Interview with ICRISAT Director General, William D Dar, PhD
AFRICA MUST RISE UP
Dr William Dollente Dar is the Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT). Dr Dar insists that the growth of African agribusiness relies on research on some of the crops that are well adapted to the continent, and that Africa must rise up to the challenge to feed its growing population.
Q: What is the role of ICRISAT on food security?
A: ICRISAT is the global institute dedicated to look at the issues on food security and poverty reduction in the dry lands tropics of the world, with a focus on Asia and Africa. We work on five crops: sorghum, pearl millet, groundnut, chick pea and pigeon pea. These are the nutritious crops for the people in the dry tropics areas of Asia and Africa
We are elevating the game in many respects in terms of these crops being given attention by countries and by Govts.
If you compare today there is a policy distortion in terms of attention given to corn, wheat and rice to the disadvantage of these crops, which are very nutritious and resilient for Asia and Africa.
Our purpose to have the countries in dry land areas become prosperous and see to it that these crops are given the kind of attention they deserve
Q: How is ICRISAT encouraging the planting and consumption of these crops?
A: Let me give you an example. Pigeon pea was not a commercial crop 10 years ago, whether in Asia or Africa. But because of our work and our partnership with some governments, from a negligible hectarage now the crop is grown on 1 million hectares.
It is becoming a cash crop because most of the produce is exported to India – the farmers are therefore more food secure and they also have more money to take care of their daily needs. This is an example with an impact we have done in sub Saharan Africa
The other example is chick pea. Chick pea is as important as pigeon pea. From a negligible hectarage as well, now it is increasing now to almost 1 million hectares in Eastern Africa. It is research for development that we want to do
That was the case 5 years ago, now we are beginning to ask ourselves: how can we add more value to these raw products? We therefore now incubate businesses, together with our partners FARA and UniBRAIN.
In Kenya, we are starting with the sorghum value chain. Same goes for bananas in Uganda and many more crops in other countries
We are pursuing inclusive value chain, and I stress inclusive value chain, so that it is not only big business that gains, but the small holders benefit as well.
Q: Tell us about sorghum
A: Sorghum is regaining attention because of drought. If you compare farmers who plant corn with those who plant sorghum, more often than not their crop fails because of drought. Sorghum is a very hardy crop.
Q: How does ICRISAT connect Africa to India?
We triangulate collaboration between India and Africa. As part of UniBRAIN we are setting up a number of incubation centres in Africa. We are also setting up 5 food testing laboratories. We are investing and technically assisting and implementing these projects. The laboratories will be in Kenya, Uganda and other countries, in partnership of the ministries of industrialisation
What advice can you give Africa, even as it dreams of its Green Revolution?
Africa must take ownership, but you do need partners. You need partners who can help, work with you together. You need partners that have resources and technologies. You should bring in strategic partners. The vision to rise from poverty and hunger has to be there to hav your own Green Revolution. Africa must rise up.
ICRISAT is a non-profit, non-political organization that conducts agricultural research for development in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. ICRISAT is headquartered in Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India, with two regional hubs and four country offices in sub-Saharan Africa. It is a member of the CGIAR Consortium. CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future.
ICRISAT research work is centered on five key crops: sorghum, pearl millet, chick pea, and pea (ground) nuts