Posts Tagged ‘ICRISAT’


An Interview with Tilahun Amede: Improving Water Resource Management in the Nile Basin

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By Carol Dreibelbis

In October 2012, Nourishing the Planet’s Carol Dreibelbis spoke with Tilahun Amede of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). ICRISAT aims to empower people living in drylands around the world to overcome poverty, hunger, and a degraded environment through better agriculture.

Tilahun Amede, systems agronomist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. (Photo credit: ILRI/Ewen Le Borgne)

For the past several years, Dr. Amede has been involved in research-for-development projects on rainwater management strategies in the Nile River Basin. He has worked for the International Water Management Institute and the International Livestock Research Institute to lead the CGIAR Challenge Programme on Water & Food’s Basin Development Challenge for the Nile.

Dr. Amede has also worked as a senior research fellow at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture and as an assistant professor at Hawassa University in Ethiopia. He has been making a valuable contribution to the fields of agronomy and water management in Africa for over 20 years, and has published more than 40 papers in peer reviewed journals.

What is a “Basin Development Challenge,” and what makes these research programs effective?

Each Basin Development Challenge (BDC) works at the river-basin level to identify one big agricultural challenge. Research then focuses on developing interventions that can improve livelihoods and ecosystem services in ways that benefit all countries in the river basin. BDCs emphasize collective action and cooperation to achieve these goals. In the drought-prone Nile basin, rainwater management has the potential to increase agricultural productivity and improve water access for all member countries.



Five Examples of How Biodiversity Helps in the Fight Against Hunger

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By Dr. William Dar

Dr. William Dar is Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT.) He has had a long and distinguished career as an educationist, agricultural scientist, administrator, and humanitarian in his native Philippines and abroad in the Asia Pacific region and sub-Saharan Africa.

ICRISAT director general William Dar at the Melkassa Research Center in Ethiopia where local sorghum and millet varieties are being studied to identify traits for drought and pest resistance. (Photo Credit: ICRISAT)

The 11th Conference of Parties of the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) is happening this week in Hyderabad, India.  Two years after the missed ultimatum to slow down the loss of biodiversity, this international meeting hopes to mobilize consciences and resources of everyone from governments and corporate organizations to citizens.  We need to be “aware of the values of biodiversity” and act “to conserve and use it sustainably “, as described in the twenty biodiversity conservation targets of the new CBD roadmap for the decade 2010-2020.

These goals are challenging because biodiversity is an abstract and global concept that seems too far removed from the daily lives of citizens, when compared to the current worries of unemployment and declining purchase power.

As CBD shows through the global study ‘The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity’ (TEEB), many economic activities benefit enormously from biodiversity and its loss incurs huge costs for our society.

To illustrate the value of biodiversity for agriculture and food security, the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) gives ten examples, 5 of which are described below, of the use of biodiversity for important smallholder crops, and its impact for millions of smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia.

1. Pearl Millet – Resistance to the downy mildew fungus

Downy mildew is a fungal disease that thrives in moist climates can result in massive crop damage with farmers often losing half of their yields.

ICRISAT scientists found mildew resistance in local farmer-evolved varieties (or landraces) from Africa and Asia, and could incorporate this trait in the improved varieties developed by the institute. Without such resistance, it would have been impossible to conduct the pearl millet hybrid selection.

In 1996 ICRISAT estimated that the annual benefits of the downy mildew resistant variety were worth US$50 million. Today they are far more, with a conservative estimate in India alone being almost US$200 million. We just need to think of this in terms of farmer livelihoods to see how crucial the impact of biodiversity is.

2. Sorghum – Resistance to grain mould

Cultivated sorghum encompasses five sub-types or ‘races’, including Caudatum sorghum,  a hardy and densely-packed grains landrace that emerged from farmer selection in Eastern Africa. High-yielding Caudatum varieties of sorghum can become mouldy when rains are unusually frequent, causing 30 to 100 percent yield losses, lower market value, and even health hazards such as aflatoxin contamination in humans that consume them. In 1992 ICRISAT estimated the annual economic losses in Asia and Africa as US$130 million. Moderately-resistant land races were found , while Guinea sorghum races are inherently resistant, enabling the production of grain mold tolerant hybrids, recently released in India.

3. Early maturity groundnut

Early maturation of the crop is a trait that is greatly appreciated by poor farmers worldwide. It enables them to harvest food and receive income sooner, and to escape many droughts. The  groundnut line most utilized in breeding this trait, ‘Chico’, has contributed earliness to cultivars released across Africa and Asia such as ICGV 91114, now having major impact in Anantapur district, India – the largest groundnut growing district in the world; and Nyanda (ICGV 93437), cultivated on about 50,000 hectares in Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa.

4. Early maturity chickpea

Early-maturing chickpeas are having a major impact in EthiopiaIndia and Myanmar. Benefits to Ethiopia alone over the period 2001 to 2030 are projected to be worth US$111 million. The land area sown to chickpea in Myanmar, and also the grain yields per unit land area both doubled during 2001 to 2009.  In Andhra Pradesh state, India, the early-maturing varieties stimulated a fivefold increase in sown area plus a 2.4-fold increase in yield over the same period.

