8) Identifying research priorities in South and West Asia (7 October 2004)

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is hosting an international workshop on need assessment and prioritization of agricultural research for South and West Asia. The workshop is jointly organized with the Asia-Pacific Association for Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI).

Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, said that the workshop is significant since it will identify the areas where agricultural research has to be strengthened and prioritized for maximum impact in the region. “We feel that a critical gap analysis would lead to a clear and comprehensive assessment of critical research needs that require attention, which in turn will result in a better programmatic focus, efficient research prioritization and resource allocation.” Dr Dar said.
Dr Dar said that all the 15 international research institutes under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) have together started on a system wide process to identify research priorities. Action has been initiated to form a Future Harvest Alliance with the specific objective of focusing on research as a group. The idea is gaining strength within the CGIAR system.

The CGIAR has identified a set of 10 priority areas, among which the significant ones include the conservation and characterization of genetic resources; genetic improvement of specific traits; improved management of soils, forest and water; enhancing the growth of the livestock and fisheries sector; and strengthening institutions and policies for agricultural growth. Each of the CGIAR centers will look at ways to align with these priorities, and also work with regional and sub-regional organizations to achieve these goals.

Dr RS Paroda, Executive Secretary of the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutions (APAARI), said that identifying the research priorities has to be an evolutionary and bottom-up approach. All partners from the public and private sectors, NGOs and citizens have to be involved in the process.

Though significant progress has been made in agricultural research in the region, certain gaps have to be addressed, Dr Paroda said. There are still sectoral imbalances in agriculture. For instance, livestock and fisheries have not received the same importance as crop improvement.

The workshop has participation from all the 15 international agricultural research institutes under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research; regional organizations such as APAARI; and the national agricultural research system from Bangladesh, India, Iran, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Pakistan.

The last four decades have witnessed impressive gains in food production, food security and reduction in rural poverty in South Asia, thanks largely to the use of modern technology, high-yielding varieties (HYVs), intensive use of irrigation, and fertilizers. However, there has been a skewed distribution of benefits across countries and regions within the countries.
Issues such as low productivity, water scarcity, degradation of natural resources, widespread poverty are threatening to further marginalize agriculture and livelihoods of poor people in the region. Enhancing productivity in agriculture is therefore vital for improving the well being of the poor in these regions.

Given the limited resources and the need for greater and quicker impacts, it is essential to prioritize research. The workshop will start the process for a study of research needs and gap analysis has to be a bottom-up, participatory, group exercise involving farmers, NGOs, farmer organizations, research, extension and development workers.
In terms of broad research themes, soil and water management, commercialization and diversification of production systems, market integration, livestock (including health and nutrition), mapping of poverty, and sustainable seed and technology systems are some of the high priority areas. However, local priorities will to be identified, based on research need assessment studies in the region and also according to the needs and goals of the research institutions, NGOs and the local community.

The participating organizations at the workshop expect that once the research needs in different ecologies, sub-sectors (crops, horticulture, animal science, fishery etc.) and farmer groups (small, medium, and large) are identified, the research institutions concerned can examine their research portfolios and identify the gaps. These gaps can then find place in future research programs.

For further information, contact Dr Cynthia Bantilan at c(dot)bantilan(at)cgiar(dot)org.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.