14 March 2014
No. 1614


Understanding agricultural pathways to better nutrition and income

Young school children in rural India eating millet chappatis with rice and vegetable curry.
Photo: A Paul-Bossuet, ICRISAT

What does it take for agriculture to have strong nutritional impacts on rural households?

This was the focus of the deliberations in a back-to-back workshops organized by the Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative (TCi), in cooperation with the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad and ICRISAT’s Markets, Institutions and Policies (MIP) Program.

Developing the value chains of highly nutritious crops

From the deliberations with agribusiness entrepreneurs, NGOs and scientists, two groups of value chains were determined to be critical to enhance – sorghum and millet along with pulses. Hurdles and solutions were then identified along the whole value chain – from the need for combined biofortified and higher yielding varieties, to increasing the awareness and demand for more nutritious varieties. This included options to help differentiate varieties in both the eyes of the farmers and consumers and bring benefits to both groups.

The nutrition challenges facing India are extraordinary: the country suffers one of the highest global rates of childhood stunting and malnutrition (48%, UNICEF 2013), and micronutrient deficiencies like anemia among women.

Rural Indian families depend on smallholder agriculture for income and their own food, which can play a strong role in reducing malnutrition. Although the development case for using food value chains for nutritional impact is strong, making these links commercially viable and ensuring that nutritional impacts reach the rural households has proved to be much more challenging.

Drs C Bantilan and P Pingali facilitating discussions at the workshop on ‘Minimum dataset for nutrition in agricultural surveys’. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Tracking changes to malnutrition – bring the agriculture and health surveys together

There are many high quality health surveys conducted, however, they rarely include the role agriculture is playing. Also in reverse, there are many high quality agriculture surveys that do not include the impacts on nutrition and health. This issue was tackled in an adjacent workshop to develop minimum datasets that could be used in agriculture surveys to incorporate health and nutrition, as well as minimum data sets to be used in health surveys to identify the agricultural influences.

Focusing on the ‘Minimum dataset for nutrition in agricultural surveys’, the workshop held on 24-26 February at the ICRISAT headquarters, was an extension of a meeting by the same title held at Cornell University in December 2013.

Dr Prabhu Pingali from TCi presented the conceptual framework to set the direction for determining the most essential nutrition metrics to be included in agricultural surveys. From the discussions, three sets of indicators were prioritized:

  1. Dietary diversity scoring and food frequency scoring;
  2. Anthropometric indicators – height, weight and mid upper arm circumference measurements; and
  3. Biochemical markers.

The dietary diversity scoring and food frequency scoring instruments were pilot tested by the Village Dynamics Studies in South Asia (VDSA) team in the village of Dokur on 26 February.

The multi-sectoral meeting on ‘Aggregation models for income and nutrition’ held on 27-28 February was attended by the private sector, and non-government organizations and researchers from CGIAR Centers advanced research institutions.

Expanding production and enabling access to biofortified pearl millet and iron-rich food, was viewed as important to provide access to micronutrients for communities that depend on cereals. Some of the recommendations during the meeting included: 1) making biofortification integral in all national breeding programs; 2) policy reform to ensure that varieties have minimum threshold levels of Fe (iron) and Zn (zinc); 3) organizing consumer awareness and education campaigns and promotion of ‘health foods’; and 4) research and development targeting increased productivity of biofortified pearl millet varieties at farmer level.

Increasing the consumption of traditionally available pulses, including chickpea and pigeonpea, can play a key role in sustaining access to protein-dense food that improves nutrition, as discussed in the meeting. Strengthening demand for pulse production can also mean income opportunities for rural families farming marginalized, rainfed land where little else can grow.

Among the key recommendations to capitalize on improved nutrition and income through pulses included: 1) improved farm management strategies at the farm-level; 2) opportunities to link smallholder pulse production to public distribution system to increase availability in critical areas through a clear market route; 3) increased investment in research including better varieties (e.g., short duration, disease resistance, etc.); and 4) developing alternative market routes (e.g., snack or ‘ready-to-go’ foods).

