21 Nov 2014
No. 1650


Innovation Platforms – fostering research for development collaboration and impact in Zimbabwe

Farmers and personnel from extension services discuss development strategies during a visioning session of the innovation platform. Photo: A van Rooyen, ICRISAT

Under the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food (CPWF), ICRISAT has used innovation platforms to strengthen the livelihoods of farmers who combine agriculture and livestock rearing in the semi-arid regions of Zimbabwe. With the CPWF project ending, the experiences and learnings arising out of innovation platforms were shared and discussed at the workshop ‘Tapping into Research for Development Impact’. The CPWF is a partner of the CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems and is supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

The innovation platform is an opportunity for individuals and organizations to come together to diagnose problems, identify opportunities and implement solutions. It allows multiple perspectives and skills to be coordinated to solve complex challenges across a wide range of scales. The platforms are established around locale specific production and marketing systems and facilitate dialogue between the main players in the local market such as farmers, input suppliers, traders, transporters, wholesalers, retailers, etc., to identify challenges and opportunities.

Livestock is the primary source of on-farm income and insurance in the low-input farming systems of sub-Saharan Africa. However, the markets are often informal with poorly developed infrastructure, inputs and services, resulting in high transaction costs and increased risks along the value chain for the smallholder farmer. Although appropriate technologies and farming strategies for small-scale farming exist, farmers often have little or no incentive to invest in these. Access to improved markets will provide farmers with the incentive to invest in technologies to increase production.

Entrepreneurs establish stalls during livestock market days, selling an array of goods which farmers pay for from the income of livestock sales. Photo: A van Rooyen, ICRISAT

Using the Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) approach, ICRISAT has facilitated improved value chains for goats—improving both the supply of seeds and other necessary materials and establishing new markets for farmers to sell their goats—thereby generating both the incentives for farmers to invest in their production and the much-needed cash for them to do so.

Farmers in Zimbabwe who participate in goat markets are reinvesting the income generated into broader agriculture production. They are now able to purchase food when their own harvest falls short, pay for education and health care, hire labor, and purchase inputs for both crops and livestock. These reinvestment patterns clearly illustrate that development of more sustainable and resilient crop-livestock systems is feasible.

The LiLi-Markets project in Mozambique (joint collaboration between the Institute of Agriculture Research of Mozambique, the International Livestock Research Institute and ICRISAT) which established innovation platforms to link farmers to livestock markets in two districts was also cited.

The platform members highlighted the dire need for an abattoir in Chicualacuala district and basic market infrastructure in Changara district.

In Chicualacuala where over 80 cattle were slaughtered under trees every month, without proper processing and cooling, huge losses were incurred when the meat was transported to Maputo. Meanwhile, the rudimentary market infrastructure in Changara resulted in serious stress and losses to the 100 cattle and 500 small livestock sold each month.

The platform members presented these issues and the potential benefits to donors and development agencies. As a result, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) provided US$ 35,000 to construct an abattoir in Chicualacuala.

In Changara, the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Government of Mozambique contributed US$ 70,000 to build a new market. Sale of goats by poor livestock keepers has now become a firmly established market channel with strong livelihood benefits to many farmers.

The event was organized at the IFAD headquarters in Rome, Italy, on 28-29 October where ICRISAT’s Dr Andre van Rooyen made a presentation on Goat Production and Marketing in Zimbabwe. This activity was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program Water, Land and Ecosystems.

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ICRISAT Regional Planning Meeting in Bamako
Planning and prioritizing research interventions to meet farmers’ needs

Participants of the planning meeting. Photo: ICRISAT

The overall objective of the Regional Planning meeting is to enhance integration and cooperation amongst scientists in order to undertake holistic research to benefit smallholder farmers. It offers an opportunity for interaction among researchers,” said Dr Ramadjita Tabo, ICRISAT Director West and Central Africa (WCA), as he welcomed participants to the ICRISAT Regional Planning Meeting for West and Central Africa for 2015.


