21 March 2014
No. 1615


Sorghum value chain agribusiness incubator to build market links for Kenyan smallholder farmers

Incubatees of the Sorghum Value Chain Development Consortium with Dr William Dar and partners from FARA-UniBRAIN at the launch of the agribusiness incubator in Nairobi, Kenya. Photo: ICRISAT

Sorghum smallholder farmers in Kenya can now look forward to better entrepreneurship and agribusiness opportunities and become stronger players in the value chain with the launch of the Sorghum Value Chain Development Consortium (SVCDC).

“Market-oriented agriculture is the most efficient way to solve the issues pertaining to small and marginal farmers of Africa. Income from marketed produce will enable farm families to purchase more food and farm inputs. This will further raise farm productivity, kicking off a series of investments that bring about local and national economic growth and creating a self-reinforcing pathway to prosperity of the agricultural sector,” ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar said during the launch of SVCDC in Kenya on 14 March.

The Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) program of ICRISAT’s Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) has facilitated the establishment of the SVCDC, an agribusiness incubator that will work along the sorghum value chain, at the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture  & Technology (JKUAT). SVCDC is one of the six agribusiness incubators being established under the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa’s initiative on Universities, Business and Research in Agricultural Innovation (FARA-UniBRAIN) project with mentoring support from ICRISAT.

“The establishment of agribusiness incubators like SVCDC is significant coming at a time when the Government of Kenya is initiating steps to promote entrepreneurs in agriculture, and ensuring food security,” said the chief guest at the launch, Ms Sisilia Karoke, Principal Secretary, Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries, Government of Kenya. She also highlighted that breweries in the East African region are consuming large quantities of value-added products of sorghum, thereby creating a large demand for the crop. She also thanked ICRISAT for its commitment and contributions to the agriculture system in the country.

Prof Christine Onyango, Associate Professor and Deputy Principal, Taita Taveta University College, Kenya and Chair of the SVCDC Board, briefed the guests on the consortium’s involvement in creating agribusiness enterprises along the sorghum value chains through the 4Fs: Food, Feed, Fuel and Fiber. This, she added, would benefit the stakeholders through training and capacity building, advisory services and technical backstopping through products and services.

Prof Mabel Imbuga, Vice Chancellor, JKUAT, emphasized that SVCDC will promote entrepreneurs in the sorghum value chain by deriving strength from all the partners of the Agribusiness Innovation Incubator Consortia (AIIC). FARA-UniBRAIN Facility Coordinator, Mr Alex Ariho highlighted the unique partnership between UniBRAIN and its sub-regional partners in different value chains in Africa.

Dr Dar, in his special address, congratulated FARA for its commendable activities in helping small and marginal farmers involved in sorghum cultivation through SVCDC. He also thanked the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and applauded the efforts of UniBRAIN for their commitment to the development of agriculture in sub-Saharan Africa.
Mr SM Karuppanchetty, Chief Operating Officer, ABI, reiterated that agribusiness incubators serve as an excellent platform to bring together all the stakeholders and develop an agricultural innovation system.

Partners in the Africa AIIC include the African Network for Agriculture, Agroforestry and Natural Resources Education (ANAFE), Pan African Agribusiness and Agro Industry Consortium (PanAAC), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA), West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development  (CORAF/WECARD), the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa (CCARDESA), and the AIP-ICRISAT under the FARA-UniBRAIN project. ABI-ICRISAT is currently handholding and mentoring six AIICs under FARA-UniBRAIN in Kenya (SVCDC), Uganda (ABP & CURAD), Zambia (AgBIT), Ghana (CCLEAR), and Mali (WAARI).

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Enhancing postrainy sorghum to meet the demand in India

In India, improved productivity through better varieties offers an attractive opportunity for sorghum farmers to improve their incomes and at the same time meet the country’s demand. With this as the backdrop, the inception workshop of the second phase of “Improving postrainy sorghum varieties to meet the growing grain and fodder demand in India” project was organized by ICRISAT’s Research Program on Dryland Cereals on 18-20 March at the ICRISAT headquarters.

Participants of the workshop deliberated on the possible use of common donor genotypes and methods to tackle the constraints and sharing of data across projects. They also examined other projects on sorghum targeting drought as a common constraint across the semi-arid tropics of Africa and Asia with funding from the Generation Challenge Programme, US Agency for International Development, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Participants during deliberations at the inception workshop. Photo: ICRISAT

ICRISAT will implement this project along with the University of Queensland and Queensland Alliance for Agricultural and Food Innovation (QAAFI), the Directorate of Sorghum Research (DSR), several State Agricultural Universities and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). 

