08 Aug 2014
No. 1635


ICRISAT-Zimbabwe – getting ready to ramp up activities

ICRISAT-Zimbabwe staff Drs Masikati (left) and AF van Rooyen (3rd left) discuss opportunities offered by sweet sorghum with Drs C Madramootoo, S Grando, and A Whitbread. Photo: S Sridharan, ICRISAT

Discussions with international development agencies, government, farmers and private companies in Zimbabwe have identified key areas for the future of agricultural research and development. Discussions were led by ICRISAT’s Governing Board Chair, Dr Chandra Madramootoo, along with a strong contingent of senior management and scientists.

The team met Minister of Agriculture, Mechanization and Irrigation Development, Dr Joseph Made, and Permanent Secretary of Agriculture, Mr Eng Ringson Chitsiko. Dr Made emphasized the importance of ICRISAT’s work, particularly in developing drought-tolerant crops and helping to promote nutritional security. The Government of Zimbabwe shares ICRISAT’s vision for the region in scaling up seed systems, and capacity building through engagements of agricultural tertiary institutions.

Dr Madramootoo assured the Minister of ICRISAT’s interests in capacity building, and in enhancing research efforts on post-harvest constraints associated with sorghum and millet production.

Mr Jabulani Moyo, a farmer in Nhwali, Zimbabwe, demonstrated how he has been able to build resilience and promote food security by integrating crops and livestock. In discussions with the visiting ICRISAT team, he described the advantages of integrating crops and livestock. They include: use of legumes for livestock and soil fertility; building resilience by increasing diversity and access to markets; multi-cropping to promote food security (sorghum and millet, wheat and maize), nutrition (beans and groundnuts) and fodder (mucuna, and various crop residues). He supports his community by sharing information and seeds.

ICRISAT team with Minister Dr Joseph Made. Photo: ICRISAT

ICRISAT’s work on Innovation Platforms and crop-livestock integration in Nhwali, Zimbabwe were highlighted for the benefits accruing to the local communities. At Nhwali the team also visited the sale pen that hosts the monthly small stock auctions. The auctions represent a new marketing channel that has more transparent market information and pricing structures, which reward farmers for better quality animals. Sales from the auctions amount to around US$ 50,000 per year.

A visit to the Department of Research and Specialist Services focused on discussions on how ICRISAT can provide technical support to agricultural research in the country. The two institutions will work with NGO partners by providing foundation seed for small-scale seed production.

The visiting team also held meetings with various international development agencies – Department for International Development (DFID), Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID), United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Dr Madramootoo acknowledged their unstinting support to ICRISAT’s work over the years. He also met with various other private sector partners and appreciated their support.

The team later toured the ICRISAT facility in Bulawayo. Dr Kizito Mazvimavi welcomed the visitors saying that, “It is a privilege to host the Governing Board Chair as well as the two Research Program Directors and the Regional Director.”

In his address to staff, Dr Madramootoo promised the support of the Governing Board to ICRISAT-Zimbabwe. “It is heartwarming to meet a large number of ICRISAT staff and hear what each of you do. We can only be a better institute by listening to your voices,” he said.

“True mettle is not how you react at high points but how you handle the low points. You have demonstrated that, stood steady, kept the flag flying. My report to the Board will be extremely positive and will mention that you are people of courage, determination and fortitude. The Governing Board recognizes the value of your contributions, not just here but also globally. We certainly want you to continue to play a leading role here in southern Africa,” Dr Madramootoo added.

The ICRISAT team comprised Drs Stefania Grando, Research Program Director for Dryland Cereals, Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director for Resilient Dryland Systems, Kizito Mazvimavi, Country Representative, ICRISAT- Zimbabwe and Moses Siambi, Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa. 

Earlier, Dr Madramootoo visited Mozambique where he attended the 4th biannual conference of the Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) in Mozambique.

Over 700 participants from 45 countries attended the conference in which Dr Madramootoo made a presentation on ‘Harnessing High-End Science for Agricultural Development in Africa’.

At the same event, Dr Patrick Okori, Country Representative, ICRISAT-Malawi, made a presentation on the future directions for RUFORUM, while Dr Sabine Homman-Kee Tui’s (ICRISAT- Zimbabwe) presentation on developing resilient and profitable family farming systems in Mozambique won an award for the best oral presentation.

