19 Sep 2014
No. 1641


ICRISAT to assist in mapping soil health of 4 million hectares in the state
Science-led approach for agricultural development in Telangana, India

ICRISAT team led by Director General Dr William D Dar interacting with Mr K Chandrashekar Rao.
Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

ICRISAT will assist the Government of Telangana, India, to map the soil health of 4 million hectares of agricultural land in the state; issue soil health cards to farmers; and transform the state to be the country’s seed bowl.

Mr K Chandrashekar Rao, Chief Minister of Telangana asked ICRISAT to develop a time-bound plan and strategy to be implemented over the coming years, to help the state achieve its vision for agriculture.

“There are several types of soils in Telangana. However, due to lack of proper understanding most farmers are limiting themselves to conventional methods and crops, and this is resulting in poor yields. With the help of ICRISAT we will advise farmers on crops suitable for their lands and address this issue systematically,” Mr Rao said.

“ICRISAT’s activities in Karnataka state have produced good results. Using similar means, we will identify deficient nutrients in soils and give relevant supplements to help farmers improve yields,” the Chief Minister announced.

To express ICRISAT’s solidarity with the efforts of the government to revitalize agriculture and create prosperity in rural areas, ICRISAT Director General Dr William D Dar met the Chief Minister on 12 September.

“ICRISAT welcomes this opportunity to work with the government of Telangana in raising rural prosperity and turning Telangana into the Seed Bowl of India,” said Dr Dar.

Soil health mapping for increased agricultural productivity

Mr K Chandrashekar Rao going through the ICRISAT publication ‘Soil Fertility Atlas for Karnataka, India’. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

The initiative in Telangana state is aimed at achieving sustainable intensification of agriculture in the state through enhanced water and nutrient use efficiency with increased production and improved incomes of the farmers. A soil health atlas for the state will be prepared following stratified soil sampling and using GIS techniques. Soil test-based nutrient management recommendations for major crops will be developed for different sub-regions. The exercise is likely to be completed in the next one year after initiation.

Under the Bhoochetana (land rejuvenation) initiative, implemented by ICRISAT across the state of Karnataka, India, soil analysis was used as an entry point and soil nutrient recommendations were developed, demonstrated and scaled-out to cover 5.5 million ha.

Improved cultivars and innovative integrated seed systems

ICRISAT can provide the necessary inputs to help strengthen the seed production system in Telangana. The Institute can provide improved high-yielding cultivars of chickpea, groundnut, pigeonpea, pearl millet and sorghum which are the major crops cultivated by smallholder farmers in the state. These crops are integral components of various cropping systems. Hence enhancing the productivity and net income under these crops assumes significance in improving the status of agriculture in Telangana. 

During his interaction with the Chief Minister, Dr Dar stressed on the urgent need to develop an innovative seed system to make seeds of these crops readily available through improved seed production and supply; building community awareness on seed markets; and entrepreneurship development to operate and manage village seed enterprises. He also emphasized on developing a value chain approach in a way that enables small farmers use improved seed, improved agronomic packages and markets to maximize productivity and incomes.

Systematic research efforts for developing new early-maturing cultivars with farmer-preferred traits, the need to expand cultivation of pigeonpea hybrids in Telangana state to improve productivity, and the large potential of sorghum to contribute to fodder/ forage requirement and enable Telangana to become a hub of dairy industry, were also stressed upon by Dr Dar during discussions.

ICT-mediated knowledge platform for improving profitability

The Chief Minister expressed keen interest in ICRISAT’s ‘GreenPHABLET’, a customized low-cost device that integrates phone and tablet computer powered by the Green SIM. The GreenPhablet, to be launched soon, is water resistant, shock-, dust- and drop-proof (up to 1.5 meters), is available in seven and ten-inch screen, can be read under bright sunlight and operate in temperatures up to 60°C.

Developed by the ICRISAT Center of Excellence in ICT Innovations for Agriculture in collaboration with NUNC Systems of Hyderabad, the ‘GreenPHABLET’ Phablet includes 3G connectivity, a 8 megapixel back camera and a 2 megapixel front camera.

