“New approaches linking research and development
are critical to make research work better
for people in the world’s dry areas”
‘FAO-ICARDA Day’ at the FAO Regional Conference for the Near East
Development and research actors must give more critical attention to providing solutions to the smallholder agriculture problems. This is particularly true for the challenges faced by many of the 2.5 billion people living in the world’s dry areas, which comprise 40% of the earth’s surface. A range of practical solutions exist today, created by agricultural research partners. But these options still remain out of reach to many people living in the dry areas.
To move research into use on a large scale, and improve the lives of many more smallholder farmers, new approaches to research and partnership are required. Approaches and strategies were discussed at a special meeting of FAO (The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation) and ICARDA (The International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas), – with country representatives at the FAO Regional Conference for the Near East on May 16. (Details).
At the session, FAO leaders in research, knowledge management and plant protection consulted with ICARDA management and representatives of FAO’s Near East member countries. They reviewed directions that the two organizations can take to improve the uptake of agricultural research innovations for rural communities and smallholders.
Adding value to agricultural extension: civil society and the private sector
Country representatives called on FAO and ICARDA to strengthen their collaboration to link research to development action on the ground in countries. This can be done, they said, taking a broader view of extension that will increase technology and knowledge transfer to farmers and pastoralists. This approach to extension provides rural advisory services, and involves civil society organizations and private sector actors to more effectively translate research into practical innovations that farmers can use.
Countries also requested support for capacity development and to facilitate access to innovative technologies and practices that are affordable to smallholders in the region. This support is considered essential to better address the current and future challenges in agriculture and food security in the region (see conference report).
A key element discussed was the work in progress by FAO to prepare a ‘roadmap’ to engage with the CGIAR Consortium Board and Centres on a more strategic and long- term basis.
The need for greater collaboration between countries, international bodies such as FAO and the international research network of the CGIAR has never been more important, said Laurent Thomas, Assistant Director General for Technical Cooperation at the FAO. The combination of fluctuating food prices, unpredictable climate patterns – that encourage crop diseases and pests in areas where they were never a threat – water shortage and degradation of soils, have conspired to reduce the prospects for food security for smallholder farmers, especially in the dry areas. Henri Carsalade, the Chair of ICARDA’s Board of Trustees, emphasized the historical and strategic importance partnership of the CGIAR and FAO to link research with development and the collaboration between FAO and ICARDA is exemplary.
Stronger research for development partnerships
Science and technology are the drivers of increased food security for countries and smallholder communities. “But this will not happen without stronger research-for- development partnerships that can make scaling up and technology adoption a reality on the ground,” he reiterated.
These partnerships for scaling-up must include a range of country actors – including research, extension and civil society groups; FAO – which convenes and facilitates policy dialogue on food security at the political level, and the CGIAR – the world’s agricultural research for development group, he said.
The current reform of the CGIAR, and the changes progressing at FAO provide an ideal opportunity to intensify this partnership to further link research with development.
ICARDA’s dryland systems approach
Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA’s Director General set the scene of the current state and challenges for agricultural
research in the dry areas and presented the case for why these areas merit the world’s critical attention and investment in research for development.
“Getting agricultural research innovations into use in the dry areas is critically important, especially if we consider that these regions cover 40% of the earth’s surface and are home to 2.5 billion people – a significant percentage of the the world’s population,” he explained.
The estimated benefits of ICARDA’s crop improvement research and production of new varieties over the past three decades has been estimated at $850 million per year.
While these and many other achievements have helped countries improve the livelihoods of many smallholder farmers in dry areas over the past three decades, Solh said that much more intense efforts are needed to get useful technologies into the hands of communities on a wider scale.
Best-bet technology and policy packages
As an example of what the future will look like, he explained the approach of the new CGIAR Dryland Systems Research Program referred to as CRP1.1 on Integrated Agricultural Production Systems for Improving Food Security and Livelihoods in Dry Areas – a partnership of several dozen actors, including national research systems and universities, extension agents, civil society organizations, advanced research centers, CGIAR partners, FAO and other development partners. .
