The international crops research institute for the semi-arid tropics

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  • THE INTERNATIONAL CROPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR THE SEMI-ARID TROPICS

    JOHN W. SPAVEN

    International Crops Research institute, Hyderabad, 500016, A.P., India

    (Received: 1 October, 1976)

    SUMMARY

    The semi-arid regions of the world are spread over 48 countries on four continents and cover a total area of nearly 20 million square kilometres. About 500 million people live there.

    Modern technology has only lightly touched the farmer of the semi-arid tropics. He uses little fertiliser; the soils he tills are often eroded and depleted of nutrients. The power he uses almost always is animal or human. His own productivity and that of his animals is generally low for a number of reasons, including disease and under- nourishment. The most restrictive of his natural resources is water-limited in amount and distributed during a short rainy season in unpredictable and frequent heavy downpours. ICRISAT was created to help the 500 million people of the semi-arid tropics. The initials stand for the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. The Institute was started in 1972 and is located at Hyderabad, India, centre of the semi-arid tropics.

    INTRODUCTION

    ICRISAT is one of nine international agricultural research institutes now operating under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. It is funded by a number of nations, foundations and world organisations. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico, which have developed new rice and wheats, are sister institutions. The Consultative Group provides financial support for this international network of nine agricultural research centres and two other activities with an annual budget of more than 80 million dollars. The purpose of these centres is to conduct research on breeding high-yielding, pest-

    49 Agricultural Adminisrration (4) (1977)-a Applied Science Publishers Ltd, England, 1977 Printed in Great Britain

  • 50 JOHN W. SPAVEN

    resistant varieties of key food crops and on the technology necessary for their sustained high yields in developing nations. Like the other eight world research institutes, ICRISATs research findings are supplied to supporting and .co- operating local governments and their agencies which develop recommendations for their farmers.

    THE PURPOSE OF ICRISAT

    ICRISATs purpose is to focus on the principal food crops and farming systems of the semi-arid tropics (SAT). To do so, the Hyderabad Institute has carefully defined four main objectives:

    (i) To serve as a world centre for the improvement of the genetic potential for grain yield and nutritional quality of sorghum, pearl millet, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnuts.

    (ii) To develop farming systems which will help to increase and stabilise agricultural production through better use of natural and human resources in the seasonally dry semi-arid tropics.

    (iii) To identify socio-economic and other constraints to agricultural develop- ment in the semi-arid tropics and to evaluate alternative means of alleviating them through technological and institutional changes.

    (iv) To assist national and regional research programmes through co- operation and support and to contribute further by sponsoring con- ferences, operating international training hrogrammes and assisting extension activities.

    PRIORITIES AND RESEARCH STRATEGY

    ICRISAT decided to concentrate its first efforts on India and the SAT (Semi-Arid Tropics) nations of Africa. These are areas in which the crops receiving primary attention by ICRISAT scientists contribute major items to the diet of the people. Asia and the African nations south of the Sahara make up 70% of the total area of the semi-arid tropics. They also include 88 y0 of the SAT population. India is by far the single most important nation with 9 % of SAT land and over 50 % of SAT population. (The 48 nations in the SAT are listed at the end of this paper.)

    ICRISATs general research strategy is three-pronged, based on : (i) Screening germplasm and developing improved varieties of sorghum,

    pearl millet, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut. This is done with the aid of the requisite production measures necessary for sustained, depend- able and profitable food production by the small farmer with limited resources.

  • INTERNATIONAL CROPS RESEARCH INSTITUTE FOR THE SAT 51

    (ii) Designing farming systems with which farmers can make better use of existing resources of land, water, animal power and labour.

    (iii) Conducting off-station field research on constraints faced by the farmer in adopting more productive farming systems suitable to the environment in which he lives.

    The Institute insists that varieties and technology packages be developed in a manner which can be used by the SAT farmer. Therefore, the technology is designed primarily for the use of bullocks and manual labour, rather than modern tractors. Required cash outlay for these new methods is kept low and the social situation is given great consideration.