5. Hybrid Pigeonpea seed system

ICRISAT and partners utilized Cajanus cajanifolus, a wild relative species of pigeonpea, to develop the world’s first hybrid seed system for any grain legume crop, with on average 30 percent higher grain yield than the best available local variety. This will have an enormous impact and help restore Indian grain legume self sufficiency, as these hybrids are widely disseminated to farmers.

Protecting biodiversity is crucial for our future food security

These five examples are just a glimpse of what impact biological diversity has on our food security. Research innovations in molecular biology and genetics will certainly improve and quicken the study of these biological resources.

The current biodiversity crunch makes our world poorer and less resilient for coming generations. Recognizing the value of biodiversity should help put it at the center of governments’ agendas.



From Farms to Families: Curbing Hunger in the Driest Regions

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By Hitesh Pant

This year the Convergences Conference in Paris is housing a photo exhibition that sheds light on new innovative agricultural practices that are enabling poor farmers in Africa and India to feed their families. “Innovate Against Hunger” focuses on the work of the International Center for Research in the semi-arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and its efforts to provide improved seed varieties, empower women and smallholder farmers, and introduce sustainable agricultural practices to combat famine in some of the most arid regions on the planet.

Bounty chickpea harvests from improved seeds in Ethiopia (Photo Credit: ICRISAT)

The exhibition also shows how partnerships between farmers, local governments, NGOs, and the private sector can ensure that agricultural innovations are accessible throughout poor, remote communities.

ICRISAT’s research has helped farmers adopt new resource management techniques, increase the market demand for pest resistant varieties and reduce hunger.

Check out these pages to preview some of the images that will be part of “Innovate Against Hunger” and learn more about ICRISAT’s work:

Hitesh Pant is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project. 

To purchase State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet please click HERE.


Senna obtusifolia: From the Sidelines to Center Stage

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By Philip Newell

Senna obtusifolia (or Cassia obtusifolia) is a hardy and indigenous leafy vegetable (ILV) that grows in the Sahel. To better understand it, The International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Africa (ICRISAT) studied the plant to determine the best planting density and preparation techniques, as well as its potential cultivation among Acacia trees.

ICRISAT is helping farmers perfect indigenous crops on less-than-ideal soil. (Photo credit: Bernard Pollack)

ICRISAT’s research found that this protein-rich vegetable, which is used as a meat substitute, grows well at a high density. Using three different planting densities (.5x.5m, .5 x 1m and 1x1m), they found that the highest density resulted in the highest per-acre harvest weight – meaning that it is not highly competitive for water or nutrients. Generally the plant is grown by women around the edges of maize or millet fields. According to ICRISAT, concentrated, intentional planting can result in a significant harvest during the “hunger period.” This period is the months, generally June-October, when farmers have exhausted their store of grain and money, leading to the threat of starvation.

While it is common to collect wild Senna obtusifolia during the hunger period, the cultivation of this crop is not widespread. The leafy quality of the plant means that harvests can be small and ongoing, leaving the plant to continually grow new leaves. While women may sow this crop along the edges of the field or in other marginal land, the scaling up of production is seen as a potential way to increase food security at a low cost.

The study also looked into the nutritional effects of the traditional cooking method for Senna obtusifolia. They found that the traditional three-hour boil serves to not only reduce the pungent odor of the leaves, but also increased the concentration of lignin and did not adversely affect the other nutrient concentrations.



Fighting Striga

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By Paul Van Mele

Paul Van Mele is the Director of Agro-Insight, a Belgian enterprise that merges expertise from science, communication, and arts to support sustainable agriculture and equitable trade.

‘Fighting Striga’ may not be a Hollywood – or even Nollywood – blockbuster but it is set to grab the attention of farmers throughout Africa.

A listing of the available programs offered. (Image credit: Agro-Insight)

Scientists have invested heavily over the past 40 years to fight one of the world’s most troublesome weeds, Striga. This parasitic weed seriously damages maize, sorghum, millet, rice, and fonio. While developing Striga-resistant varieties is a key area of research, insights into how soil fertility management and other options can help to reduce Striga infestation proved hard to communicate effectively with farmers.

In 2006, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) embarked on farmer field schools and came up with practical integrated Striga and soil fertility management practices for pearl millet and sorghum. A scarcity of skilled trainers, however, made it hard to maintain quality while scaling up.



Knowing is Saving: a Water Impact Calculator to Help Indian Farmers Conserve Water

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By Jerome Bossuet

Jerome Bossuet is a Marketing Communication and Multi-media Specialist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Bossuet is a specialist in international agriculture development and development communications with 15 years experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He is interested in agricultural innovations to help smallholder farmers in the South. Click here to read more articles in his blog “Innovation contre la faim (Innovation against hunger).

The world is in crisis-a food crisis with prices rising, one out of seven people go to bed hungry, and our water resources continue to deplete. This year’s World Water Day (22 March 2012) theme,  “Water and Food Security”,  debates both these issues and highlights the importance of agriculture and food in the water debate, given agriculture is the main water user.

