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October 16, 2009

ICRISAT in scheme to boost sorghum, millet prodution in Africa, Asia

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has launched a new project that aims to increase food security for smallholder farmers in dryland areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

The project, Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE) of Sorghum and Millets in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, will be undertaken by 50 partners led by ICRISAT in ten countries of sub-Saharan Africa and four states in India. HOPE is supported by an $18 million, four-year grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Through the development and delivery of improved crop varieties and training in crop management practices, HOPE will increase small-scale farmer yields by 35 to 40% during the first four years of the project. These improved varieties of sorghum and millet will be disseminated to 110,000 households in sub-Saharan Africa and 90,000 in South Asia. Within ten years, the project should benefit more than 2 million households in these continents.

Dr William D Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, says, “Scientists estimate that yields could be doubled or even tripled from their current low levels if farmers use the right crop varieties, fertilizer and other management techniques. Capturing even a modest portion of these potential gains would generate major impacts in reducing food insecurity.

The demand for dryland crops, such as sorghum and millet, is growing as a number of major global issues continue to impact the world’s food security. Trends include: the increasing global demand for livestock feed; the growing use of nutritious foods with high levels of iron, fiber and calcium for weaning children, nursing mothers, and the gluten intolerant; rising fertilizer prices forcing a shift to crops that require limited fertilizer; an increasing global population requiring more food; and the diversion of crops such as corn into the bioethanol market.

The dryland areas in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are among the poorest and most food-insecure regions. This project aims to improve food and nutritional security by increasing production of sorghum, pearl millet and finger millet. To accomplish this, it will offer smallholder farmers access to improved seed varieties, farming techniques and information, financial support, and fertilizer. In turn, ICRISAT expects these resources to increase market access and demand for sorghum and millet, creating additional revenue for poor farmers and fundamentally change the development assistance needed in these regions.

Part of the project is dedicated to capacity building, primarily targeting national program scientists participating in the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa’s (AGRA) Program for Africa’s Seed System (PASS) program. ICRISAT will provide scientific supervision by a senior sorghum/millet breeder to such students.

The project will be managed by ICRISAT under an agreement between the Government of India and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

This grant is part of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Agricultural Development initiative, which is working with a wide range of partners to provide millions of smallholder farmers in the developing world with tools and opportunities to boost their yields, increase their incomes, and build better lives for themselves and their families. The foundation is working to strengthen the entire agricultural value chain—from seeds and soil to farm management and market access—so that progress against hunger and poverty is sustainable over the long term.


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