05 Dec 2014
No. 1652


HOPE project survey in western Kenya
Survey reveals effectiveness of field days

Farmers sampling finger millet products at a national field day in Western Kenya. (File photo).

More than 80% of the farmers who took part in the field days organized by ICRISAT and partners in Western Kenya, successfully applied the knowledge on their farms, a survey has revealed.

Another surprising finding of the survey was that women walked longer distances than men did to attend the finger millet field days. While no male participants travelled farther than 5 km, 32% of female participants travelled more than 5 km to field day sites. Women seemed more willing to take part in field days and were ready to walk longer distances if required.

The Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) project team recently conducted a survey in Kenya to evaluate the effectiveness of field days as communication channels for technology dissemination to finger millet farmers in Western Kenya.

Most women farmers who attended the field days applied seed selection technologies learnt during training. This is attributed to the role women traditionally play in finger millet seed selection and storage.

“Future trainings in finger millet seed selection should focus more on women,” the survey team observed.

On the other hand, a significantly smaller proportion of women than men reported trying out technologies on fertilizer and manure use. This indicates an underlying constraint that limits women more than men in applying fertilizer or constraint has to be overcome for women farmers to substantially increase their finger millet productivity.

Technology uptake was highest for application of row planting method. The field day messages were highly effective in creating farmer awareness in row planting, fertilizer or manure use and use of suitable improved varieties. They were, however, low in creating awareness on disease and weed control; and better postharvest handling and value addition techniques.

Labor for weeding and lack of money to procure fertilizers were highlighted as the two main constraints for improving finger millet production and productivity in the region.

Since 2011, five farmer field days have been held each year in western Kenya to disseminate information on improved finger millet technologies as well as demonstrate their superiority over the traditional practices. More than 1,500 farmers have participated in these events.

The project team, led by Mr Patrick Audi, Socioeconomist at ICRISAT, randomly selected 100 farmer participants of the five finger millet field days held in 2014 (20 farmers from each field day) for the survey and used a semi-structured questionnaire to collect the data. “The farmers’ level of satisfaction with the use of various technologies was highest for row planting (83%), fertilizer use (61%), suitable varieties (26%) and weed control (8%),” he said. Farmers were generally satisfied with the grain yield enhancing attributes of the following:

  • Fertilizer and/or manure use – 3 bags per acre
  • The use of suitable varieties – 1.5 bags per acre
  • Row planting in combination with above – 5 additional bags per acre

The survey report also made the following recommendations:

  • Field day sites be selected closer to farmers for better participation especially by women
  • Financial credit should be made available for fertilizer purchase especially for women farmers
  • Future project activities should encourage farmers to adopt row planting, use of fertilizer and manure, use of suitable varieties and weed control
  • Mechanical row planting and weeding technology be promoted to reduce demand for labor
  • Linking Community-based Seed Production (CBSP) to agro-vets will improve and sustain use of high quality seed of improved finger millet varieties.
  • More research inputs to identify/develop varieties resistance to blast disease.

In western Kenya, the objective of the HOPE project, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, is to improve productivity of finger millet and household incomes by enabling farmers to adopt improved varieties and associated agronomic practices and to link the producers to both input and product markets. This activity was undertaken as part of the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Cereals.

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Sorghum hybrid parents’ research consortium:
India success story to be replicated in ESA

Representatives of partner organizations with ICRISAT senior staff.

Following the success of the three Hybrid Parents Research Consortiums (HPRCs) set up by ICRISAT in India namely – sorghum, pearl millet and pigeonpea – a similar success story is now set to be created in Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) region.

Addressing the participants at a meeting convened to kick-start the formation of a sorghum HPRC in ESA ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar cited ICRISAT’s successful experience in India and said the same could be replicated in ESA. Dr Dar observed, “In India 50% of the 18 million acres under sorghum is covered by hybrids and of the 50 hybrids released, 35 have parents originating from ICRISAT. This experience can be replicated in ESA.” He said that the idea of the HPRC can enhance the welfare of the small-scale farmers.

