7) Earth Day 2010: ICRISAT for protecting Mother Earth

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) joins more than one billion people in 190 countries across the globe in celebrating “Earth Day 2010” on April 22. Four decades after the first Earth Day, our world is facing more crises than ever before. Climate change is one of the greater challenges of our times. In the center of this crises are the 670 million poorest of the poor people that ICRISAT has a mandate to serve.

In an effort to brace the looming perfect storm, a confluence of crises involving climate change, food security, energy crisis, poverty and population explosion, ICRISAT works with strategic partners to meet the challenges of semi-arid agriculture, especially in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Scientists develop farming systems resilient to shocks, buffering crucial resources like water and nutrients and adapting crops to warmer temperatures and new pest patterns. Towards this, ICRISAT does research on a range of farming systems to develop options that poor farmers could quickly deploy.

Stressing the need for resilience on the part of dryland farmers in dealing with global warming, ICRISAT Director General
Dr William Dar said “The world is now locked into the inevitable changes of climate patterns, and however uncertain those changes might be, farmers must eventually adapt to them.”

ICRISAT has proven innovations in crop, soil and water management that can help farmers better adapt to climate change. For example, the highly productive, low pressure drip irrigation system called the “African Market Garden” (AMG) designed by ICRISAT and run by women has provided a radical alternative for reducing poverty and improving nutrition in the Sahel region of Africa. ICRISAT recently shared the CGIAR’s outstanding partnership award with the World Vegetable Center (AVRDC) for this intervention.

The Kothapally watershed in Medak district of Andhra Pradesh received world wide appreciation for conservation of scanty rainfall. Simeon Ehui, Senior Staff, World Bank, reflecting on his recent visit to Kothapally noted, “There is a lot of learning here that could be used in the World Bank’s rainfed agenda in Asia and Africa.”

ICRISAT’s repository of genes of dryland crops -- sorghum, pearl millet, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut -- are well adapted to changes in climatic regimes. Conservation of wild relatives of mandate crops is a boon to scientists in breeding improved varieties. For instance, the breakthrough pigeonpea hybrid (based on cytoplasmic male sterility) was developed from wild pigeonpeas.

“Conservation is a way of life in ICRISAT,” Dr Dar said. “Earth Day reminds us that the scars left on the earth by unmindful exploitation have to be healed. By working in the most degraded environment of the world, ICRISAT is committed to do just the same,” Dr Dar continued.

Scientists predict that the drylands will expand by 11%, and that there will be a spurt in the frequency and severity of droughts across the globe. While fighting the spread of deserts, ICRISAT’s integrated genetic and natural resource management approach benefits dryland farmers. In the nutrient-starved soils of sub-Saharan Africa, 200,000 poor farm families have increased their productivity up to 120% and incomes by 50% with an innovation called microdosing.

A report of the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) cites that average global temperatures are currently 0.43oC to 0.54oC higher than the yearly temperatures recorded between 1961 and 1990. All IPCC models concur that temperatures are increasing steadily within the tropics but give divergent predictions on rainfall trends.

Using climate and crop growth models to forecast the impacts of global warming on food production in the semi-arid tropics in several countries in sub-Saharan Africa and India, ICRISAT scientists found that improved use of fertilizer and harnessing rainwater would increase food production even if the climate changes for the worse, notably resulting in drastic increases in temperatures with the same rainfall patterns.

In contrast with low-input farming, ICRISAT found that enhanced fertilizer use, rainwater harvesting and mulching
(a protective covering of organic material laid over the soil around plants to prevent erosion, retain moisture, and sometimes enrich the soil) could almost double crop yields, even with a 3oC temperature increase with the quantum of rainfall and its distribution remaining the same.

ICRISAT has a vast arsenal of successes – a testament that scientific innovations do make a difference to the lives of poor dryland farmers. With increased and sustained support from donors, policy-makers, sister CGIAR Centres, and global research and development partners, ICRISAT will be able to help farmers weather the perfect storm.

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