World's Dryland Farmers Need New Agricultural Technology
Never Reached Them
For a wide swath of arid and
semi-arid countries holding one-fourth of the world's population,
scientists of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research are developing new breeds of crops and animals that grow
faster and stronger, need less water, and are genetically selected
for high levels of nutrition.
The results, which will revolutionize
farming in dry parts of Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Latin
America, have produced plants on which animals can graze, and
which then regrow for human harvest; a pigeonpea that sprouts
to maturity in 110 days instead of 180; and sheep that thrive
on crop residues -- stalks and roots left over after harvest.
An estimated 1.6 billion people
currently live in developing countries and regions affected by
insufficient rainfall. Approximately half of the workforce earns
its living in and from agriculture.
"Given the prevailing
water shortages, the usually hot and harsh climates, and soils
degraded by erosion, deforestation and desertification, it is
not surprising that the rural people in these countries constitute
the poorest of the world's poor, many living on less than a dollar
a day," says Ismail Serageldin, Chairman of CGIAR and World
Bank Vice President for Environmentally and Socially Sustainable
"These huge marginal
regions have not been touched by the Green Revolution which only
boosted grain yields where ample water for irrigation was available.
They have not attracted commercial investments in agricultural
technology improvement because their markets are small and it
is hard to step up productivity when water scarcity limits plant
growth. A special effort must be made for these dryland farmers."
Population growth in the arid
and semi-arid regions continues to be high, with national annual
increases ranging from 3.6 percent in the southern Mediterranean
region to 3 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, 2.1 percent in the
Central Asian Republics and over 2 percent in the Indian subcontinent.
With growing populations and increasing food deficits, efforts
to intensify agriculture have in many places depleted and degraded
the natural-resource base of agriculture to an alarming extent.
Overpumping has resulted in
sinking groundwater levels; rangelands are overgrazed because
of rapidly rising stocking rates, while soils are eroded by wind
and rare but heavy downpours and often impoverished by long-term
monocropping. Because of rising demand for timber and fuelwood,
the remaining natural forests and open woodlands have suffered
badly. In large areas, the natural vegetation has all but disappeared,
and desert is spreading.
"The deterioration of
natural resources in the dry areas, the loss of natural vegetation
and its irreplaceable biological diversity urge a reformulation
of the development paradigm," says Chairman Serageldin. "From
forcing nature to give what it cannot give for more than a brief
span of time, we must move to carefully husbanding and rebuilding
natural resources. From unsustainable farming methods and livestock
ranching we must move to more productive and sustainable practices.
Otherwise there is no chance that the world's worst poverty and
hunger will ever be abolished. The only way to reverse the trend
is to revolutionize agricultural technology and resource conservation
through scientific research."
Two of the 16 international
research centers supported by the CGIAR are working to develop
new technologies for dryland agriculture:
Both centers are active in
all developing regions, with a special focus on Asia, the Middle
East and Africa. A priority of their work is to improve the main
staples of the dry regions: hardy food and feed crops that provide
a minimum of food security under harsh climatic conditions and
with little water: the major dryland cereals millet, sorghum and
barley, groundnuts, and legumes such as lentils, chickpeas, pigeonpeas,
and faba beans.
Although mostly little known and traded in world markets, these
crops constitute the main product of 800 million farmers in dry
regions, and the population's basic food.
-- Barley is suitable for marginal lands with low rainfall and
helps to support livestock production in the Middle East. In Latin
America it is mainly used for direct human consumption. In one
of its driest sites in Syria, ICARDA succeeded in breeding a barley
variety which almost doubled grain yield to over 1 ton per hectare
(over 0.4 ton per acre) and also increased straw yield. ICARDA
is now breeding barley together with farmers who plant the new
lines simultaneously with ICARDA in its test fields. The best
cultivars are then jointly selected according to the farmers'
criteria; they may, for instance, prefer better straw quality
to more grain yield.
-- Sorghum originated in Africa. Half of India's hybrid sorghum
acreage is planted to ICRISAT-derived varieties. Early maturing
ICRISAT-derived varieties which avoid late season drought are
helping stabilize production in many countries of the sub-Saharan
Africa. ICRISAT is also working to make sorghum more nutritious
for humans by increasing the grain's protein content, while also
improving the crop's yields and drought tolerance.
-- A hardy plant important in south Asia and Africa, pearl millet
needs very little water. Nearly half of India's pearl millet acreage
is derived from varieties improved by ICRISAT in collaboration
with the national research program which combine higher yields
with resistance to downy mildew, better drought tolerance and
higher protein levels.
Groundnuts are important for direct consumption and as oil crops,
especially in Asia and Africa. Early maturing and disease resistant
ICRISAT-derived varieties promise a breakthrough in southern African
groundnut production. Overall, CGIAR scientists are working to
improve disease resistance, oil extraction quality, and taste.
-- ICARDA has developed drought-tolerant varieties of this important
pulse crop which has its origin in western Asia. The new strains
have been widely adopted by farmers in Jordan, Libya and Syria
because they give economic returns even in dry years. Genetic
material from the Middle East and Argentina has been used by ICARDA
and ICRISAT to improve south Asian lines, and a number of new
varieties have been released to farmers in Bangladesh, Nepal,
India and Pakistan.
-- Often called the poor man's meat, faba bean is important in
China, the Middle East, Ethiopia, Eritrea and parts of South America.