Dr Dar pointed out that although maize plays a major role as a food crop in ESA, the advantages of sorghum in terms of water use efficiency and high level of nutrients like iron and zinc makes it a smarter crop.

“Synergetic partnership efforts can help small farmers to be resilient, productive and prosperous. The partnership approach can help the seed industry supply higher performing hybrids to smallholder farmers,” said Dr Dar while thanking Dr Evans Sikinyi, CEO, Seed Traders Association of Kenya (STAK), for organizing the meeting and the stakeholders present for their effort in sorghum improvement in the region.

Dr Sikinyi said that Kenya has an active seed system with maize as the main crop. However, with the devastation caused by Maize Lethal Necrotic Disease, sorghum and millets have emerged as the key alternative food crops.

Prof. Kaburu M’Ribu Chief Executive, Meru County Agricultural Committee pointed out that sorghum should not be classified among the marginal group as it plays a major role in the diets of many in Kenya. Dr Eric Manyasa, Scientist - Cereals Breeding (Dryland Cereals) ICRISAT, gave a summary of the sorghum hybrid research work in ESA that started in the 1980s with the introduction of hybrids and hybrid parents for evaluation. The work resulted in the release of several hybrids starting with one in Sudan in 1983 up to the recent releases of two in Tanzania and one in Zimbabwe in 2013. The slow uptake of sorghum hybrids in the region has largely been attributed to poor seed systems and a low sorghum grain demand due to limited end uses. However with the growing population, climate change and emerging value chains eg brewing, the demand for sorghum grain is bound to increase. This calls for increased production and productivity; and sorghum hybrids will play a major role to meet this demand.

ICRISAT-ESA Regional Director, Dr Moses Siambi noted that the meeting had brought together a well-balanced team that needs to work together to move the sorghum sub-sector to higher levels.

Taking the participants through the steps in formation of a sorghum hybrid parents’ consortium, ICRISAT Deputy Director General-Research, Dr CLL Gowda stated that so far three consortiums have been formed in India namely sorghum (2000), pearl millet (2000) and pigeonpea (2003).

Dr Gowda explained that:

  • Funds from the consortium augment ICRISAT core resources for hybrid parents’ research
  • Consortium partners will have access to breeding materials developed at ICRISAT
  • No preferential status for any consortium partner
  • Public sector institutions have access to all materials
  • A road map was developed for the formation of the consortium
  • A committee will work on modalities of fees to be charged, number of lines to be provided, quantity of seed, governance structure, etc. The committee members will be Moses Siambi and Eric Manyasa (ICRISAT), Captain James Karanja (Fressco Seed), Sammeer Ambaykar (EA Seeds), Taylor Mburu (Africa Harvest) and Evans Sikinyi (STAK).
  • Meeting of interested companies to deliberate and ratify the draft above will be held on 15 Jan 2015
  • Signing and launch of the consortium to be done late Feb 2015, to coincide with the Hybrid Parents’ Field  day at ICRISAT-Kiboko field station.

The meeting was co-convened by STAK and ICRISAT-Kenya and chaired by Dr Stefania Grando, Research Program Director, Dryland Cereals. In attendance were eight regional and multinational seed companies and seven small and medium scale seed companies operating in Kenya, universities, county governments’ extension heads, sorghum grain marketers and processors.

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Groundnut in Ghana and Nigeria
Technology dissemination and seed ecosystem for enhancing productivity

Working group during the Nigeria Planning workshop
Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

Improved groundnut varieties that are high-yielding, disease-resistant and farmer as well as marketpreferred will be promoted on a large scale to enhance the production and productivity of the crop in Ghana and Nigeria.

“In Nigeria groundnut is considered as cash, food, fodder and industrial crop,” said Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe, ICRISAT Country Representative, Nigeria, as he gave an overview of the sector to participants of the planning workshop.

The West and Central Africa (WCA) region accounts for more than 70% of the groundnut production in Africa. Ghana, Mali and Nigeria are among the main groundnut producing countries in the region. The crop also plays a crucial economic role in the lives of smallholder farmers as it is a major cash crop.

