Agroecology 6 min

G20 MACS in India: INRAE renews partnerships for the environment and food security

Philippe Mauguin, Chair and CEO of INRAE, was in India from 17 to 21 April 2023 to represent France as its Chief Scientific Officer at the G20 Meeting of Agricultural Chief Scientists (MACS). The trip was also an opportunity for INRAE to reiterate the importance of cooperation with its Indian partners. These long-standing partnerships on livestock farming and watershed management in India have led to structuring several innovative international research partnership schemes, including partners from the regional higher education and research ecosystem in France. This work has highlighted the outstanding ability of Indian agriculture to adapt to resilient, productive and sustainable systems. Ensuring food security and nutrition in India, in the context of major climate change challenges, while limiting health and environmental risks, is at the heart of our research priorities. They are developed in a living lab dedicated to the agroecological transition for food security, water and energy, based on a multidisciplinary approach and the implementation of results at the local level.

Published on 20 April 2023

illustration G20 MACS in India: INRAE renews partnerships for the environment and food security
© Laurent Ruiz

The G20 Meeting of Chief Agricultural Scientists (MACS) in Varanasi validated the launch of the new international research initiative on millets and other ancient crops (India Millet Initiative), adapted to climate change and contributing to food security. It will complement the Wheat Initiative, launched in 2011 under the French presidency of the G20.

Increasing climate, health and geopolitical pressures on food security is heightening the need for cooperation with all countries. How can we feed the world’s population while preserving the environment and promoting healthy eating? INRAE and its partners across the world are working together on this issue using a global approach, built over time, based on multidisciplinary and partnership research, in consortiums and international laboratories. It also includes research and development schemes, to ensure that results are implemented on the ground in India.

An upcoming research programme with ICAR to develop new research

INRAE has worked with the Indian Council for Agricultural Research (ICAR), a research institute under the aegis of the Indian Ministry of Agriculture and Farmers Welfare, since 2003. Composed of 111 institutes and more than 70 agricultural universities across the country, ICAR is one of INRAE’s three most important partners in India. The partnership is set to grow with a new workplan presented during a high-level meeting which took place on the sidelines of the G20 MACS in Varanasi. The workplan, part of the existing framework agreement that includes CIRAD, to be renewed in 2025, should cover areas of research such as soil, climate change and One Health, as well as new approaches like nature-based solutions and precision farming. Attuned to local context, the programme includes India’s MAHRISHI initiative on millets and other ancient grains with an upcoming conference organised with ICAR, CIRAD and IRD.

Strengthening the long-standing partnership with IISc in Bengaluru

A framework agreement was reached by INRAE and the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bengaluru, extending cooperation beyond the strong existing partnership with the Indo French Cell for Water Sciences Research Unit (CEFIRSE), in partnership with CNRS, CNES, IRD, UPMC and the University of Toulouse, to other areas of research including wastewater reuse (REUSE).

IISc is India’s foremost research university, established in 1909 to become one of the world's finest academic institutions through excellence and the promotion of innovation. An informal partnership between INRAE and IISc was launched in 2002 with several extended stays at CEFIRSE by INRAE researcher Laurent Ruiz. Today, 50% of all INRAE co-publications in India are made with the IISc. Cooperation between the two institutions covers urban water reuse, green chemistry —including the recovery of organic solvents from industrial ones— and molecular cell biology in food and plant sciences.

The ADWISE international associated laboratory (LIA) project, for the biological treatment of greywater and wastewater, is expected to be updated in the near future with INRAE’s AQUA and TRANSFORM divisions, using the REUSE approach.

CEFIRSE: 20 years of Indo-French research in water and agriculture
Interview with Laurent Ruiz, INRAE Research Engineer and joint manager of the CEFIRSE International Research Project.

How was the Indo-French cell created?

It all started in the early 2000s when the French research minister at the time, Claude Allègre, asked French research institutions to create a joint research unit on water in India with French researchers working on site. The CEFIRSE unit, or ‘cell’, was established via a bilateral agreement between IRD and IISc in 2001, and I was transferred there in 2002 from the IRD. I developed research activities focused on the link between water and agriculture and created the CEFIPRA AICHA project in 2013, followed by the ANR-ATCHA project (2018-2022). Since 2018, INRAE, as well as CNRS and UPS, are official members of CEFIRSE, along with the IISc and IRD.

What type of water management is needed for farming in India?

