TAKING LEGUMES FROM SCIENCE OF DISCOVERY TO SCIENCE OF DELIVERY

The journey from Project Tropical Legumes to Project AVISA

Under Tropical Legumes project, groundnut crop interventions demonstrated 32.35% increase in income, 6.72% households lifted out of poverty and 14% out of food insecurity. File photo from Uganda: ICRISAT

“It’s not the end, it’s a new beginning.”

Developing genetic resources for legume crops, innovative and sustainable seed platforms, strengthening national agricultural research systems’ (NARS) breeding programs, releasing over 307 improved varieties of focus legume crops and training 52 young scientists to be the torchbearers of agricultural science in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia were some key achievements of the Tropical Legumes project. These were reflected upon at the end-of-project workshop held in Tanzania. The project, supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, brought together partners from 15 countries over a period of 12 years.

The Tropical Legumes project (phases I, II and III), together with associated development projects in the regions, contributed to production of about  498,034 tons of certified seeds across six legume crops (chickpea, common bean, cowpea, pigeonpea, groundnut and soybean) in the project focus countries (Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Uganda, Tanzania and India – Uttar Pradesh State).

These regions now have stronger seed systems in place – with produced certified seeds planted in an estimated 5.0 million ha by over 25 million smallholder farmers in 15 countries and beyond, producing about 6.1 million tons of grain worth US$ 3.2 billion.

The third phase of the Tropical Legumes (TL III) project was led by ICRISAT and jointly implemented by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA) in close collaboration with 15 NARS across eight countries in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. With the end of this project, some of the work done in this field will be carried forward into the project AVISA – Accelerated Varietal Improvement and Seed Delivery of Legumes and Cereals in Africa.

Key impacts of the Tropical Legumes project 
*Groundnut crop interventions demonstrated 32.35% increase in income, 6.72% households lifted out of poverty and 14% out of food insecurity
*Ten groundnut varieties, including six high-yielding, drought-tolerant ones and four ELS, released in Mali
*Seven groundnut varieties with traits such as aflatoxin tolerance, early maturing, drought tolerance etc. released
*In India, chickpea national program on developing improved varieties resulted in area enhancement up to 68 %.
*Chickpea program in Ethiopia won a national award in 2013 for science and innovation
*Seven-fold increase in number of improved common bean variety releases from 2011 to 2018

What they said…

Participants of the workshop. Photo: ICRISAT

Dr Jeff Ehlers, Senior Program Officer, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, congratulated everyone involved in the projects, saying, “It is satisfying to note that together we have been able to meet the productivity increase target of about 25% in some crops, as intended by the project, and got many improved varieties into the farmers’ fields.”

“With a total investment of US$ 67 million together with partners, we have been able to achieve so much on ground,” said Dr Geoffrey Mkamilo, Director General, Tanzania Agricultural Research Institute (TARI), appreciating the Gates Foundation’s backing over the years.

Dr KK Sharma, Deputy Director General – Research, ICRISAT, said, “One of the best things about this project is the huge number of partnerships it has created. I call upon the NARS partners and all our other partners to carry forward the excellent work done during the past years into the AVISA project.”

Dr Hamidou Traore, Director General, Institut de l’Environnement et Recherches Agricoles (INERA), Burkina Faso, noted the great political goodwill and support from the government whereas Dr David Chikoye, Regional Director (Southern Africa Hub), IITA, said, “We have made great progress in capacity building, releasing improved varieties and strengthening our partnerships across regions.”

Dr Robin Buruchara, Director, Pan-Africa Bean Research Alliance (PABRA), while presenting CIAT’s perspective, said, “The TL project, through PABRA, has benefited not just the focus countries but more than 30 other countries by way of germplasm sharing and capacity building.”

“We have had an ROI of >US$ 25 in this project,” said  Dr Rajeev Varshney, Research Program Director, Genetic Gains, ICRISAT, and Principal Investigator of the TLIII project. “From being orphan crops once, these crops now enjoy the status of genomics resource rich crops. In addition to developing 307 varieties, molecular breeding products have also reached farmers’ field in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. We have documented the achievements, lessons, challenges and gaps from this project to be published as a special issue in Plant Breeding journal.”

Gender integration, adoption of digital data collection, and institutional capacity building were some of the key challenges pointed out by Dr Chris Ojiewo, Global Coordinator, Tropical Legumes III project.

Dr Moses Siambi, Outgoing Research Program Director – Eastern and Southern Africa, ICRISAT, said, “The dilemma we have is between commercialization of new technology and ensuring that it reaches the farmer. We need a hybrid system under which seed companies can make money while keeping the technology affordable.”

Dr Ramadjita Tabo, Research Program Director – West and Central Africa (WCA) in his remarks highlighted: “We thank the Gates Foundation for TL I, II, III, HOPE I, II and now AVISA, I request the national partners and their leadership to invest more in strengthening their research ecosystem in the country to have a sustainable impact in the long run”.

Remembering his long-term association with the Tropical Legumes project, Dr Pooran Gaur, Research Program Director – Asia, said, “In my 18 years at ICRISAT, this was one project that I enjoyed the most. We, partners, are like one community. This project had a long-term vision and addressed the major challenges of the regions.”

Special mentions were made of the value provided by Mr Satish Nagaraji, Sr Manager, Digital Agriculture, ICRISAT, and Dr Abhishek Rathore, Principal Scientist, Data Management. These key contributors spoke about the need to modernize breeding programs, so as to use research data to maximum efficiency.

Find the original version of that article on ICRISAT website

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