14 March 2022, New Delhi: “ICRISAT is well-positioned to serve as a global leader for research in the dryland regions, and a partner of choice for the international development agencies to deliver on the SDGs”- underlined Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT during her inaugural remarks at ICRISAT’s Annual Research Review and Planning Meeting-2022. Highlighting the importance of ICRISAT’s work in creating the world of tomorrow, especially in addressing extreme poverty, food, nutrient security, and climate change, she emphasized five decades of ICRISAT’s expertise, experience, and capabilities in developing and delivering technologies and innovation in the interest of smallholder farmers. Our work is important and exactly what is needed for the future of tomorrow. The recent visit of Hon’ble Prime Minister of India, Mr. Narendra Modi to launch ICRISAT’s yearlong golden jubilee celebrations is an endorsement to it. “Now is the time for accelerated scaling up of our tools and technologies for greater impact”- she further added.
Defining the future roadmap, Dr Hughes put forward seven priority areas where urgent interventions for accelerated delivery of our vision and mission are required:
- Scientific reasoning for addressing the needs of tomorrow with a demand-driven research
- Develop & deliver future-ready crops that can withstand the effect of climate change
- Address the impact of climate change on cropping systems
- Make agriculture profitable and sustainable for smallholder farmers
- Empower women and youth and create opportunities for equal access to resources
- Resource optimization for dryland regions
- Address the challenges across the value chain to make dryland agriculture more resilient and sustainable
Reviewing the research progress during the last 2 years, Deputy Director General- Research, Dr Arvind Kumar, commended the efforts and commitment of all the global and regional research programs for their dedication and perseverance in delivering on ICRISAT’s mission, even during the challenging times of the COVID-19 pandemic. “This being my first global research review and planning meeting at ICRISAT, I am happy to note that, apart from delivering on the research front we have been able to put in place a reinvigorated more efficient, cohesive, and interconnected research structure that aims to seamlessly integrate and deliver agricultural research outputs across the drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, guided by ICRISAT Strategic Plan (2021-2025) and ICRISAT Medium Term Plan (2021-2023) – said Dr Kumar. “We have the deliverables and now we should communicate our stories of success to the world, weaved around all the elements of the science of discovery to the science of delivery”, he added. Complimenting the future roadmap, DDG-R further highlighted that our research should aspire to deliver on climate resilience, nutrition, and address environmental degradation by undertaking output-driven translational research.
Despite the COVID-19 pandemic, ICRISAT has significantly delivered on both upstream and translational research, catering to the needs of the global scientific community and smallholder farmers. Some of the significant highlights from the last 2 years across regions are testament to ICRISAT’s position in delivering results even in adverse situations.
Global Research Program-Accelerated Crop Improvement’s efforts led to the commercialization of 37 crop varieties in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, this includes two high oleic groundnut varieties that are among the 17 biofortified crop varieties dedicated by Hon’ble PM of India in 2020 and 2 Chickpea and 1 Pearl millet cultivar, in 2021. Modernizing the crop breeding efforts, speed breeding deployed in chickpea and the Rapid Generation Advancement facilities expanded from a capacity of 35,000 plants per cycle to 70,000 plants per cycle. Several new resistance sources were identified and QTLs mapped for biotic and abiotic stresses and nutritionally important traits. In the area of gene editing: CRISPR constructs for TAG Lipase genes for leaf and immature embryo-based Agrobacterium methods developed. Securing the germplasm, several accessions were deposited at Svalbard Global Seed Vault as first level and second level safety duplication, in 2020 and 2021. The “GxM toolbox” was drafted to enhance the crop fitness to abiotic conditions of environments prevailing in TPE, in addition, the LeasyScan HighThroughput Phenotyping Platform was upgraded with PE F600 scanners. Advanced our efforts to harness AI for UAV field phenotyping to support crop improvement programs. Enabling access of improved seed varieties by the smallholder farmers, developed 2399.5.4 MT Early generation seed; and the evidence suggested that farmers adopting improved groundnut, sorghum, and pigeonpea, experienced increased grain yield by 40.6, 54.9, 51.9% respectively.
Some of the key interventions by the Global Research Program- Resilient Farm and Food Systems (RFFS) includes climate adaptation and mitigation efforts, where over 5,600 farm households (40% women) applied doubled-up legume technology on 1,668 ha in central and southern districts of Malawi. RFFS efforts led to grain yield (1275 kg/ha) increase by 30% compared to farmers’ practice in Pearl millet in Niger. ICRISAT Development Center demonstrated that shared resource use could help diversify cropping, promote high-value crops, and aid collective marketing. Deployed digital tools across several projects for efficient delivery and monitoring of activities across regions. Facilitated market linkages with an online market linkage system based on yield estimation and by connecting farmers with potential traders.
In areas of landscapes, soil fertility & water management, ICRISAT’s efforts led to soil loss reduction, increased recharge of groundwater led to increase in the irrigable area from 200 ha to 970 ha in locations of Ethiopia, and increased yields of major crops: wheat by 142%, barley by 100% and faba bean by 66%.
Global Research Program- Enabling Systems Transformation includes a study on consumer behavior & preferences and improves them by introducing some innovative change campaigns like music videos and the photovoice approach. The team undertook a systematic review and meta-analysis to generate science-based evidence on how crops like millets are good for health and nutrition and contributed to addressing the impact of COVID-19 on food security, mostly to women and adolescent girls. Brought some policy recommendations on research influencing the nexus between agri-food value chains and nutrition in Malawi, like: Promote inclusive multi-stakeholder platforms, promote local value addition, and marketing and processing, mainstream nutrition awareness, budgeting for food purchases and nutrition programs, and develop self-regulatory quality-based pricing and quality control mechanism. Evaluation of a framework for measuring climate resilience of smallholder farm systems is another key area of intervention. In addition, provided insights on supporting policy response to Covid19 induced lockdowns and developed framework and tool for multi-dimensional assessment of farming systems sustainability.
Discussing the way forward, the group agreed on strengthening the strategic integration within clusters and programs across regions for sustainable scaling out of cross-region learnings and outputs. ICRISAT is equipped with cross-cutting tools, resources, and vehicles like digital agriculture, geospatial and big data sciences, natural resource and soil health management, agribusiness and incubation platforms, etc., for addressing transformative systems-level interventions. Effective communication strategies are a must for putting out our success stories in front of the world and for positioning ICRISAT in the new era. We need to harness every opportunity and the time ahead bring many prospects for ICRISAT, especially this year being the 50th anniversary of ICRISAT and the next year being the International Year of Millets.