24 Sep 2015
No. 1694




Malawi’s young farmers sing out loud to support Global Goals

Young farmers in Malawi dance to the Happy song. Photos: A Paul-Bossuet, ICRISAT

On 25 September, world leaders will commit to the Global Goals for sustainable development including ending extreme poverty, fighting inequality and fixing climate change. Malawi’s young farmers sing out loud to show farming can be one way to do this. Their song Kondwa was inspired by the song ‘Happy’ by Pharrell Williams.

Malawi young farmers sing out loud: https://youtu.be/LRd4sOQRWMI   Malawi farmers dubbed with Pharrell Williams: https://youtu.be/XwiPxRWbbnw
For the longer video see :  https://youtu.be/GlT79hz_BOI    

‘I’m 21. Look at me. I’m self-reliant, I buy my own clothes, go to the salon for my hair and I’m a farmer.’ Juliette Harawa, is just one of the many young farmers ready to revolutionize rural Malawi. “The big problem is when the young think farming is just subsistence and traditional. It isn’t. With the right means we can turn it into a modern business,” says Juliette.

The World Bank’s most recent data shows Malawi is the poorest in the world. Agriculture employs 80% of the people but is crippled by a reliance on the single erratic rainy season, droughts and poor soil fertility. There is limited rural infrastructure, low diversification, and poor access to credit, quality seeds and markets.  

The stifled potential of youth in the agricultural sector is hindering Malawi’s potential to fight back. In Malawi, 2 out of 3 people are under 25, yet they face serious underemployment and unemployment. Young farmers want change and can show how farming is the future when conditions are right, for example, access to modern tools, quality seeds, training and capital. We asked young farmers in Mchinji in central Malawi to share their views, stories and demands at a workshop. From this animated workshop came their catchy kondwa (happy) tune.

Studies show that sustained agricultural growth is 2-4 times more effective in reducing poverty than any other sector. Mr Peter Mutharika, President of Malawi, wants young people to drive this growth. Plans are being made for training centers to improve skills and focus on agroindustries and value addition. Every village in Malawi boasts of young farmers desperate for these changes to become tangible.

ICRISAT is committed to the Global Goals and has been working with farmers in the drylands over the last 40 years to ensure our research has a positive impact on smallholder farmers. Access to drought and pest resistant seeds, innovative water and soil conservation, faminebeating farming, agribusiness, better nutrition and women empowerment are just some of the results.

Malawi young farmers sing out loud: https://youtu.be/LRd4sOQRWMI
Dubbed with Pharrell Williams song: https://youtu.be/XwiPxRWbbnw

ICRISAT’s recent work in Malawi

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Governing Board focuses on partnerships that accrue benefits to smallholder farmers

Mr Demba Camara, Second Counsellor, Embassy of Senegal in India and Mr El hadji Ibou BOYE, Ambassador of Senegal in India, interacting with Dr Chandra Madramootoo, Board Chair, ICRISAT. Photos: ICRISAT

Partnerships, especially to further the adoption of scientific advancements, were the recurring theme at ICRISAT’s 73rd Governing Board meeting. Appropriate partnerships with the private industry were high on the agenda which included partnering with companies for their Corporate Social Responsibility. ICRISAT has committed to put in more efforts to engage strategically in areas where it can benefit the smallholder farmer.

Developing priorities for collaborations between India and Africa

Preparing for the India-Africa Forum Summit 2015 to be held in October this year, representatives from African Embassies and the Indian government met with ICRISAT Board members and management. Some key messages from the African delegates included

West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF/WECARD)

Dr Paco Sereme, Executive Director of The West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development, (CORAF/WECARD) and Board Member, ICRISAT, detailed the approach CORAF is taking. He noted that there is a renewed interest in agriculture.

ICRISAT Board Members with a partner from Africa.


Senegal is an agriculture-based economy. Our first challenge is to produce more to be able to feed our country. We also want to grow and produce more in key export sectors. To improve our productivity we focus on three areas: water control; modernize rural areas (mechanization); and source quality inputs like certified seeds and fertilizers. Our head of state was very clear that we are keen to look for opportunities for contributions and collaborations with India. We are also keen to know how to capitalize more on ICRISAT’s technology and knowledge.


Climate change is real and it has taken time for people to realize this in Zimbabwe. Our wet season comes later now and is shorter. We need varieties now that not only have good yields but also survive with the short rains and mature quicker. Our starting point is acquiring seeds of the best varieties. The research in maize is good but the research efforts put into small grains like sorghum and millet is very small and there is a need to do more on this.

We also need more on soil quality/protection, along with irrigation development. Some areas receive a fair amount of rain but we don’t have the infrastructure to utilize this water. There is also the absence of a legal framework and we need assistance to exchange genetic material.