This workshop laid the groundwork for the design and eventual implementation of pilot project testing aggregation model interventions for nutrition to be organized by the Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative in collaboration with ICRISAT.

Click on the link to read the Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative’s blog post about the Aggregation models meeting: http://blogs.cornell.edu/agricultureandnutrition/2014/03

Participants of the workshop on ‘Aggregation models for income and nutrition’. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

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Pigeonpea cultivation improving livelihoods of farmers in Odisha, India

Pigeonpea farmers in the Indian state of Odisha are experiencing a significant 70% increase in yield by using ICRISAT improved varieties over the traditional landrace. This in turn has resulted in about 90% increase in income levels.

Participants of the workshop at the newly inaugurated godown in Bhawanipatna. Photo: ICRISAT

In the past year, a total of 620,000 kg of various certified seeds of farmer preferred varieties and hybrids were produced from the seed production component of the project ‘Introduction and Expansion of Improved Pigeonpea Production Technology in Rainfed Upland Ecosystem of Odisha’ funded by the Government of Odisha under the Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana (RKVY) sub-scheme and is being implemented in Rayagada, Kalahandi and Nuapada districts.

The highlights of the 2013-2014 crop season were presented at a workshop held in Bhawanipatna, Kalahandi on 4 March. A total of 70 participants including five Deputy Directors of Agriculture (for Rayagada, Kalahandi, Nuapada, Boudh and Bolinger districts), agricultural technicians, non-government organizations, ICRISAT staff and farmers attended the Orientation and Planning Workshop for 2014-2015 to map the way forward.

Participants of the workshop deliberated on seed procurement of 79 tons of various seed classes (Foundation, Certified and Truthfully-Labelled seeds) of ICP 7035, ICPL 88039, Asha, Maruti, ICPH 2671 and ICPH 2740 to cover the target production area of 10,000 hectares for the year. The project‘s mid-term assessment study was also presented.

ICRISAT’s Dr Myer Mula and Mr Vijaya Kumar inaugurated godowns in Bhawanipatna, Kalahandi and Rayagada. Mr K Hanmanth Rao, Manager of Farm Services, ICRISAT, made a presentation on godown management. Part of the godowns will also serve as offices for ICRISAT staff assigned in the area for ease in project monitoring. Mr Sarat Tripathy (State Coordinator) presented the 2013-2014 cropping season accomplishments.

This project is being undertaken under the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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Promoting pearl millet technologies to improve livelihoods of the poor

Participants of the policy workshop in Bikaner, Rajasthan. Photo: ICRISAT

Stakeholders and partners of the ICRISAT-led Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) of Sorghum and Millets project got together at a policy outreach workshop focused on promoting pearl millet technologies in western India for improving productivity, profitability and livelihoods of the poor.

At the workshop held in Bikaner, Rajasthan on 24 February, more than 100 delegates from various state departments of agriculture and seed corporations, national seed corporation, private seed companies, agro-input dealers, processors and policy makers, and scientists from state agricultural universities and ICRISAT deliberated on various issues including: critical gaps in technology transfer and outreach strategies; scarcity of labor in harvesting, threshing and fodder processing; priority interventions for upscaling; and policy incentives for adoption of improved technologies.

Dr Govind Singh, Director of Research, Swami Keshwanand Rajasthan Agricultural University (SKRAU), welcomed the participants and appreciated the sincere efforts of ICRISAT-HOPE project scientists. The Vice Chancellor of the university, Dr AK Dahama, highlighted the importance of millet in western India from the view point of food and nutritional security, and feed and fodder security for livestock, as well as the need to set up a proper improved seed supply mechanism for smallholder farmers to improve productivity of millet in harsh, marginalized ecologies.

Traditionally, pearl millet is the inevitable choice in semi-arid western India. Pearl millet’s resilience to climate change, increasing demand for food as a consequence of population growth, stagnant/declining yields of wheat and rice, limitations to stretch irrigation, all necessitate investments in pearl millet.