“With this program, which is led by ICARDA, we will engage in large-scale action research to identify ‘best-bet’ intervention packages. The program will validate their effectiveness in specific agro-ecosystems, and promote their scaling-up in dry areas of the West Asia and North Africa, Western Africa and the Dry Savannas, Eastern and Southern Africa, Central and, South Asia” explained Solh. The integrated production packages proposed will combine improved crop varieties, suggestions for diversification to new types of crops, approaches for effective land and water management, disease and pest management, socio-economic considerations and appropriate policy and institutional options.
This ‘systems approach’ takes research-for-development thinking much further than the traditional approaches, he explains. The continual development of new varieties is vital to the world’s future food security, but they need to be delivered in a context that meets the daily reality of smallholder farming communities. “Here we are addressing two agro-ecologies,” explained Solh, “in low-potential dry areas – to improve the resilience of production systems where farmers are faced with climate unpredictability; andin more favourable dry areas – to encourage sustainable intensification of these production systems, where possible, to provide farmers with opportunities for crop diversification and increased income.”
Shaping a new CGIAR-FAO partnership
FAO and the CGIAR have a long history of collaboration, on a range of activities and have agreements with different CGIAR research centers across the developing world.
Andrea Sonnino Chief or the FAO’s Research and Extension Branch sees the current reform of the CGIAR as an opportunity to develop a new level of strategic partnership with FAO, which can link the CGIAR’s research strengths with FAO’s development programmes and strong country relationships. He proposed to develop a roadmap that identifies local needs and priorities in a series of regional and local consultations, that feed into a high-level dialogue. “A new Memorandum of Understanding developed in this way will help sharpen our focus and transform a myriad of individual collaborations between FAO and CGIAR centers into a strategic alliance that can make a long term impact on agricultural development,” he said.
He explained how FAO was a key player in the process of the new CGIAR reform by contributing to the creation of the new CGIAR Research programmes.
The recent external evaluation of FAO recommended that FAO and the CGIAR develop a strong coalition that will make new knowledge available to those who need it in a much more comprehensive way. “A broad consultation is now in progress within FAO, and with our country and regional offices. This will result in a roadmap and action plan for future CGIAR-FAO collaboration based on priority needs identified at national and regional level. We feel that current links are excellent, but we can be more strategic, defining the longer term impact of what we want to achieve with countries”, Sonnino explained.
He also gave examples of current collaboration between the two groups, which includes FAO participation in the new CGIAR research programs on Dryland Systems, Water, Land and Ecosystems, and Climate Change and with CIAT on approaches for women and climate change mitigation in smallholder farming.
Other established activities are the hosting of the CGIAR’s Independent Science Council (ISPC) and the Global Forum for Agricultural Research (GFAR). Preparations are ongoing for the hosting by FAO of the new CGIAR Independent Evaluation Office by FAO that is currently being established.
The CIARD open access platform for all agricultural information is facilitated by FAO as a joint activity with CGIAR centers and others.
Kakoli Ghosh, FAO’s team leader of Seeds and Plant Genetic Resources in the Plant Production and Protection Division, offered a snapshot of the most intensive areas of FAO-ICARDA collaboration. She highlighted opportunities for future collaboration, which will benefit smallholders and respond to the needs for FAO member countries. These include: analyzing constraints and developing indicators to better understand what is needed to ensure scaling-up of innovations; a partnership to promote seed, cereal and legume production; working together to promote diversification and the use of adapted crop diversity; creation of a platform for participatory technology development with farmers.
Xiangjun Yao,Director of FAO’s Office of Knowledge Exchange, Research and Extension, who represents FAO in the CGIAR Fund Council emphasized that building a vibrant coalition between FAO and the CGIAR requires a demand-driven consultative process which will consider country programme frameworks and regional priorities to identify focus areas of future collaboration.
This FAO/ICARDA event during the Regional Conference for the Near East can be considered as a first step towards developing a more strategic approach to future collaboration.
Following the consultative process, the preparation of a Memorandum of Understanding between FAO and the CGIAR Consortium Office will provide a framework for a more strategic collaboration which will identify concrete actions for collaboration and impact based on priority needs identified at field level.
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This update was written by Michael Devlin (ICARDA) and Karin Nichterlein (FAO)
Pictures courtesy ICARDA/FAO/IISD