The spotlight was on biofortification, gender equity and breeding program modernization at the recent Regional Planning Meeting of ICRISAT West and Central Africa (WCA), as members charted forward-looking plans.
With an emphasis on modernizing ICRISAT WCA’s crop breeding programs, the members discussed the need for greater investments in establishing and strengthening the Regional Crop Improvement Hub at Samanko, Mali. More collaboration between the Excellence in Breeding (EiB) platform and industry partners was recommended to streamline breeding methodologies (e.g. on standardized measure of genetic gain and other tools/metrics) and to incorporate mechanization. It was also decided that the national agricultural research systems (NARS) will be strengthened to improve their capacities to deliver on expected impacts from modernizing the breeding of mandate crops.
Collaborative programs such as the DeSIRA (APSAN) and AVISA projects were highlighted by Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Regional Program Director, WCA. “Partnership is crucial in delivering our goal and objectives. We, therefore, continue our efforts of strengthening collaborations,” he said.
With respect to biofortified crops, apart from further partnership with the Smart Food initiative, other focus areas for the future were higher palatability of livestock feed and better tools to measure feed digestibility. Moreover, bioavailability of nutrients in pearl millet was also noted to be a key point in the research agenda.
Dr Paco Sereme, Chair of the ICRISAT Governing Board: “Positively looking at the future of ICRISAT and the CGIAR, we are hopeful and enthusiastic about the aspirations of the System. We are keen to contribute and collaborate with our stakeholders to make and sustain greater impacts in the drylands.”
Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Research Program Director, WCA: “Advancing South-South collaboration is critical and we should utilize every opportunity available to share resources and work together.”
Dr Peter Carberry, Director General: “The quality of science delivery in WCA and especially the integration with the global programs is great. Yet, we need to work harder on resource mobilization.”
Dr KK Sharma, Deputy Director General – Research: “We need to continue working with digital agriculture, and we also need an agri-business innovation champion from West Africa.”
Participants deliberated on technology dissemination approaches using case studies of past and current projects such as the Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement (HOPE II), the Tropical Legumes (TL III), the Technologies for African Agricultural Transformation (TAAT) projects. Learnings from these projects could be helpful in providing solutions for several issues, it was felt. For instance, Dr Michael Vabi, Socio-economist, WCA, and M&E Specialist HOPE 2 Project, suggested, “Standardization of our social science questionnaires in WCA and ESA would address the adoption issue by emphasizing one factor. For example, using the opportunity of ICT or a business model with credit balance could improve adoption.”
Following a presentation on Gender equity by Dr Jummai O Yila, Gender Specialist, ICRISAT WCA, discussions on the topic concluded understanding potential customers and their priorities through gender analysis was essential. Dr Yila called for greater intermeshing between crop researchers and gender scientists to make gender mainstreaming deliverable in all activities.
Among other topics covered were the operations of the genebank in WCA, making agriculture in the Sahel less risky for greater adoption of yield-increasing technologies, and so on.
While underlining trust and partnerships as important factors in resource mobilization, Ms Joanna Kane-Potaka, Assistant Director General, External Relations, also highlighted that communications and the Smart Food initiative provide a wide range of tools, products, messaging etc. that can be used for fundraising, partnership building and uptake of research technologies.
The principle of One CGIAR and what it means to the institution going forward, was also deliberated upon.
The Regional Planning Meeting for the WCA region was held from 19-21 February at Mali. Staff from ICRISAT Hyderabad joined the meeting virtually due to travel restrictions at the time.