Recently separate planning workshops for Ghana and Nigeria were held under the ‘Increasing Groundnut Productivity of Smallholder Farmers in Ghana, Mali and Nigeria’ project in Accra, Ghana.

“The goal of the project is to increase groundnut productivity and production of smallholder farmers in Ghana, Mali and Nigeria, thereby improve their income, nutrition and health,” said Dr Hailemichael Desmae, Groundnut Breeder, ICRISAT, and Leader of the project.

With financial support from the USAID Feed the Future, the first year work plan is being developed for a Technology Dissemination Scale-up initiative in three countries (Mali, Nigeria and Ghana). The project is aimed at enhancing the technology dissemination efforts by reaching more smallholder farmers with large-scale diffusion strategies for larger impacts mainly in USAID Feed the Future target areas.

Diffusion of technologies for aflatoxin management will be an important focus of the project activities and enhanced seed system will be critical for the success of the technology diffusion efforts.

The project stakeholders also recognized the importance of engaging women and youth in the project activities and to sustainably increase the role of groundnut in reducing poverty, increasing incomes and enhancing nutrition.

Capacity building at various levels will be important focus to enhance sustainability of the project gains. The participants also suggested that additional households be reached through various means including on-farm demonstration, field days, radio, video and other media campaigns. The outcomes of the project will contribute to the achievement of the two Feed the Future goals: ‘Reduce the prevalence of poverty and Reduce the prevalence of stunting in children under 5 years old’ in the target areas. The project will focus on three important areas: diffusion of improved varieties with Integrated Crop Management (ICM), improved seed systems and capacity building. In partnership with national research institutes, government extension offices, NGOs, private sector and community based organizations in the target areas, ICRISAT will implement project activities using the organizational structure and implementation networks of each partner on the ground.

Building the seed ecosystem

Participants also agreed to produce over 8,500 tons of certified seed of improved varieties to benefit over 540,000 households in the three countries.

“For a breeder, it is important to have material and we look for opportunities to engage with seed companies and private sector. We look for opportunities to promote technologies to make the groundnut seed technologies grow out and that farmers have access to markets and make money from their production” said Nicholas Dewar, a plant breeder from The Savanna Agricultural Research Institute (SARI), Tamale, Ghana.

“I have been producing groundnut seed for the last three years. We were able to get breeder seed for five varieties that are doing well. But we expect quality seeds to be up scaled at the farmers’ fields as the demand is very high where we are operating,” said Mr Zackariah Iddrisu, Heritage Seeds, a private seed production firm based in Tamale.

The working group on dissemination during the Nigeria Groundnut project planning meeting said: “We need to create awareness and build partnerships beyond our traditional partners to ensure scaling-up of improved production and processing technologies. More emphasis needs to be placed on sustainable seed production and distribution (systems) using both formal and informal sectors.”

“We now have a sense of direction to where this project wants to go. ICRISAT has a strong relationship with institutes in Ghana and in Nigeria. As we develop the Tropical Legumes III project, we look forward to synergies,” said Dr George Okwach, representing Dr Ramadjita Tabo, ICRISAT Director, West and Central Africa.

The workshops were attended by Dr H Desmae, Dr Okwach and Ms Agathe Diama from ICRISAT, Drs Laura Schreeg, Hailu Tefera and Louise Sperling from USAID; government extension offices, national agricultural research institutes, NGOs and private seed companies from the two countries. Dr Ajeigbe, ICRISAT Country Representative, Nigeria, and Dr Babu Motagi, Groundnut Breeder, ICRISAT, joined the workshop in Nigeria.

The workshops were organized with support from the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) and ICRISAT (Mali and Nigeria). Dr Adom Baisie Ghartey, Executive Director, Ghartey Associates Ltd. facilitated both planning workshop discussions.

