Action plan drawn up for improved crops

Our Bureau Mumbai | Updated on January 31, 2019 Published on January 31, 2019

Even as leading agriculture organisations from Africa and Asia have joined hands to bring some Smart Foods back on the table as major staples, a five-year plan has been drawn up by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) and the International Crops Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), to focus on technologies suited to harsh conditions.

The plan will cover grain legumes and dryland cereals like groundnut, chickpea, pigeonpea, finger and pearl millet and sorghum.

ICRISAT and ICAR have a long-standing partnership of several decades, collaborating on agriculture research. The two organisations decided to team up and enable improved crops.

The initiative, according to an official, requires maximising the impact of existing technologies and generating new ones to increase efficiency of dryland agriculture production systems.

Key projects to be undertaken include improved crop varieties, new breeding and enabling technologies, and systems and modelling tools for better farm systems and nutrition-sensitive agriculture value chains.

An agreement in this regard was signed between the two entities, representing action plans from 2019 to 2023. Trilochan Mohapatra, Secretary, Department of Agricultural Research and Education and Director General of ICAR, said in a statement the deal would help adapt to the changing agriculture landscape in India as well as contribute towards the country's priority of doubling farmers’ income.

Peter Carberry, ICRISAT Director General, termed it “a significant event for our work in India. These collaborations are critical to deliver our mission to improve livelihoods of millions of smallholder farmers across Asia and African drylands.”

Earlier, under the Smart Food initiative, which brings more attention to Smart Foods like millet, sorghum and grain legumes, Africa and Asia have joined hands to lead a global initiative to diversify staples.

The Smart Food initiative was launched in 2013 and stemmed around the need for food that fulfils the criteria of being good for the consumer (nutritious and healthy), good for the planet (environmentally sustainable) and good for the farmer. A major objective under the initiative is to diversify staples.

Given that staples may typically constitute 70 per cent of a meal and are often eaten three times a day, diversifying them can have a pronounced impact on overcoming malnutrition and poverty and coping with climate change and environmental degradation.

Terming Smart Food “a noble and novel idea and well thought through,” William Asiko, Board member, Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network, said in a statement: “The major staples did not get to where they are by accident. There are benefits and financial viability, but this varied for value chain players. We need to learn from these successes and ensure financial sustainability.”

Joanna Kane-Potaka, Smart Food Executive Director, said that staples across Asia and Africa can be about “70 per cent of a meal, and are often consumed in a refined form, and may result in little nutrition being available. However, major staples have well-developed value chains and are well supported. As a result, farmers have an incentive to grow them.”

Ravi Khetarpal of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions said it was imperative to make Smart Foods a household name. “We need to link and synergise other existing programmes along the whole value chain.”

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Published on January 31, 2019
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