36) For a food-secure future (March 2000)

THREE DECADES ago, a major food shortage which experts predicted to lead to catastrophic famines was experienced all over the world. But a group of public and private development agencies networked and averted the danger. Green revolution came paving the way to increasing the yields of the world's most important food crops and putting the farmers' innovation to use. Just as we enter the new millennium, another food crisis confronts us, much more complex and more dangerous than the first one. Some 840 million people go hungry everyday, and at least 1.3 billion live on less than US$1 (Rs. 43) per day.

The need to eradicate poverty and provide food security for the growing population presents formidable challenge to developing countries. But their capacity to respond to these challenges is often limited. Are we then to just leave it like that? Who will come to their rescue? The U.S. government has been readily answering the needs of the developing nation through its altruistic research on agriculture focused on eradicating poverty, hunger and malnutrition. The challenge of integrating scientific research into agriculture and rural development programmes have been given utmost importance in their projects in partnership with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Working hand in hand, CGIAR which has the system in place and the tools at hand, and the U.S. government providing the needed financial resources, tackles the problem and provides possible solution using scientific advances, training and capacity building towards agricultural development. The partnership grew over the years and has and still is contributing greatly to global food production with its agricultural researches which has direct bearing on poverty and food security in developing countries.

To date, the United States ranked as one of the three biggest donors of the CGIAR having contributed US$ 40.5 million or 12 per cent of its total budget. This includes US$ 4 million to the prestigious International Crops Research Institute for the Semi- Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), one of the 16 research and development centres whose main focus is on the drier rainfed areas where crops like millets and sorghum, the staple food of the poorest people in the world are grown. To alleviate poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in Asia, Africa and the world, is the main mission of ICRISAT.

With its headquarters in Patancheru near Hyderabad, ICRISAT does research on the six crops grown in the semi-arid tropics, in India and Africa - sorghum, chickpea, pearl millet, groundnut, pigeonpea and finger millet.

The United States does not only support ICRISAT financially in its research and initiatives to eradicate hunger in the world, a number of American scientists had come to work for and with ICRISAT. An American, Dr. Ralph W. Cummings, its first Director General (1972-1977) was a key figure in the green revolution within India which helped the country avert the spectre of famine during that period.

In close collaboration and research linkages with universities in the United States, several varieties and technology has been developed and proved to make distinguished contribution to the betterment of life in regions where people have very little food to eat. USAID funds and sponsors the ICRISAT's project on convening and managing crop research networks and programmes involving national organizations in the poorest countries of West Africa for millet and Southern Africa for both sorghum and millet.
``Our new agenda is science with a human face for improving the livelihood of the 300 million poor inhabiting the semi-arid tropics (SAT) across the globe,'' this is according to Dr. William Dar, the ICRISAT Director General. A scientist and administrator, Dr. Dar believes that beyond producing quality and cutting edge science and relevant research, the work that ICRISAT does, in cooperation with its partners, must benefit most of the marginalised, the disadvantaged and the hungry.

The tripartite partnership of the United States government and its people, CGIAR and ICRISAT thrives on the premise that scientific research should serve the cause of the poor and the hungry. Thus this alliance should serve as an example for the many others who have been reluctant in devoting or sharing resources and implementing realistic agricultural research agendas which would lead to a well nourished population of the world.

Highlighting the new approaches in the beginning of the new millennium, Dr. Dar said: ``Participatory approach will be a major institutional strategy to scientific research and enhance development. We will have pro-active resource mobilisation strategy for running the institution. For this, we may have to tap non-traditional donors such as private sector and multi- national companies. We will identify new development partners and build synergy with the National Agriculture Research Systems (NARS) to achieve the goal of eradicating hunger, reducing poverty and safeguarding the environment in the African and Asian semi-arid tropics. As we fulfill this role, we shall come much closer to our common and shared dream of a prosperous, sustainable and food secure world in the semi-arid tropics.''

G. VENKATARAMANI


by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.