Participants of the planning workshop in Ghana. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

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Exploring partnership opportunities in Mali

During the meeting at ICRISAT. Photo: A Diama, ICRISAT

As part of an exploratory mission and to meet keys stakeholders of agricultural sector development in Mali, Mr Jonathan Boudreau (Project Manager) at ‘La Financière agricole du Québec’ and Mr Francois Bussières, (Credit Advisor) at ‘Desjardins Développement international’ visited ICRISAT Mali recently. “The objective of the visit is to update our knowledge of the Malian context with regards to agricultural and credit system and to obtain relevant information on financing and crop insurance systems. Therefore it is an exploratory mission which aims to identify and assess institutions needs and capacities in 3 regions of Mali (Koulikoro, Ségou and Sikasso), seek information on agricultural sector and supports available to producers in term of credit system. And the purpose of our meeting with ICRISAT scientists is to get information on seeds productions aspects and adoption level of agricultural practices,” said Jonathan Boudreau and François Bussières.

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Yilma Kebede reviews HOPE project activities in Mali

Drs Stefania Grando (extreme right) and Yilma Kebede (2nd from right) at a farmer’s sorghum field at Siby, Mali. Photo: ICRISAT

It is important to pro-actively anticipate future needs, and begin to address them. But in doing so, we must not forget what is the most urgent and immediate need of the farmer, Dr Yilma Kebede, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said as he interacted with ICRISAT scientists in Mali.

Dr Kebede reviewed the activities carried out by scientists from ICRISAT and the Institut d'Economie Rurale (IER), Mali, under the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) of sorghum and millets project.

Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Director-West and Central Africa, ICRISAT, briefed Dr Kebede on the progress of the project and urged for greater collaboration between ICRISAT and the Foundation to address the needs of the poor subsistence farmers of sub-Saharan Africa. In her statement, Dr Stefania Grando, Research Program Director-Dryland Cereals, ICRISAT, gave an update on the efforts being made by ICRISAT to strengthen its capacity in Africa with respect to dryland cereals research.

Dr Kebede also met Dr. Moussa Traoré, the Interim Director General of IER. IER is the lead national research institution in Mali, which is also one of the key partners in HOPE project. He toured the research fields and demonstration plots at ICRISAT’s Samanko station, and IER’s Sotuba, Kolombada, Cinzana stations.

At IER’s Cinzana Station, Dr George Okwach, HOPE Project Coordinator, presented a summary of points and questions raised by Dr Kebede during his field visits. Dr Grando then invited IER scientists to express their views on how to better manage or improve the effectiveness of the ICRISAT-IER collaboration.

IER scientists raised issues relating to increased transparency in relation to budgetary allocation to the national programs, need for greater respect for national scientists by ICRISAT scientists, and speedy disbursement of agreed funds by ICRISAT.

In his remarks, the Cinzana Station Director, Dr Mamadou Touré, made a plea for greater support for the station, especially in relation to irrigation capacity for off-season seed production, as well as seed storage facilities. Dr Tom Hash, Principal Scientist - Breeding (Dryland Cereals) at ICRISATSadore station in Niamey, stressed on the need to plan for enhanced facilities at Cinzana, to support the good work that IER scientists at the station were doing in collaboration with ICRISAT.

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Farmer organizations help adoption of improved varieties

Dr Eva Weltzien-Rattunde, Principal Scientist, ICRISAT,
presenting tablets to one of the workshop participants. Photo: ICRISAT

The ‘Sustaining Farmer-Managed Seed Initiatives for Sorghum and Pearl Millet in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso’ project has demonstrated that seed production and commercialization managed by farmer organizations is possible, and can improve the adoption of improved varieties and thus impact on development.

A case study of the McKnight Foundation funded project (Phases 1 and 2) concluded that the project was very relevant because it provided innovative solutions to key problems of the agricultural, food and seed systems of the region.

The objective of the case study was to understand how the funding and support provided to seed systems by the McKnight Foundation have specifically contributed to capacity building of the organizations involved and to identify lessons for the strategic direction of the program.

The study recommended the following: ‘In the seed chain, linkages where farmer organizations directly depend on other actors should be improved. Three critical junctions were identified: 1) provisioning of source seed, 2) seed certification, and 3) coordination of complementary dissemination pathways. Not only knowledge and capacity building but also a material resource base and risk-reducing measures may be necessary to make farmer-managed seed production more sustainable. To address the seed sector as a whole, conducting a policy and a stakeholder analysis is suggested. Such analysis would identify entry points for a science-policy dialogue and establish multi-stakeholder platforms, facilitating the development of shared visions and coordinated action toward the integrated development of more sustainable, equitable, and resilient seed systems in the three countries.’

