11 April 2014
No. 1618


Targeting sorghum and pearl millet variety development to poor soil conditions in West Africa

Sorghum and pearl millet are critical sources of income and staple food grain for about 120 million people of West and Central Africa. Photo: A Diama & ICRISAT

Through an integrated genetic and natural resource management approach, solutions to improve sorghum and pearl millet production in low phosphorus (P) soil conditions of West Africa were developed by ICRISAT and partners under a
GIZ/BMZ-supported project.

Over the past four years, Sahelian pearl millet and sorghum landraces and breeding materials were characterized for their tolerance to low-P soils, promising materials were identified, and capacities strengthened to evaluate this complex trait by national agricultural research system  breeders in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger and Senegal.

These achievements and promising results were presented in a wrap-up workshop of the project “Tackling abiotic production constraints in pearl millet and sorghum-based agricultural systems of the West African Sahel” held on 23-25 March at the ICRISAT Training and Visitors Center in Niamey, Niger.

“Through the project, about 300 accessions were screened and tested. We were able to gather all the genetic material of West Africa and made them available to breeders of each national institute. Top-crosses were made from these materials, some of which were used to form heterotic pools. Now breeders of participating countries have access to genetic materials that can really thrive in poor soils,” said Dr Ousmane Sy, a breeder from the Senegalese Institute for Agricultural Research (ISRA).

Under the project, contrasting sets of material were evaluated for possible components of low-P tolerance. Lysimetric screening facilities were developed at the ICRISAT Sahelian Center and used to assess the relative importance of drought, low-P soils and their interactions on millet productivity, to identify adaptation mechanisms that can be exploited for the development of new multi-stress- tolerant varieties.

Substantial progress was made towards identification of molecular markers for low-P tolerance in sorghum, and headway was made for pearl millet as well. The project also explored alternative crop management techniques to address these constraints. It assisted the national breeders to develop low-P screening sites to identify low-P tolerant cultivars, and to deliver these to farmers in an integrated genetic and natural resources management approach.

“The project involved producers and farmers’ organizations all throughout and the research protocol was conceived based on the needs expressed and discussed by producers and researchers. Farmers’ organizations were fully involved in conducting the tests, monitoring and collecting data, and evaluation field trials. The data collected by producer organizations were sent to researchers to help farmers’ organizations in their field tests analysis,” said Ali M Aminou, Producer and Director of the FUMA Gaskiya Farmers’ Federation in the Maradi region of Niger.

The workshop focused on major findings from field assessment of sorghum and pearl millet tolerance to low-P conditions across sites and years. Country presentations characterizing the field trial environments (soil analysis, rainfall, growth uniformity and constraints) and identifying superior entries chosen for breeding use were made. Results on low-P adaptation mechanisms, water stress and P-deficiency interactions, and the genetics of low-P adaptation in pearl millet and sorghum were presented.

Participants of the wrap-up workshop at the ICRISAT Training and Visitors Center, Niger. Photo: ICRISAT

Findings from sorghum association mapping studies were also presented, with the participants focusing on new management options for low-P conditions. Major results on on-farm testing of cultivars and management technologies, and effect of technologies on productivity increase under low-P and water stress were presented as well.

The workshop was attended by five ICRISAT researchers from Mali and Niger, nine research partners from West Africa from the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique du Niger (INRAN) and FUMA Gaskiya, Niger; Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali; ISRA, Sénégal; and Institut de l’Environnement et de Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso; and six partners from the University of Hohenheim and the University of Kassel, in Germany.

The project, funded by GIZ/BMZ of Germany, was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

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ICRISAT pilots paperless household survey

Enumerators trying out the tablets during the survey.
Photo: S Verkaart, ICRISAT

To ensure quick availability of data and improve its quality, ICRISAT took to tablet-based data collection in household surveys being conducted across Ethiopia. The new system is being piloted under the Tropical Legumes II (TL II) project for the third round of a panel survey to track technology adoption.

The ICRISAT Nairobi office recently organized a one-day introductory training for all economists based in the Eastern and Southern Africa region and sought further ideas on the tablets and the Open Data Kit (ODK) application used to collect household data. Following this exercise, a team composed of Drs Kai Mausch, Simone Verkaart, and Bernard Munyua upgraded the TL II survey instrument with the ODK and trained enumerators in the Debre Zeit research station in Ethiopia.

With the questionnaire content same as in the previous surveys, cross checks and automatic skips were implemented in the latest surveys according to the initial set up. Restrictions on variable ranges and limitations on skipping answers were also installed to ensure highest possible data quality.