For a long time, India relied on rain-fed subsistence agriculture based on annual rainfall cycles, but this changed in the 1950s. The “green revolution” and the development of large surface irrigation projects has allowed India to achieve self-sufficiency in food thanks to its wheat and rice crops. Since the 1980s, the arrival of electricity in rural areas has allowed millions of small-scale farmers to install electrically operated submersible pumps to access groundwater for irrigation. Today, no other country in the world pumps more groundwater; pumping is thought to consume between 20 and 30% of the electricity India produces annually. Aquifers are increasingly overexploited, however, which pushes farmers to drill increasingly deeper to access water.

What can your research in Indian agriculture teach us?

We discovered the extraordinary capacity of Indian farmers to adapt to change in the face of increasingly scarce water resources and achieve high productivity and resilience. An irrigated farm worked by 2 people is able to earn a decent farm income with just 0.6 hectare of land. This kind of productivity is exceptional; in France, the average farm is over 60 hectares in size. Indian agriculture is known for its diverse range of crop species, small-sized farms (1 hectare on average) and, in most cases, manual farming methods, which enables a high level of flexibility and incredibly diverse practices. We observed a decline in systemic adaptability and productivity in areas where farms are growing in size and there is an increase in mechanization.

Research and development with the Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF): on the ground with Indian farmers

The Bharatiya Agro Industries Foundation (BAIF) is an NGO founded in 1967 by Manibhai Desai to pioneer the crossbreeding of high-yield European cattle with robust Indian breeds to help the country’s poorest farmers. The foundation’s livelihood and climate resilience programmes have had a positive impact on rural lives. Operations are spread across nearly 100,000 villages in 13 states. INRAE’s partnership with the BAIF began in the 1980s with India’s drive to develop milk production. After initial cooperation projects in livestock farming, others followed in the areas of genomics and ecosystem services for agroecology. The majority of INRAE and CIRAD projects in livestock farming and agriculture now involve the BAIF for access to land and the results of implementation.

Since 2019, INRAE and the BAIF have been working together within the framework of the Genetic IMprovement of Indian Cattle and Buffaloes (GIMIC) international associated laboratory (LIA) to demonstrate the feasibility of sustainable breeding programs. The goal? Improve the genetic value of cattle and buffaloes in tropical conditions characterized by low input management and small herds.

The CEO’s visit to India enabled the fourth renewal of the framework agreement initiated in 2003 with the BAIF, INRAE and CIRAD. It provides for research and development cooperation in order to implement research results and develop projects for agroecological transition, the environment and climate change, as well as food and nutrition security.

The CliNSFoodS living lab: towards an agroecological transition for Indian farmers

At the Knowledge Summit#1 in Delhi in March 2018, the heads of INRAE and BAIF joined forces to develop a roadmap that was submitted to the ministers of higher education and research in their respective countries. The review of the present forces between INRAE and its partners, made it possible to design a new project in 2019 to create a Living Lab “Towards Climate Smart and Nutrition Sensitive Food Systems” (CliNSFoodS).

Designed in response to the issues raised by scientists at the Summit, the living lab addresses three fundamental components of the agroecological transition. The first is an agroecological intensification of crops to ensure better yields and economic security for farmers, together with ecosystem services aimed at improving soil health, promoting biodiversity and improving water management. The second is an assessment of what farmers contribute to the local food systems of their villages and districts, and the economic and environmental impacts of diversifying production based primarily on nutritional criteria. The third component will study social and economic factors in this transition with the objective of aligning markets and agroecological practices and incentivizing farmers to adopt these practices in the villages of Bilikere and expand to the district of Mysore and the state of Karnataka. 

The BAIF has an experimental field to develop activities in the Bilikere watershed. Measures to support the agroecological transition have been launched with farmers and an assessment is underway using the Tool for Agroecology Performance Evaluation (TAPE) of the FAO. Today, funding sources are needed to launch the next phases of the project of living lab. A letter of intent, signed during Philippe Mauguin’s visit to Pune, consolidated the joint support provided by INRAE and BAIF for the CliNSFoodS living lab.


Ariane LelahAuthor

Contacts scientifiques

Laurent Ruiz Research engineer at INRAE, co-director of the international research project CEFIRSEJoint research unit “Soils, Agricultural and hydrological systems, Spatialization” (SAS)

Edmond Rock INRAE Reasearch DirectorHuman Nutrition Unit (UNH)

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