Dr Harinarayana, a former Project Coordinator (Millets) referred to pearl millet as the golden grain of arid/semi-arid tropics. He indicated the importance of farmer support schemes to ensure supply of quality seeds (mini-seed packets) and plant nutrients (fertilizer kits) backed by technical guidance and knowledge transfer (farmer schools).

Dr N Nagaraj, Objective 1 Leader of the HOPE project, discussed the importance of technologies, enabling policies, institutions, and infrastructure to make pearl millet more remunerative in relation to competing crops and a viable source of income to farmers in the semi-arid tropics. 

Dr MN Singh, Director, Directorate of Millets Development, Department of Agriculture and Co-operation, Ministry of Agriculture, Government of India, chaired the technical session. Dr Rajan Sharma, HOPE Objective 6 coordinator for South Asia, emphasized the crucial role of the private sector in ensuring long-term availability of hybrid seed to the farmers, and of NGOs in enhancing delivery of new products.

Dr SK Gupta, HOPE Objective 3 coordinator for South Asia, emphasized the role of hybrids in enhancing crop productivity under rainfed conditions, particularly in Rajasthan (under arid ecologies), the state which has more than 50% of the area under pearl millet in the country. Mrs Vimla Dukwal, Professor of Nutrition, SKRAU, presented in detail the various components of pearl millet value added products, quality parameters and market strategies of processed food.

The workshop concluded with a vote of thanks by Dr PS Shekhawat and Dr IP Singh, local organizers representing the HOPE team.  The activity was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

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Improved groundnut variety released in India

ICRISAT and TNAU staff along with farmers visiting FPVS trials in Erode district, Tamil Nadu.
Photos: ICRISAT(left) & Ganesamurthy, TNAU(right)

Farmer participatory varietal selection (FPVS) trials have enabled the release of yet another new improved groundnut variety in India. The ICGV 00351, a farmer preferred variety of groundnut was released as Co 7 by the Tamil Nadu Agricultural University (TNAU) for cultivation in both rainy and postrainy seasons in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Currently grown bunch varieties account for 62% of groundnut area in the state and are low pod yielders. The ICGV 00351, a Spanish bunch variety is expected to replace them to increase production and productivity of groundnut in the state.

The new variety was identified as a farmer preferred variety from trials conducted in Erode and Thiruvannamalai districts of the state under the Tropical Legumes II project during 2008 to 2010/11. In these trials, ICGV 00351 recorded a pod yield increase of 15-18% over VRI Gn 6 and 26-31% over TMV Gn 13.

The variety is not only superior for pod yield but is also drought-tolerant and moderately resistant to rust and late leaf spot. Farmers also selected ICGV 00351 for higher haulm yield besides the pod yield advantage. The haulm yield was 6% over VRI Gn 6 and 12-14% over TMV Gn 13.

Project partners from TNAU, led by Prof Ganesamurthy, have organized Nucleus and Breeder Seed Production training at the College of Agriculture, TNAU during the 2013/14 postrainy season to support the formal seed system.

Truthfully-labelled seed production training was also organized in the farmers’ field in Erode, Kanchipuram, Salem and Tanjore districts to make quality seed of new varieties available to farmers through an informal seed system.

The FPVS approach is a successful method to identify and release farmer preferred varieties. Going by the success so far, new FPVS trials comprising of high oil yielding varieties (ICGV 07222, ICGV 07018, ICGV 06146 and ICGV 03128) are underway in Erode district.

The Tropical Legumes II project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a joint initiative of three international agricultural research centers: ICRISAT (chickpea, groundnut and pigeonpea), the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (cowpea and soybean), and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (common bean).

The project is undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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Progress of sorghum biofortification research at ICRISAT reviewed

Drs Wolfgang Pfeiffer (2nd from left) and Parminder Virk
(1st left) with the sorghum team examining the advanced
breeding line with high Zn and Fe. Photo: ICRISAT

The progress of sorghum biofortification research at ICRISAT was reviewed by a team from HarvestPlus led by its Deputy Director, Dr Wolfgang Pfeiffer, and Product Development Manager, Dr Parminder Virk, in a visit to the biofortified sorghum fields at the ICRISAT headquarters on 28 February.

