ICRISAT governing board members meet remotely to forge forward-looking plans

Screenshot of one of the sessions of the virtual meeting.

The first-ever virtual meeting of ICRISAT Governing Board was conducted recently where many opportunities were discussed to enhance ICRISAT’s capacity to develop in areas of research. The Board appreciated the mechanisms put forward to co-create initiatives that build impact and to stay agile and ambitious to be well positioned for the future.

The Board carried out the proceedings remotely due to the current travel restrictions and to fulfil the requirement of social distancing due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. According to the Board Secretary, Ms Renerose Tan-Ng, an interesting result of holding the virtual meeting topped a US$ 60,000 cost-savings and conserved 63 metric tons of carbon emissions.

Dr Paco Sereme, Board Chair, welcomed Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General, ICRISAT, to her first Governing Board meeting at ICRISAT, mentioning that they were together working towards the approaching One CGIAR initiative. The ICRISAT budget for 2020 and the annual report of the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (CRP-GLDC) were approved.

Dr Hughes highlighted the significance of institutional culture being oriented towards ’working as one’, saying, “As we move towards One CGIAR, we need to communicate the message of being the organization that empowers people in the semi-arid tropics by its cutting-edge research for development in the regions.”

At the Program Committee meeting, Program Heads presented key highlights of their work.

Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Director, West and Central Africa (WCA), presented highlights from his region, including those in Crop Improvement, Integrated Crop Management, Partnerships and Gender Mainstreaming. Among other things, key points were the evaluation of 20 sorghum varieties in WCA and identification of 10 groundnut varieties in Burkina Faso.

Salient achievements of Eastern and Southern Africa (ESA) were elaborated on by Dr Rebbie Harawa, Regional Director, ESA, among which were better food/nutritional security for farmers, enhanced production of sorghum and pearl millet hybrids and improved seed delivery of dryland cereal hybrids.

The success of ICT-enabled agro-advisories, agriculture innovation platforms and rural food processing units was underscored by Dr Anthony Whitbread, Director, Research Program Innovation Systems for the Drylands. He also announced the publication of the program’s first article in the journal Nature.

Dr Jacqueline d’Arros Hughes, Director General,
ICRISAT, addresses the Board Members.

The Rapid Generation Advancement (RapidGen) facility and protocols, reference genome sequencing of two groundnut species, and genome characterization of thousands of pearl millet and sorghum lines, were some of the leading points described by Dr Rajeev Varshney, Director, Research Program Genetic Gains.

Dr Pooran Gaur, Director, Research Program Asia, informed the Board that 90% of the chickpea varieties in Myanmar today were ICRISAT varieties, which were performing very well, with almost a five-fold increase in production. He also highlighted several ‘first-ever’ releases of certain crop varieties such as chickpea and groundnut, and also informed the board about the accomplishments of the ICRISAT Development Center, the Plant Quarantine Unit and others.

Dr Harish Gandhi, Global Head, Breeding, presented the latest progress in the breeding modernization efforts, touching upon the key gains made, viz. infrastructure (Regional Crop Improvement Hubs), organization (Crop Improvement Operations Team), processes and approaches.

Dr Hughes reported the latest on the Smart Food initiative, mentioning the strong support of the Executive Council for the initiative and also that a new business plan was in the offing.

Dr Kiran Sharma, Deputy Director General-Research, presented a summary of the work done by the CGIAR Research Program on Grain Legumes and Dryland Cereals (GLDC) during the period since the last Governing Board meeting. Covering key areas from impact assessment and capacity building to gender mainstreaming, systems modelling, nutrition-oriented crop design and seed delivery systems, Dr Sharma remarked that partnerships with the public and private sectors were expected to further enhance the outcomes of the CRP going forward.

Key strategies for resource mobilization, communication and marketing, especially with respect to the COVID-19 pandemic situation, were discussed by Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General.

Dr Nigel Poole, former ICRISAT Board Chair and Ambassador of Goodwill was recognized for his major efforts in helping ICRISAT build partnerships in the UK and globally.

Mr Sanjay Agarwal, Board Member, noted that with the increased interest in nutritious foods, the COVID-19 outbreak had opened an opportunity for ICRISAT’s mandate crops which are hardy and nutritious.

Prof Wendy Umberger, Chair of Program Committee, and Prof Prabhu Pingali, Board Chair Elect, highlighted key strategies and upfront socioeconomics analysis for future opportunities as ICRISAT continuously positions our scientific delivery to greater heights in collaboration with other partners. The need for a response to uplift the socioeconomic status of smallholder farmers is greater than ever, considering the effects of COVID-19.

An optimistic and dynamic re-strategizing of human resources, as well as the aspects around compensation and benefits, was discussed by the Governing Board as part of the ongoing change process towards aligning ICRISAT’s talents to be more competitive in the global scale.

The Governing Board meeting concluded with a call for the next ICRISAT Strategic Plan – a 5-year-plan – to be presented at the next Board meeting in September.

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