of the R4D planning meeting. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Functional and structural genomics, access to input and output markets, strengthening seed systems, and building partnerships were the key research-for-development (R4D) priorities discussed during the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals planning meeting.

The priority setting was done at the R4D planning meeting organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals on 14-15 February at the ICRISAT headquarters. Around 40 key stakeholders including members of the Independent Advisory Committee and the Research Management Committee took part in the meeting.

“Dryland cereals have the potential to lift millions of people out of hunger and poverty in countries across Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. And for the same reason, they need more attention and investment. We need to correct the policy distortion that has happened for these crops,” said ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar in his message at the inaugural session of the meeting.  He also urged the scientific community to use relevant science to project the importance of the crops.

The R4D priorities set at the meeting will contribute to the program’s extension proposal for the year 2015-16 and for the second phase of the program which is the most critical and the longest phase, spanning nine years starting 2017.

Dr Yilma Kebede, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and member of the Steering Committee, oriented the groups towards focusing and tapping the potential of dryland cereals as climate hardy and multi-nutrient-rich crops. ICRISAT Governing Board member Dr Paco Sereme, emphasized on the role of regional organizations and partners in enabling the value chain for dryland cereals.

“Addressing the complete value chains for dryland cereals needs a spectrum of multiple varieties of skills and expertise, and we will have strong partnerships to fill in the gaps,”  said Dr Shoba Sivasankar, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

Presentations on the current status and trends in genomics, phonemics, seed systems, market opportunities and partnerships enabled constructive individual group discussions. Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director, Strategic Marketing and Communication, ICRISAT, facilitated the discussions. The outcomes were presented by the groups which led to fine-tuning of priorities.

The role of research in enabling and strengthening seed systems was illustrated by Dr Timothy Dalton, Director of the US Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Sorghum and Millets.

With detailed statistical data, Dr Christele from the Institute of Research for Development, France, presented the nutritional richness of dryland cereals, and the challenges faced in developing market-oriented food products from these cereals.

Dr Philippe Ellul, Senior Science Officer at the CGIAR Consortium Office acknowledged the approach and the strategy adopted in prioritizing the R4D targets. He also gave an overview of the recent reforms of the CGIAR consortium.

ICRISAT’s Dr Tom Hash, Principal Scientist – Breeding; Dr Vincent Vadez, Assistant Research Program Director – Dryland Cereals; and Mr Karuppanchetty, COO, Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) program also made presentations during the workshop.

videos of Drs WD Dar, P Ellul and P Sereme 

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Genetic gain essential for accelerating crop improvement in developing countries

“It is important to harness the synergies of different science disciplines, in order to help resource-poor farmers benefit from crop improvement programs,” ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar said.

Speaking at the “Trait Pipeline” workshop organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation with ICRISAT, Dr Dar stressed on the need to have stronger trait and breeding pipelines in all the CGIAR centers to realize the genetic gain in crop improvement that will benefit smallholder farmers in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

The workshop was targeted at current and potential partners of the Gates Foundation who have been engaged in developing or exploiting marker-assisted selection systems for abiotic and biotic stress tolerance in staple food crops. It sought to provide insights on constraints and possible solutions which will help in setting the objectives of Gates Foundation-funded research initiatives in agriculture.

Dr Swapan Datta, Deputy Director General (Crop Science), Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR), while appreciating the efforts of the foundation, encouraged more investments in agriculture for the benefit poor farmers. “National programs like the ICAR are thankful to the foundation and CGIAR centers like ICRISAT for their investment and hard work,” he said.

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director - Grain Legumes, ICRISAT, and co-organizer of the workshop, emphasized on the need for regional genotyping and decision support providing hubs in order to use genomics tools in accelerated crop improvement. He also urged all research organizations to accelerate the process of setting up high throughput phenotyping platforms.

The event focused on updating participants on best practices in mapping, developing production markers, and deploying large-effect QTL affecting, biotic and abiotic stress tolerance; outlining best practices in managing native trait pipelines, from donor identification through to marker-assisted backcrossing and forward breeding with tightly linked or gene-based markers; ensuring that products reach farmers as quickly as possible and identifying reasons for the relative slowness of breeder-ready marker development and deployment; and proposing solutions, both from the scientific and management/logistical standpoints.

The workshop, held at the ICRISAT headquarters on 22 February, was attended by 44 scientists from six CGIAR research organizations namely: ICRISAT (India & Kenya), International Rice Research Institute (IRRI; Philippines and India), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA; Nigeria), International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT; Mexico and India), International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT; Columbia), Africa Rice Center (AfricaRice; Nigeria); and other research organizations such as ICAR, Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO; Australia), National Root Crops Research Institute (NRCRI; Nigeria) and Kansas State University (KSU; USA) along with the Generation Challenge Programme - Integrated Breeding Platform (GCP-IBP; Mexico) and the Gates Foundation.

Participants of the Trait Pipeline workshop. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

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Season-long training on pigeonpea seed production and management concludes

Dr MG Mula inspecting pigeonpea crop along with the participants of the training program. Photo: ICRISAT

As part of the institute’s capacity building initiatives, seven technical staff from ICRISAT based in the state of Odisha, India and one representative of a non-governmental organization (Loksebak) were successfully trained in pigeonpea sowing, harvesting (seed to seed) and improved crop management techniques at the ICRISAT headquarters.

Under the project ‘Introduction and Expansion of Improved Pigeonpea (Arhar) Production Technology in Rainfed Upland Ecosystem of Odisha’, the participants took part in a two-day training session every month from July 2013 to February 2014.

The ‘season-long training’ followed the crop production cycle, and the participants’ feedback was collected in monthly reports and presented to ICRISAT’s Dr Myer G Mula, Training Coordinator and Principal Investigator of the project. Improved crop management was adopted during the production cycle.

The trainees included: Sarat Kumar Tripathy (State Coordinator), Santosh Kumar Mohanty (Rayagada and Boudh District Coordinator), Yashobanta Naik (Naupada and Balangir District Coordinator), Purna Singh (Kalahandi District Coordinator), Raj Kishore Panda (Naupada Field Attendant), Tangudu Chandrasekhar (Rayagada Field Attendant), Hansaraj Bhoi (Kalahandi Field Attendant), and Ajit Prasad Mohanty (Loksebak). The activity was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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