The slowing down of the progress of irrigated agriculture, the overemphasis on rice, wheat, and corn, depleted natural resources, particularly the near-exhaustive exploitation of water resources leave the drylands as the only other avenue to provide food, fodder, and nutrition security for the growing global population. Less attention paid to research for development (R4D) in the drylands relative to irrigated agriculture thus far, the vastness of dryland geographies and the escalating challenges posed by climate change imply that there is an untapped potential in dryland agriculture.
While celebrating 50 years of its eminent contribution to dryland agriculture, ICRISAT is aware of the growing expectations in the R4 D space. With its vast experience and insights, accumulated over five decades, ICRISAT is prepared to proactively engage itself to bring prosperity to dryland regions in Asia and Africa.
Here is a brief list of ICRISAT’s commitments to future of drylands:
- International Year of Millets: Millets play an important role in both diversifying the spectrum of food available to end consumers while providing valuable nutrition. Given their natural properties, they also aid in climate adaptation. India is the epicenter of global millet production (approx. 18 million tons per annum). In recognition of their importance and at the behest of India, the United Nations General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution to observe 2023 as International Year of Millets. In accordance, several events are being organized to celebrate this historic global event.
- Gene Bank: The Gene bank at ICRISAT, Hyderabad, established in 1979, conserves the largest global collection of dryland crops germplasm. Our current collection comprises of over 129,000 accessions of 11 dryland crops: sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeon pea, groundnut, finger millet, foxtail millet, barnyard millet, kodo millet, little millet and proso millet and their wild relatives. ICRISAT shall continue to share these germplasm accessions to different institutions in India and globally for their use in developing climate resilient, nutritious varieties of different crops.
- Genomics: ICRISAT has played pivotal role in developing genomic resources for its six mandated crops including development of markers for deployment in crop improvement. ICRISAT will contribute to understand and unearth the immense potential of germplasm diversity through developing pangenomes/super-pangenomes to design future crop varieties/hybrids, optimize and deploy fast-forward sequencing based large-scale discovery of superior haplotypes and candidate genes and their deployment in crop improvement. ICRISAT will develop new genomics tools for more efficient selection at early generation and train young scientists to use genomic tools in crop improvement.
- Crop Improvement: ICRISAT will continue to work on genetic enhancement of dry land cereals and grain legumes using cutting-edge tools and technologies to develop climate resilient, nutritious varieties of pearl millet, sorghum, finger millet, groundnut, chickpea, and pigeon pea using cutting edge genomic and crop breeding tools and will share the developed varieties with different institutions. The improved varieties combining the productivity traits such as, early maturing, drought and disease tolerance, and yield, together with grain nutritional and physical traits such as, Fe and Zn in sorghum and pearl millet, high oleic in groundnut, dal recovery in pigeon pea among others will be valuable in attaining climate resilience, nutrition outcomes, and profitability to small holder farmers and value chain actors.
- Rapid Generation Advancement (RGA): ICRISAT has developed Rapid Generation Advancement protocol for chickpea, and efforts are underway to develop RGA protocols for groundnut, pigeonpea, pearl millet, sorghum and finger millet. RGA protocols will enable researchers to advance 4-6 generations in a year in place of 1-2 generations per year under field conditions and therefore will reduce the breeding cycle time from 10-12 years to 3-5 years, thus increase the genetic gain.
- Climate change: ICRISAT very closely monitors the climate change process in dryland regions of Asia and Africa and will continue to deliver strategy of climate adaptation through development of climate resilient varieties, model climate change for dryland regions and deploy appropriate crops and varieties suitable to different regions. ICRISAT will deploy climate smart technologies based on timely weather advisories working through the concept of climate smart villages and help millions of farmers better tackle climate change effects.
- Seed Systems: ICRISAT will work with the public and private sector partners in quality seed production, real-time monitoring, establishing traceability, develop and deploy digital tools and platforms for efficient seed demand forecasting, production, and distribution, develop and promote ICT and other knowledge platforms to strengthen seed market linkages and bridge the demand- supply gap both in the formal and informal seed sector. Innovative licensing mechanisms developed by ICRISAT will help the Indian seed sector particularly to tap into a large global market. India can tap the global seed market by strictly adhering to OECD seed guidelines and can export seeds to SAARC countries, countries in West Asia, Africa, and Europe. It will facilitate linkages between formal and informal seed systems to create new complementary distribution pathways. ICRISAT will also strengthen women’s collectives to promote gender-focused seed systems by engaging various potential entry points where women farmers are capacitated and integrated into quality seed production processes, distribution and use of the improved varieties while promoting seed entrepreneurship models by engaging potential farmers, women, and youth in the community.
- Precision phenotyping: ICRISAT will be engaging in larger joint initiatives and integration on digital precision phenotyping building on center of excellence in phenotyping primarily to assist crop improvement programs. We will intensify the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) based field phenotyping pipeline to collect field agronomic data faster and more efficiently for breeding programs. LeasyScan which is serving best to assess the component traits of adaptation for abiotic stress now will be optimized for biotics stresses (foliar diseases) and nutrient management too, with new PE F600 technology. Our target is to integrate LeasyScan in breeding schema for routine assessment of adaptation traits to serve in-house breeding programs for drought prone areas and open to national partners for more rigorous research for drought and heat stress.