With funding support from HarvestPlus, ICRISAT is working on increasing grain Fe (iron) and Zn (zinc) concentration in sorghum starting from a base level of 30 ppm Fe and 20 ppm Zn to reach the revised targets of 60 ppm Fe and 32 ppm Zn.

In the process, a large number of commercial cultivars, advanced breeding lines, established hybrid parents and core collections of sorghum germplasm were assessed by ICRISAT for grain Fe and Zn, and high Fe and Zn lines were used as donors in the crossing program for further improvement.

During the review, the HarvestPlus team examined a range of sorghum materials starting from early generation segregants to elite sorghum hybrids with high grain Fe and Zn in addition to higher yield. The team expressed keen interest in five hybrids ICSH 14001 (Fe 49 ppm and Zn 38 ppm), ICSH 14002 (Fe 46 ppm and Zn 32 ppm), ICSA 661 × ICSR 196 (Fe 45 ppm and Zn 36 ppm), ICSA 318 × ICSR 94 (Fe 45 ppm and Zn 34 ppm), ICSA 336 × IS 3760 (Fe 45 ppm and Zn 40 ppm), and a R-line/variety ICSR 14001 (Fe 42 ppm and Zn 35 ppm) which are meeting the current breeding targets for grain Zn.

They advised the ICRISAT sorghum team to work towards commercialization using the Sorghum Hybrid Parent’s Research Consortium (SHPRC) platform. Sorghum is among the top 10 crops that feed the world and is one of the cheapest sources of energy and micronutrients, particularly Fe and Zn.

More than 500 million people in Africa and India depend on sorghum for their dietary energy and micronutrient requirements. The increasing grain micronutrient concentration in sorghum helps in combating dietary induced micronutrient malnutrition in these regions.

HarvestPlus uses biofortification to breed higher amounts of vitamins and minerals directly into staple foods including sorghum and pearl millet. It is part of the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH) coordinated by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The activity was undertaken as a part of CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

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Strengthening groundnut and sorghum value chains in Nigeria

Farmers from Kano, Nigeria have renewed their commitment and support to ICRISAT’s groundnut and sorghum value chains projects, at a one-day training session organized by ICRISAT Nigeria.

About 20 farmers from various areas of the Kano state attended the training conducted by ICRISAT staff on 11 March in various areas including choosing the ideal field for seed crop production, land preparation processes, marking sowing/sowing dates, seeding rate and spacing, isolation distance, fertilizer application, weed control, disease and pest control, rouging, harvesting, drying and storage. The session was organized in collaboration with Vitae Seeds Nigeria Ltd for selected seed out growers on improved cereals and legume seed production technologies with particular emphasis on sorghum and groundnut.

Four staff members of the seed firm led by Mrs Grace Job took part in the session. Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe presented to the farmers, a DVD titled ‘fighting Striga’ produced by ICRISAT through the HOPE project. It contains 10 modules on different topics ranging from control of Striga to seed storage and crop-livestock integration in the local language of Hausa as well as Fulfulde, English, French and Zarma.

Dr Babu N Motagi, a Groundnut Breeder at ICRISAT Kano presented a lecture on legumes production while Mr Ayuba Kunihya (Scientific Officer) briefed the participants on cereals seed production.

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At the International Women’s Film Festival of Hyderabad
Showcasing the strength of a rural woman farmer

Audience at the screeing of “A day in the Life…”. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Over the past four decades, ICRISAT’s Village Level Studies (VLS) now also called Village Dynamics Studies has helped document the lives of women farmers in India in overcoming odds and transforming their lives through better agriculture and livelihood options, and research for development, policy and investment interventions.

The success story of one such rural woman farmer, Yadamma of Aurepalle village in Mahabubnagar district of Andhra Pradesh, India, documented as a short film “A day in the Life…” was featured at the International Women’s Film Festival of Hyderabad on 9 March at Lamakaan, in celebration of
International Women’s Day. The film was appreciated by over 40 people in the audience.

