28 Aug 2014
No. 1638


Ambassadors of Goodwill show strong support for science backed solutions to bring smallholder farmers out of poverty

Mr John Kerin AM (left photo) and Mr James Bolger (right photo) receiving the ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill plaque from Director General Dr William Dar. Photo: ICRISAT

Hon John Kerin named ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill

The Hon John Kerin AM, Chair of the Crawford Fund and former Australian national Minister for Primary Industries and Energy, and for Trade and Overseas Development and Treasurer, has been appointed as an international Ambassador of Goodwill for ICRISAT.

As an ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill, Mr Kerin has agreed to champion the need for science-based solutions for agriculture in the fight against poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation.

“I am very pleased to take on the role as an ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill, to help support their important work. I remember my visit to ICRISAT in India some years back. Not only does their research improve the lives of the poor, it is also helping farmers in Australia,” said Mr Kerin.

Mr Kerin is the Chair of the Crawford Fund, a non-profit non-government organization that works to raise awareness of the benefits to Australia and to developing countries from international agricultural research. He has been the national Minister for Primary Industries (1983-1987), Minister for Primary Industries and Energy (1987-1991), Minister for Transport and Communications (1991), Minister for Trade and Overseas Development (1991-1993), and Treasurer (1991).

The recognition was conferred on him by ICRISAT Director General, Dr William Dar, at the annual Crawford Fund Parliamentary Conference on Food Security, held in Canberra, Australia, on 26-28 August.

Rt Hon James Bolger affirms support, as ICRISAT Ambassador, for science-based solutions to poverty and hunger

Rt. Hon James Bolger, former Prime Minister of New Zealand and Chair of the World Agricultural Forum (WAF) Advisory Board who accepted to become an ICRISAT Ambassador during his attendance at the WAF Congress held in Hyderabad last year, was also awarded a special plaque by Dr Dar, in a courtesy meeting in Wellington on 25 August.

During his interaction with Dr Dar, Mr Bolger reiterated his commitment as an ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill. “ICRISAT plays an important role in this, particularly in the drylands that are resource-poor, marginal environments of the world. I am pleased and proud to be an Ambassador of Goodwill for the work of ICRISAT,” he said.

The ICRISAT Ambassador of Goodwill is a role that recognizes that 75% of the world’s extremely poor people live in the rural areas and are dependent on agriculture, and so the best way to overcome poverty is to make farming profitable.

“We cannot be any prouder of all our Ambassadors of Goodwill, who have agreed to work closely with us and serve as our voices, in order to make a difference for the poor farmers throughout Asia and Africa,” said Dr Dar.

“The drylands are also the producers of the new Smart Foods – foods that are not only good for you but also good for the environment because of their low usage of water and other inputs, as well as being lifesavers for the rural poor who have few other options. Crops like millets are less known but are hailed to be the next quinoa and the new Smart Food,” Dr Dar continued.

“Through our Ambassadors, we can further spread the word on crops like millets and legumes that have triple benefits of being highly nutritious, good for the planet, and play an important role in overcoming poverty and malnutrition in poor areas,” he added.

The ICRISAT Ambassadors of Goodwill program was launched in May 2013 with the acceptance of Mr Bill Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to become the first Ambassador during his visit to the ICRISAT global headquarters.

Mr Gates has since been joined by Dr APJ Abdul Kalam, renowned scientist and former President of India; Mr Bolger, Dr Akinwumi Adesina, Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria; Dr Nigel Poole, former Chair, ICRISAT Governing Board; Professor MS Swaminathan, renowned agricultural scientist and Father of India’s Green Revolution; Ms Saina Nehwal, Olympic medalist, ace badminton player and youth icon of India, and now Mr Kerin, as ICRISAT Ambassadors.