ICRISAT-Zimbabwe staff with the visiting team. Photo: S Sridharan, ICRISAT

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Water conservation initiative to alleviate poverty and stimulate rural development

The delegation from Government of Andhra Pradesh during discussions with members of the ICRISAT team. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

The Government of Andhra Pradesh, India, has sought ICRISAT’s assistance to finalize a water conservation initiative and policy for the state and to formulate an action plan on soil health mapping, water quality mapping, and rainwater conservation and its efficient use. The request was put forth by a delegation led by Mr PK Agarwal, Advisor to the Chief Minister of Andhra Pradesh.

“The State Government wishes to harvest as much rainwater as possible for conservation and then efficiently use it so as to minimize exploitation of groundwater,” Mr Agarwal said during his visit to ICRISAT on 31 July.

“We are aware of the good work done by ICRISAT in Karnataka which has similar conditions as that of Andhra Pradesh and we too want to come up with an action plan to translate this into a doable program. The challenge for us is how to achieve this and to find the appropriate direction in an open sea and we have come to a temple of dryland agriculture i.e., ICRISAT for guidance,” he added.

ICRISAT’s experiences including that of the integrated watershed management approach at Kothapally village, Ranga Reddy district, Telangana, were shared with the visiting delegation.

By adopting a participatory approach using science-led development, Kothapally was transformed in terms of water availability since 2009 thus increasing productivity and profitability for the farmers. Before the watershed interventions, all the 64 open wells in the village were dry and most of the farmers were limited to a single crop during the year.

With the watershed development interventions, water availability in the village has resulted in increased cropping intensity and most farmers have grown high-value vegetable crops in smaller areas of their farm during the summer months using the water from the open wells.

Productivity of the crops has also increased two to three fold since 2009 and as a result, in five years, farmers’ incomes have doubled.

The delegation also toured the campus to observe the availability of water in all the tanks and the cultivation in the fields able to be achieved using tank water even during a period of 66% deficit rainfall. ICRISAT’s help for capacity building of different stakeholders for efficient use of water as well as conservation of water was also requested.

“It is an eye opener to see how ICRISAT is managing its water resources on the site which is a mini-watershed of 1,400 ha and we need to do this on a larger scale for Andhra Pradesh. We propose to start working for agricultural water management and then bring in drinking water at a second phase and much later look at energy support,” Mr PK Agarwal said. 

The visit was organized and coordinated by Dr Suhas P Wani, Director, ICRISAT Development Center.

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Enhancing knowledge sharing among ICRISAT scientists

ICRISAT-Niger has planned a series of six knowledge-sharing seminars for this year to enhance communication and knowledge sharing among its scientists. The first seminar was organized on 1 August at Sadoré.

Ms Mariama Nouhou Koutcha making a presentation. Photo: ICRISAT

Dr Malick Ba, Senior Scientist - Entomology, launched the event on behalf of Dr Mahamadou Gandah, ICRISAT Niger Country Representative. In his inaugural speech, Dr. Jupiter Ndjeunga, Principal Scientist (Markets, Institutions and Policies), said that the objectives of these seminars are to enable ICRISAT-Niger scientific community to communicate more, to appreciate and make recommendations to improve their research.

Two doctoral students working with Dr Fatondji Dougbedji, Scientist - Agronomy (Resilient Dryland Systems), made presentations at the first seminar.

Mr Ali Ibrahim, a PhD Student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Kumasi, Ghana, made a presentation on ‘Enhancing Yields in Low Input Millet-Based System through Hill Application of Soil Amendment: Understanding the Mechanisms and Implications’. In his presentation he described the necessity to demonstrate that the fertilizer micro-dosing technology developed at ICRISAT does not result in soil nutrient depletion. The aim of the study is to assess the extent of possible soil nutrient mining effect and to identify the options to ensure the sustainability of this technology.

The second presenter was Ms Mariama Nouhou Koutcha another PhD student from KNUST, Kumasi, Ghana, under the Climate Change and Land Use Program. She presented on ‘Modeling the hydrology of the planting pits used for in situ rainwater harvesting in re-afforestation schemes for adaptation to climate change’.

Mr Ali Ibrahim making a presentation. Photo: ICRISAT

The study focuses on zai – pits dug to reclaim water. Her study aims to investigate if this practice of in situ rainwater harvesting still provides benefits under current and future climate change. The main objective of the study is to enhance the understanding of planting pits as a water harvesting technique for effectively managing water resources in re-afforestation schemes in dryland areas by modeling the hydrology of the planting pit under climate change.

The seminars are scheduled on the last Friday of each month with two presenters per seminar. For the upcoming seminars, it is proposed to invite partners and to share presentations with other ICRISAT locations through live streaming.