The GreenPHABLET is powered by the Green SIM, a special mobile phone SIM card, created under a unique partnership between ICRISAT, mobile phone service provider Airtel, and the IFFCO Kisan Sanchar Limited (IKSL). Farmers with the special SIM card in their mobile device receive all regular phone services plus free, timely, weather, pests and other information in 16 categories, delivered in local dialects, including up-to-date prices for farm inputs and outputs, enabling farmers to take advantage of best available opportunities.

Dr SP Wani, Director, ICRISAT Development Center and Dr Dileepkumar Guntuku, Global Leader, Knowledge Sharing and Innovation, ICRISAT, were also part of the deliberations.

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Improved productivity vital in addressing farm labor shortage in India

(Left) Dr CLL Gowda delivering a message on behalf of Dr Dar at the symposium; (Right) Participants of the Policy Dialogue. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

With significant movement of rural labor from farm to non-farm activities and migration from rural areas to cities, labor scarcity has emerged as one of the major constraints to increasing agricultural production in India.

This issue was the focus of discussion at the National Symposium and Policy Dialogue on “Dynamics of Rural Labor Markets: Implications for Agricultural Growth and Rural Transformation” organized by ICRISAT and its partners.

To mitigate the problem, recommendations that emerged from the discussions include:

  • Development of labor saving technologies and machine harvestable crops;
  • Inclusive farm mechanization program especially for women and youth;
  • Creation of large-scale employment opportunities for the rural poor;
  • Integration of farm and non-farm activities in rural areas;
  • Training on agricultural machineries and modern farming techniques;
  • ICT tools to facilitate information flow and seasonal labor migration; and
  • Ensuring that NREGA allows for employment creation during slack season critical in mitigating farm labor scarcity and enhancing livelihoods of the poor.

“The issue of agricultural labor shortage affects poverty alleviation and basic food security of 600 million smallholder farmers in India. They are the most hit by labor scarcity, having no means to afford high wages of farm workers to carry out labor intensive production,” said Dr William Dar, Director General, ICRISAT, in a message delivered on his behalf by Dr CLL Gowda, Deputy Director General- Research.

“Along with our partner agricultural research institutes and universities in India, our research programs have generated many life-changing innovations for small-scale farmers, such as sustainable and inclusive technologies that are less labor intensive.”

Dr Dar cited the example of machine harvestable and herbicide tolerant chickpea breeding lines identified by ICRISAT. Upon release and wider adoption and diffusion of these cultivars, chickpea farmers will experience increased labor productivity and profitability.

“India’s labor market faces four major challenges – tightening of agricultural labor supply; attracting and retaining talented youth in agriculture; sustainable employment for rural labor force; and increasing labor productivity,” highlighted Dr Cynthia Bantilan, Research Program Director, Markets, Institutions and Policies, ICRISAT.

However, according to Dr Bantilan, this scarcity in farm labor potentially creates a vast opportunity to make farming a more profitable business and to encourage youth and women back to farming.

This can be achieved by empowering them with new technology and improved practices which are less labor intensive and which reduce costs. 

“Mixed occupations have emerged in the villages and towns located in rural areas. Real wages have increased rapidly since 2004. Higher wages have led technical changes in Indian agriculture,” observed Prof YK Alagh, Chancellor, Central University of Gujarat and former Union Minister, Government of India. He opined that high wages could only be sustained through improved productivity. 

“Therefore, scientists and policy makers must come up with market driven solutions which will continuously pass the market test. Promotion of farmer producer companies will be essential in this endeavor,” he added.

The event was held on 15-16 September and was organized jointly by ICRISAT, the National Centre for Agricultural Economics and Policy Research (NCAP); the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), New Delhi; and the Institute for Human Development (IHD).

The symposium was held as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Policies, Institutions and Markets; and Village Dynamics Studies in South Asia project funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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Using new genomics tools for sorghum improvement

At the project launch and first-year review meeting. Photo: ICRISAT

New genomics tools can address urgent needs for a more drought resilient food supply, increase rates of sorghum improvement to better meet long-term population growth, and investigate production systems that promote sustainable farming, particularly regarding preservation and/or restoration of soil resources and water quality.