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Exploring partnerships in New Zealand

At the meeting. Photo: ICRISAT

During his visit to New Zealand, ICRISAT explored the possibility of partnering with public and private entities in the fight against hidden hunger. Dr Dar, ICRISAT Director General, along with Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Director of ICRISAT’s Strategic Marketing and Communication, took the opportunity to meet with representatives from key organizations in New Zealand to discuss the new Smart Foods campaign against hidden hunger. The representatives met included: Rt. Hon Bolger; Trish Ramsted, Ministry for Primary Industries; Prof Alister Jones, Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Waikato University; Prof Holland, Waikato University – NZ’s expert on water TBC; Sarah Meikle, Chief Executive, Wellington Culinary Events Trust, Festival Director; Lian Redding, Redding Cereals Limited; and C J (Stan) Vandersyp, Development Manager, International Financial Institutions, Partnerships, Humanitarian and Multilateral Division, New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Siobhan Molloy, Executive Director, Agencies for Nutrition Action and Chef Alfonso Basile, The Wellington Club.

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Biofuel initiatives should enhance, not compromise, food and nutritional security of the poor

Dr Dar speaking at the event. Also seen in the picture are Hon Margaret Reid AO, Board of Directors, Crawford Fund; Dr Laurent Zessler, Director and Representative for UNFPA’s Pacific Sub-Regional Office, Fiji; and Mr Yudi Guntara Noor, President, Asian-Australasian Association of Animal Production Societies. Photo: ICRISAT

We can link the poor and marginal farmers with the global biofuels revolution without compromising their access to food and nutrition, said ICRISAT Director General, Dr William Dar.

Tackling the complexity of the food versus energy challenge, Dr Dar stressed that “the right to adequate food for all” should be a priority concern in biofuel development, but the two can be achieved simultaneously. Dr Dar spoke at the annual Crawford Fund Food Security Conference held in Canberra, Australia, on 26-28 August.

In his address, Dr Dar emphasized the need to overcome the food-fuel trade-off by promoting feedstock like sweet sorghum that can grow on marginal lands and hence do not compete with food production.

“At ICRISAT, our global pro-poor BioPower initiative focuses on biomass sources and approaches that do not compete with but rather enhance food and nutritional security. Sweet sorghum is one such ‘smart’ multipurpose crop – the grain is used for food while the stalk is used for bioethanol production,” said Dr Dar.

“With the threat of an energy crisis looming globally, there is a potentially huge demand for ethanol from sweet sorghum. We believe that this crop provides a wonderful opportunity for dryland farmers to earn more money from the stalks through making ethanol, and at the same time benefit from the high nutritional value of the grain. Also along with its resilience under extreme weather conditions – it is vital to fighting poverty, and food and nutritional insecurity,” he continued.

Dr Dar’s goal was to bring to the attention of the world the need for better research-for-development, as well as policy and strategy convergence for food security and biofuel development among countries worldwide.

“It is encouraging to note that the Western Australian Government, in partnership with Kimberley Agricultural Investments, has plans to grow grain sorghum on 13,400 ha of land to be processed into ethanol,” said Dr Dar.

Australia stands 17th in the consumption of renewable energy worldwide, with a bioethanol production capacity of 440 million liters using feedstock like wheat flour, red sorghum and sugarcane; and 350 million liters of biodiesel produced in the last year from tallow, used cooking oil, canola, poppy and vegetable oil.

The use of sweet sorghum in existing sugar mills as biofuel feedstock is also providing a win-win situation to both the farmers and the industry, with data from India, the Philippines, China and Brazil indicating that sweet sorghum is economically viable, socially equitable, environmentally sustainable and resilient.

Dr Dar also highlighted the importance of boosting investment particularly on pro-poor biofuel initiatives.
In his closing comments, Dr Dar emphasized that food security is paramount over energy security, and that there is a need to balance energy security and food security to mitigate food price volatility. Vital to this is involving women and smallholder farmers in the biofuel value chain, as about 80% of the food consumed in developing countries is produced by smallholder farmers, who ironically comprise 75% of the world’s poorest people, 90% of whom are women.

This year’s Crawford Fund Annual Conference on Food Security, which holds a key place in the development and food security calendar in Australia, was attended by over 250 participants. With the theme “Ethics, Efficiency and Food Security: Feeding The 9 Billion, Well”, the event focused on vital issues of the developing world and Australia and efforts to produce more food in an ethical and efficient way.

