Innovate and invest for a better future                        for the drylands

Speaking as one of the panelists in the plenary session on
“Africa: The Frontier for Arid Farming” at the GFIA.

I have just returned from the Global Forum for Innovations in Agriculture in Abu Dhabi where I was on the panel discussing “Africa: The frontier for  arid farming”. It was a stimulating few days where many innovators, investors, NGOs and decision-makers gathered to present and discuss sustainable solutions to debate big ideas to provide food for all in the future.

Be sustainable and include the poorest

As Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR consortium put it, this is “an exciting time to be an agricultural scientist” working on how to overcome the many challenges to feed 9 billion people by 2050. These include water scarcity, land degradation, population growth and climate change.

It’s not a surprise, in arid Abu Dhabi, that many water-saving inventions were showcased like aquaponics
(a hydroponic system where vegetable culture is combined with tilapia farming tanks), and a buried diffuser that can save two times more irrigation water compared to drip systems while yielding more. Inventing sustainable farming will require ways to produce more crops with fewer natural resources.

Explore It!

The internet fundamentally changes how we learn. Instead of digging into physical library books, nowadays we’re more likely to “google it” first.

To google for answers, though, we first need to know our questions. We have to type in the right search words to get the information that we seek. But what do we do when we don't even know what questions to ask - for example when we’re exploring a new and unfamiliar subject?

We’re challenging ourselves to make it easier for our ICRISAT partners and stakeholders to carry out these kinds of open-ended explorations of our enormous knowledge base in a more efficient, effective way. We take into account that different learners have different interests and different starting levels of knowledge.


Towards this end, I’m excited to announce a new information product that we call EXPLOREit@ICRISAT. EXPLOREit (for short) is a web-based system that automatically assembles and updates packages of information about our main subject areas. We’ve initially defined 35 subjects across the spectrum of crops, topics, geographic locations, systems and knowledge/data stores that we work on.

EXPLOREit weaves together our current knowledge on each of these subjects from across our websites, databases and the internet, making it easily accessible from a single-page starting point. There, the knowledge is sub-organized by tabs so that learners can focus on their areas of interest. For example, for each of our five focus crops the tabs offer the learner an overview, knowledge of the crop’s botany, facts and figures about the crop, releases of improved varieties, past and current major projects on that crop, publications, databases, and public awareness stories.