William D Dar, director general of International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (Icrisat) which has its global headquarters in Hyderabad, has transformed the organisation into one of the best international agricultural research for development (AR4D) centres in terms of innovative and inclusive research programmes for better financial health and stability. In an interaction with BV Mahalakshmi, Dar says the institute has quadrupled income and investment by development partners from $22 million in 2000 to $85 million as of 2014, with focus on research for development (R4D). He points out that with innovative AR4D programmes and scientific excellence, Icrisat continues to attract much-needed investment towards development of climate-smart and sustainable crop cultivars and technologies for the institute’s mandate crops – chickpea, pigeonpea, groundnut, sorghum and pearl millet – which are farmed by millions of smallholder families in the drylands of the world. Excerpts:
What has been the activity of the institute which has passed through transformative leadership in agricultural research?
Financial stability of Icrisat has brought improved capacity and translated into unprecedented achievements in the institute’s AR4D programmes and the corresponding impact on food security and poverty reduction goals. Over the decades, Icrisat has grown a pipeline of innovations that are changing the lives of the dryland poor on a large scale, showing high returns on social investment. A 2014 ex-post impact assessment study of Icrisat’s highly successful breakthrough innovations – called ‘Jewels of Icrisat’ – said a return on investment of $70 on average for each dollar invested in AR4D and an internal rate of return of 35% was generated. These outstanding economic rates of return to investment illustrate Icrisat’s core science and impacts. Restoring strong ties with countries that host Icrisat in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa and forging strategic public-private-people partnerships worldwide, we could broaden our donor base to mobilize new resources that are fully compatible with the public-goods orientation of Icrisat and the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR). Icrisat is a member of the CGIAR consortium which is a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future.
Who are the top donors of the institute and going forward, how will financial stability be maintained?
Icrisat is a non-profit, non-political organization with a wide array of partners throughout the world. Our top donors, outside of the CGIAR system, are the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, India, the largest of any CGIAR host country, and United States Agency for International Development. The Gates Foundation is funding three AR4D initiatives: HOPE project (Harnessing Opportunities for Productivity Enhancement of Sorghum and Millets); Tropical Legumes II (TL-II) project; and Village Dynamics in Southeast Asia. About 70% of requirements are raised by Icrisat. However, we do see contemporary challenges and need to generate more revenue.
What are Icrisat’s achievements in ter-ms of scientific excellence in research?
Some achievements are: Formulation of a new, more dynamic institutional strategy known as Inclusive Market-Oriented Development which shifted Icrisat’s focus towards enabling poor farmers to harness markets for poverty escape; establishment of centres of excellence for genomics, transgenic research, climate change research for plant protection, and information and communications technology innovations for agriculture; an inclusive and technology-based entrepreneurship and agribusiness strategy — Agribusiness and Innovation Platform — through PPP to bring science-based technologies and products to the market for benefit of smallholder farmers; scaling out a sustainable natural resource management model called Bhoochetana (land rejuvenation), that has brought prosperity to resource-poor farmers in India; and establishment of Icrisat Development Center to undertake large-scale uptake of science-based technologies.
What has been the impact of research through the inclusive market-oriented programme?
The best AR4D successes making unparalleled impacts in the drylands include community-based watershed management in Lucheba, China; fertilizer microdosing practices in Zimbabwe and Niger; creation and management of the Hybrid Parents Research Consortium on pearl millet and sorghum in India; and breeding and release of varieties of crops important to the drylands, specifically drought tolerant groundnuts in India (Anantapur district), Malawi, and Nigeria, extra-early pearl millet hybrid in northwestern India, pigeonpea in northern Tanzania, and fusarium wilt-resistant pigeonpea in India. Icrisat strives to achieve food sufficiency, intensification through value-addition, diversification to value-grain crops, health and nutrition and women empowerment. In the fight against poverty and hunger amid the threat of climate change, our mandate crops are nutritious and drought-tolerant.
What are the strategic thrusts to implement new research programmes?
Inclusive market-oriented development includes resilient dryland systems to reduce vulnerability to climate change, raising legume productivity and increase in dryland cereal crop productivity. The open data movement leveraging on data, collaboration, and innovation will accelerate crop improvement for sustainable food production particularly in the marginal environments of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.