Click here for the PPT presentation on “Supporting Agricultural R4D in the Semi-Arid Tropics

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Promoting Inclusive Market-Oriented Development
ICRISAT to collaborate with Ready-To-Eat food sector

Dr SD Mazumdar (extreme right) and other dignitaries releasing the conference booklet at the inaugural session of the 6th Symposium on Ready-to-Eat (RTE) Foods. Photo: P Bagade, ICRISAT

In partnership with the Ready-To-Eat (RTE) food industry ICRISAT will initiate pilot projects involving smallholder farmers, towards understanding the traits required by the food processing industry for facilitating the rapid adoption of ICRISAT mandate crops in the industry. The projects will also help the private RTE entrepreneurs appreciate the untapped opportunities of ICRISAT mandate crops. 

With focus on leveraging the growth potential of the RTE food processing sector, the NutriPlus Knowledge Program of the ICRISAT Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) along with ASSOCOM- India organized the “6th Symposium on Ready-to-Eat (RTE) Foods: Creating flourishing opportunities and promoting consumption among masses”.

The event provided a platform for stakeholders from various sectors of the food and allied industries to discuss and share latest opportunities for research and development, entrepreneurship and market potential of the RTE foods segment. It also helped them strategize ways to promote affordable, safe and nutritional RTE foods among the masses.

Dr Saikat Datta Mazumdar, Chief Operating Officer (COO), NutriPlus Knowledge Program, urged the RTE food industry to work towards products and technologies based on the health benefits of ICRISAT mandate crops. He also stressed on the need to foster Inclusive Market Oriented Development (IMOD) as part of the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) initiatives of the food processing industries.

“Implementation of an overall food safety program for the masses, through development and promotion of affordable, hygienically packed, long shelf-life, nutritionally rich RTE foods is the need of the hour,” he highlighted.

Other topics of discussion included regulatory aspects, policies, role of RTE foods in nutritional security and food safety.
The event was inaugurated on 4 August in Mumbai, India, by Mr Jagdish Prasad Meena, Additional Secretary, Ministry of Food Processing Industries, Government of India. Well-known RTE manufacturers, retailers and technology providers including MTR Foods, Marico Industries, Future Consumer Enterprise, Buhler, and Clextral took part in this event.

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Improving ancient water harvesting systems in Rajasthan, India, using modern-day ‘systems science’

ICRISAT staff interacting with local farmers. Photo: ICRISAT

ICRISAT along with its NGO partner GRAVIS, is helping farmers in the low rainfall regions of western Rajasthan, in India improve their indigenous water harvesting systems called Khadins.

The Khadin is an ancient rainwater harvesting system based on collecting rainwater during the monsoons and cultivating crops using the stored water through the cooler dry season. Water accumulated in the rainwater harvesting structures is released when required during the dry seasons. This traditional system plays a major role in ensuring food security since it allows crops to be grown in a very low rainfall region.

A large number of families (up to 100) may share the land cultivated by a traditional Khadin. A recent geographic information system (GIS) mapping exercise revealed that the system covers more than 5,000 ha of cultivated land in the state’s Jaisalmer district alone.

“I am very excited on seeing our small Khadin system working with some water ponds, some new fruit plants on the banks and better soil conservation – the future looks bright,” said Mr Chanana Ram, a farmer from Damodara village in Jaisalmer district.

In recent years, the traditional Khadin system has failed, as the informal institutional arrangements have broken down. A lack of community involvement and fair governance structures to manage collective decisions in the Khadins and their catchments has also led to suboptimal use of the precious water resources.

In South Asia, western Rajasthan is one of the four focal regions of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. In this low rainfall, drought prone region efforts are underway by ICRISAT to improve natural resource use and food security using multi-disciplinary, multi-partnership approaches. Farmers, researchers, government bodies, private industry development groups have come together in addressing the intractable and persistent issues faced by the vulnerable communities.