This is the aim of the project Feed the Future Innovation Lab for Climate Resilient Sorghum. The project is an international initiative led by University of Georgia’s Plant Genome Mapping Laboratory and involving partners from USA, South Africa, Ethiopia, Mali and ICRISAT. The project is funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

The project launch and first-year review meeting was held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia recently. “We have spent over 20 years building genomic tools and fundamental knowledge of sorghum and this is an exciting opportunity to put all this research to work, especially for the region from where sorghum has originated,” said Regents Professor Andrew Paterson, project lead, University of Georgia (UGA).

Dr Stefania Grando, Research Program Director, Dryland Cereals, ICRISAT stressed on the importance of the project for the program and its further linkages & integration to research activities across regions within CGIAR Research program on Dryland Cereals.

The project partners presented progress for their respective activities under two major goals: improving sorghum’s drought and heat tolerance, and improving ratooning ability in sorghum. The independent technical advisors to the project: Prof Samuel Gudu (Rongo University, Kenya), Dr Frew Mekbib (Haramaya University, Ethiopia) and Dr Abdalla Mohamed (Senior Sorghum Breeder, ICRISATEthiopia), gave suggestions for further strengthening activities for second year.

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Developing a robust, commercially sustainable Sorghum for Multiple Uses (SMU) value chain in Kenya and Tanzania

Participants of the workshop. Photo: ICRISAT

In partnership with the Africa Harvest Biotechnology International Foundation (Africa Harvest), ICRISAT is working to develop a robust, commercially sustainable sorghum for multiple uses value chain in Kenya and Tanzania.

The Sorghum for Multiple Uses (SMU) project objective is to support the development and demonstration of new sorghum multipurpose varieties that are higher yielding and adapted to both biotic and abiotic stresses in arid and semi-arid agro ecologies of Eastern Province of Kenya and in the Northern and Central zones of Tanzania, for household food security and poverty reduction. The project is adopting a whole value-chain approach and it brings together partners engaged in various activities from technology development to dissemination and to uptake.

“SMU is a very unique project that exemplifies how CGIAR centers should work with other partners and I am very grateful that ICRISAT has set the pace,” said Dr Michael Njuguna, CEO, Africa Harvest.

“This has been an exemplary partnership between ICRISAT and other partners. It is only through partnerships that we can achieve our shared goals,” he added.

The first phase of the project ran from 2012 to 2013 and some of the key results achieved during this phase include:

  • Mapping of existing supply chains and identification of opportunities for the improvement of sorghum value chain. The results of this baseline were used to carry out a rapid market survey to verify the sorghum value chain actors and to establish their operations, market margins and their challenges.
  • A pilot commercial value chain was established in Kenya and Tanzania by actively linking the sorghum farmers to the market outlets for surplus grain. The sorghum value chain model developed by Africa Harvest was used in Kenya and Tanzania. The team used the Aggregator model which was identified as the best approach to stimulate commercialization and trade activities.
  • Capacity strengthening of value chain stakeholders for increased production and marketing of sorghum for multiple uses 
  • Introduction of improved multiple use sorghum cultivars that are resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses, adaptable, have stable performance in the target environments, and meet end users/market requirements quality attributes. 
  • Partnership with private seed companies and agro dealers were developed to facilitate farmers’ and project participating households access to quality seed of improved SMU varieties and hybrids. 

The project has entered the second phase, which will run until 2016. The project team held a two-day stakeholder meeting on 11-12 September in Nairobi. The meeting was aimed at discussing outputs and sharing lessons learned from the first phase and developing work plans for the second phase.

The workshop was facilitated by Dr Henry Ojulong, Scientist - Breeding (Dryland Cereals), ICRISAT, and was attended by representatives from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), Kenya Ministry of Agriculture, research institutions, seed companies, agro dealers, breweries, processors, aggregators, finance and credit providers from Kenya (Equity) and Tanzania, and scientists from ICRISAT and Africa Harvest.

The SMU project is aligned with CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals and has strong links with CGIAR Research Programs on Dryland Systems; Policies, Institutions and Markets; and Agriculture for Nutrition and Health.