"In order to increase the availability of seed, production plots were established in different localities of Mali by farmers. From year to year, there is an increase in the amount of hybrid seeds and open pollinated varieties produced by farmers,” summarized Dr Abdoulaye Gaoussou Diallo from the Institut d’Economie Rurale (IER), Mali.

During the past year the project has improved the marketing system through the development of promotional tools. “There is an increase in the number of demonstration plots, diversification of sales points, accountability of local actors in the project management of the seed production process, collection and diffusion of seed, a capacity building of seed management committees at the local level,” said Daouda Traoré, President of ULPC-Dioïla, a union of 43 cooperatives in 7 communes of Dioïla district with 1,569 producer members (1253 men and 316 women).

In Burkina Faso, with the efforts of the project, the seed activities of UGCPA have experienced considerable growth, positioning the farmers’ organization as a leader in seed production sector in this country,” said Nonyeza Bonzi, President of UGCPA in Dedougou, Boucle de Mouhoun in Burkina Faso.

“For the third phase of the McKnight Foundation seed project we envision contributing to improved sustainability of farmers’ seed businesses, in order to benefit of the small-holder farmers with improved seed of sorghum and associated legumes,” concludes Dr Hamado Tapsoba, McKnight Foundation. Dr Ramadjita Tabo, ICRISAT Director West and Central Africa chaired the opening session of the workshop and Dr Eva Weltzien facilitated the sessions. The case study was conducted by consultants Anja Christinck, Marthe Diarra and Gottfried Horneber.

The workshop held at ICRISAT-Mali had participants from four farmer organizations, national research programs on sorghum and legume crops from Mali and Burkina Faso, the regional Representative of the McKnight Foundation in West and Central Africa and ICRISAT scientists working on sorghum and groundnut.

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Innovative machines for better crop-livestock farming

Mr A Bayoko testing the mobile chopping machine. Photo: S Jarial, ICRISAT

Mobile choppers and grinders for processing fodder were the main attraction at a week-long training program organized by ICRISAT West and Central Africa along with Centre for Dryland Agriculture, Bayero University at Kano, Nigeria. These machines, which reduce the drudgery of farmers and facilitate efficient use and storage of crop residue, caught the interest of the participants.

Crop-residue has multiple uses. It can be used as livestock feed, mulch, fuel, and for thatching houses. However, crop residue is often treated as trash. In places like Katsina-Kano (in Nigeria), Maradi (Niger) and Sikasso (Mali), crop residues are usually burnt. Moreover green and dry fodder is offered in an inefficient way to cattle, leading to wastage and high costs. In addition, crop residue occupies a lot of storage space and attracts rodents. There is also the problem of livestock selectively eating the dry leaves of sorghum, pearl millet and maize, leaving the stems and other weeds.

"I did not know that green fodder can also be chopped using a machine. We have seen it here for the first time! Even women farmers can use this machine as it is easy and mobile. It can be easily pulled using a donkey in our context here. Ms Victoria, trainee from National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison services."

Mr A Bayoko testing the mobile chopping machine. Photo: S Jarial, ICRISAT

All the above problems can be overcome with the help of a chopper machine, which can cut both green and dry fodder into small pieces including stems and weeds, which can be easily consumed by animals. Apart from that, feed grinders can grind dry weeds such as Sida codafolia and thick-stemmed stovers, which are otherwise unused, so as to make blocks for feeding livestock.

At a recently held training program, stakeholders were trained in use of food-feed crop combinations so as to address seasonality, producing better quality and more quantity of grain and fodder, improving soil fertility and efficient use of locally available materials as livestock feed for increase in income of stakeholders.

