A Global Agricultural Research Partnership

New global research partnership tackles the problems of drylands agriculture

New thinking that considers all aspects of an agro-ecosystem is urgently needed if research is to be applied in a practical way that helps dryland populations

An ambitious new science program launched this week – the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems – aims to raise agricultural productivity and strengthen food security in the driest areas of the developing world. This $120 million initiative (covering an initial three years) with funding from the CGIAR Fund is the latest ‘research for development’ initiative of CGIAR, the world’s leading agricultural research partnership.

The Dryland Systems program is a new partnership of more than 60 research and development organizations. It proposes a unique ‘holistic’ approach to improving the food security and income of rural communities that live on tropical and non-tropical dry areas that cover some 40% of the earth’s surface. These areas are the home of more than two billion people. Following an intense consultation and planning phase among a wide range of stakeholders in 2012, including scientists, civil society partners and policy makers, the program is now being put into action to address challenges facing dry areas in five target regions: West African Sahel and the Dry Savannas, East and Southern Africa, North Africa and West Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and South Asia.

The program is led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA, a member of the CGIAR Consortium). It brings together leading research specialists with a range of national partners from low-income countries and development specialists to answer the following questions: how can vulnerability be reduced for people in the world’s most marginal rural areas; and how can people in higher-potential lands substantially increase productivity and income while protecting the environment?

“The dry areas of the developing world are likely to experience increasing poverty, out-migration and food insecurity under a business-as-usual scenario,” says Dr. Frank Rijsberman, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium. “Climate change is already affecting rural communities in these regions and immediate action is required. The Dryland Systems research partnership is working alongside communities to identify, develop, and encourage the use of new innovations – whether improved technologies, farming practices, or policies – and facilitating access to new agri-business and market opportunities. These diverse approaches will help communities better adapt to climate change and increase food production for their rapidly growing populations.”

Dr. Mahmoud Solh, Director General of ICARDA, explains that with the serious climate change implications in dry areas, an increasing number of people living in dry areas are facing a critical situation regarding their future food security. “New thinking that considers all aspects of an agro-ecosystem is urgently needed if research is to be applied in a practical way that helps dryland populations. The Dryland Systems program is tightly focused on understanding what combinations of technologies and practices work best following an integrated production system approach in specific agro-ecosystems, and what is needed for them to be scaled-up to improve the lives of millions of people living in these areas.”

The dry areas of the developing world occupy over 40% of the earth’s surface and are home to some 2.5 billion people. Many in these regions struggle to provide sufficient food for their growing populations and face a series of daunting physical and demographic challenges: high poverty levels and unemployment, rapid urbanization, severe water scarcity, and land degradation. Many of these problems and constraints are expected to worsen as a result of climate change.

Many of the individual technologies to improve food security are known, according to Program Director, Dr.  Bill Payne, but these are often applied in a piecemeal way that looks at a single crop or a small set of technologies.  “The unique aspect of the Dryland Systems program is how we combine and test a wide range of interventions – improved crop varieties, innovative farming practices, income generating approaches, and policy options – and develop these packages with our partner countries to see how they can be spread across dryland food production systems,” he explains.

The program is unique in several ways. This is the first global research program that targets a series of common problems faced by dry land production systems across low-income countries. By combining and testing ‘technology and policy packages’ the Program identifies high-potential integrated approaches that can be scaled-up to improve the lives of rural communities. The program targets improvements following approaches to two dry area agro-ecosystems: minimizing the risk and vulnerability of agricultural production systems of communities living in low-potential dry areas; and in higher potential areas, the sustainable intensification and diversification of production systems to enhance people’s food security and income in a sustainable way.

The integrated approach applied by the Dryland Systems program includes combinations of crop, livestock, rangeland, aquatic, and agroforestry activities. These activities will combine natural resource management and inputs, genetic improvement of crops and livestock, and socio-economic, policy and institutional support. Potential solutions will include more sustainable farming techniques, including better water productivity. ‘Climate smart’ strategies and technologies for farmers and communities also play an important role.

For more information:
CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems

Photo credit: P. Casier/CGIAR