Initial feedback during the training and the first day of field deployment has been very positive. Prior concerns about the enumerators’ ability to adjust to the electronic questionnaire and touchscreen format were eliminated after the enumerators’ experience.

Farmers also expressed confidence in the new technology. The investment costs for the tablets acquired under the TL II project would be recovered after approximately 1,000 interviews.

TL II, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is a joint initiative of three international agricultural research centers: ICRISAT (chickpea, groundnut and pigeonpea), International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (cowpea and soybean), and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (common bean). It is undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes.

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Minimizing postharvest aflatoxin in groundnut

Dr Hari Sudini (center) interacting with farmers at a
gathering in Palabavi village. Photo: V Raju, ICRISAT

Women farmers in India are showing keen interest in following Good Agricultural Practices (GAP) to minimize postharvest aflatoxin in groundnut. This was evident at the two-day capacity building program organized on 1-2 April in Palabavi and Ayyavaripalle villages of Raptadu mandal in the Anantapur district of Andhra Pradesh.

The program attracted more than 140 farmers, both women and men, who learned about major reasons for postharvest accumulation of aflatoxin in groundnut and the role of improper postharvest practices aggravating the problem. Participants were also briefed on the need to adopt GAP such as physical sorting and ideal storage methods.

Aflatoxin poses potent carcinogenic and related  hazards to human and animal health.

The capacity building program was jointly organized by ICRISAT along with AF-Ecology Center of Rural Development Trust (RDT) of India under the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health (A4NH).

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Capacity building on innovative agribusiness initiatives

Participants of the training program at the Global Incubation Services campus. Photo: ICRISAT

Aiming to promote innovative initiatives and empower agribusiness incubators, ICRISAT’s Agri-Business Incubation (ABI) Program conducted a training program for managers and clients of the Business Planning and Development (BPD) units of the Network of Indian Agri-Business Incubators (NIABI).

“The training program has been very helpful in linking our business to potential buyers. The one-on-one sessions with the expert panel have helped me understand various government schemes and explore funding sources for my agribusiness venture. I strongly feel that NIABI will help me expand my business all over India,” said Mr Jagadeeshan, a client of the NIABI Business Planning and Development unit, Tamil Nadu Agricultural University.

The training on “NAIP Mentoring and Capacity Building Program,” was held at the Global Incubation Services (GINSERV) campus on 26 March, as a side event of the 8th annual conference of the Indian STEP and Business Incubator Association (ISBA) 2014 held in Bengaluru, India.

Mr SM Karuppanchetty, Chief Operating Officer of ICRISAT-ABI, briefed the participants about the training event. Sessions were held on enhancing the success of start-ups through incubator client services, funding agribusiness ventures, marketing and operations of business incubators, and interactions with industry personnel to benefit from their rich experiences and to chart the way forward.

The expert panel consisted of: Mr Raghavendra Prasad, CEO, Wifin Technologies; Mr A Balachander, General Manager, Vellore Institute of Technology - Technology Business Incubator (VIT-TBI); Mr Nagaraja Prakasam, Angel Investor; Ms Dakshayani Suryaprakash, Senior Manager, GINSERV;  Mr Janardhan Swahar, Director, Swayam Foods; and Mr Varun Pawar from Village Capital.

ICRISAT-ABI recognized

Mr SM Karuppanchetty presenting at ISBA 2014. Photo: Raju

ICRISAT’s presentation on ‘Innovative initiatives of incubators’ was adjudged the third best at the 8th annual conference of ISBA 2014 held on 24 March. The presentation highlighted the need to think out of the box and to innovate to promote agribusiness incubation in India.

The conference was attended by more than 150 delegates including managers of technology incubator parks and companies that are being incubated in the Science and Technology Entrepreneurs Parks (STEPs), principal investigators, business managers and clients of NIABI, and start-up entrepreneurs from across the country.

ISBA, which is now in its 10th year of operation, promotes business incubation activities in India through exchange of information, sharing of experience, and other networking assistance among Indian Business Incubators, STEPs, and other related organizations engaged in the promotion of start-up enterprises.

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ICRISAT and partners in West and Central Africa bid farewell to Farid Waliyar and welcome new Regional Director

Dr B Dembélé of IER presenting a diploma to Dr F Waliyar in recognition of his services to the development of agricultural research in Africa. (Right) Drs F Waliyar and R Tabo with ICRISAT Staff in Niger. Photos: A Diama & A Saley, ICRISAT

ICRISAT staff and partners in West and Central Africa (WCA) bid farewell to outgoing WCA Regional Director Dr Farid Waliyar at ceremonies organized in Mali and Niger. Dr Ramadjita Tabo, the incoming Regional Director was also extended a warm welcome into the ICRISAT family. 

