The International Year of Millets will provide a great opportunity to promote available technologies on millets and the benefits that come with millets to encourage consumption and utilisation of millets.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), a provider of agricultural solutions for dryland areas, hails the renewed focus on millets. The International Year of Millets aims at recognising these benefits of millets and promote awareness to encourage the consumption and utilisation of millets. Millets are staple crops of the drylands, where rainfall is low and soil fertility is poor. Moreover, millets have higher nutrient content compared to other major cereal crops.
Dr Jacqueline Hughes, Director General at ICRISAT says: “The narrative of food and nutrition security must be expanded to include the role that millets can play to move towards more nutritious and sustainable diets and agriculture. This calls for fresh thinking around transforming our current food systems towards healthier, sustainable, resilient and diverse food systems.”
She adds that, “ICRISAT’s goal is to create resilient, nutrition-sensitive, diverse and sustainable food systems, that ensure food and nutrition security and stable livelihoods and incomes today and in future in unison with our partners in Africa.”
ICRISAT is taking the opportunity created by the UN declaration by joining partners such as FAO, AGRA, and FARA to demonstrate and showcase its work on millets as a world leader in providing solutions for dryland areas.
ICRISAT is a pioneering, international non-profit research for development organisation, specialising in improving dryland farming and agri-food systems. ICRISAT works with global partners to develop innovative science-backed solutions to overcoming hunger, malnutrition, poverty, and environmental degradation on behalf of the 2.1 billion people who reside in the drylands of Asia, Sub-Saharan Africa, and beyond.
In Eastern Africa, ICRISAT conducts agricultural research focusing on the following thematic areas:
• Crop improvement aiming at enhancing diversity, productivity, production, nutrition quality and profitability of grain legumes and cereals (sorghum, pearl millet, finger millet, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut)
• Systems transformation aimed at providing empirical evidence and information for developing sustainable markets, policies, and regulations to create enabling conditions for transforming dryland agriculture from a subsistence-oriented livelihood to a market-oriented livelihood.
• Resilient farm and food systems working on rainfed crop and crop-livestock systems by developing innovative and collective approaches to managing landscapes for restoration, aggregating primary products for more effective marketing, employing digital means to exchange information and creating opportunities for agri-entrepreneurs.
Digital agriculture, empowering women and youth and promoting entrepreneurship are cross-cutting across all of ICRISAT's work. ICRISAT is a recipient of the Africa Food Prize 2021. In 2022, the Transforming Irrigation systems in Southern Africa (TISA) project, led by ICRISAT and partners, won the European Foundation for Management Development (EFMD) Excellence in Practice Gold Award.
Dr Rebbie Harawa, Africa Regional Director and ICRISAT Kenya Country Representative at ICRISAT Kenya, says: “ICRISAT primarily works in collaboration with the national agriculture research and extension system on the national priorities in every country that we work.”
She adds: “We work in close collaboration with the national agriculture network from developing new varieties, doing multi-location testing, carrying out participatory varietal selection, assessing farmer and consumer requirements to extension support while cutting across policy, finance, technology, agribusiness, skill and capacity building, and a lot more.”
ICRISAT is currently partnering on important projects in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Sudan, in addition to working in many countries in West and Central Africa, that promote the adoption of drought-tolerant crops for better livelihoods, climate-smart innovations, water and soil conservation, and development of better agri-food systems.
Through ICRISAT’s intensive testing and evaluation process, several promising resilient varieties of dryland crops have been released in Eastern and Southern Africa. Aflatoxin control in groundnut and fall armyworm resistance in sorghum are among the impactful research initiatives of ICRISAT.
ICRISAT has some suggestions on how farming in Africa can be made more resilient. There is a need to deliver climate-smart agricultural technologies that include the following:
• Use of improved and stress-resilient crop varieties supported by the application of good agricultural practices, sustainable crop production practices through good natural resource management, more efficient irrigation technologies/systems that reduce water wastage, good plant protection practices (good pest and disease management practices)
• Sustainable farming or crop production systems that embrace sustainable use of natural resources, reduce land degradation, improve soil structure, soil fertility and soil health
• Improved climate information systems that provide real-time early warning
• Enabling environment (policy support)
ICRISAT notes that the productivity of many crops under smallholder agricultural systems is below 1 ton per hectare in most countries in the region. The average yields of main cereals are 25 percent of attainable yields. This is because farmers do not have access to improved varieties, quality seed, knowledge of improved agronomic practices, lack of resources to provide irrigation support, poor natural resource management practices that reduce the productivity of the production systems, and poor pest and disease management practices.
Through various initiatives, ICRISAT is supporting African farmers to achieve higher yields. Together with its partners, ICRISAT has developed high yielding, stress resilient and nutrient-dense varieties that have been released in many countries.
ICRISAT and partners have also developed seed systems and delivery networks both with public and private organizations to improve access to quality seed of improved varieties.
Again, ICRISAT, with its partners, have developed sustainable natural resource management technologies to improve crop production systems. Additionally, ICRISAT provides capacity building to deliver information and provide technical support to the National Agriculture Research Systems, seed companies, farmer organizations and farmers through training and technical support.
ICRISAT promotes natural resource management technologies including water conservation measures, soil improvement measures (soil structure, soil fertility and soil health), innovative and collective approaches to managing landscapes for restoration, and good agricultural practices that reduce degradation of land and environmental pollution.
Over the years, ICRISAT and partners have developed many agricultural technologies that are available to support communities in dryland areas as well as other areas. Strong partnerships with public and private organisations will help promote these technologies through many channels, training, demonstration plots, field days, digital information systems and media outlets.
The International Year of Millets will provide a great opportunity to promote available technologies on millets and the benefits that come with millets to encourage consumption and utilisation of millets. ICRISAT is happy to join hands with all key players to launch and recognize the importance of millets and continue the promotion of millets in 2023 and onwards. Please join us in this.
Author: Evans Ongwae
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