21 Aug 2015
No. 1689

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Tef: New superfood crop in ICRISAT’s portfolio

Working in a tef field. Photo: K Assefa

Tef (Eragrostis tef), an important crop for both income and nutrition in Ethiopia, has joined the list of ICRISAT’s research crops. Being a minor millet and grown in semi-arid and sub-humid environments, it fits well into ICRISAT’s mandate.

Injera made from tef is a staple dish in Ethiopia. Photo: GA Ayele

Tef is not only gluten-free, but also highly nutritious. It has the highest amount of protein among cereals and has high levels of calcium, phosphorous, iron, copper, barium and thiamine.

Relatively unknown outside the country, Ethiopians are proud of the crop and consider it as their identity. Tef is grown on 3.02 million ha land with more than 6.54 million smallholder farmers producing 4.75 million tons. It is the number one crop in terms of area and ranks second in terms of production in Ethiopia.

The decision to include tef was made by ICRISAT Governing Board during its 72nd meeting held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in April 2015. This was at the request of Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR). As a follow-up, ICRISAT organized a stakeholder consultation meeting recently to identify key constraints and opportunities using the value chain approach.

“It is really exciting to focus on tef which is gaining prominence internationally. The ability of the crop to grow in diverse environments and its nutritional value makes it an extremely important crop in improving the resilience, income and food security especially under climate change. There is a need to improve the profitability of tef cultivation while undertaking genomic and genetic studies that help develop varieties resistant to lodging and other stresses that the crop is facing,” said Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT.

Despite its importance as the most-preferred cereal crop with an annual growth rate of over 11%, production has failed to match the demand. Much of the production increase was due to expansion of area under cultivation, which, with finite land resources, is unsustainable. The meeting identified the continuous use of unsustainable, traditional methods of land preparation and crop management as one of the major challenges impacting productivity and profitability of the crop. A typical tef farmer tills the land at least five times before planting and the general practice of broadcasting the seed makes weeding and other intercultural operations highly labor intensive.

The meeting identified a set of high priority constraints as well as opportunities. Excessive tillage, high seed rate, inefficient and imbalanced use of fertilizers, lodging and shattering, and high pre- and post-harvest losses (up to 40% of the production) have emerged as the major constraints which could be addressed by research in the short term. Breeding for higher yield and improved tolerance to key biotic and abiotic stresses including tolerance to Striga are considered important in the medium term.

Priority areas of interventions were identified to improve production, profitability and sustainability of tef in Ethiopia which will be factored into the country strategy.

At the day-long workshop held on 10 August, presentations were made by Dr Kebebew Assefa, Coordinator, National Tef Improvement Program, EIAR, on the past and current tef research and achievements; and Dr Ayele Gebreamlak Ayetenfisu, Director, Tef and Rice Value Chain, Agricultural Transformation Agency, Ethiopia, on strengthening tef value chain. The meeting was attended by 35 participants.

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Creating a land use map for Mali

Dr Gumma interviewing farmers. Photo: ICRISAT
  Ground survey locations overlaid on satellite imagery.

An extensive ground survey for the creation of a land use map that locates crop domains and natural resource management intervention sites was conducted in southern and western Mali for remote sensing analysis.

Identifying niche areas for sustainable intensification is the main objective of creating such geospatial products at the country level. This map is an important tool for researchers to build a sustainable intensification program in the region. These inputs will be useful in preparing country strategies that focus on sustainable primary productivity.

The ground survey data will also be used for preparation of geospatial products that can help agriculture researchers understand existing cropping pattern, length of growing periods, identify crop domains, prioritize locations and observe land use changes over time.

Sub-Saharan Mali has varied agro-ecosystems from dryland cereals to irrigated rice and tree/shrub-based cropping systems. Satellite mapping of major cropping systems requires verification of crop information on the field. The survey validated that dryland cereals like sorghum and pearl millet are grown extensively along with maize, while cotton is an important commercial crop.

The survey was carried out in project villages of the Africa RISING project. Dr Murali Krishna Gumma, Scientist - Geographic Information System, ICRISAT, was invited to develop the land use map. He along with Dr Birhanu Zemadim, Scientist - Land and Water Management, ICRISAT, and Africa RISING coordinator; and Mr Cedrick Guedessou, Scientific Officer, Land and Water Management program in Bamako, travelled extensively by road from 3-12 August, to select the validation sites. Farmer interviews were conducted to understand the local practices and collect information on cropping intensity and water availability.

Project: Africa Research In Sustainable Intensification for the Next Generation (Africa RISING)

Investor: USAID through International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA)

Partners: World Vegetable Centre (AVRDC); International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI); International Centre for Agro-Forestry (ICRAF); AfriqueVerte (AMASSA); Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR); Association Malienne d’Eveil et de Developpement Durable (AMEDD); Cooperatives of the Mouvement Biologique du Mali (MOBIOM); L’ong-Centre d’Appui a l’ Autopromotion pour le Development-ci-apresaenommee (L’ong-CAAD); Le Groupe de Recherches d’Actions et d’Assistance pour le Development Communautaire (L’ONG-GRAADECOM)

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Technology-aided field design to enhance efficacy of experiments

Getting acquainted with the new software.
Photo: A Rathore, ICRISAT

To improve the efficacy of experiments, various aspects of efficient experimental field design, analysis and data management with the aid of modern statistical software was the focus of a five-day training course that was specially designed for National Agricultural Research System (NARS) partners in Nigeria.

