Climate change is now an issue that demands urgent attention. The UN Global Goals for Sustainable Development and COP 21 Paris Agreement emphasize its importance. The agricultural sector will be hardest hit by climate change and the impact will be felt most by the smallholder farmers we serve in Africa and Asia.
Unseasonal rains, increasing frequency of droughts and extreme weather events, crop failures and low crop yields often exacerbated by degraded ecosystems have resulted in household food shortages, malnutrition, high poverty levels and forced migration. These are issues we have had to address in our work of building climate-smart farming communities. The farming community in the dryland tropics is the most impacted by climate change and ICRISAT and its partners have responded to the clarion call of COP 21 by developing climate-smart approaches for the dryland tropics that we proudly highlight in our annual report for 2015. Read more
Research in dryland crops continues to be our primary focus. In keeping with the motto of ‘demand-driven innovation,’ our scientists have bred new varieties based on local requirements for enhanced nutrition, drought and heat tolerance, pest resistance and machine-harvestability. The more we work with governments, the importance of a holistic approach becomes more evident. While crops research is our core strength we are also working with partners, adopting an agro-ecosystems approach that integrates livestock, agroforestry and income-generation activities. In fact, the success of the watershed management approach has prompted companies to adopt it for their Corporate Social Responsibility activity.
To paraphrase Nobel laureate, Dr Norman Borlaug, “The world has the technology to sustainably feed 10 billion people.” The challenge is - how do we leverage existing technologies to better serve the needs of smallholder farmers?
As part of its strategy ICRISAT is focusing on digital agriculture. This includes cloud computing, analytics, breeding informatics, systems and weather modeling to generate computer simulated future scenarios of the impact of climate change, geospatial analysis for building water harvesting structures, and the use of drones and mobile phones to provide cropping advisories to help smallholder farmers take the best decisions under climate variability.
While new technologies, both agricultural and digital, can be the game changer, the importance of global and local policies cannot be underestimated. Foremost on our agenda are the national priorities of countries we are working in. The country strategies that we are developing with national partners will guide agricultural investment decisions and innovations while being inclusive of women and youth to address the challenges faced by smallholder farmers. We are also in the process of realigning our organization structures to be more agile and responsive to national needs and priorities.
As I look back on the vast body of work we have done so far in partnership with governments, international bodies and NGOs I am proud to say that our work significantly contributes towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
For ICRISAT, 2015 has been a momentous year. I thank the staff for rising to meet challenges, donors and partners for sharing our vision and the Board for its guidance. Most of all, I salute dryland farmers for their ingenuity and determination to overcome adversity to see a better life for their families by being bold and adopting new climate smart agriculture practices. I end with a slogan for 2015 – onward with urgency to achieve the UN Sustainable Development Goals before 2030!
I have had the opportunity over the past year to visit ICRISAT’s work in parts of the semi-arid tropics notably, India, Zimbabwe and Ethiopia. The impact of the Institute’s research in these countries is clearly visible, as evidenced by the expanding acreages of new varieties of our mandate crops – sorghum, millets, groundnut, pigeonpea and chickpea. I am extremely heartened to witness such growth in production, especially with regard to grain legumes, given that 2016 is being celebrated as the International Year of Pulses.
All this was possible through collective effort. We are working in synergy with governments, the private sector, other CGIAR centers and various foundations. Notable among them are our multi-country projects with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – Tropical Legumes III (TL III) and Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) that cover grain legumes and dryland cereals respectively and benefit millions of smallholder farmers. Read more
ICRISAT scientists, working in conjunction with national partners are introducing germplasm with resistance to diseases and pests, tolerance to climatic and other environmental stresses, and improved quality and yield traits.
These ICRISAT-led successes are very timely as the world will probably have to switch to cultivating more climate-hardy crops, to ensure food security by 2050. Our crop breeding programs would not be possible without our highly valued genebanks at headquarters and at our research stations in East and West Africa. Our scientists are able draw upon more than 120,000 germplasm accessions from 144 countries. Our research streams are focusing on trait dissection, phenotyping, simulation modelling, molecular physiology, QTL and genetics and nutrition.