Yadamma has been part of ICRISAT’s VLS since 1975. She started her life as a village outcast with no education, married at the age of 11, and worked as a domestic help and daily labor in farms of village heads. But, by initiating and leading self-help groups and exploring other livelihood options, she fought poverty and succeeded in providing a healthy, hygienic living and quality education for her children (four girls). Much of her success, as Yadamma says, could be attributed to better skills, multiple livelihood options, access to money to invest, and hygiene, health and nutrition education.   

Yadamma continues to live in Aurapalle inspiring other women in the village and continuing her entrepreneurial works. As a leader in the village, she has helped many women to be empowered.

“The story of Yadamma is fascinating and there are more of such women in the country who are seen as a very big force to bring about change in rural areas,” Dr Lakshmi Lingam, Deputy Director at Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Hyderabad, said during the panel discussion after the screening.

“ICRISAT is now practicing a ‘gender transformative’ approach in all its research for development (R4D) initiatives. Our scientists, with guidance from gender specialists are exploring more opportunities for value addition to the services of women farmers,” said Dr R Padmaja Scientist (Gender Research), Markets, Institutions and Policies, ICRISAT.

“Women comprise 43% of agricultural labor in developing countries, and they are more likely to channel their income from agriculture to the health and education of their families,” said Ms Cristina P Bejosano of ICRISAT’s Strategic Marketing and Communication, in highlighting the importance of integrating gender into R4D. 

Mr Ajay Kurian, the film producer and Mr Sachindra Siddella, the director, from Videosource Studios were also present during the film screening.

(From L-R) Dr L Lingam, Dr R Padmaja and Ms C Bejosano interacting
with the audience at the film festival. Photo: ICRISAT

The VLS has been funded over the years by the US Agency for International Development, Oxford University, World Bank and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. It is currently undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets.

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Farmers in Kenyan highlands taking to chickpea cultivation during short rains

Farmers at a chickpea farm of the university during the field day. Photo: ICRISAT
Chickpea recipes on display. Photo: ICRISAT

More and more farmers are taking to chickpea cultivation in the dry highlands of Kenya during short rains, thanks to the Tropical Legumes II (TL II) project. Most farmers in the region have been practicing maize/wheat-legume relay cropping. Recently, however, they have started converting their lands to chickpea cultivation, which uses low moisture during short rains from October to February after the cereal harvest, and before the next long cropping season in March/April.

This was demonstrated at a recent field day organized by Egerton University, a partner of ICRISAT under the TL II project, held on 28 February at Njoro District attended by 115 farmers, of whom majority were women. Farmer representatives from Molo, Machakos, Garaba, Koibatek and Naivasha Districts joined the field day to exchange ideas with and learn from ICRISAT Nairobi and Egerton University scientists.

Areas where chickpea has gained popularity in Kenya include Koibatek, Bomet, Mbeere, Garaba, Mwea, Embuk, and Kerio valley. Major varieties grown are ICCV 00305, 00108 and ICCV 97126 and ICCV 92944.

At the field day, farmers appreciated the high productivity of improved variety Chania Desi 1 (ICCV 97105) and Kabuli Saina K1 (ICCV 95423). The farmers also received training on agronomic management of chickpea, insect and disease control, utilization and marketing. Several recipes including that of chickpea githeri (mix of maize and chickpea), mandazi, chapati, and cakes were introduced to the farmers.

Representatives from Faida Seeds Company, Ministry of Agriculture, East African Grain Council; seed distributors from Njoro and Nakuru; and Egerton University’s TL II chickpea team led by the Director of Research and Extension Prof Alfred Kibor, University Industry Liason officer Prof Rhoda Birech and Chickpea Project-Principal Investigator Dr Paul Kimurto took part in the event.

ICRISAT’s Dr Moses Siambi, Director, Eastern and Southern Africa, and Dr NVPR Ganga Rao, Senior Scientist - Breeding (Grain Legumes) joined in taking stock of the ongoing chickpea experiments and seed multiplication plots at the University’s experimental fields.

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