Topics covered included generation and analysis of replicated and non-replicated trials, data cleaning, curation, single site and genotype-environment interaction (GxE) analysis and interpretation. Participants were trained to use GenStat 17th edition and introduced to Breeding Management System of Integrated Breeding Platform.

Participants were oriented on principles of experimental design, such as blocking, randomization, replication and other practical field applications such as field gradient control, controlling border effect and appropriate data recording mechanism using Android-based handheld devices. Participants worked with their own data sets and discussed results with the whole group.

A half-day field visit to experimental fields at Minjibir research station located 45 km north of Kano was organized to understand practical aspects of good experimental design.

The course on Design of Experiments and Statistical Analysis of Multi-Environment Trials (GxE) and Use of GenStat was organized at ICRISAT from 27 to 31 July. The course was attended by 26 participants including NARS scientists, scientific officers, technicians and research scholars from Nigeria. The course was organized by Breeding Informatics Unit, ICRISAT.

ICRISAT staff, Dr Hakeem Ajeigbe, Country Representative and Principal Scientist - Agronomy (Resilient Dryland Systems) and Dr Babu N Motagi, Senior Scientist - Groundnut Breeding (Grain Legumes), explained the nuances of practical aspects of designing field trials. Dr Abhishek Rathore, Senior Scientist-Biometrics and Ms Roma Rani Das, Scientific Officer, were the resource persons from ICRISAT.

Project: Nigeria Sorghum and Groundnut Value Chain

Investor: Federal Government of Nigeria

CGIAR Research Program: Dryland Cereals and Grain Legumes

Partners: Institute for Agricultural Research, Zaria; Centre for Dryland Agriculture-Bayero University, Kano

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Changing eating patterns in rural India

Food consumption as a percentage of total diet of respondents.

A study of the overall diet diversity in rural villages of India, their consumption of processed foods and eating out behavior has revealed a dramatic increase in the consumption of food prepared outside the home – either packaged foods or food prepared on the street or in restaurants. Nearly one third of respondents diets in the group consisted of these types of foods.

The study has nutritionists concerned as eating outside of the home often correlates with lower micronutrient intake – particularly in relation to Vitamin C, calcium and iron.

Eating out behavior results:

As the accompanying graphs reveal, 27% of respondents diets were made up of packaged food or food prepared outside of the home. When eating out behavior was mapped against farm size and caste, outside food consumption increases with farm size and higher caste; with the exception of the highest groups. Based on supporting focus group discussions, this latter finding may be explained by larger farms finding it easier and cheaper to source food from their own farms whilst the higher caste respondents felt that food prepared at home was healthier.

Other factors also contributed to the change in dietary habits. One of the interns participating in the research was Rebecca Chew Min Ting: “We found that generally there was an increase in eating out and packaged foods (in these villages) primarily due to increased incomes. There was increased accessibility as well to packaged and processed food due to improvements in infrastructure such as markets, roads, etc.”

The study was a joint collaboration between ICRISAT and the Tata-Cornell Agriculture and Nutrition Initiative (TCi). The TCi is a long-term research program focusing on linking agriculture, food systems, human nutrition, and poverty in India. Recently, a group of students and graduates from Cornell University, New York participated in a 7 week internship program on the ICRISAT campus which revolved around this study.

The interns studied household and individual dietary diversity with an additional focus on processed foods, eating out behavior and market-level food diversity. A similar pilot test was conducted in the summer of 2014.

The research was undertaken in four villages that are already a part of the ongoing Village Dynamics Studies in South Asia project. The villages of Kinkhed and Kanzara are located in Maharashtra state, while the villages of Dokur and Aurepalle are located in Telangana state. A total of 122 households from these four villages were included in the study.

Dr Prabhu Pingali, Director of TCi, believes the results of the study reveal a lot more needs to be done:  “I think lack of awareness of nutrition is a fundamental problem at all levels. At the top policymaking level, its only now people are recognizing that nutrition is more than having enough food and having the right type of food is as important as the total quantity of food. And once you get down to the household level, I think there’s still a lot of learning to be done on what’s the most nutritious food and what is a balanced diet like and what are the health benefits of micronutrient-rich food.”

Reference: “Minimum Nutrition Dataset for Agriculture: Measuring Individual and Household Dietary Diversity with a Focus on Eating Out Behavior and Market Level Analysis”.   Report submitted to TCi & ICRISAT on 28th July 2015 by Michaela Brown, Rebecca Chew, Dora Heng, Jonathan Lowry and Olivia Obodoagha.


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Two new seminars in the Take 2 series. http://www.icrisat.org/icrisat-take2.htm

Government, corporate and philanthropic partnerships for community development

Ms Alexandra Gartmann,
CEO, Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal, Australia,


Developing a robust farming system in the Mallee district in SE Australia

Dr Harm van Rees,
an Australian consulting agronomist

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New Video: Community development project involving water management

Watch this short video of Mr Aashish Kshetry, Vice President – Supply Chain, Asian Paints, sharing his views on a community development project on water management. Asian Paints is partnering with ICRISAT on this. https://youtu.be/7_6WM8IBh10

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