More than 180,000 households were reached with new technologies that increased the production of sorghum and millets by up to 150 per cent, at the end of a six-year project to boost food security in the dryland areas of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. The final report for the HOPE project was recently completed – the initiative supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was carried out by 50 partners led by the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) from 2009-2015.
The project spanned 11 countries with a focus on developing improved varieties and crop management practices that would help smallholder farmers increase productivity under harsh, dry production environments in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.
During the project 49 cultivars released by the project countries (25 sorghum; 13 pearl millet; and 11 finger millet), 183,421 farm households reached with new production technologies, 8,579 tonnes of seed produced under the programme. Further, 178,447 mini-packs of seed distributed initially at no cost, but at the beginning of the second year a partial cost recovery approach was implemented. The packs were sold to farmers primarily through field days, seed-producing farmers and local agro-dealers
“The project provided additional evidence that it is indeed possible to increase production of sorghum and millets in some of the most resource-poor areas of sub-Saharan Africa and India. Working with a number of national and regional research organisations, development partners, private sector, and farmers organisations, HOPE developed, promoted and diffused excellent technology packages that provide a 50 per cent increase in net benefits, while enhancing the capacity of 11 partner countries on two continents,” said Dr Stefania Grando, Director - Science Quality and Strategy, ICRISAT, who led the project.
Each country had its own specific successful outputs
The South Asia report indicated 7 pearl millet cultivars released by partners in India (3 each in the states of Rajasthan and Haryana and 1 in Gujarat). Also 220 kg of breeder seed of preferred open pollinated varieties were produced. The report also shows that seeds of 4 released sorghum varieties were distributed for cultivation over 10,180 hectares, involving 25,200 Indian farmers. In addition, identified farmers preferred pearl millet hybrids (9 for Rajasthan, 4 for Gujarat and 4 for Haryana) for dissemination.
The East and Southern Africa report indicated 83 per cent adoption rate of improved sorghum cultivars in Ethiopia. There was also a 45 per cent yield advantage from improved varieties by using microdosing and tied ridges and 5 sorghum cultivars and 7 finger millet varieties were released by partners in Ethiopia. In Eritrea, there was a 60 per cent sorghum productivity gain from the package of improved practices. In Kenya, U-15 finger millet variety was released by a partner and 2 sorghum cultivars were released by partners in South Sudan. Also 17 per cent productivity gains were registered in finger millet in Tanzania and 25 finger millet lines with drought potential were selected for regional trial and evaluation in Uganda.
From the West and Central Africa, it was reported from Mali that productivity gains from the package of improved practices were 129 per cent in sorghum and 50 per cent in pearl millet. Also 4,000 farmers were involved in Integrated Striga and soil fertility/water management Farmer Field Schools. In Burkina Faso 13 farmer organisations were trained in seed marketing, and in Niger pearl millet varieties ICRI-Tabi, Mil de Siaka and ICMV-IS 89305 were selected for wider dissemination and testing. Nigeria reported 21 per cent productivity gains from package of improved practices in sorghum and 150 per cent productivity gains from package of improved practices in pearl millet.
The success has led to phase-2 of HOPE which had its launch recently in Ethiopia. There will be more focused attention on helping farmers in six sub-Saharan Africa countries – Burkina Faso, Mali, Nigeria, Tanzania, Ethiopia and Uganda, cope with the effects of drought, and reduce poverty, hunger and malnutrition. There will be a strong focus on further building the pipeline of improved varieties as well as strengthening the seed systems.
“Using integrated value chain interventions we were able to achieve our goals to help thousands of smallholder farmers in the harsh drylands of sub-Saharan Africa and four Indian states. Not only was the project able to deliver improved crop varieties but also increased farmers’ access to markets to buy what they need and to sell their produce at competitive market prices,” said Dr David Bergvinson, Director General of ICRISAT.
“Sorghum and pearl millet are major staple food crops in many countries of West and Central Africa. Several technologies including improved varieties of sorghum and pearl millet along with the associated crop management and agronomic practices were generated during the first phase of the project. During the second phase, intensification of research and development activities, and a more in-depth understanding and tackling of major obstacles to the uptake of these technologies will be explored for a wider scaling-up” said Dr Ramadjita Tabo, ICRISAT Regional Director, West and Central Africa.
“Farmers access to improved varieties will be enhanced through a more effective and efficient national registration and release of varieties and seed legislation in the three project countries, namely Burkina Faso, Mali and Nigeria,” he added.
According to Dr Bergvinson; “The project has proved that with the right information, farmers are able to make more informed choices, which lead to increased incomes and improved livelihoods. Demand-driven research that empowers farmers to realise their full economic potential will be key in realising the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.”