"ICRISAT has sent us a similar chopper machine. Upon return we will soon start to build awareness and train farmers of 21 farmer organizations of Koutiala involved in crop-livestock activities to cut the green and dry fodder for increasing productivity and reducing wastage. Mr Arouna Bayoko and Mr Ousmane Dembele of NGO AMEDD ."

The key take-home messages of the participants were:

  • Demand for poultry products is fairly inelastic, and local production should be enhanced;
  • Sorghum should be promoted as a substitute for maize because of its availability, accessibility and reduced cost during some periods of the year;
  • Crop residue storage and processing should be encouraged to address seasonality issues of feeds;
  • Mobile choppers and grinders should be used to reduce drudgery and for efficient utilization of crop residue and forage;
  • Research findings should be disseminated through innovation platform;
  • Need for trainings of extension agents and encouraging women to engage in extension activities in crop-livestock activities.  

About 41 participants (11 women, 30 men) from five countries representing six universities from Benin, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso and Nigeria; national and international institutes like – Institute for Agricultural Research, International Livestock Research Institute, Mercy Corps International, non-governmental organization – AMEDD Mali, SHARE-USAID Sokoto, Women Farmers Advancement Network; public departments like Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, Kano State Agricultural and Rural Development Authority and National Agricultural Extension Research and Liaison Services; and private farms like Rahama Integrated Farms, Kano, participated and contributed to the training.

"I liked the grinder machine which grinds pods, straw, stover and salt into a fine powder, which can be made into blocks to feed animals. Pierre Gbènoukpo Tovihoudji, a trainee, from University of Parakou, Benin."

"In this training we learnt formulas for poultry feeding with sorghum. Normally, farmers feed maize. We never knew sorghum is a cheap substitute with comparable quality. Interestingly, poultry manure is equally important as it replenishes the soil. Trainee from Women Farmers Advancement Network".

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Integrating communications into research

Incorporating communications as an integral part of research projects continued to be recognized as a need – both as a component of a broader uptake strategy to achieve adoption of technologies with targeted audiences, as well as for broader benefits to build awareness of the issues and lessons learnt. This was the key message emerging from the review and brainstorming session where ICRISAT staff involved in communications interacted with a panel of scientists from different programs to share both challenges and opportunities for integrating science and communications.

Communications staff from headquarters, African locations, and from the CGIAR Research Programs led by ICRISAT came together for three days to share their work and approaches, look for alignments, brainstorm new ideas and set some priorities. Scientists who provided feedback included Drs Stefania Grando, Noel Ellis, Anthony Whitbread, HC Sharma, and Mr Girish Chander.

Some initiatives prioritized for 2015 included starting ‘Science Updates’ and ‘Partners’ Voices’ columns for the ICRISAT website. Opportunities were identified to maximize the communications of good stories and information through more sharing and use of all communications channels. Aligning, building and managing contacts lists will be important along with further use of social media, the new ICRISAT website, and continued developments of EXPLOREit.

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Philippine agriculture sector needs ‘radical reshaping’

Mr A Bayoko testing the mobile chopping machine. Photo: S Jarial, ICRISAT

Philippine agriculture is confronted with several daunting and overwhelming challenges, and while the causes are many, the underlying resolve is clear: Under the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) platform, we must help radically reshape Philippine agriculture to become inclusive, science-based, resilient and market-oriented in order to address the key challenges hampering its growth, ICRISAT Director General, Dr William D Dar said.

Dr Dar, while making the keynote presentation at the 2nd National Congress of the Philippine Association of Agriculturists, Inc. urged the country’s government to implement market-oriented and holistic reforms in the agriculture sector to make the Philippines competitive in the full integration of Southeast Asian economies in 2015. His address focused on ‘Reenergizing Philippine agriculture for the ASEAN economic integration’.

Explaining how Philippine agriculture can be competitive, inclusive, science-based, resilient and market-oriented under the AEC regime, Dr Dar said areas that need special focus include:

  • Balance between self-sufficiency in rice production and crop diversification for exports
  • Resource management inclusive of land use plan, soil and commodity mapping, and water management
  • Inclusive Market-Oriented Development
  • Developing climate-smart agriculture
  • GAP standards, sanitary and phyto-sanitary standards, and HACCP compliance
  • Innovative use of ICT in knowledge and information sharing
  • Increase public investment to attract private sector participation
  • Enhanced role of the youth in agriculture and economic integration
  • Championing appropriate policies

The Director General also stressed that smallholder farmers need to increase their capacities and become active players in the supply chain, as larger agrobusiness continues to dominate this domain.

