When plant breeders seek new genetic traits to improve food crops, the search often leads them into uncharted waters – the genetically-remote pools of diversity of related wild species. Combing the depths of these unexplored gene pools is not easy or quick, but can result in game-changing discoveries. Exciting progress is being made through this approach to improve three of the most important grain legume crops of the poor.
A gem that we discovered in groundnut’s (Arachis hypogaea) wild relatives A. cardenasii, A. kempff-mercadoi, A. stenosperma and A. diogoi is resistance to late leaf spot, the most important fungal disease of the crop in Asia. We’ve moved those genes into breeding lines such as ICGV 86699 and ICGV 97165, which in turn have been used by our partners in national agricultural research systems to breed varieties that have been released in farmers’ fields.
There is growing appreciation of the power of markets to lift people out of poverty. In 2011, we made harnessing markets for the poor the foundation of our ICRISAT Strategy. Since then, most of the newly-formed CGIAR Research Programs have incorporated some form of value-chain approach into their own strategies.
The big "I"
I’m sometimes asked, what’s the difference between our Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) strategy versus a conventional value-chain approach? My short answer is, the “I”.
IMOD proactively includes the poor. Unless we take specific actions to include the poor, particularly women, investing in value chains is likely to leave many of them even further behind.
Refocusing on the poor turns many value chain principles on their head. Conventional value chains tend to favor the participation of larger-scale, wealthier farmers for easier management and quality control. Transforming value chains to include the poor requires systems innovation – innovation that enables large numbers of people to participate while still remaining manageable and meeting market demands for consistent product quality and volume.