The new high-yielding varieties and better production practices
have helped Egypt achieve self-sufficiency and strongly increased
output in Sudan, Ethiopia and other countries.
-- An important, protein-rich legume that originated in western
Asia and is directly consumed. ICARDA and ICRISAT have jointly
with national programs developed cold tolerant and disease resistant
chickpeas cultivars which can be planted in winter -- instead
of spring -- to take advantage of seasonal rains. Yields have
increased by 60 percent. Chickpea research is enabling increased
use in rotation with rice because of the chickpea's ability to
fix nitrogen in the soil, and for its nutritional and income generating
In their work to improve crops and farming systems in the dry
and semi-arid regions, the CGIAR scientists seek to dramatically
shorten the growing season for all crops. While the Green Revolution
in the 1960s and 1970s succeeded in shortening the growing season
for irrigated crops, thus allowing farmers to harvest two or more
times a year, progress has been much slower in the dry regions.
Without supplementary irrigation,
most dryland areas can produce only one harvest a year, during
the rainy season. CGIAR scientists are combining a variety of
measures to allow farmers to reap more than one harvest a year.
Quicker growing plants mature before summer heat and drought can
affect them; water-harvesting techniques allow concentration of
available water where it is most needed. Better water management
methods developed by ICRISAT in Ethiopia, for instance, have helped
farmers optimize the use of their most precious resource.
Biological control of pests
permits farmers to save on pesticides and protects the farmer's
health and the environment. ICRISAT, for instance, introduced
among farmers the use of a small insect, the mud wasp, to control
the pod borer, the world's most devastating chickpea pest. Integrated
pest management (IPM) integrates biological control, breeding
for resistance, cultural control and judicious use of pesticides
in a robust and viable system that sharply cuts use of chemicals.
Both CGIAR centers collaborate
closely with the national research programs in their mandate countries,
as well as with non-governmental organizations, advanced research
labs in North and South, the private sector, and farmers' associations.
In setting their priorities, the centers actively seek the guidance
of their partners, especially women who constitute half of all
farmers in the dry and semi-arid regions. In southern and eastern
Africa women predominate as farmers. Improving the crops they
grow for their families and rendering their work less hard and
time-consuming is one of the most effective ways of reducing poverty
- and drudgery.
Livestock and mixed farming:
-- In addition to their efforts to improve crop production, the
CGIAR centers also seek ways to improve dryland livestock production
and the combined crop-livestock systems. Vast tracts of arid and
semi-arid land are unsuitable for crop production but support
livestock, especially small ruminants such as sheep and goats,
which not only constitute a vital supply of protein but an important
sector of the economy by providing the livelihood of some 300
million pastoralists worldwide from land that would otherwise
Marginal land rehabilitation
using sheep --
ICARDA has succeeded in using sheep to transfer legume seed from
improved pasture fields to neighboring marginal or degraded land.
The sheep are left all day grazing on the improved pasture. For
the night, they are moved to a degraded field. It was found that
the legume seed passed the digestive tract of the sheep undigested
and then germinated, thus improving the marginal land.
-- ICARDA has developed simple but effective water harvesting
techniques which are rapidly adopted in Jordan, one of the world's
water-poorest countries. At a project in Syria, ICARDA is developing
methods to use classified satellite data and data on topography,
drainage systems, soil types, vegetation and climate for planning
water harvesting on a large scale. The methodology is expected
to be suitable for all similar areas of the world.
-- Both ICRISAT and ICARDA, like other CGIAR centers, devote a
major effort to gathering wild relatives and landrace varieties
of the dry areas' important food and pasture crops. ICARDA's genebank,
for instance, holds about 111,000 germplasm samples collected
from more than 40 countries. This precious collection accounts
for more than one fifth of all accessions held by CGIAR centers,
which together constitute the world's largest collection of agricultural
biodiversity. The genetic material serves as the key source of
genes resistant to pests and diseases, and tolerant to extremes
of temperature, drought, and toxicities in the soil.
is located in the heart of an area which is a birthplace of agriculture,
and of some of the world's greatest civilizations. The ICARDA
region contains three of the world's eight centers of crop origin.
Archaeological findings have shown that, some 10,000 years ago,
barley, wheat, lentil, pea, flax, and vetch were all domesticated
in the ICARDA region. Landraces and wild relatives of these crops,
containing precious genes for breeders to develop new varieties,
are found in the region to this day. From material jointly developed
by ICARDA and national programs, over 230 varieties of barley,
lentil, faba bean, bread wheat, durum wheat, kabuli chickpea,
pea, and forage legumes have been released in both developing
and industrialized countries, and the center has trained over
7,500 young researchers, many of whom now occupy key positions
of responsibility in their national programs.
serves the needs of the semi-arid tropics where one-sixth of the
world population lives, half of them (380 million) in absolute
poverty. ICRISAT's mandate areas are marginal lands such as the
fringes of the Sahara where starvation and malnutrition are recurrent.
The center's work has resulted in the release of 365 new crop
varieties which improved the quantity and dependability of the
food supply of the rural poor, and the entire population. Of these
varieties, 20 provide an estimated annual benefit of 230 million
dollars to poor farmers, over seven times ICRISAT's budget. These
achievements are the result of ICRISAT's close collaboration with
national programs and other research partners.