16) Global initiatives to combat drought and desertification

The 15 international agricultural research institutes under the Alliance of Future Harvest Centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) strengthen the global campaign against drought and desertification through research-for-development.

[New Delhi, 23 June 2006.] For more than 35 years, the Alliance of Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR and their partners have been globally mobilizing science to combat drought and desertification. Working towards international public goods, CGIAR scientists and partners have been developing a range of agricultural and institutional innovations that address the multifaceted challenges posed by drought and desertification.

These science-based efforts are yielding results in the form of innovations that enable more prudent use of natural resources, and foster pro-poor policies that help people cope with desertification. The achievements have been worldwide, especially in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

Breeding for drought-tolerance. The Alliance of Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR has been using a portfolio of breeding methods to develop drought-tolerant crops for the drylands. For instance, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) has achieved important gains in improving drought and disease resistance in millet and sorghum, as well as in the leguminous crops chickpea, groundnut and pigeonpea. These are hardy crops that are a bulwark against hunger and a major source of livelihoods in the drylands. Moreover, India, Nepal, Pakistan and China are rapidly taking up improved pigeonpea and chickpea varieties sourced from ICRISAT.

The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) has been developing resilient rice varieties that can withstand drought yet give high yields. The Institute also introduced aerobic zero-tilled rice. Through this intervention, the highly water- and labor-demanding conventional puddle transplanting is replaced with zero-tilled direct-sowing systems of rice. This saves 35 to 40% irrigation, without decreasing yields. IRRI's projects are helping dryland farmers in the Indian subcontinent to improve productivity and fight drought.

The International Potato Center (CIP) is working through conventional breeding and biotechnology to improve drought resistance in potato and sweetpotato. Likewise, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and ICRISAT, in collaboration with partners, are working to improve the digestibility of stalks by animals in millet and sorghum. This helps dryland farmers have better fodder for their cattle during drought.

Sustainable soil management. In the drylands of sub-Saharan Africa, many farmers are so poor that they cannot afford to buy and apply appropriate doses of fertilizers. A collaborative research between ICRISAT, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and their partners is encouraging farmers to apply small doses of the most essential fertilizer directly to the plant at the right time. Called 'microdosing,' this method helps thousands of farmers in Western and Southern Africa to get their crops to mature faster and overcome the worst effects of drought.

Sustainable water management. ICRISAT's watershed technologies have helped improve agricultural productivity, farmers' income and ability to cope with drought through IGNRM. The success of the interventions has resulted in the model being replicated in hundreds of villages in India, China, Thailand and Vietnam. Through an innovative scheme of South-South cooperation, these innovations are also being shared with East African countries.

The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is combining satellite technology with on-the-ground assessments, for drought monitoring and impact management in India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and in Central Asia. It is also working at policies for improve groundwater governance and the use of water harvesting as a strategic tool for drought mitigation.

Sustainable use of biodiversity. A project being implemented by the International Plant Genetic Resources Institute (IPGRI) with NGOs and other partners in Mali and Zimbabwe demonstrates how dryland farmers manage and conserve their plant genetic resources to resist drought and desertification. In India, IPGRI's farmer-participatory selection work on small millets in the Kolli Hills (Tamil Nadu), Dharwad and Bangalore (Karnataka), in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development and the MS Swaminathan Research Institute, led to the identification of high-yielding cultivars of finger millet, Italian millet and little millet for sustainable cultivation in the dryland/low rainfall situation.

Resource conservation technologies in the Indo-Gangetic Plain: Reduced and zero-till technologies developed and introduced by the Rice-Wheat Consortium consisting of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), IRRI, ICRISAT, CIP and IWMI, and national partners from India, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh, are radically transforming the rice-wheat fields of the Indo-Gangetic Plain (IGP). More than 3 million hectares (Mha) out of the total 13.5.Mha area under rice-wheat systems in the IGP is estimated to have adopted these technologies. Wheat yields have improved on average by 247Kg/ha by reducing moisture loss and improving soil health, and water-wise practices have helped save1.5 to 3 billion cubic meter less of water.

Oasis in the International Year of Deserts and Desertification (IYDD)

The Alliance of Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR (the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research) has endorsed a collective initiative called ‘Oasis' to combat drought and desertification in the drylands of the developing world. The Future Harvest Alliance Executive, comprising the Directors General of the fifteen Centers took the decision in late April in their meeting in Cali, Colombia. Oasis will link, synergize and synchronize the research-for-development activities of the Alliance of Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR.

Dr William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), speaking on behalf of the Future Harvest Alliance Executive, said that Oasis will build synergies among the dryland agricultural research efforts of eight Future Harvest Centers in partnership with national, regional, international, civil society, and private sector partners across the developing world. By sharing knowledge, resources, skills and facilities, and blending it with the global campaign against desertification, Oasis will help mobilize science towards sustainable development.

“Desertification is like a skin disease on the earth's surface, erupting in patches that grow and merge over time if not treated,” Dr Dar said. “The poor are hurt most, because they depend on the land for a living. The Future Harvest Centers are very active in this area, and Oasis will accelerate that further.”

Oasis is being launched as a CGIAR contribution to the International Year of Deserts and Desertification (2006) declared by the United Nations. Through its partnership with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), Oasis will link the research-for-development partnerships of the Future Harvest Centers with the global anti-desertification framework of the UNCCD. Around 250 million people in more than 110 countries are estimated to have been affected by desertification, resulting in economic losses totaling US$ 42 billion per annum.

The Future Harvest Centers have long recognized the importance of research to combat desertification. Desertification results from a host of interacting factors, including social, economic, policy, agricultural, ecological, climatic and other drivers. By linking their capabilities, the Centers and their partners will be able to combat desertification in a more holistic, integrated way that reflects the complexity of the issue.

Oasis will be jointly convened by ICRISAT and ICARDA, and linked with the work of Future Harvest Centers including the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the International Maize and Wheat Center (CIMMYT), World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and the Africa Rice Center (WARDA). The longstanding participation by ICRISAT and ICARDA in the UNCCD process has created a better understanding and appreciation of research-for-development in the dry areas and semi-arid tropics among the UN members.

Oasis will focus on understanding and arresting land degradation; mitigating drought; restoring and stabilizing dryland ecosystems; developing policy and institutional options to encourage sustainable land use and greater investments in drylands; diversifying agricultural systems and livelihoods; and sharing knowledge and technology.

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