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New groundnut varieties approved for release in Malawi

Farmers harvesting groundnut technology demonstration plots in Malawi. (File photo)

The Agriculture Technology Clearing Committee comprised of agricultural experts in Malawi unanimously approved the release of seven new groundnut varieties to farmers in the country. This is a first for the country that varieties that target different agroecological needs have been released concurrently. It was a decade ago that Chitala (ICGV-SM 99568) was released. This achievement adds to the four earlier released ICRISAT-bred varieties (CG 7, Nsinjiro, Baka and Chitala) released by the same committee.

This achievement is a product of ICRISAT’s strategic engagement with the Department of Agricultural Research (DARS) with support from development partners such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and McKnight Foundation, as well as the Government of Malawi and the farmers who evaluated these materials over the years.

The resolve by ICRISAT and DARS scientists to release a new generation of groundnut varieties for Malawian farmers involved over four years of evaluations that started with two sets of 20 entries each for Virginia and Spanish botanical groups of groundnut. Finally six elite materials for each botanical group were selected for national performance trials implemented between 2010/11 and 2012/13 and ultimately, seven candidate lines were proposed for release, based on their outstanding performance for yield, tolerance to groundnut rosette disease and drought tolerance amongst others.

The seven new varieties include four that belong to the Virginia botanical grouping i.e. ICGV-SM 01724, ICGV-SM 01731, ICGV-SM 08501, and ICGV-SM 08503. They are high-yielding (up to 2.5 tons/ha), tolerant to groundnut rosette disease, medium duration maturity, and have medium to large seed size. The new varieties ICGV-SMs 08501 and 08503 will replace CG7 the doyen of groundnut in Malawi, that is susceptible to rosette. Three others belong to the Spanish botanical group i.e. ICGV-SM 01514, ICGV-SM 99551 and ICGV-SM 99556. These are short-duration, high-yielding and tolerant to rosette disease with medium seed size and will expand the scope of production to lower agro-ecologies that are characterised by short and erratic rainfalls and end season drought.

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Working together to create opportunities
Sustainable intensification of maize-legume-livestock systems

Dr Okori making a presentation. Photo: ICRISAT

A team of scientists from ICRISAT, ICRAF, CIMMYT, IITA and national partners are working together for sustainable intensification of maize-legumelivestock farming systems in Tanzania, specifically in Kongwa and Kiteto Districts of Tanzania.

Some of the key project achievements over two years include:

  • Identified well-adapted productivity enhancing sorghum, pearl millet, pigeonpea and groundnut varieties for the semi-arid zones of Central Tanzania
  • Improved crop resilience by testing and deploying in situ water harvesting techniques that enhance water filtration and minimize runoff providing plants with much needed water
  • Optimized inorganic fertilizer application especially for cereal production
  • Developed approaches to unlock market opportunities for legumes and cereals by
    minimizing aflatoxin contamination
  • Built strategic partnerships to support research and delivery of innovations to farmers and the consumers

The project led by Dr Patrick Okori, Principal Scientist - Groundnut Breeding (Grain Legumes), ICRISAT, is one of the projects under the Africa RISING program. The program seeks to create opportunities for smallholder farm households to move out of hunger and poverty through sustainably intensified farming systems that improve food, nutrition, and income security, particularly for women and children, and conserve or enhance the natural resource base.

The project objectives are to:

  • Develop improved maize varieties resistant to the maize leaf necrosis disease;
  • Promote integrated soil fertility and water management options to improve yields and
    enhance agro-ecosystem resilience in action areas;
  • Promote the integration of crops, livestock and poultry for enhanced productivity and resilience;
  • Improve nutrition, safety and market competitiveness through sensitization on proper
    post-harvest handling and utilization; and
  • Establish Innovation Platform to inform R4D.

The project team held a meeting between 4-7 September in Arusha, Tanzania, to review project progress as well as develop a communication and uptake strategy. The team agreed that it is necessary to integrate communications into the project to support the delivery of project activities and outcomes. The communication and uptake strategy will assist in engaging with and influencing wider audiences; translate the project’s outputs into development and policy outcomes; enriching learning, interaction and exchange across the project; and linking and connecting the project team.

The Africa RISING program led by ICRISAT is funded by the US Agency for International Development (USAID).

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