The project is funded by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), and will be undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

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At the CGIAR Consortium Board Meeting in Tanzania

CGIAR Consortium Board members and Center directors met at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) office in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on 19-20 March to deliberate on the progress of implementation of the CGIAR Research Programs, their governance and management, and planning for the extension and next phase; updates on the Strategy and Results Framework; and Mid-term Review of the system.

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Special Journal Issue dedicated to address farming challenges in semi-arid tropics

ICRISAT and Sécheresse are happy to announce the publication of the bilingual (French - English) special issue on “Addressing farming challenges in semi-arid tropics”. Coordinated by Dr Vincent Vadez, crop physiologist at ICRISAT, and Jérôme Bossuet, communication consultant, this issue which is available online as an open access, focuses on upcoming challenges for smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tropics, in particular in the sub-Saharan African regions. 

There are two sections: the first one looks at how to secure food at the smallholder farm level covering different strategies to increase agricultural productivity; the second section questions the challenges of technology adoption and dissemination and highlights the importance of understanding people’s needs before developing new technologies.

Sécheresse which means drought in French, is an international knowledge-sharing initiative, especially among French-speaking countries, that focusses on the fight against desertification and all related development issues of arid and semi-arid regions. Since 1990, it has been supported by the French cooperation (Agence Universitaire de Francophonie: AUF) with a dedicated website (www.secheresse.info) and a periodical scientific journal. ICRISAT was invited to develop this year’s special issue which has brought together valuable insights from several key partners.

“Addressing farming challenges in semi-arid tropics” gathers contributions from ICRISAT, other CGIAR centers (CIP, ILRI) and other research partners [Agrhymet, Niger, Hohenheim and Kassel Universities, Germany, Michigan University USA, Institut de Recherche et Développement (IRD), France, Catalan Institute for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), Spain, Institute for Financial Management and Research (IFMR) India].

The publication aims at bringing new research ideas that have not been in the mainstream of research until now. For instance, the chapter on traditional knowledge and community initiatives provides interesting insights on what could be done to bear shocks. The issue also aims to highlight new research investment needs such as those related to the change in climate.  There is a need to increase research and development investments in climate adapted crops like millets, sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut, and other smallholder crops that are not recognized enough by agriculture decision-makers despite their great potential, resilience and nutrition value.

This special issue is very timely as the CGIAR Research Programs on Grain Legumes and on Dryland Cereals are now well under way. It is available as online open access at the following address http://www.jle.com/en/revues/agro_biotech/sec/sommaire.phtml or http://www.revue-secheresse.fr/

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Take it to the farmer – new approaches

Dr MS Swaminathan said the future of agriculture depends on how we can empower and achieve economies of scale for the smallholder farmers to build their profitability. Photo: MSSRF

“Take it to the farmer” were the last words of Norman Borlaug before he died, and the same was the theme of the recent Norman Borlaug Birth Centenary Dialogue. ICRISAT proposed that possibly the real challenges are not climate change, environmental degradation, malnutrition, youth leaving the farm and the need for women empowerment; but instead “how” we approach these issues. As part of this it is not just the technology that needs to be taken to the farmer but also the markets and a leadership role for the farmers through an inclusive approach.

This is the basis of ICRISAT’s approach of Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD), and it was suggested that we need to continue to push the boundaries on this approach. For example, inclusiveness must also look carefully at the ‘role’ the stakeholders play and how they can be part of developing solutions, be decision makers in the process, taking leadership roles and having ownership of the solutions. We need to move along the ‘inclusiveness’ spectrum from getting stakeholder inputs to  partnering and also providing environments and support so stakeholders, like farmers can take leadership roles.

Ms Nancy Anabel
Dr Pravesh Sharma
Dr KN Gowda

These challenges were presented by Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director, Strategic Marketing and Communication, ICRISAT. The workshop was organized by the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation in Chennai, India on 13-15 March to celebrate 100 years of Norman Borlaug.

At the event, Dr MS Swaminathan said the future of agriculture depends on how we can empower and achieve economies of scale for the smallholder farmers to build their profitability. He noted that whenever he sees the word ‘beneficiaries’ he replaces this with ‘partners’ to emphasize the inclusive approach we need to take.

The need to strengthen the extension system through new approaches like the use of ICT tools and multiple extension systems with NGOs and other farmers was highlighted by Dr K Narayana Gowda, Vice Chancellor of the University of Agricultural Sciences, Bangalore. Dr Gowda also noted the need to move from production-focused extension to marketing information, with a more holistic approach to knowledge sharing.

Ms Nancy Anabel, Director at the MS Swaminathan Research Foundation, stressed the need for an inclusive approach at the community level when introducing new ICT tools for farmers. Involving women was often emphasized as critical for development, including ensuring their leadership role. One such initiative was the training of women to be “plant doctors” to advise other farmers on pest and disease maintenance.