- Nutrition: Guided by ICRISAT’s mission in reducing malnutrition ICRISAT will continue to serve the most disadvantaged and vulnerable population. ICRISAT crops are highly nutritious, as well as healthy and reduce risk of heart, obesity and other diseases. ICRISAT will work extensively with institutions in Asia and Africa to enhance dietary patterns to reduce malnutrition by increasing the availability of nutrient rich varieties, nutrition education in preparing healthy household level products (by restoring the best traditional practices and introducing new simple practices), increasing the dietary diversity and adequacy in consumption of various food groups. ICRISAT aims at improving the elderly health (geriatric nutrition) by providing the appropriate millet- legume based dietary options and scaling up the evidence-based nutrition interventions to large number of households providing nutrition education among various vulnerable groups and building capacity and skills for nutrition volunteers and government staff in nutrition.
- Geospatial Science: Crop insurance schemes in India and elsewhere have helped farmers to absorb shocks which are very frequent due to either biotic or abiotic stresses. ICRISAT will use advanced crop monitoring systems and rapid diagnostics to further strengthen this system. India with its strong remote sensing platforms along with open data is in an advantageous position to make this end-to-end solution work seamlessly. ICRISAT has fiercely supported this solution with its extensive experience and expertise. High resolution remote sensing-based crop monitoring (Sentinel 2 @10m) will be used in collaboration with institutions in Asia and Africa for this purpose.
- Digital Agriculture: ICRISAT envisages use of data driven farming to improve food systems in Asia and Africa Utilizing digital tools, advances in data generation using smart-mobile phones, sensors and satellites with enhanced processing of big data and predictive analytics, ICRISAT shall work to support smallholder farmers to adopt digital tools in agricultural extension, precision agriculture, climate, good agricultural practices, market information, agricultural finance and insurance services. ICRISAT shall work to foster drone services to address labour shortages in rural areas and lower the use of agro-chemicals, enable private entrepreneurs to engage and develop cutting-edge technologies using IoTs, robotics and sensors to enhance efficiency and incomes from small farms.
- Water conservation and soil health management: ICRISAT will work very closely with institutions on water conservation, soil health management, reversing soil degradation and thus promote regenerative agriculture holistically. In India, so far, ICRISAT has worked across seven states covering about 140 districts and 4600 villages while addressing over 200,000 rural households. This has resulted in improvement in groundwater level, increase in cropping intensity and crop productivity leading to doubling of farmers’ income.
- Agribusiness Innovations: The Agribusiness and Innovation Platform (AIP) has supported around 40,000 farmers from 25 Producer Companies for running their 62 primary processing centers. It is mentoring 9 MSME units run by tribal farmers producing ICRISAT developed nutritional food formulations using coarse cereals and grain legume crops in Telangana. AIP with support from Tribal Welfare Dept. has provided dietary diversity formulations to address the nutritional deficiency of 18,000 tribal women & children in Telangana, India. AIP is working with 6000 farmers by collectivizing them and providing value addition opportunities in Andhra Pradesh and establishment of 2 food processing units for the tribal farmers in Odisha, India, through handholding and mentoring. Start-ups supported by ICRISAT have been able to create over 2,500 direct jobs and mobilize more than US$ 25 million in funding, benefiting over three million farmers in 2018-19 alone. Over 5,000 individuals were trained in agribusiness promotion, skill development, technology commercialization, incubation management and other areas of agribusiness.
- Gender Equitable and Women empowerment: ICRISAT works with the communities and engages with women to support their requirements. ICRISAT will conduct collaborative, and participatory research to reach about 100000 women and young girls – marginalized and the vulnerable – in the next 2-3 years and empower them and the communities by enhancing their capacity to make strategic choices, livelihoods and make them more resilient to shocks including pandemics like COVID-19 and climate change.
- Partnerships and capacity development: ICRISAT will continue to work with different institutions in partnership mode to enhance productivity, improve farmers income and develop entrepreneurs in agriculture through training and capacity development of youth, women scientists, scholars, students, and farmers.
- Crop Protection:In next five years, ICRISAT plans to develop next generation technologies such as:
- rapid diagnostic kits to detect invasive and native pests and diseases in real time
- use of Artificial Intelligence and image/sensor-based technologies to detect disease symptoms much earlier than visible
- equip farmers with disease and pests forecasting systems to predict outbreaks while providing advisories through various digital platforms like mobile apps for the timely management of crops as well as the timely application of agricultural inputs.
- ICRISAT being a national coordinator for climate change research on plant protection will strengthen Indian agriculture specially in pulses and cereal crops by mapping the future threats due to pests and diseases and providing evidence by conducting research in state-of-the-art climate change research facilities, thus supporting in the development of climate resilient varieties. Research on Fall army worm in maize and sorghum, emerging threats like blast in millets and rusts and soil borne diseases in pulses and oilseeds will be advanced. ICRISAT believes in purposeful partnerships and welcomes like-minded institutions to join hands and strengthen our resolve to make the drylands prosperous, food-secure, and resilient.
ICRISAT@50 Series Author:
Dr Arun Balamati