10) Rebuilding agriculture to help communities cope with natural disasters and conflicts (27 June 2005)
The 15 international agricultural research institutes under the Alliance of Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR help rural communities cope with the Asian Tsunami, the Afghan war and many other disasters in developing countries across the world.
Restoring agriculture is a critical first step in helping developing countries recover from natural disasters and conflicts. Though the ‘Healing Wounds' initiative, the 15 international agricultural research institutes under the Alliance of the Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR (the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) are helping to rehabilitate agriculture in 47 developing countries in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Pacific.
The CGIAR centers are linking their cutting-edge agricultural research and partnerships with international donors, national governments, research institutes non-government organizations to provide ‘smart aid', which is aid fortified with research knowledge that helps reduce and prevent suffering. The strategy of the CGIAR centers is to alleviate hunger by rebuilding seed and food systems; safeguard and restore agro-biodiversity, rebuild human and institutional capacities; reduce future vulnerabilities; and make relief aid more effective and efficient.
According to Dr William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and Chairman of the Alliance Executive of the Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR, the rural poor in developing countries depend heavily on agriculture for a living. So when natural disasters and conflicts strike, they are the ones worst affected. "Through the Healing Wounds initiative we help them cope with the disaster and strengthen their preparedness," Dr Dar added.
When the Asian tsunami struck on 26 December 2004, the geographic information specialists at the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) located in Sri Lanka, in collaboration with MapAction, a UK-based NGO, produced 22 maps that helped target relief supplies.
According to Dr Robert Zeigler, Director General of the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) based at Los Banos, Laguna, Philippines, scientists from the Institute dipped into the rice germplasm collection in their genebank to send seeds of salt-tolerant rice varieties. "The agro-biodiversity conserved in the CGIAR centers can provide the building blocks for rehabilitating agriculture after disasters," Dr Zeigler said.
In Tamil Nadu, India, where ICRISAT is working in partnership with the M S Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), internet-linked rural knowledge centers (RKCs) are linking the affected coastal communities with agricultural experts. Groundnut is one of the most badly affected crops. In collaboration with national institutes such as the Central Research Institute for Dryland Agriculture, ICRISAT-MSSRF is helping the farmers restart groundnut cultivation. For the medium- and long-term, the process is underway to screen crop varieties for salt tolerance, select varieties through community participation, establish local seed banks, and rehabilitate soil and water systems.
According to Dr M S Swaminathan, Chairman of MSSRF and the Indian National Farmers' Commission, these information centers are the platforms for understanding the needs of the coastal communities and initiating research-based interventions that can sustain new practices over the long-term. These centers provide the opportunity for engaging the rural youth as the key actors in the rehabilitation process.
Through the Healing Wounds initiative, the CGIAR centers are also working on rehabilitating agriculture in countries devastated by conflicts. In Afghanistan, a Consortium of CGIAR centers, led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), has refurbished Afghanistan's agricultural research stations, established seed testing facilities and trained over 1,000 researchers and farmers. The consortium is helping small farmers grow high-value horticultural and medicinal crops, as well as chickpea, faba bean, potato and peanut.
Natural disasters and conflicts are a recurrent reality across the developing world, so the support of the CGIAR Centers' systematic support has invaluable for international relief agencies, donors and national governments. The CGIAR Centers use science-based approaches to reduce vulnerability and help jumpstart economic growth in disaster- and conflict-affected communities.
The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is a strategic alliance of countries, international and regional organizations, and private foundations supporting 15 international agricultural research Centers. More than 7,600 scientists, technicians and staff work within the CGIAR alliance. In 2004, CGIAR members contributed over US$ 400 million to mobilize food and environmental science for the benefit of poor people worldwide (www.cgiar.org).
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