The International Crops Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has been focusing on crop varieties that are drought and disease-resistant. David J. Bergvinson, who took over as its Director-General in January, spoke to The Hindu about various challenges that lie ahead for the institute. Excerpts from the interview:
What has been your experience over the last five months?
It is very exciting at ICRISAT, India and wherever we are working. I interacted with farmers and was able to see the change that has been taking place in the lives of small and marginal farmers, who are able to invest substantial amounts on education and nutrition. They are adopting innovation technologies developed by ICRISAT.
What is your strategy to improve farming in India?
We are planning country-based strategies for development. In the case of India, it will be State-based as each State here is almost the size of a country in Africa. We will identify country-specific and farmer-specific requirements and accordingly plan our strategy. It will be demand-driven innovation that reaches farmers. We are being welcomed by Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and other governments.
To what extent are farmers able to adopt ICRISAT’s technologies?
It is a challenge involving so many issues like awareness, understanding and advantages of technology, access to technology. In some places, it is there and in some places it is not there or broken and policy issues that allows farmers to use the technology and access to markets.
We have to attract and bring youth into farming which can be commercially viable. We have to think in these terms.
Bring together best management practices, information and communication technology, production technologies which should be relevant and able to create enabling environment.
The public and private sectors should come together and play a key role in this regard. ICRISAT has a very important role to play as a knowledge broker and international organisation and catalyst.
Does the ongoing research need a push?
Yes, it needs a push. We have to prioritise research based on the needs of the society and on essentialities like less rainfall. Climate change is a reality today. Malnutrition is another area of research in India which needs another push.
A society like India has to feed its people to realise its potential. Malnutrition can be addressed through a consortium of partners from public and private sectors. Food systems have narrowed in the past few years and we need to diversify with nutri-cereals which include millets. We call them smart foods.