During the two-day meeting, scientists:

  • Reviewed key research for development (R4D) achievements and lessons learnt over the past two to three years in the region;
  • Reviewed and discussed detailed plans of experiments, methods and expected outputs of scientists in 2015;
  • Discussed mechanisms for promoting collaborations and integrating R4D work amongst scientists and locations to harness synergies for efficient use of resources;  and
  • Formulated regional plans to be considered at the Global Planning Meeting to be held at ICRISAT headquarters, India, in January 2015.

Discussions also took place on (i) the nature and performance of existing partnerships, and (ii) resource mobilization strategy for WCA region.

“Sub-Saharan Africa is an important part of the ICRISAT family, and we hope that with scientists and their partners’ work in the region, donor funding can be increased. Bilateral funds will be very important to ICRISAT in the future,” said ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar, in his opening remarks as he stressed on the five steps ICRISAT needs to take into consideration. The first step is to freeze agriculture’s carbon footprint - sustainable intensification is a key part of this solution. The second is to facilitate more cropping systems to have better delivery systems and narrow the yields gaps, and the third step is using resources more efficiently. The last two steps are changing diets as well as reducing food losses and waste.

Dr William Dar and other senior ICRISAT staff attending the opening session via video conference. Photo: ICRISAT

ICRISAT Deputy Director General-Research, Dr CLL Gowda in his introductory remarks said, “We need to make sure that we meet the deliverables as embedded in the ICRISAT strategic plan. Those deliverables are aligned with the CGIAR Research Programs and need to be timely as well as results-based. We have to deliver what we promised, based on farmers and consumer’s needs, thus conducting research not only for countries where we are located but also across borders.”

As part of the planning meeting four technical sessions were conducted. The first session discussed achievements and plans on sorghum and pearl millet improvement in Mali, Niger and Nigeria. The achievements and future direction of two special projects involving sorghum and pearl millet – the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE), and the large-scale diffusion of technologies for sorghum and millet systems in Mali (ARDT_SMS) – were also highlighted. The session concluded with a presentation on crop protection.

The second session focused on crop physiology, groundnut and cropping systems in the region, and a presentation on the highlights of the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) activities in 2014 and plans for 2015. The third session was on GIS and remote sensing, soil and water management, soil fertility, crop-livestock systems. This session concluded with a presentation of the plan on the climate change adaptation project that was initiated in the Mopti region of Mali.

On day two, the fourth technical session was dedicated to crosscutting issues: gender, Markets, Institutions and Policies, Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD), communication and public awareness. The meeting concluded with discussions about integration of R4D work and general interactions among scientists.

A document containing highlights of ongoing research activities, and achievements made in the last few years, as well as plans for the coming years was circulated. This document also contained the annual research plans and expected outputs for effective monitoring of the progress of activities as well as providing suitable reference for research management purposes.

The regional planning meeting was held at the ICRISAT WCA hub in Bamako on 17-18 November, and attended by all scientists from the region’s three locations of Bamako, Niamey and Kano. Also in attendance were Dr Stefania Grando, Research Program Director, Dryland Cereals and Dr Anthony Whitbread, Research Program Director, Resilient Dryland Systems. Dr Dar, Dr CLL Gowda, and other members of the senior management team from Headquarters participated in the opening session via video conference. A field day was conducted on 16 November to view the field experiments at Samanko.

Regional Planning Meeting in pictures

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Improving genetic gain and reducing costs

Means to improve genetic gains, innovative ways to develop improved staple crop cultivars for Africa and South Asia that small plant breeding programs can adopt; reducing their genotyping and phenotyping costs; increasing throughput and accuracy, and thereby increasing the rate of genetic gain they deliver to smallholder farmers were some of the issues discussed at a meeting organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

A joint meeting of the Global Good Fund and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was organized under the overarching theme of “More, Better, Faster, Cheaper: practical needs for improving the rate of genetic gain” on 29 October. Global Good is a collaborative effort between the Gates Foundation and Intellectual Ventures to partner with experts to invent, develop, and deploy commercially-viable technologies that improve life in developing countries.

