Ending poverty, hunger and malnutrition in the tropical drylands  

Tropical drylands are too often seen as hopelessly poor and dependent on external aid. We at ICRISAT challenge this pessimistic view. We’ve seen firsthand that dryland farmers are ingenious and resourceful. When enabled by scientific innovations, supportive policies and strong partnerships, they have increased the productivity of their crops and their incomes by several-fold, while improving the resilience of their lands and livelihoods.

The potential is clear; but as Dr. Norman Borlaug famously said, “you can’t eat potential”. The challenge is to implement this optimistic vision on a wide scale, not as a one-size-fits-all solution, but in ways that adapt to, and capitalize upon the enormous diversity of these drylands.

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Vision, mission and approach  

ICRISAT envisions “a prosperous, food-secure and resilient dryland tropics” achieved through our mission to “reduce poverty, hunger, malnutrition and environmental degradation in the dryland tropics.” ICRISAT carries out partnership-based international agricultural research-for-development focused on improving livelihoods of those most in need - a core value that we summarize as ‘Science with a Human Face’.

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Aspirational targets  

We’ve set our sights on achieving four bold targets by 2020:

  • Help to halve rural poverty by increasing farm incomes through more productive, stable, diverse and profitable crops and crop products,

  • Help to halve hunger by contributing innovations that increase yields by 30% on a wide scale and through policy advice that stabilizes food prices and availability,

  • Help to halve childhood malnutrition by enhancing the nutrient content of staple food crops and helping the poor diversify their crops, delivering more nutritious and safer food, and

  • Increase the resilience of dryland farming through innovations that stabilize, safeguard and enhance natural resource capital, biological and systems diversity, and land health.

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Inclusive market-oriented development  

Markets provide the ‘pull’ or demand for goods that increases the income of farmers who provide those goods. But wealthier farmers often capture these market opportunities first, because they have the resources and knowledge to respond quickly. A central challenge is to include the poor in market opportunities. This requires doing research and development in different and innovative ways. We call our strategy to address this challenge ‘Inclusive Market Oriented Development’ (IMOD).

IMOD is illustrated in the diagram below. The large arrow denotes progress from subsistence agriculture (growing crops only to feed the family – and often falling short of that objective) towards market-oriented agriculture (selling some or all of the farm’s produce for higher income). The wheel represents innovation, which improves the productivity, reliability and sustainability of smallholder farming. These steady improvements allow a farmer to generate increasing surpluses of food and cash, some of which is reinvested in improving the resilience of the farm, thus reducing the need for social assistance such as emergency food aid (the lower triangular elements of the diagram).

  IMOD graph  

IMOD changes the way we think about agricultural development. In the past, our aim was to reduce the suffering of the poorest farmers through incremental improvements in their existing farming practices, such as a 10-20% yield improvement for certain crops. This is a static model of development, because it modestly alleviates poverty and hunger rather than escaping it. IMOD summons a larger ambition. It asks us to search for a wider range of innovations that can harness markets to improve farmer incomes many-fold to achieve a state of prosperity. IMOD recognizes that this progress is continuous, requiring innovations that lead from one step to the next. IMOD is thus a dynamic, ambitious model of progress towards prosperity.

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Systems perspective  

In another break with the past, our Strategy requires us to analyze our initiatives in the context of systems, rather than as isolated ‘magic bullets’. Experience has shown that constraints in systems often blunt the impact of isolated innovations. For example, a type of system that is frequently important to IMOD is the crop value chain. The systems perspective requires us to identify the links in such value chains, the amount of value associated with those links, constraints and bottlenecks in the functioning of those chains, the institutions and other actors who influence those chains, the most promising entry points for improving those chains, opportunities for the poor to capture more of the chain’s value, and other issues. The systems perspective thus directs our attention to a rich set of important questions that received too little attention in the past. Addressing these questions will ultimately improve the impact of our work.

In addition to our ongoing core partnerships with national and regional institutions, the systems perspective requires us to also include others that are influential in IMOD systems such as input suppliers, marketers, processors, micro-finance institutions, natural resource management agencies, policy makers, farmer cooperatives, non-governmental organizations and more.

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Research Programs  

To implement our strategy, we’ve established four Research Programs corresponding to our main areas of expertise and effort:

Resilient Dryland Systems – Reducing vulnerability to drought and climate change while increasing crop diversity and value

Markets, Institutions and Policies – Harnessing development pathways for inclusive prosperity

Grain Legumes – Raising and securing legume productivity for health, income and sustainability

Dryland Cereals – Increasing dryland cereal crop productivity to help end hunger.

In parallel with the Strategic Plan, the CGIAR is reorganizing its organizational structure, including the formation of Consortium Research Programs that we lead on Grain Legumes and on Dryland Cereals.

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Critical focus areas  

Cutting across the strategic thrusts are a number of capacities that we will particularly strengthen to more fully exploit exciting opportunities in areas of rapidly-advancing science. These are:

  1. Monitoring, evaluation and impact assessment;
  2. Gender and diversity analysis;
  3. Geospatial science methods;
  4. Modeling and scenario analysis;
  5. Modern breeding platforms;
  6. Information and communication technology;
  7. Knowledge sharing and innovation; and
  8. Fostering agro-enterprises.
For more information, please download the ICRISAT Strategic Plan 2011-2020.

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