A herd of sheep and goats in northern Kenya (photo on Flickr by gordontour).
The dry areas of the developing world occupy over 40% of the earth’s surface and are home to some 2.5 billion people. Many in these regions struggle to provide sufficient food for their growing populations and face a series of daunting physical and demographic challenges: high poverty levels and unemployment, rapid urbanization, severe water scarcity, and land degradation. Many of these problems and constraints are expected to worsen as a result of climate change.
An ambitious new science program launched in Jordan in mid-May 2013—the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems—aims to raise agricultural productivity and strengthen food security in the driest areas of the developing world. This USD120 million initiative, covering an initial three years, is the latest ‘research for development’ initiative of CGIAR, the world’s leading agricultural research partnership.
The Dryland Systems program is a new partnership of more than 60 research and development organizations. It proposes a ‘holistic’ approach to improving the food security and income of rural communities that live on tropical and non-tropical dry areas. Following an intense consultation and planning phase among a wide range of stakeholders in 2012, including scientists, civil society partners and policymakers, the program is now being implemented in five regions: the West African Sahel and the Dry Savannas, East and Southern Africa, North Africa and West Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and South Asia.
Livestock production is among the main strategies this program is employing to improve agricultural productivity in these dryland areas. This includes integrating dryland crops with the keeping of goats, sheep and other animal stock to increase the resilience of communities in marginal areas through the production and sale of milk, cheese, yoghurt, meat and wool.
Goats being watered at in Dilmanyale Village, Kenya; once the animals have finished drinking, they must be herded over 10 km to get to pasture (photo on Flickr by Anna Ridout/Oxfam).
Work of this drylands agricultural research program in East and Southern Africa
In the coming six years, the program aims to assist 20 million people and mitigate land degradation over 600,000 square kilometres in East and Southern Africa.
This regional component of the program is led by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and ILRI scientist Polly Ericksen.
Over 70% of marginal land in East and Southern Africa is categorized as arid, Ericksen says, with most of the rest semi-arid and the whole region subject to frequent drought.
Droughts, which lead to heavy livestock losses, are becoming more common in this region, which doesn’t allow time for the animal herds to recover between long dry spells. Many of the marginal rangelands in this region are degraded, commonly due to increasing human populations (much of them non-pastoral) and the resulting fragmentation of former rangelands, which is reducing the (critically important) mobility of livestock herders and their animal stock and leading to conflicts.
Levels of poverty, vulnerability and central government neglect in these drylands are all high. Increases in basic services and infrastructure would help promote diversification of livelihoods and market engagement (only 22% of households can reach the nearest market in less than three hours; nearly one quarter require more than 12 hours to get to the market), as well as reduce vulnerability, among communities in the region.
About CGIAR and the CGIAR Dryland Systems Research Program
CGIAR is a global agriculture research partnership for a food secure future. Its science is carried out by the 15 research centers who are members of the CGIAR Consortium in collaboration with hundreds of partner organizations. The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems is a global research partnership led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), with nine CGIAR research centres, including the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and some 60 partners worldwide. This dryland systems research program is conducted in the West African Sahel and the Dry Savannas, East and Southern Africa, North Africa and West Asia, Central Asia and the Caucasus, and South Asia.