A Global Agricultural Research Partnership

CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems

Testing and scaling-up best-best technology and policy packages 

While agricultural research and achievements have helped countries improve the livelihoods of many smallholder farmers in dry areas over the past three decades, much more intensive efforts are needed to get useful technologies into the hands of communities on a wider scale

The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems is an example of what the future will look like. Dryland Systems is a partnership of several dozen actors, including national research systems from 28 countries, universities, extension agents, civil society organizations, advanced research centers, CGIAR partners, and other development partners.

Dryland Systems is led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) ( It engages in large-scale action research to identify ‘best-bet’ intervention packages. It will validate their effectiveness in specific agro-ecosystems, and promote their scaling-up in the dry areas of five Target Regions: (i) West Asia and North Africa, (ii) Western Africa and the Dry Savannas, (iii) Eastern and Southern Africa, (iv) Central Asia and (v) South Asia.

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.

An innovative ‘systems’ approach

Dryland Systems takes research-for-development thinking much further than traditional approaches. The continual development of new crop 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.

Dryland Systems addresses two agro-ecologies. In low-potential dry areas, it looks at improving the resilience of production systems where farmers are faced with climate unpredictability. In more favorable dry areas, it encourages sustainable intensification of production systems, where possible, to provide farmers with opportunities for crop diversification and increased income.

Dryland Systems targets the poor and highly vulnerable populations of the dry areas. It aims to develop technology, policy and institutional innovations to improve livelihoods, using an integrated systems approach.

Dryland systems are diverse and complex, with interactions between multiple components. For many years, researchers tended to focus on the individual components, not the system as a whole. The program uses a more holistic approach, aiming to understand these interactions, and identify the key factors that drive system-level processes or constrain productivity growth. This knowledge will be vital for developing new farming technologies, research tools and policy options to improve rural livelihoods.

Research is structured under four themes:

    • Strengthening innovation systems
    • Reducing vulnerability and managing risk
    • Sustainable intensification and market linkages
    • Impact assessment and cross-regional synthesis

Research in each target region will cover two types of areas: highly vulnerable, poverty-endemic areas, where the aim is to reduce risk and vulnerability; and higher-potential areas, where the program will help farmers intensify production, diversify the farming system, and connect to profitable markets.