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[CHENNAI] Chile and India will work together to promote agricultural innovation and explore the potential of information and communication technologies (ICTs) in improving rural livelihoods.

The MS Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF) signed an agreement on agricultural cooperation with Chile's Foundation for Agricultural Innovation (FIA) in Chennai last month (20 March).

MSSRF chairman M. S. Swaminathan, Chilean minister for agriculture Marigen Hornkohl Venegas and FIA executive director Rodrigo Vega Alarcon signed the agreement in the presence of Chilean president Michelle Bachelet.

The two organisations will promote the diffusion and use of agricultural research; organise joint courses, seminars, training and field visits in agricultural innovation; and set up workshops to address food, nutrition and environmental concerns.

MSSRF executive director Ajay Parida told SciDev.Net that MSSRF will train Chilean scientists in replicating its 'village knowledge centres' (VKCs) which use ICTs to provide farmers and fishermen with timely, local information on weather, market prices for crops, livestock and fish, and prevailing diseases.

The information can be accessed in a variety of ways, including bulletins on notice boards, wireless public address systems, satellite-based video conferencing, offline CDs and community newspapers in local languages such as Malayalam, Marathi and Tamil. VKCs also provide answers to farmers' queries over the phone and issue video weather forecasts.

The two countries will also work together to improve digital connectivity in rural areas and train more rural people to use digital technologies. During her visit President Bachelet used video conferencing to speak with farmers in two VKC-equipped villages, Puducherry and Nagapattinam in India's southern state of Tamil Nadu. 

Another area of concern for the two countries is the impact of rising sea levels and salinity caused by climate change on agriculture. MSSRF has undertaken a project to restore mangroves as natural storm barriers along India's coasts, following the devastating Indian Ocean tsunami of December 2004.

The foundation is also using biotechnology to develop crop varieties that can tolerate high salinity, and will soon set up a national resource centre for genes, which will house genetic material of crop varieties resistant to drought, heat, salt and floods.

India is also keen to tap into Chile's expertise in horticulture. "It will take a month to identify specific areas of intervention," says Parida.