“Given the right enabling conditions and targeted support, the often-neglected smallholder farmers in the Philippines can transform the rural landscape and unleash a new and sustainable agricultural revolution,” Dr Dar added.

Under the AEC, meeting the growing concern for food security through regional trade in agricultural products and cross country cooperation to raise productivity must be the top priority, Dr Dar mentioned. “Feeding the hungry is not a need, but a moral imperative,” he concluded.

The Congress was held on 26 November in Tagaytay City, Philippines.

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Australian horticulture sector to collaborate with ICRISAT in genomics research

Senior ICRISAT staff and officials of the HIA at the MoU signing. Photo: PS Rao, ICRISAT

The Horticulture Innovation Australia (HIA) and ICRISAT, have joined hands to undertake joint research and development (R&D) in plant genomics. This will allow researchers from ICRISAT and Australian agencies to work in frontier areas of genomic sciences. The collaboration will also open up opportunities for young students to get overseas exposure and experience. “HIA is excited about this collaboration with ICRISAT in the area of modern genome science including sequencing, genotyping and functional genomics, that will help advance the horticulture industry in Australia and worldwide,” Mr David Cliffe, Director, HIA, said.

“India is advanced in its science in a number of crops. We are keen on going overseas for the R&D facilities and expertise not available in Australia. We see a strategic link in the genomics research area to start with. How we can do genomics for breeders/breeding is a challenge and we can work together on taking this from the lab,” Mr Cliffe added.

A Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between HIA and ICRISAT at the ICRISAT headquarters on 2 December. Both ICRISAT and HIA have also committed to explore other areas of research in a number of horticultural crops. “We are excited that through this collaboration with HIA, ICRISAT and Australia will be doing not only high-quality but also high-impact research that is expected to reach and benefit millions of farmers and consumers globally,” said Dr Dar of the agreement.

Dr Rajeev Varshney, Director of ICRISAT’s Center of Excellence in Genomics and the Research Program on Grain Legumes said: “We have completed the genome sequencing of reference genomes of leading legume crops such as chickpea and pigeonpea, having sequenced the genomes of more than 1,000 lines of these legumes. We are very keen to work with HIA to accelerate their efforts in the area of genome sequencing and analysis.”

Dr Alok Kumar from HIA, who negotiated for the research partnership between ICRISAT and HIA, stated that the application of genomic tools has tremendous potential in reducing the breeding cycle in horticultural crops for the benefit of the Australian industries.

Dr David Moore, General Manager, HIA and several researchers from the Queensland Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; the University of Queensland; and the Queensland University of Agriculture & Technology (QUT) are visiting India as part of the HIA-led delegation.

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Readers’ comments

I hope the soil nutrient mapping would be done for all soils (including alfisols, vertisols, inceptisols, entisols, and aridisols) and for all agro-climatic conditions in the country (arid, dry semi-arid, wet semi-arid, dry sub-humid, wet sub-humid, and per humid). – Mr Maruthi Sankar

It is important to popularize foods from millet, they are truly health foods, and we should encourage our collaborators to join hands in the awareness campaign. – Mr DS Bisht, ex-ICRISAT

I am quite impressed with the new focus of ICRISAT on creating a demand pull for smart foods. I observed that the millet crops including finger millet and foxtail millet could tolerate/withstand cyclones in 2013 and 2014. These millet crops are true game changers in the event of climate change. I appreciate the efforts of ICRISAT. Funding of governments particularly in developing countries like India for R&D in millets is extremely low compared to other crops and is primarily directed towards developing the supply system. The funding available for supporting initiatives to create a demand-side pull is meagre. It is high time to sensitize the issue.
Dr P Gurumurthy, Senior Scientist, DAATT Centre, Vizianagaram

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