Healing Wounds, an initiative of the Future Harvest Alliance centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), helps mitigate human suffering caused by disasters. It also generates cutting edge information and knowledge to help reduce suffering from future calamities.
The rural poor depend on agriculture for a living, so when natural disasters and social conflicts strike, they lose their livelihoods. Crops and livestock are flattened and drowned by storms and scorched by drought. Water supplies are polluted by salt, and wells run dry when rains fail. Wars chases farm families to refugee camps, where they silently suffer from malnutrition.
The CGIAR centers have helped over 45 countries rehabilitate their agricultural production systems after natural and man-made disasters.
When the tsunami struck in December 2004, the International Water Management Institute (IWMI) provided critical support to relief workers in Sri Lanka, producing 22 maps that helped target relief supplies. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) dipped into their rice collection to send seeds of salt-tolerant rice varieties.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) headquartered in India, joined hands with the M.S. Swaminathan Research Foundation (MSSRF), to assess the damage and prepare communities to rehabilitate their agriculture. Their work was made more effective by Internet-linked rural knowledge centers previously established by the MSSRF in some coastal villages near the disaster area.
ICRISAT distributed seed aid after the Latur earthquake in India .
These efforts build on a 30-year history of help to countries in desperate need. Here are a few examples:
A consortium of centers is working on rehabilitating agriculture in Afghanistan and Timor Leste, devastated by decades of civil war. The International Center for Agricultural Research in Dry Areas (ICARDA) leads the consortium in Afghanistan. In Timor Leste seeds of improved crop varieties supplied by the centers are producing much higher yields. Many experts have been trained, providing more secure food supplies for the fledgling democracy.
From 1988 to 1995, the IRRI worked to help Cambodia rehabilitate its agriculture following its disastrous conflict. By 1995, benefits were estimated at $1.3 billion.
ICRISAT, in partnership with the Catholic Relief Services (CRS), is providing poor farmers in Somalia, Sudan, northern Uganda and the neighboring areas with seed help to get people back on their feet after drought and conflict.
The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) assists communities to improve the health care for their cattle and form collective groups to trade cattle and sheep at better prices. The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Potato Center (CIP) helped people to recover from Hurricanes Mitch and Michelle, and the WorldFish Center, is providing alternatives to unemployment in the Solomon Islands, after the ethnic conflict of the 1990s.
The unexpected is inevitable. The Future Harvest centers of the CGIAR are working hard to help countries foresee consequences on global agriculture, and are breeding crops that can better tolerate stresses ushered in by climate change.
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(Dr William Dar is the Director General of ICRISAT and also Chairman of the Future Harvest Alliance Executive)