10) Market focus needed for food security in the tropical drylands (8 April 2011)
Brisbane, 6 April 2011 – Tackling the complexity of challenges in the tropical drylands of Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, Dr William Dar, Director General of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), spoke at the Crawford Fund State Parliamentary Conference held in Parliament House, Brisbane on 6 April.
In his address, Dr Dar stressed the importance of agriculture in the tropical drylands and noted the similarities in climate between ICRISAT's mandate regions and Queensland’s vast tracts of land. His goal was to bring to the attention of the world the need to seize every opportunity to help alleviate the plight of three hundred million people in the dryland tropics living on less than one dollar a day. This level of absolute poverty in the tropical drylands, along with unacceptably high rates of child malnutrition of nearly 42% in dryland Asia and nearly 27% in dryland Africa, is one of the key motivations behind ICRISAT’s strategy of Inclusive Market-Oriented Development, or IMOD.
In his talk at the conference, Dr Dar highlighted the power of market opportunities to offer more prosperous lives for smallholder farmers and their families. ICRISAT sees the need for effective social assistance programs to help the poorest of the poor to connect to markets, but in a way that builds their own resilience rather than creating dependency. ICRISAT’s IMOD strategy focuses on helping the farming poor in the drylands to access markets to increase their food supplies and incomes.
According to Dr Dar, global agriculture is now facing a convergence of pressures – climate variability and climate change, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, food crisis, energy crisis, growing populations – which may be seen as “a perfect storm”. The poor are the most vulnerable to the storm; they have the least resources to cushion these shocks. “ICRISAT believes that to reduce the vulnerability of the poor to this storm, their resilience and livelihoods must be strengthened,” he added.
Dr Dar cited examples of successful engagement of smallholder farmers with markets. For example, a new variety of groundnut (peanut) released in the Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, has resulted in yield increases of 23% and more profitable farming for many thousands of smallholder farmers. Similarly, researchers at ICRISAT and a sister centre for livestock, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), have been able to develop sorghum and millet varieties with higher levels of digestible dry matter for livestock, resulting in dramatic increases in milk production. Both these areas of work have benefitted from close collaboration between Australian and ICRISAT researchers.
In his closing comments, Dr Dar emphasized that there is reason for smallholder farmers to be optimistic about the future, as there are vast opportunities for climate change adaptation in the tropical drylands. Achieving resilience for smallholder farmers requires investment in research for development so that farmers gain access to these improved management inputs and to options for a more profitable agriculture. IMOD is ICRISAT’s strategy for increasing this access.
The Crawford Fund State Parliamentary Conference was attended by about 200 participants. Dr Kanayo F Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), served as keynote speaker during the conference.
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