Dr S Ayyappan speaking at the event. Photo: MSSRF

For smallholder farmers to be able to leverage the markets, aggregation of farmers through associations or cooperatives, was noted as important which will allow farmers to be able to invest in technologies and supply the volumes required by markets, as emphasized by Dr Pravesh Sharma, Managing Director of the Small Farmers Agribusiness Consortium (SFAC), India.

Dr S Ayyappan, Director General of the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) noted the need to promote Nutri-cereals and to recognize them for their nutritional value.

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Capacity building on food safety and quality for African partners

Ms Kiran Puri and Dr Dar lighting the lamp at the
inauguration ceremony. Photos: S Vemu, ICRISAT
Participants during a session conducted in the NutriPlus Knowledge Lab at AIP-ICRISAT.

“Creating opportunities for the food processing sector in African countries will promote agribusiness development for the benefit of smallholder farmers. I am seeing the need for the implementation of appropriate food quality standards and enhancing the technical skills of laboratory personnel in order to leverage on the potential of the agribusiness and food processing sector in Africa,” said Dr William D Dar, ICRISAT Director General.

The Director General expressed these views at the inaugural program of the advanced training on “Analytical Techniques and ISO/IEC 17025: 2005 for Food Testing Laboratory Personnel from African Countries” under the India-Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) II initiative.

The capacity building program exposed the participants to laboratory accreditation (ISO/IEC 17025:2005), food safety and regulatory standards, as well as on rules and regulations in food industry and their implications with respect to international trade barriers. A five day hands-on training on different analytical aspects of food testing was also arranged at one of the most reputed ISO17025: 2005 accredited food testing laboratories in India – the National Collateral Management Services Ltd (NCML), Hyderabad. There were 24 participants from across 10 countries of the African continent.

Speaking on the occasion, Ms Kiran Puri, Joint Secretary (Finance), Ministry of Food Processing Industries (MoFPI), Government of India, and the Chief Guest for the occasion, elaborated on the importance of this training program in enhancing food testing capabilities of the respective African countries.

Dr Kiran Sharma, CEO, Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP), ICRISAT, emphasized that the “training activities complement capacity building efforts towards the operationalization of the Food Testing Laboratories (FTLs) as well as the Food Processing Business Incubators (FPBICs) being established by AIP-ICRISAT in Africa.”

“During the recent visits by the ICRISAT team to the African partner countries where we are implementing five FTLs under IAFS II, it was identified that laboratory accreditation (ISO/IEC 17025:2005), hands on analytical training, trouble shooting, instrument maintenance, and servicing were the areas that need to be strengthened,” said Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, COO, NutriPlus Knowledge (NPK) Program, AIP, in explaining the training program design.

Speaking at the valedictory function on 18 March,  Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director, Strategic Marketing and Communication, ICRISAT, said “With this training program for food testing laboratory personnel from African countries, we have achieved another important milestone towards our commitment to boost India-Africa partnerships. Building new leaders in Africa is important and these participants are some of the new leaders for African development.”

As part of the feedback on the training program, Mr Robert Kelly Salati from Zambia said: “The trainers inspired us to think critically. We not only learnt more skills but better ways of thinking. Most of the food testing laboratories in Africa have not been accredited and so this training will be helpful to lead us to changing this. This will help us develop Africa”.

Ms Kemi Oladipo from Nigeria in her feedback said “We learnt a lot on how to use equipment and we learnt better scientific practices. Not only did we learn the technical part of the process and analysis, but we were also able to understand the reasoning behind the analysis. It was important to understand why we undertake these practices. We need to go back to our countries and conduct in-house training to pass on our new knowledge”.

The two-week training program held on 3-18 March at the ICRISAT headquarters was organized by the NutriPlus Knowledge (NPK) Program of ICRISAT’s Agribusiness Innovation Platform (AIP).

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Training on statistics and statistical computing using GenStat

A session during the training. Photo: H Ajeigbe, ICRISAT

Thirty-two scientists, scientific officers, technicians and research scholars from Nigeria, Niger and Burkina Faso were trained on ‘Statistics and Statistical Computing’ using GenStat. The five-day training course held at ICRISAT Kano, Nigeria on 3 -7 March was organized to enhance the capacity of HOPE project (Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia) partners in statistical computing.

The training program focused on several aspects of efficient experimental design and data management and included generation and analysis of replicated and non-replicated trials, data cleaning, curation, single site and GxE analysis and interpretation. GenStat 16th Edition was the software used for training.

Participants were exposed to a demo version of the software to experience hands on data analysis. The course also provided an opportunity for the participants to understand digital data collection techniques and other tablet tools. While presenting the results, the participants thanked the HOPE project and ICRISAT for the training, stating that the knowledge gained would help enhance their academic and research activities.

Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe, Country Representative, ICRISAT Nigeria, coordinated the course while Dr Abhishek Rathore, Senior Scientist and Ms Roma Rani Das, Scientific Officer, of ICRISAT’s Biometrics Unit served as resource persons. The activity was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

Participants of the training course at ICRISAT Kano. Photo: H Ajeigbe, ICRISAT

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Enabling African smallholder farmers to benefit from symbiotic nitrogen fixation

Participants of the inception workshop. Photo: ICRISAT

Ways and means to increase the biological nitrogen fixation and productivity of grain legumes to contribute in enhancing soil fertility, improve household nutrition, and increase cash income of smallholder farmers in Africa were explored at the inception workshop of N2Africa-Ethiopian Program. The workshop was held on 27-28 February, at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) campus in Ethiopia.

N2Africa is a science-based ‘research-in-development’ project focusing on putting nitrogen fixation to work for smallholder farmers growing legume crops in Africa.  Chickpea, which is ICRISAT’s mandate crop in the N2Africa-Ethiopia, has a high potential to fix atmospheric nitrogen. It is estimated that 50% nitrogen fixed by chickpea remains in the soil and is available to the next crop. The crop is also sensitive to drought during flowering and pod-set stages. Symbiotic fixation of nitrogen is also drought sensitive. The interactions between chickpea and indigenous Rhizobia genotypes with the environment are the current subjects of the study.

In its first phase, N2Africa reached more than 230,000 farmers who evaluated and employed improved grain legume varieties, rhizobium inoculants and phosphate-based fertilizers. In the second phase, the focus remains on research and dissemination of major grain legumes in selected areas in the core countries – Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Uganda. Its activities will focus on cowpea, groundnut and soybean in Ghana and Nigeria; on common bean, cowpea, groundnut and soybean in Tanzania and Uganda; and on common bean, soybean, chickpea and faba bean in Ethiopia.

Nitrogen is one of the most limiting macro-nutrients for crop growth. Legume plants have formed symbiotic relationship with the bacteria called Rhizobia within nodules in their root systems, producing nitrogen compounds that help the plant to grow and compete with other plants.

When the legume plant dies, fixed nitrogen is released, making it available to other plants and this helps to fertilize the soil. The fixation process, which releases nitrogen to the rhizosphere, is essential not only for plant growth but also for improving human and livestock nutrition and reducing the amount of chemical fertilizer and minimizing costs of production for farmers.

However, for plants to fix nitrogen there is a need to inoculate legume seeds with compatible Rhizobia, which are often not naturally occurring in most of the soils. Production of efficient inoculants and distribution to smallholder farmers is a limitation, and is the thrust of N2Africa which contributes to the impact pathways of the product line 4 of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, N2Africa began the second phase on 1 January. The project will run for five years and is led by the Wageningen University together with the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), ILRI, and ICRISAT.

ICRISAT is actively involved in N2Africa through the product line 4 of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes which deals with biological nitrogen fixation, and through the Tropical Legumes project which breeds and supplies most of the varieties and lines used as test crops in the project.

Representing ICRISAT at the workshop, Drs Tilahun Amede, Principal Scientist (Natural Resources/Systems Agronomy) and Chris Ojiewo, Senior Scientist (Legumes Breeding) actively took part in presentations emphasizing the importance of nitrogen fixation.

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ICRISAT showcases innovations at agriculture, hydraulic and livestock fair in Niger

Local students visiting the ICRISAT stall at the fair. Photo: ICRISAT

To highlight ICRISAT’s activities benefitting smallholder farmers, ICRISAT Niamey, Niger staff showcased publications, posters, seeds and sample crops at a stall in Niger’s first Agricultural, Hydraulic and Livestock Fair (Salon de l’Agriculture, de l’Hydraulique et de l’Elevage – SAHEL 2014).

With the theme ‘Innovations and agricultural equipment to boost productivity in Niger, the fair was organized by the national network of agricultural chambers (RECA) in collaboration with the Ministries of Agriculture, Hydraulic and Livestock on 6-9 March in Niamey. The honorable Prime Minister of Niger Mr Brigi Rafini, inaugurated the fair. Mr Hama Amadou, President of the Assembly, and the First Lady of Niger were also present at the event.

The fair offered an ideal opportunity for policy makers, producers and traders to discuss the development and promotion of local agricultural products, hydraulics and livestock. The SAHEL 2014 also showcased the implementation of the 3N Initiative (Nigeriens Nourish Nigeriens).

Presidents of the republic institutions, representatives of international organizations accredited in Niger, heads of diplomatic and consular missions, and agricultural producers were among several guests present on the occasion. ICRISAT was represented by its Country Representative, Dr Mahamadou Gandah. The Sadoré village women’s association, which has been benefiting from ICRISAT’s activities, also took part in the event with various exhibits.

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