Other needs are animal health and farm mechanization. We need to attract youth to agriculture who are currently moving to the urban areas. To do this we need to modernize agriculture and make it viable.


Kenya will not meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) and we cannot feed our people. However a lot is happening on the ground including initiatives by ICRISAT. Through our partnerships in India we are able to get training for our agricultural officers in India.

We receive a lot of rain but don’t capture it. Production is still through traditional farming methods and these are not sustainable anymore. Most farmers are smallholders and don’t have the right tools. The future partnerships with organizations like ICRISAT and countries like India will be important.

Dr Bergvinson with a partner from Africa. Photo: ICRISAT
Delegates from various African embassies at the session. Photo: ICRISAT


About 80% of our GDP is derived from agriculture, and hence, our government is very committed to this sector. We have plans for sustainable land and water management. This is critical to cope with our erratic rains and poor soil quality. We are keen to partner for major developments in our agriculture sector.


Agriculture is 18-20% of GDP of Zambia. There is a big shift now to agriculture. Only 14% of the land that could be used for agriculture is currently being used. This provides good potential for growth. To achieve this some focus areas for investment will be irrigation, further research for agricultural development and training.


South-south collaborations are important for our agricultural development. Collaborations already exist and the next step is to foster these collaborations more and to take them to the next level.

India Dr S Ayyappan, Director General, Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) presented an overview of the 2050 strategy which is key to directing the future investments and approaches to agriculture research in India. One of the new approaches includes tracking the agriculture footprint that was not done before. A beginning has been made in the slide (seen alongside). Dr Ayyappan also emphasized that:

  • Tackling hidden hunger and malnutrition are critical. There will be more emphasis on pulses – move from carbohydrates to protein.
  • A one-health approach will be taken – linking soil, plants, animals and people.
  • Moving beyond technology is important – from mechanization in the 1960s, Green Revolution in the 1970s, nano and biotechnology in the 2000s to agrirobotics in the future – because it is difficult to attract labor to work on farms.
  • Globally we have an aging population but in India the population is younger, so our emphasis and solutions will need to be different.
  • The image of farming needs to be tackled too. For example, some people won’t give their daughters in marriage to someone who is a farmer. We are starting a campaign “My village, My pride”. We also need to show that agriculture is more than planting and harvesting and that it involves multiple skills.
  • There are many areas for south-south collaboration, some of which include: education sharing, joint research and sharing of facilities. ICRISAT should play an important role in these south-south collaborations, especially with their headquarters in India and offices throughout Africa.

Dr Bergvinson reiterated ICRISAT’s commitment to southsouth collaborations in multiple areas that included training, mechanization, building agribusiness, land and water management, adapted crop varieties, climate change coping methods, attracting youth to agriculture and approaches to ensure that smallholder farmers benefit.

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DuPont Pioneer–ICRISAT partnership taken to a new level

Dr Rajendra Singh Mahala, Director, Cotton and Millet, Multi-Crop Research Center, DuPont Pioneer, India, with ICRISAT Board Members and senior staff at a pearl millet display counter.

A task force will be set up comprising representatives of DuPont Pioneer and ICRISAT to strategically and more formally plan a future together in the service of smallholder farmers. This was discussed during the visit of the ICRISAT Board members and senior staff to the DuPont Pioneer MultiCrop Research Center in Hyderabad.

Dr Hans Bhardwaj, Senior Research Director, DuPont Pioneer, said, “Both our organizations have the same mission - it is just that we take different approaches to achieve this.” Dr Chandra Madramootoo, Board Chair, ICRISAT, highlighted that the three pillars of DuPont Pioneer, food security, energy and environment are in line with the issues ICRISAT works on. He also noted, “We both have identified the critical role of science and technology, especially crop biotechnology and life sciences, to improve the quality of peoples’ lives.”

Dr Hans R Bhardwaj showing the wide range of collaborations DuPont Pioneer has with ICRISAT over the decades, including being one of the founding members of the Hybrid Parents Research Consortium set up by ICRISAT. Photo: DuPont Pioneer

The DuPont Pioneer-ICRISAT partnership is already very active on sharing germplasm and knowledge and collaborating in research. “I see more opportunities to collaborate through south-south collaborations. We can work together to test material in Africa like the work from the pearl millet breeding program in Zimbabwe that has finished but still has untapped material available. We can work together to develop a marker suite for pearl millet. We are ecosystem partners and DuPont Pioneer can help us develop and deliver sorghum and millet varieties most needed by the smallholder farmer,” said Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT.

Both organizations identified training future breeders, especially from Africa, in the latest technologies and practices as a top priority. This would be done as a 6-month training at DuPont Pioneer.