New crop varieties are only one component of the work being undertaken by ICRISAT. Over the years we have developed a slew of climate smart agriculture technologies and trained farmers to use them. For reducing chemical fertilizer usage, a major contributor of GHGs, technologies like microdosing, and intercropping with legumes are being actively adopted by farmers in the drylands. Alternatives to fossil fuels are also being researched. This includes ethanol from sweet sorghum. Working in some of the poorest and harshest semi-arid regions in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia, the valuable experience we have garnered has shaped our holistic approach in addressing climate change using both adaptation and mitigation strategies. In this context, ICRISAT’s crops score an advantage over the Big 3 – rice, wheat and maize. They have a low carbon footprint and are inherently climate smart – high on nutrition and use less water – a point reinforced by our Smart Food campaign.
As we continue with renewed vigor to work towards executing the organization’s vision and mission in making a difference in the lives of smallholder farmers in the semi-arid tropics, I thank our investors, the various governments, partners and Team ICRISAT for joining hands.
Overcoming hunger and poverty, reducing malnutrition, preventing environmental degradation, coping with climate change and empowering women were the major thrust areas in 2015 for ICRISAT’s various research areas.
Improving the livelihoods of smallholder famers in the semi-arid tropics lies at the core of all of ICRISAT’s endeavors. For crop improvement of our mandate crops, both conventional breeding and genomics were used by our research programs for developing farmer/market-preferred varieties that are high-yielding, more nutritious, and resilient to various climatic conditions and emerging pests and diseases. Farming systems and community approaches were tested and upscaled with the intent of making agriculture a sustainable and viable livelihood and/or business. Work taken up by supporting programs have contributed to enhancing ICRISAT’s research.
To further maximize the impact of its research work ICRISAT has adopted country strategies. They serve to refine the organization’s strategies in each African country where it is hosted and for the Indian states where it has major initiatives. Their purpose is to provide an understanding of ICRISAT’s resources and intended impacts for its priority geographies. These strategies link research goals to national priorities and donor priorities in a cohesive manner to thus facilitate coordination and improved implementation across location-specific value chains for the key crops for which ICRISAT has the global mandate. At present, country strategies have been developed for seven African countries (Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia, Malawi and Zimbabwe) and three Indian states (Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Odisha). Further to the development of state strategies in India, at the request of the Indian Prime Minister’s Office, strategy documents were prepared on: Self-sufficiency in pulse production; Enhancing water use efficiency on farms; Soil health mapping; National agriculture markets; Weather-based crop insurance; and Digital Agriculture in the context of the Prime Minister's call for “Digital India”.
In the following pages read about how ICRISAT’s work is making a difference
A pool of climate-smart agricultural practices equips farmers in the mining belt of Karnataka, India, to rehabilitate their ecosystem and earn up to 12% - 27% better crop yields even in uncertain weather.
60% of farm households in Nkayi, Zimbabwe, will be exposed to greater vulnerability by 2050 due to climate change. Computer simulated on-farm future scenarios and solutions serve in guiding policy makers.
81% of farmers in a remote Ghana village rely on climate based cropping advisories on mobiles for on-farm decisions. They also use new agricultural technologies to increase farm productivity.
In 458 ha in Mopti, Mali, farmers demonstrated that climate change adaptation is achievable by using eco-friendly methods and climate information for managing crops, livestock and forest cover.
ICRISAT works in the drylands which are some of the driest and harshest regions of the world. Working in these regions has given us unique insights, experience and specialized skills in managing soil, water and other natural resources, restoring degraded soils, coping with adverse climate shocks and helping build the resilience of smallholder farmers.
Dryland crops, pearl and finger millets, sorghum, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut, which are ICRISAT mandate crops, are Smart Food as they are highly nutritious, grow under adverse conditions with little inputs and have multiple uses beneficial to the farmer.
Millets and legumes are traditional dryland crops which provide sustainable livelihoods and productive employment to 2.5 billion people living in the drylands.
Millets are high in folic acid, zinc and iron and have 3 times more calcium than milk. Their low glycemic index helps manage blood glucose levels which is useful for diabetics. Both millets and legumes are high in fibre, protein, vitamin and micronutrients such as zinc, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, etc.
Our work helps farmers cope with climate change by providing them improved crop varieties which can better withstand drought and high temperatures and also help them diversify cropping systems and livelihoods.
We integrate gender across the whole value chain from analyzing problems and opportunities to developing agri-business and linking them to markets. ICRISAT’s vision of a prosperous and food-secure future for all resonates strongly with almost all of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) since our work is holistic in nature covering multiple aspects of a sustainable future.