ICRISAT – A Homecoming

We all knew it was going to be a big moment in the India mission. The President’s visit to ICRISAT at Pantacheru, near the southern Indian city of Hyderabad, was more than just a homecoming to a site where he had spent a decade of his professional career.

ICRISAT’s Director-General, William Dar, told him it was an honour and a pleasure to have a key player in agriculture and development – and a staunch supporter of ICRISAT and the whole CGIAR system – as chief guest at their Annual Day on December 1.

For the President, it was a precious opportunity for catching up with colleagues from his time as a scientist. As he toured the institute, various white-coated colleagues emerged from their labs to recall the working time together. When he arrived at the entomology lab, where he had worked, it was an emotional moment.

It was also the chance for a belated farewell party. When the President was called to take over his post as Director-General of the Africa Rice Centre (then WARDA), there was little time for all the farewells to be fitted in prior to his departure.

The President was keen to visit the large test plantations that surround the research site. And he identified a few plots that he had actually worked on himself, more than a decade ago. The expansion in test plots that has taken place in the meantime was significant.

The institute has dedicated to President, the Kanayo F Nwanze Crop Protection Laboratory and his visit was used to inaugurate the lab centre. Another facility was named after former chair of ICRISAT’s governing body, Dr Ragnhild Sohlberg from Norway.

The ICRISAT senior management met with the President where, among other issues, a grant proposal for research on understanding economic opportunities in semi-arid agriculture in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa was discussed.

The President pointed out that there had been excellent collaboration between ICRISAT and IFAD well before he took office and that this was the result of the high quality work that ICRISAT produces. He also told the Director-General that it was good to see them reaching out to the private sector for partnerships.

The President delivered the keynote address to the Annual Meeting on the role of agricultural research in the face of global challenges, including food security and climate change.

On the first day at Pantacheru an animated press conference was held attended by some 25 journalists.

“Agriculture, even smallholder agriculture in remote areas, must be treated as a business, that provides a livelihood and an income" , the President told the reporters, who were well-versed in agricultural and rural poverty issues.

“This business attitude is already happening in many parts of India” he said, noting that supporting smallholders with the right government policies was vital, policies that would link them to vibrant local competitive markets.

While in Hyderabad, the President also met the Chief Minister of Andra Pradesh, K. Rosaiah, who requested him on the possibility of IFAD supporting a major food security project covering seed development, mechanisation, farmer training and water conservation techniques. Media coverage in Hyderabad was extensive, as it was throughout the India visit.

By Farhana Haque-Rahman