Sharing ideas to tackle India’s national agricultural priorities

The office of the Prime Minister of India had recently asked ICRISAT to prepare briefs for key areas of agricultural development. ICRISAT engaged partners including a half-day session dedicated to discussions with some key Indian organizations and the Governing Board.

Solutions were presented for India to reach self-sufficiency in pulses to substitute for imports. The specific solutions were estimated to cost `117 billion (US$1.8 million) over the next 10 years. The returns on this investment were estimated:

  • Direct benefits to farmers of `1.29 trillion (US$19.7 million) over 10 years
  • Direct benefits equivalent to 1.2% of national GDP (`10,644 trillion (US$161 trillion) during 2014-15
  • Saving of `3.5 billion (US$53 million) worth of fertilizer urea per annum through soil nitrogen fixation.

Dr Srivalli Krishnan, Development Assistance Specialist, United States Agency for International Development (USAID), India, also added the importance of calculating the amount of carbon sequestration as this is the future and will be a factor others are looking for. Dr PK Joshi, Director for South Asia, International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), commented that we can’t expect the Indian government to support and purchase all crops; hence we need to see how we can stabilize prices. He quoted from an ICRISAT study that showed that pulses respond more to non-price factors such as irrigation, rainfall, etc and not to prices. Also he noted that pulses are not one commodity, so a road map is required for each one.

Building agribusiness in India was the next major topic. The three guiding principles identified are:

  • Harness markets in ways that include the poor;
  • Reinvest gains in innovations that move smallholder farmers along the development pathway;
  • Manage risks that are stumbling blocks for the poor and build their resilience.

Creating Farmer Producer Organizations (FPOs) was seen as one of the solutions requiring more focus. The key advantages of FPOs include:

  • Collective marketing, better bargaining and value addition
  • Access to better technology, better crop quality and quantity
  • Timely availability of inputs at affordable cost
  • Sharing the profits through bonus to farmers
  • Enhancing self-esteem and competitiveness
  • Self-sustaining and inclusive market orientation

Mr Tamal Sarkar, Program Director, Foundation for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME) Clusters, said that from their experience in setting up farmer cooperatives, it is necessary to provide training to farmers and to not only create farmer groups but also link them to new and larger markets.

Natural resources management for sustainable agriculture was the next key topic. Environmental sustainability of agriculture interconnected with livelihood creation was identified as a key approach. The Bhoochetana project facilitated by ICRISAT was presented to highlight a successful model that started with soil and watershed management and later developed components that helped across the whole value chain. Success was based on the innovations being community driven and backed by science.

Presentation by Ms Parvati Krishnan from Coca-Cola Foundation. Photo: ICRISAT

Ms Parvati Krishnan, Program Manager, Coca-Cola Foundation, India, noted, “We are very fortunate to work with ICRISAT. It allows us to add technology and research to the work.” She showed visuals of the very remote villages they work in that have neither power, clean water, nor roads. Through a more holistic approach and careful management of the natural resources they have been able to transform the villages. With ICRISAT’s technical input they have changed the focus of their work from water sustainability to watershed management, which ultimately is more sustainable. She also noted the importance of documenting development projects which she said is not often done in India.”

Dr CP Reddy, Deputy Commissioner, Department of Land Resources, Ministry of Rural Development, GOI, said, “Our Integrated Watershed Management Programme (IWMP) started in 2009 as a result of the recommendations from ICRISAT.” He noted the importance of the approach they take, which included watershed being a multidisciplinary approach in including livelihoods, which was not there originally. “Our livelihoods approach has two components – land-based and landless. Capacity building has also been recognized as critical and has been added. Monitoring and evaluation has also been developed for our IWMP and is now taken further with the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS). We now cover 39 million ha and these projects are at various levels of implementation.”

Digital agriculture was the final area discussed as an approach needed for India to help farmers make the best decisions and enable access to markets.

Mr Adwitiya Mal, Executive Director, EM3 Agriservices, noted that, “Data and digitization has been shown in other industries as critical and transformational. The main question and challenge in agriculture is how this is implemented.

Most of the solutions need smart phones. But in rural India there are only 150 million smart phones. However, it is expected that 750 million smart phones will be available in rural areas in the next three years. So it is just a matter of time to capitalize on this. The trend likely to be followed is that we move from not enough information to too much information.”

Dr David Bergvinson, Director General, ICRISAT, observed that it will be critical as to how we manage big data that will include the responsible use of personal information to empower farmers to become commercially viable by adopting tailored solutions. “With technology we can also converge services to rural areas. Digital agriculture can act as the nervous system for rural development. However, without private sector partnerships we will not have sustainable solutions,” he said.