The discussions covered three key problems in crop breeding: (i) Reducing the cost of tissue sampling, DNA extraction, and genotyping in order to get high-density marker information into routine use by breeders serving African farmers; (ii) Increasing phenotyping throughput for both above-ground and below-ground traits; (iii) Pulling phenotypic and genotypic information together in cultivar development pipelines that deliver high rates of genetic gain.

Among the critical issues that were discussed: how to bring up phenotyping to speed up breeding programs (lack of access, limited use and adoption of phenotyping technology, lack of knowledge and skills to use it routinely in the breeding activities, limited staffing), how to translate the experience from large multinational companies working on industrial crops to smallholder crops such as those in the Foundation’s crop portfolio (cost of genotyping per sample in smaller crops than corn, what investment for small breeding programs, what marker density is needed, crop specificities such as ploidy), how to address issues with DNA sample tracking, quick sample preparation, shipment (time scale, barcode error tracking, seed chipping/dusting for DNA collection, cost, feedback to breeder), how to link up trait-based and field-based phenotyping (breeders want yield but genetics is more precise on traits, linking knowledge at different levels of integration), how to link up information on genotype and phenotype the most effective way to speed up breeding (genomic selection, related issues, linking up information across breeding programs working on same crops), how to deal with genotype-by-environment interactions to make better prediction of phenotypes (how to replicate the power of multi-location testing of corn to smaller crops, use of crop simulation to better target testing environment or traits, meta-data).

After a brief presentation on the breeding pipeline fundamentals by Drs Gary Atlin and Rob Horsh, speakers in (i) were Andrzej Killian (Diversity Arrays LLC), Venki Pegadaraju (Douglas Scientific), and Tom Osborn (Monsanto), who covered the topics of Providing genomic information services to small breeding programs, Automating SNP genotyping, and Scaling up the provision of genomic information to breeders. Speaker in session (ii) were Fred Perlak (Monsanto), Vincent Vadez (ICRISAT), and Dean Goodman (Geophysical Archeometry Laboratory), who covered the topics of Scaling up field phenotyping, Advances in above- and below-ground phenotyping, and Using ground-penetrating radar to visualize root systems. Speakers in session (iii) were Mike Olsen (CIMMYT), and Pat Schnable (Iowa State University), who covered the topics of Integrating genotypic and phenotypic information in the CIMMYT maize breeding program, and Integrating genomic and phenotypic information to predict cultivar performance. Each session was followed by a brainstorming on specific issues.

Dr Vincent Vadez, Assistant Research Program Director, Dryland Cereals, was among the research and technology experts invited to present to a panel including Bill Gates, directors of Intellectual Ventures Ltd-Global Good, and senior officials of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Others invited to the discussion included research and technology leaders from a large seed company, a small genotyping service provider, a genotyping systems manufacturer and universities.

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Other events

During a session at the training program-cum-workshop.

ICRISAT together with Directorate of Wheat Research (DWR), Karnal, organized a 3-day training program-cum-workshop on ‘Tracking of Barley and Lentil Improved Cultivars Adoption in India’ from 28-30 October as part of Strengthening Impact Assessment at CGIAR (SIAC) 2.1 Project. Under this project, ICRISAT and NARS partners in India and South Asia are targeting 15 crop-country combinations (CCCs) and five major crops (barley, lentil, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut). Around 16 scientists including Dr Tim G Kelley, Senior Agricultural Research Officer from Independent Science and Partnership Council, Rome and Dr Mywish Maredia, Professor, Michigan State University, USA attended the workshop.

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Joint biotech lab set up in China for genome sequencing

During the MoA signing in Qingdao, China. Photo: ICRISAT

To accelerate collaborative work on genome sequencing of peanut, the Shandong Peanut Research Institute (SPRI) and ICRISAT have signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MoA) to jointly set up a biotechnology lab.