Dr Waliyar joined ICRISAT Niamey as Regional Director for WCA in March 2008 and then moved to Mali in 2011. He has been highly successful in mobilizing funding through various agreements forged with development investors and country partners in the region. He is also recognized for his work on groundnut improvement and as a leader in agricultural research for development in the region.

Speaking at a ceremony held on 7 April at ICRISAT Mali, Dr Antoine Kalangire, Coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) for the Sahel region, and Dr Albert Rouamba from the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) Africa, both emphasized on the role played by Dr Waliyar in strengthening collaboration and partnerships among ICRISAT and fellow CGIAR centers in the region.

ICRISAT Mali Staff Representative, Mr Bakary Sidibé said, “Dr Waliyar always used a participatory approach in finding solutions to farmers’ needs. He is a true inspiration.”

“Beyond his scientific qualities, we were able to benefit from his leadership skills,” Dr Bouréima Dembélé, CEO of the Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali said. Dr Waliyar was awarded a diploma by IER for services rendered to the agricultural research advancement of Africa.

On 8 April, a ceremony held in honor of Dr Waliyar at the Hotel Salam (Bamako) was attended by Dr B Dembélé; Drs Bino Teme and Oumar Niangado, former Directors of IER; Mr Gary Juste, Director of US Agency for International Development (USAID), Mali; Ms Fadimata Alainchar, Director of ‘Plan’, an NGO in Mali; Ms Assétou Kanouté from ADAF Gallé, also an NGO; and Madame Coulibaly Maimouna Sidibé of Faso Kaba Seed Company.

(From L to R) Ms A Kanouté, Ms F Alainchar, Mr G Juste, Dr F Waliyar and Mr David Yanggen, Team Leader, Office of Accelerated Economic Growth, USAID/Mali at a dinner hosted in honor of the outgoing WCA Director. Photo: ICRISAT

At the ICRISAT Sahelian Center in Niger, Dr Mahamadou Gandah, ICRISAT Country Representative in Niger, and Mr Abdoulaye Amadou, ICRISAT Niger staff representative, thanked Dr Waliyar for his significant contributions in improving the capacity of ICRISAT Niamey staff members.

“It is difficult to say goodbye to colleagues. I thank ICRISAT management for supporting the West and Central Africa regional office especially in the past six years, and all our country representatives and their teams, and I welcome Dr Tabo as the new Director of the region,” Dr Waliyar said.

Dr Waliyar and Dr R Tabo also interacted with the scientists, the unit heads, staff representatives and various partners during their visit to ICRISAT Niger.

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ICRISAT showcases innovations for increasing productivity and resilience to partners in Eastern and Southern Africa

Zambia’s Permanent Secretary, Dr C Mulenga (extreme left) interacting with researchers, farmers and visitors at Mnoro Camp, Chipata. Photo:ICRISAT

ICRISAT showcased its innovations for increasing productivity and resilience in Eastern and Southern Africa to development partners in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia, in a series of visits by officials from the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Feed the Future, McKnight Foundation and national partners to research for development (R4D) sites in the three countries on 17-27 March.

On 17 March, Dr Tim Chancellor, Liaison Scientist for the McKnight Foundation Collaborative Crop Research Program for Southern Africa Community of Practice, visited the ICRISAT Malawi office and farmers’ fields. At the Chitedze station, Dr Chancellor reviewed ongoing work on mycotoxin management which is part of the Foundations’ strategic support to ICRISAT’s regional groundnut R4D initiatives. A field trip was organized to a community in Mchinji where ICRISAT and the National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) have been working for over a decade now on improving groundnut productivity and minimizing aflatoxin contamination.

In Tanzania, an ICRISAT-led consortium composed of the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Agricultural Research Institutes in Hombolo and Naliendele, Sokoine University of Agriculture and University of Dodoma, is implementing R4D activities aimed at sustainable intensification of cereal - legume production in the semi-arid districts. The work is supported by USAID Feed the Future and coordinated by the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA). To review the progress of the R4D activities, a team led by Dr Jerry Clover from USAID visited action sites in Kongwa and Kiteto, two research action districts under Feed the Future on 19-21 March. The team worked towards finding leverage points for scaling up new technologies.