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Field and lab visits

Pearl millet: Dr SK Gupta, Senior Scientist - Pearl Millet Breeding, ICRISAT, drew the visitors’ attention towards a promising seed parent, ICMA 04999, based on which many hybrids have been released recently for drought prone environments in India. He informed that trait and adaptation specific hybrid parents with high productivity and disease resistance are developed at ICRISAT to meet the requirements of different stakeholders ranging from farmers to consumers. He further mentioned that about 60-70% of the presently cultivated pearl millet hybrids in India are directly or indirectly based on ICRISAT-bred hybrid parents.

Pigeonpea: The super early maturing pigeonpea varieties recently developed by the breeding team was shown by Dr Anupama J Hingane, Special Project Scientist - Pigeonpea Breeding, ICRISAT. This variety matures in 90 days and has good seed size. Short duration pigeonpea varieties have potential to grow in new niches like rice-fallow cropping systems in rainfed hilly areas of India considering its photo- and thermo- insensitivity. These varieties provide an opportunity to increase crop intensity/multiple cropping by growing a postrainy season crop. Since its cultivation does not require any additional inputs and the grains have good market value, its adoption by farmers will be quick.

Groundnut: Explaining about ‘high oleic’ and ‘high oil’ groundnuts, Dr P Janila, Senior Scientist - Groundnut Breeding, said that groundnut lines with ‘high oil’ are in the process of being recommended for release in three states, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh. These lines showed 10-17% higher oil yield and 16-20% higher pod yield over best check. Besides, for the first time in India, ‘high oleic’ groundnut lines were developed by ICRISAT and partners. ‘High oleic’ groundnuts have health benefits to consumers and thus are in high demand in international markets.


Sorghum: Summing up the sorghum improvement program impacts, Dr A Ashok Kumar, Senior Scientist - Sorghum Breeding, ICRISAT, stated that till date a total of 228,000 seed samples were shared with partners and a total of 268 sorghum cultivars were released in 44 countries using ICRISAT-bred materials. He said that the three main thrusts of sorghum research in ICRISAT are improving dual purpose sorghum (grain and fodder); sweet stalk and high biomass sorghum; and sorghum with high grain Zn and Fe concentrations encompassing the two key adaptationsrainy and postrainy seasons. The specific objectives of improving sorghum for rainy season are high yield potential, resistance to shoot fly and tolerance to grain mold. For the postrainy season it includes high yield potential with grain quality, resistance to shoot fly and charcoal rot tolerance. Biofortification (higher Fe and Zn), sorghums with high biomass, high sugar and low lignin content and drought tolerance are crosscutting objectives.


Resilient Dryland Systems experiment plot: Dr Anthony Whitbread, Director, Research Program - Resilient Dryland Systems, ICRISAT, explained how greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) are measured from a range of cropping systems (rice-riceintensified fallows/dryland cereal-legume) with an automated chamber system, which samples eight times per day to determine crop systems with the lowest GHG emissions.


ICRISAT Genebank: Dr HD Upadhyaya, Director Genebank, and Principal Scientist, ICRISAT, explained to the Board that ICRISAT’s entire germplasm collection consisting of over 123,000 accessions, is conserved in the medium-term storage at 4oC and 30% relative humidity following international protocols. He said germplasm in such conditions can be conserved for up to 20 years without affecting its viability. He added that the genebank also conserves most of the germplasm in long-term storage at -20oC where it can be safely conserved for more than 50 years.

Research Program – Markets, Institutions and Policies: A presentation by Dr R Padmaja, Senior Scientist - Gender Research, ICRISAT, dwelt on the Village Dynamics in South Asia micro- and meso-level data that reveals that incomes have risen in villages of India and Bangladesh, but have negatively impacted nutrition of women, men and children. Using two indicators of nutritional status – BMI and Dietary Diversity – the findings from the study using the micro level data suggest that, women and children are negatively impacted by malnutrition. A set of action points were discussed at the end of the presentation.

Center of Excellence in Genomics (CEG): Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director and Director CEG, explained the main objective is to develop genomic tools for crop improvement. ICRISAT has developed thousands of molecular markers and established a range of genotyping platforms. We have unraveled the draft genome sequences of chickpea and pigeonpea and collaborated in decoding the genome of peanut and sequencing of pearl millet genome. Molecular breeding products for drought tolerance in chickpea, leaf rust in groundnut, shoot fly and Striga resistance in sorghum are in advanced stages. Further, the center also promotes adoption of molecular breeding by NARS partners, by offering marker genotyping services on cost-to-cost basis and empowering NARS partners in modern breeding by offering training courses.

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