“We are starting a new era of strong collaboration between ICRISAT and SPRI,” said Dr Li Gui Zhu, Director General of Shandong Peanut Research Institute (SPRI) after signing the MoA for the joint biotechnology laboratory in Qingdao, China. Shandong is the largest peanut growing province in China and SPRI is the lead peanut research institute of Shandong Province.

Dr Rajeev Varshney, who signed this agreement on behalf of ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar, said, “We will do our best to accelerate biotechnology research including genomics, genetic engineering in the peanut breeding program at SPRI.”

Dr Jian Cheng Zhang, Deputy Director General of SPRI expressed the organization’s interest in exchange of scientists between ICRISAT and SPRI as a part of the MoA signed as well as the MoU signed earlier between ICRISAT and SAAS.

Dr Mei Yuan, Senior Scientist, on behalf of SAAS and SPRI, expressed their gratitude to ICRISAT leadership and requested for more collaboration.

ICRISAT’s association with SPRI and SAAS started in December 2013. Although ICRISAT is already working on genome sequencing of AA genome with SPRI, Oil Crops Research Institute of Guangdong Academy of Agricultural Sciences, Shofine Seed Company and other partners, the SPRI-ICRISAT Joint Biotechnology Laboratory will accelerate the collaborative work between the two organizations.

The MoA was signed in the presence of Dr Jianhua Zhu (Director), Dr Ms Jianghui Wang (Deputy Director), Mr Xiao Liu (Chief of Science and Research Management) of SAAS, Dr Jian Cheng Zhang, Deputy Director General of SPRI and other senior officials from SPRI and SAAS. At the event, the International Cooperation Department of Shandong Academy of Agricultural Sciences (SAAS) honored Dr Rajeev Varshney with the Foreign High-End Expert Fellowship and SPRI named him their ‘International Advisor’.

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Peter Carberry appointed DDG-Research, ICRISAT

Dr Peter Carberry, an Australian national, has been appointed as Deputy Director General-Research, ICRISAT, and will join on 5 January 2015.

Dr Carberry is currently Chief Research Scientist and Partnership Leader (CSIRO-DFAT Africa Food Security Initiative), Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), Australia. He received a PhD in Agriculture from the University of Sydney in 1987.

His disciplinary expertise is in crop physiology and in the development and application of systems models – he is a key developer of the Agricultural Production Systems Simulator (APSIM) cropping systems model. He has led major RDE projects aimed at increasing the participation of farmers and advisers in research and in development projects in south Asia and Africa.

Peter started his career as a Research Scholar at ICRISAT-India in 1982. Over the years he has held positions of Theme Leader, Economic & Environmental Performance of Australian Agriculture, CSIRO Agricultural Sustainability Initiative (2006-2009); Deputy Director, Agri-Industry & International Relationships (2009-2013), and Theme Leader, Partnering for International Food and Fibre Security, CSIRO Sustainable Agriculture Flagship (2009-2014).

His major achievements include changing industry farming practice in Australian cropping systems through his work on simulation.

His work has also had a major effect on how systems research is practiced – by pioneering a Participatory Action Research approach that is being adopted nationally and internationally by system researchers.

Dr Carberry has held several important scientific positions, including Board Director of the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology (2006-10); President, Australian Society of Agronomy (2003-04); Grains Research & Development Corporation, Senior Fellowship 2007; Board Member, International Crop Science Congress (2004); Associate Editor, Food Security journal (2014-present); and is on the Editorial Board of the Journal of Integrative Agriculture (2013-present).

Dr Carberry has received the Australian Medal of Agricultural Science from the Ag Institute, Australia in 2013, the Officier de l’Ordre National du Burkina Faso from the Government of Burkina Faso in 2012, and is an Elected Fellow of the Australian Academy of Technological Sciences and Engineering, and the Australian Institute of Agricultural Science and Technology.

He has 87 journal papers, 29 book chapters, four guest editorships, and has contributed to over a hundred conference papers, newsletters and other publications.

We welcome Dr Carberry and his wife, Ms Anne Carberry, to the ICRISAT family and wish them all success.

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