    Crop improvement ICRISAT has gathered thousands of lines of sorghum, millet, pigeonpea,

    chickpea and groundnut from all continents. This genetic material is being screened in field trials for useful characteristics. Additional survey trips are being made to complete collections before valuable types are lost.

    Plant breeders at the Hyderabad Institute work in teams. Each team has a plant breeder, an entomologist, a plant pathologist, a plant physiologist and a botanist. They search for genetic sources of disease and pest resistance, drought tolerance, grain quality, consumer desired characteristics and greater nutritional value. When these crop scientists have developed improved varieties or practices, staff economists and farming systems specialists provide inputs with respect to areas needing further improvement. The seed breeder takes into account what the specialists in farming systems and economics, conducting village studies and marketing research, are able to contribute. Thus the team designs varieties not only useful but acceptable to SAT farmers.

    Several thousand crosses in the chickpea and pigeonpea crops have been made at ICRISATs 1394 ha centre 2.5 km outside the city of Hyderabad, and at co- operating nurseries elsewhere. Sorghum (Sorghum &color) is grown on 40 million hectares in both temperate and tropical regions. Average farm yields in developed countries are five times higher than those of the tropics. ICRISATs main breeding thrust is aimed at higher and more consistent yields for the SAT areas. Pearl millet (Pennisetum typhoides) is grown for grain on 20-25 million hectares, mostly in the semi-arid tropics of India and Africa. Breeding goals are the same with millet. Disease is the main problem, especially downy mildew and ergot. Pigeonpea (Cajanus cajun) is grown on three million hectares worldwide-about 90% in India. ICRISATs breeding focus : best varieties for specific conditions (short, medium and long season varieties), greater yields through larger seeds, more seeds per pod and more pods per plant, plus resistance to pod borer and wilt. Chickpea (Cicer arietinum) is the most important pulse in India, Pakistan and Ethiopia and is also grown in 28 other nations. Varietal improvement is being sought in both kabuli and desi types. ICRISATscientists are also looking for high yield, disease

  • 52 JOHN W. SPAVEN

    resistance, good consumer acceptability, and stability of yield, among other things. The fifth crop speciality of the Hyderabad Institute is groundnut. Over 20 million hectares of groundnut are grown in the world. India is the largest producer. Considering its importance as a food and oil crop, the groundnut has been some- what neglected by researchers in the past. ICRISAT now has an impressive col- lection of groundnut germplasm and has started its breeding programme.

    Farming systems Given the vast diversity in soils and climates over the semi-arid tropics and the

    centuries of experience possessed by traditional farmers, the design of farming systems would appear to be a most,formidable task. What hope is there for success? Agronomists in the ICRISAT farming systems programme point out that it is the possibilities offered by new technology which make urgent the need for research help to farmers in the developm.ent of new systems. Such research must take into account new techniques and the recombination of traditional crops and practices in order to save farmers years-and perhaps decades-in the development of new systems for the efficient use of old resources combined with new technology.

    The main goals of the farming systems programme are: (1) To develop systems, and the basic principles .underlying them, that may be

    used broadly within localecological conditions. (2) To develop methods for designing, and expertise for implementing,

    appropriate farming systems in order to make optimum use of the regions land and water.

    Naturally, water is the limiting factor in most of the semi-arid tropics. Therefore its management becomes a unifying factor in designing more productive systems. Careful attention is paid to the timing of the rainy season, the occurrence of droughts, type of soil and shape of terrain. Local customs, implements, power and availability of capital are also considered.

    ECONOMICS STUDIES

    ICRISAT is studying the economics of innovation for the scarce capital and excess labour in the semi-arid tropical regions it serves. The following are typical of these studies: (1) The examination of the existing availability of calories, proteins and amino acids in the diets of SAT people. The indication is that, in both adults and chi

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