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Intensifying genome sequencing work for drought proofing crops in Karnataka, India

Dr Varshney briefing Karnataka state government officials on genome sequencing-related work at ICRISAT. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

The Government of Karnataka, India, has requested ICRISAT to lead the coordination of the state government’s initiative on sequencing and molecular breeding of finger millet. 

ICRISAT’s experience on coordinating complex genome sequencing projects with targeted product delivery was shared with the Karnataka state Agriculture Minister, Mr Krishna Byre Gowda, and other senior government officials at a recent meeting ‘Decoding genome sequence for strengthening the genetic improvement of finger millet’.

Dr Rajeev K Varshney, Research Program Director-Grain Legumes, ICRISAT briefed the participants on the genome sequencing-related activities at ICRISAT.

Further discussions involving sorghum and pigeonpea improvement for Karnataka state were also held. ICRISAT’s Drs Santosh Deshpande and Rachit Saxena, provided an overview of ICRISAT’s activities on sorghum and pigeonpea improvement.

The officials suggested developing molecular breeding projects in partnership with concerned Karnataka State Agricultural Universities.

Activities for all crops will be part of an existing MoU between ICRISAT and Karnataka on drought proofing crops. The meeting was held in Bangalore on 18 July.

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Understanding the importance of wetlands and wastewater treatment

Participants of the training program. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

Wetlands provide a number of ecosystem services and help in maintaining the good health of watersheds. At the same time, engineered/constructed wetlands are also used for treating domestic and industrial wastewater to meet the growing scarcity of water for agriculture.

Stressing on the importance of water management and particularly wetlands management for maintaining the eco-system, a capacity building course for the practitioners of Wetland Management and Wastewater Treatment was organized at ICRISAT in collaboration with the University of Florida.

Eighteen participants from across India took part in the training program. Four faculty members from the University of Florida Drs K Ramesh Reddy, Mark Clark, Patrick Inglett and Kanika Inglett, along with ICRISAT staff covered an array of topics which included wetland resources in the landscape: values, functions and overview of constructed wetlands; wetland hydrology (Hydrologic budget and wetland hydraulic concepts); wetland vegetation; and wetland biogeochemistry (carbon, nitrogen, phosphorus and sulfur); wetland biogeochemistry (metals and organic contaminants).

At the inaugural session, Dr Suhas P Wani, Director, ICRISAT Development Center, emphasized on the work done by ICRISAT in the area of integrated watershed management and in the context of maintaining the health of the watersheds.

The event was held on 4-8 August at ICRISAT-India.

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Talking Science Blog Competition

The CGIAR announces the start of the Development Dialogues Blog Competition: Talking Science. The blog competition is open to research staff from CGIAR centers and CGIAR Research Programs. 

Partners of the CGIAR are also invited to participate as long as their blog post highlights work/projects done in partnership with CGIAR.

The goal of the competition is to provide a space for researchers to share how their work has influenced the MDGs and/or will influence the SDGs.

All blog posts will be highlighted in the campaigns leading up to the development dialogues (submissions accepted until 15 September, winners announced on 25 September). This is a good opportunity to showcase your work to a large audience. 

Winning blog posts will be pitched to top news sources like Huffington Post, New York Times and the Guardian’s Poverty Matters blog.

CGIAR will publish a profile feature of the winning researchers/authors on the CGIAR website.

Winners will be publicly announced at the Development Dialogues meeting.

For details visit the Development Dialogues website.

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Call for proposals

The CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes is inviting proposals from collaborating centers and partners under the Grants Scheme for the year 2014. The grants scheme will actively engage with the partners to deliver the planned outputs and outcomes of the program.

The research proposals should be innovative and should be aligned with Grain Legumes focus crops and its thrust research areas including crop improvement, crop management, seed systems, postharvest technologies, processing, health/nutrition, input- and output-market access.

All applications should be submitted online by 21 August. The Research Management Committee of Grain Legumes will review the proposals and the results will be announced by end of September. The projects are expected to start from October, and will complete by end of June 2015.

For online application and implementation guidelines, please visit http://grainlegumes.cgiar.org/grants-call-for-proposals or scan the QR Code.

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Win a prize – help us find a name for the Smart Foods campaign

Millets (including sorghum) and legumes have a critical role to play because they:

  • have important nutritional values;
  • are good for the planet (use little water, drought tolerant, need few inputs, improve the soils); and
  • are crucial for overcoming poverty and improving food security.

“Smart foods” is now commonly used and refers only to nutritious foods. So we need a name for a campaign that can represent all three benefits.

However the name must be short, simple and catchy to a broad audience globally.

Have a go and send your suggestions to s.narni@cgiar.org by 15 August. The creator of the chosen name will win a prize.

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