SATrends Issue 56                                                                                                                  July 2005

1. Healing Wounds through farm research

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.

For more information contact

(Dr William Dar is the Director General of ICRISAT and also Chairman of the Future Harvest Alliance Executive)
2. Planning for anticipated uncertainty

Climate change is in the air. National and International organizations are becoming more vociferous in voicing their concerns, and British Prime Minister Tony Blair said at the recent G8 summit “Climate change is a global problem that needs addressing now for the sake of future generations. The science is well established and the dangers clear.”

One way of dealing with the problem is to try and set the clock back by limiting or eliminating the causes. Another, more practical in the short-term approach, is to adapt. ICRISAT and powerful partners are undertaking a major initiative to help cope with climate variability and to plan for climate change in rain-fed farming systems of Africa.

The initiative is called Investing in rain-fed farming systems of sub-Saharan Africa: Building an international consortium to evaluate the agricultural implications of current climatic variability and plan for future climate change.

The concept note that laid the foundation for this initiative was officially endorsed by the NEPAD-G8 Implementation Plan for the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) recently.

If Africa's rain-fed farming systems are to meet the challenge of feeding tomorrow's populations, then stakeholders would benefit from an agenda that integrated three key aspects of climate risk management, namely:

  • Seasonal climate forecasting to enable farmers plan and farm more effectively in the context of variable weather.
  • Decision-support frameworks that provide a longer-term understanding of the temporal and spatial distribution of climatic variability and its impact on the performance and profitability of existing and innovative agricultural practices.
  • Information on the extent to which climate change is impacting on the nature of climate variability and, if so, the implications for rain-fed farming systems and their future development and productivity. 

ICRISAT is currently building and working with a consortium of national, regional and international Core Program Partners to develop an integrated program of research and development to respond to these challenges and opportunities. Core Program Partners met with selected stakeholders in Nairobi in May 2005 to discuss the further development of this work.

The program will be developed and executed within a Conceptual Framework (see diagram). A range of integrated projects are currently being developed by the consortium in innovative partnerships with meteorological and agricultural organizations in sub-Saharan Africa. Investor stakeholders around whose interests the projects will be built and for whom the outputs will be targeted are active partners.

For more information contact

3. SAKSS in Southern Africa

Africa has potential – the question is, how to translate potential into better living standards… how to accelerate development in a continent that has the world's highest rates of poverty, malnutrition, and HIV/AIDS. Development specialists have struggled to find an answer – but a new initiative promises to help.

Last week, ICRISAT and IWMI signed an agreement to launch and jointly manage the Southern African arm of the Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System (SAKSS). This is one of three SAKSS hubs in Africa. The other two hubs, for Eastern and West Africa, are managed by ILRI and IITA respectively.  

Broadly, the purpose is to identify the best strategies for agricultural growth (eg, by using agro-economic modelling to compare different policy/investment options). By generating and sharing this sort of information, the program aims to help governments and donors as they make decisions about development funding.

An evaluator collecting data from a farmer.

SAKS-SA has three main objectives:

  • Evaluate strategies to accelerate agricultural growth in the region – how best can public investments reinforce private sector efforts to promote technology change and increase trade and incomes?
  • Assess progress towards the Millennium Development Goals (halving poverty and hunger by 2015), by measuring the distributive impacts of public and private sector investments in agriculture.
  • Link policy analysts in a community of practice – sharing data and analytical techniques, improving information flows, and providing data and insights to support decision making by national policy makers and development investors.

SAKSS-SA has been established with a grant of US$200,000 from USAID under the President's Initiative to End Hunger in Africa. This funding will cover the initial phase – establishment of the regional hub and database, inventory of policy research on agricultural growth and poverty. The team is now looking for additional funding for other key program components – data collection, specific analytical studies, and training of policy analysts.

The program has been endorsed by the G8, by NEPAD (as a priority early action), and by the Southern African Development Community.

It will be headquartered in Pretoria, South Africa, and will work closely with FANRPAN, the regional Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (which will ultimately be its institutional home, ensuring long-term sustainability and continued relevance to the region's needs). Other key partners include IFPRI, the NARS from Mozambique, Zambia and Malawi, and several regional research networks.

With this kind of backing, an innovative approach, and a clear technical agenda, the SAKKS team are confident. They predict positive results in the first 2 years, with more to follow.

for more information contact