Photo credit: ICRISAT

Every 3 years since 1997, the World Water Forum has been bringing together water experts and policymakers, private sector and civil society actors, and farmer organisations, interested in the future of our precious and limited freshwater resources. Until now the forum has raised the key problems of water scarcity, water pollution, and water usage conflicts around the world.

But this year, the forum organisers in Marseille claim that it is time for action-it is time to find solutions, to fight this looming water crisis.

One important challenge in the coming years is to invent new ways of farming, able to produce more with less water, as explained in my previous post on green water.

But how do we make this happen rapidly, in particular for the resource-poor farmers in the Global South?



Could a Rural Indian Community be a Model for Europe for Better Water and Drought Management?

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By Jerome Bossuet

Jerome Bossuet is a Marketing Communication and Multi-media Specialist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Bossuet is a specialist in international agriculture development and development communications with 15 years experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He is interested in agricultural innovations to help smallholder farmers in the South. Click here to read more articles in his blog “Innovation contre la faim (Innovation against hunger).

Photo credit: ICRISAT

When water experts meet at the 6th World Water Forum in Marseille, France, should Europe look at rural India for sustainable water management solutions ? The example of Kothapally, a rural community in Andhra Pradesh in semi-arid Central India shows that old recipes of collective natural resources management has a future.

The world is thirsty, not only in the Sahel, but also in Europe. When the U.K. Environment Agency has already warned about water shortages because of the driest biannual rainfall period since rainfall has been recorded (1884), should Europe start preparing itself to adapt to recurrent droughts?

If we look at populations in the South who face drought almost every alternate year, we may find inspiration among rural communities using effective solutions to adapt to water scarcity.



A Little Green Water Rain Can Go a Long Way and Feed Many More

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By Jerome Bossuet

Jerome Bossuet is a Marketing Communication and Multi-media Specialist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. Bossuet is a specialist in international agriculture development and development communications with 15 years experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He is interested in agricultural innovations to help smallholder farmers in the South. Click here to read more articles in his blog “Innovation contre la faim (Innovation against hunger).

Our bread, meat, milk and bananas, whatever we eat demands water—more or less depending on the type of food. Agriculture is the primary water user reaching up to 90 percent of water used in some regions.

Photo credit: ICRISAT

With a rapidly growing population (already more than 7 billion people), water availability per capita reduces drastically. For instance, in India, water availability per inhabitant dropped from 5,177 m3 in 1951 (for 361 million inhabitants) to 1,820 m3 in 2001. It will drop further to 1,140 m3 in 2050 with a total estimated population of 1.64 billion.

There is a correlation between poverty, hunger, and water stress. The UN Millennium Project has identified the “hot spot” countries in the world with the highest number of malnourished people. These countries coincide closely with semi-arid and dry sub humid hydroclimates in the world, savannahs and steppe ecosystems, where rainfed agriculture is the dominating source of food, and where water constitutes a key limiting factor to crop growth.



Research Partnership Improves Ethiopian Farmers’ Yields and Resilience

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With funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, researchers from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and the Ethiopian Institute of Agricultural Research (EIAR) are working with smallholder farmers in Ethiopia to develop new drought-resistant and pest-resistant varieties of chickpea. A staple Ethiopian crop, chickpeas are high in protein, iron, and calcium.

Photo credit: Icrisat/Alina Paul-Bossuet

To see a photo slideshow of the project recently posted on The Guardian’s website, click here.


Could the Famous French ‘Salon de l’Agriculture’ Promote Rural Innovation in the South?

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By Jerome Bossuet

Jerome Bossuet is a Marketing Communication and Multi-media Specialist with the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Bossuet is a specialist in international agriculture development and development communications with 15 years experience in Europe, Asia, and Africa. He is interested in agricultural innovations to help smallholder farmers in the South. Click here to read more articles in his blog “Innovation contre la faim (Innovation against hunger).

The CGIAR Consortium, representing the world’s largest global agriculture research partnership aimed at reducing rural poverty and hunger in developing countries, was officially granted International Organization status today, Friday 2nd of March 2012, in Paris.

Ethiopian farmer Temegnush Dabi with the oxen she bought with income from improved chickpea harvests. (Photo credit: ICRISAT)

Coincidentally, the ‘Salon de l’Agriculture’ is also taking place in Paris this week with over 650,000 people visiting this major annual agricultural fair. This is the week when French people hear the most about their farmers—the week where the candidates of the presidential elections (to be held in May) are mingling among cows, pigs, and sheep claiming their attachment to a strong French agricultural sector. French farmers represent only 2 percent of the active population but, given that the majority of France’s 36,000 communes are rural, and the economic and social importance of the agribusiness sector and the gastronomic culture, they have a strong political weight.

This is a stark contrast to sub-Saharan Africa and other developing countries, where over 70 percent of the population relies on smallholder agriculture, yet this sector is underdeveloped and underfunded and smallholder farmers are in dire need of support. Since the Maputo Declaration in 2003 where the African Union asked African governments to invest at least 10 percent of their budget in agriculture, many are still below this target.  Over one billion people are hungry and most live on smallholdings of less than one hectare. And the situation may worsen in the coming years as there will be 2.4 billion more people to feed by 2050, half of whom will be living in Africa.