20) Strengthening NRM to combat desertification (17 June 2004)

On the occasion of the World Day to Combat Desertification and Drought today, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) decided to strengthen its natural resources management (NRM) activities in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, said that the semi-arid regions in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are the world's natural defense against the spread of desert.

“Improving NRM and agricultural productivity in these regions prevents more land from getting degraded,” Dr Dar said. “Effective NRM improves the quality of land for agriculture. This when combined with improved agricultural practices, improves productivity and protects the livelihood of millions of families in the developing countries.”

In Asia, ICRISAT is successfully implementing NRM and improved agricultural productivity through watershed development. ICRISAT's model for watershed development is being replicated in:

  • Andhra Pradesh through the Andhra Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Program
  • Andhra Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan, with funding from the Sir Dorabjee Tata Trust
  • China, Vietnam, Thailand and India, with funding from the Asian Development Bank

Powerguda, one of the ICRISAT-initiated watershed project villages in Adilabad district of Andhra Pradesh, became an environmental pioneer when it sold the equivalent of 147 tons of carbondioxide in verified emission reduction to the World Bank. The Bank paid $645 to Powerguda villagers to neutralize the emissions from air travel and local transport by international participants attending its international conference at Washington DC, USA, in October 2003.

This unique transaction has taken Powerguda, a secluded gond tribal village, to the center stage of global carbon trade. How did it work? International invitees to the World Bank conference burnt aviation fuel to fly to the meeting, resulting in greenhouse gas emission. To compensate for the adverse environmental impact of this, the Bank paid money to the villagers to grow pongamia trees in the watershed. 

By growing pongamia trees the villagers have been providing a three-fold environmental service: prevent the spread of desertification; sequester atmospheric carbon; and extract pongamia oil, which is a biodiesel and can be used to replace the burning of petroleum oil. In turn, the Powerguda the income of the villagers have improved due to the watershed activities that include soil and water conservation, improved agricultural practices, integrated nutrient and pest management, and oil extraction. A recent study noted an impressive 77% increase in family income over three years.

In West and Central Africa, ICRISAT is working through a unique initiative to prevent the spread of the desert. In collaboration with the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification and the New Partnerships for African Development, ICRISAT is establishing a new Desert Margins Center (DMC) at its Niamey, Niger research center, which is among the most advanced facility in Africa for research on improving dryland agricultural systems.

Research by ICRISAT and partners have shown that improving agricultural productivity in the desert margins gives incentives to farmers and also prevents desertification.  Soil fertility is usually more limiting than water in these regions, where soil and land degradation is occurring from under-use of inorganic fertilizer, not over-use. 

Farmers can profit with even tiny doses of fertilizer. These 'microdoses' increase crop yields by 50-100% (a percentage increase on a par with what was achieved in the Green Revolution in irrigated areas).  Increased crop growth produces more livestock feed, creating more manure to improve soil fertility even further.

The Dryland Ecofarm is a new prototype farming system under development by ICRISAT and its partners. Depending only on rainfall as a water source, it integrates water conservation and harvesting, soil rehabilitation, and the cultivation of traditional and higher-value crops to offer farmers a way to sustainably increase their production and incomes.

Another ICRISAT initiative is to expand and improve the concept of the African Market Garden (AMG). The shallow water table is tapped through low-cost irrigation systems, to grow a wider range of high-value crops for sale in urban markets or abroad. Profits from the AMG are estimated to be nine times greater per unit land area than traditional market garden systems. When date palms are included, the profit advantage is thirty times.  Over 100 pilot AMGs have been established so far in the Sahel.

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This is an E-Mail Media Release from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Patancheru – 502324, Hyderabad, India. For more information on this Release or the Institute contact S Gopikrishna Warrier, Media Officer, at w(dot)gopikrishna(at)cgiar(dot)org. Visit us at www.icrisat.org.

by ICRISAT. All rights reserved.