A Khadin which received structural improvements.
Photo: AM Whitbread, ICRISAT

Besides working on the larger Khadin systems, ICRISAT is also conducting on-farm assessments and helping in structural improvements of small family Khadins (4-6 ha) to demonstrate the impact of such interventions. A blend of ancient and modern knowledge is an ingredient for success.

“Facilitating discussion on the management of the Khadin systems will provide more opportunities for the community to share these precious water resources more fairly,” Dr Shalander Kumar, Scientist, Resilient Dryland Systems, ICRISAT, said.

Drs Anthony Michael Whitbread, Research Program Director, Resilient Dryland Systems, ICRISAT and Shalander Kumar, were on a review visit to the project locations in the districts of Jodhpur, Jaisalmer and Barmer.

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Sorghum and finger millet varieties showcased at county agri-fairs in Kenya

Busia county Governor with other county officials at the agri-fair. Photo: ICRISAT

More and more farmers in Kenya are expressing interest in cultivating sorghum and finger millet varieties. The sorghum hybrid GADAM x IS 8193 was a big crowd-puller at the county agricultural shows organized by ICRISAT in collaboration with the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) and other stakeholders.

The shows are aimed at displaying new varieties of sorghum and finger millet available to the farming community, proper husbandry practices, new technologies developed and value addition potential and products developed through training of farmer groups on the same.

Two such shows were held in Busia and Kakamega counties on 16 July and 13 August respectively and attracted more than 2,000 farmers and 56 agricultural stakeholders’ including financial institutions and agro dealers.

Agriculture is one of the fully devolved functions under the new constitutional dispensation in Kenya and is currently led by the newly formed county governments in Kenya manned by a Governor.

Speaking at the event in Busia, the county Governor, Mr Sospeter Odeke Ojaamong, promised inclusion of traditional high-value crops (which include finger millet and sorghum) in the maiden program of accelerated input access for the county. He also acknowledged the support of KARI and ICRISAT in the agricultural sector in the county and pledged continued support for the organizations’ activities in the region.

The event in the Kakamega County highlighted non-traditional uses of sorghum and finger millet stovers to make charcoal briquettes using a briquetting machine. This was greatly appreciated as a means of environmental conservation by reducing dependence on trees for firewood.

On behalf of the Governor Mr Wycliffe Oparanya, the County Executive for Agriculture, advised farmers to diversify sources of agricultural income and detailed further possibilities in cultivation of finger millet, which currently fetches a good price. Mr Daniel Otwani represented ICRISAT.

At the field day held in Eshiakula village in Matungu sub county, the Matungu Rural Poverty Alleviation (MARPA), a community based organization, received a tarpaulin under the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) Project to improve their grain quality and get better prices for their grain.

The activities were undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

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ICRISAT-Kenya staff visit Kiboko Field Station


Staff of ICRISAT-Kenya, led by Dr Moses Siambi, Director, Eastern and Southern Africa, ICRISAT, visited the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI)-Kiboko Field Station as part of a team building exercise on 14-15 August. Breeders, Drs Henry Ojulong, Ganga Rao and Eric Manyasa, gave an overview of their breeding activities on millets, pigeonpea, chickpea and sorghum at the station. The staff also visited the adjacent International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) facilities.

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Readers’ comments

The efforts of ICRISAT to demonstrate Improved Pigeonpea Production Technology (IPPT) on a large scale in Odisha state to increase the productivity is highly appreciable! Currently, India is importing large quantities of pigeonpea from Myanmar and some African countries to bridge the gap between demand and supply. I am sure the adoption of IPPT will help increase the productivity and production and reduce import of pulses. – Dr JC Rajput (Director, R&D), Nirmal Seeds Pvt Ltd

I was involved in the SADC/ICRISAT Groundnut Project and various other projects as Principal Scientist with ICRISAT in Malawi from 1996 to 2002. Many thanks for the mention of ICRISAT project in Malawi in the Annual report 2013. In the late 90’s, 13 new groundnut varieties were released in southern and eastern Africa. This had a huge impact on groundnut production. ICRISAT should be proud of the investments made to improve the livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers. – Dr P vander Merwe

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