Mr Edwin Kalengama (center, field) of Malawi shares his
experiences on productivity enhancing technologies. Photo: Dickson Mbughi

In Zambia, ICRISAT’s R4D activities in the country’s Eastern province were reviewed by the Permanent Secretary, Dr Chileshe Mulenga on 25-27 March. He was accompanied by Dr Samuel Phiri, Deouty Director of Zambia Agricultural Research Institute (ZARI); Mr Kennedy Kanenga, Acting Provincial Agricultural Coordinator; and representatives from the USAID Zambia mission. The team visited research sites hosted at ZARI-Msekera and on-farm experimentation and demonstration sites in Mnoro Camp in Chipata District.

“I appreciate the efforts of ICRISAT researchers in making farmers acquire and use research findings to improve their agricultural productivity. This is evidenced by the big productive groundnut fields and the level of knowhow expressed by farmers,” Dr Mulenga said during the visit.

The R4D work in Zambia is being implemented by an ICRISAT-led consortium composed of the Zambia Agriculture Research Institute (ZARI), Eastern Farmers’ Cooperative, University of Zambia and Tuskegee University (USA), under the Improving Groundnut Farmer Incomes and Nutrition through Innovation and Technology Enhancement (I-FINITE) project.

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Sweet sorghum partnership helps improve livelihoods of farmers in China

Delegates of the final review meeting. Photos: ICRISAT

Success in achieving higher sweet sorghum stalks has enabled increased incomes of farmers through sales to distilleries in the Inner Mongolia region of China, without compromising food and fodder security.

This has been achieved through the technical support from ICRISAT which has been helping sweet sorghum smallholder farmers in the area through a partnership project with the Sorghum Research Institute (SRI) of the Liaoning Academy of Agricultural Sciences (LAAS).

“The implementation of the project and demonstration of contract farming models for up-scaling and out-scaling sweet sorghum cultivation for ethanol production to increase farmers’ incomes under the project is commendable. In addition, farmers were capacitated in sweet sorghum cultivation practices and were linked to the distillery through a buy-back agreement,” said Ms Astrid Agostini, Food and Agriculture Organization’s (FAO) representative to monitor the technical progress of the project.

“Suitable cultivars selected for alkaline-saline soils productive system of Inner Mongolia and appropriate seed systems were in place for the continuous supply of improved cultivar seeds every year,” she added.

The project achievements were recognized at the final review meeting of the project “Enhancing Livelihood Opportunities of Smallholders in Asia: Linking Smallholder Sweet Sorghum Farmers to the Bioethanol Industry” held on 2-4 April at ZTE, an ethanol distillery in Inner Mongolia.

The project, funded by the Common Fund for Commodities (CFC) and FAO, is being implemented in China since June 2010 to develop a sustainable sweet sorghum ethanol value chain with appropriate technical and policy innovations. The area under the project is mostly cultivated with improved cultivars provided by SRI. 

“The partnership between ICRISAT and China is stronger than ever, and will continue to be so,” Mr Tao Chengguang, President of LAAS, said in his address during the meeting. He also honored ICRISAT team members, Mr Ch Ravinder Reddy (Project Coordinator and Senior Scientist – Dryland Cereals) and Mr P Parthasarthy Rao (Assistant Program Director, Markets, Institutions and Policies) with ‘Honorary Credentials’ for their scientific contribution to the international project.

At the meeting, representatives of ZTE and farmers’ groups and scientists from SRI reviewed the progress and constraints in the implementation of the project over the last four years, and the sustainability of the activities after project completion in May 2014. 

Dr Zou Jianqiu, Country Coordinator (China), presented the progress of the project on cultivation techniques of sweet sorghum, training program conducted, on-station and on-farm cultivars testing and selection, fertilizer application and achievements of the CFC-FAO-ICRISAT project in China.

Mr Parthasarathy Rao presented the baseline survey findings, strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats (SWOT) analysis and details on the biofuel policy of China, while Mr R Reddy presented the strengths and constraints of partnerships and project coordination. 

The sweet sorghum project is undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

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DG speaks to the youth about market-oriented agriculture

(Left) DG William Dar with Dr Milabel Enriquez Ho, President of the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU), Philippines, at the WMSU commencement exercises. Photos: E Salang, WMSU

“Given the enormous challenges facing the country, and the vast opportunities offered by science and technology, we must strive to contribute to attaining an inclusive, science-based, resilient and market-oriented Philippine agriculture.” As guest speaker during the 69th commencement exercises of the Western Mindanao State University (WMSU), Philippines on 5 April, Director General Dr William Dar addressed 2500 graduates, inspiring them to be vigilant and proactive in helping the nation attain unity in diversity to survive and attain food and nutrition security, as well as sustainability and resilience in the face of climate change.

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