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CGIAR briefing on the Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa

August 29, 2011

Research Options for Mitigating Drought-Induced Food Crises

WHEN: 10:30 a.m. – NOON, Thursday, 1 September 2011 (09:30-11:00 CET – 07:30-09:00 GMT)

WHERE: ILRI Campus, Naivasha Road, Nairobi

INVITATIONS: The briefing is open to the press and the public, but RSVP is needed to get access to the ILRI compound. (see below)

The current famine engulfing the Horn of Africa and threatening the lives of nearly 13 million people continues to dominate discussions about development worldwide. As relief efforts continue, experts and stakeholders from the region will gather in Nairobi to discuss longer-term evidence-based solutions and interventions needed to avert the profound effects of predicted extreme weather events in the future.

Although droughts can result in failed harvests, they do not have to result in famine. Famine mainly has to do with inappropriate policies, conflicts and neglect, which reduce people’s access to food, grazing for livestock, and water for both. We must support agencies delivering emergency aid today.

And we must do more.

Almost everyone living in the drought-afflicted areas of the Horn produces food from these drylands. Research into dryland agricultural and natural resources thus plays a critical role in uncovering the causes of food shortages and identifying ways of reducing these. Linking smallholder farmers and herders with research knowledge, products and innovations – from better uses of land, water and other natural resources, to better grazing and pasture management, to weather-based insurance that protects against drought and other shocks, to drought-tolerant crops – could greatly enhance the resilience of vulnerable dryland communities to future droughts.

Experts within the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) will meet in Nairobi on 1 September with a few selected development partners to discuss how CGIAR research can be used to find long-term solutions to improving and sustaining agricultural livelihoods in the drylands.

Lloyd Le Page, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium
Mark Gordon, Co-Chair, UN Somalia Food Cluster, World Food Programme
Namanga Ngongi, President, Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA)
Joseph Mureithi, Deputy Director, Kenya Agricultural Research Institute (KARI) [TBC]

Topics to be addressed include:

  • Promising options and innovations to help farmers become more resilient and food-secure in the face of weather and other shocks
  • The role of infrastructure and access to viable, functioning markets in food security and prices
  • Whether drought-tolerant crops and large-scale irrigation are the answer
  • Whether pastoralism is a driver of drought-induced food insecurity or a buffer against it
  • Policies that are needed, and at what levels, to ensure that recommendations and innovations for drought-prone areas are put in place in those areas that need them most

For more information on the topic, and live video/Twitter link during the briefing, check our Horn of Africa page. Follow @CGIARconsortium on Twitter (Briefing Twitter tag: #Ag4HoA)

The briefing is open to the press and to the public

For more information and to RSVP, contact:
Jeff Haskins at +254 729 871 422 – jhaskins(at)burnesscommunications(dot)com
Meredith Braden at +254 713 234 806 – mbraden(at)burnesscommunications(dot)com
(RSVP is needed to get access to the compound)


Can Agricultural Research Help Eradicate Famine?

August 15, 2011

Every day, we see images of refugees fleeing a drought-ridden Somalia, crowding into camps along the country’s borders, desperate for food and shelter to stay alive. Tens of thousands of people have already died in the region, livestock, essential to the wellbeing of the local populations, suffer the same fate.  Yet, as more than half a million children teeter on the brink of starvation, we ask ourselves “what could we have done to prevent this?” And, even more importantly, “how can we prevent this from happening again?”

No matter how severe, droughts do not have to lead to famine. Droughts are natural events, famines are not. Famines happen when countries and regions are not equipped to deal with extremes in weather. This current famine results from an extended drought and political instability, but it also reflects the long term vulnerability to food insecurity that is endemic in the Horn of Africa. As Oxfam recently pointed out, food aid alone does not help people to withstand the next shock:  “Much greater long-term investment is needed in food production and basic development to help people cope with poor rains and ensure that this is the last famine in the region.” We at the CGIAR, the world’s largest partnership of international agriculture research, could not agree more.

Recent research by our climate change, agriculture, and food security research program has identified future “hotspots” of climate vulnerability– areas where climate change impacts on food security are expected to become increasingly severe by 2050. Not surprisingly, some of the same countries being affected by the current drought where identified in the report as “hotspots” for climate-induced food insecurity.

Meeting the challenges of ensuring food security for the world, especially those is more remote and marginal locations and the poor in both rural and urban locations, as well as averting future famines, require us to act with an urgency. We must develop new ways of thinking more holistically about natural resource and farmland management, as well as revitalized water management practices, and the development of drought-tolerant crop varieties and hardier livestock breeds. Investment in such research is highly cost-effective:  for every US$1 dollar invested in international agricultural research, US$ 9 dollars worth of additional food is being produced in developing countries.

What more can we do to ensure our research helps avoid future famines?

Good research is not enough

Even the best agricultural research can only realize its potential if it is used on the ground. For this to happen, it must be delivered under a benign policy environment, into agricultural systems with sufficient infrastructure and access to viable and predictable markets, and with the extension support needed to secure farmer adoption. Because of this, we need to work  closer with funders, local and regional governments, national research institutions, universities, non-governmental organizations, aid agencies, farmers, civil society organizations and private sector companies. Only by mobilizing such collective strength, can we find and deliver the effective solutions at the scale needed to avert future famines and food crises.

The way ahead: working in partnership for better research outcomes
The good news is that agricultural research finds itself in a new era of opportunity. Rapid scientific progress has been made in genetics, ecology and information technology, offering a multitude of new ways to improve agricultural productivity and environmental sustainability. The CGIAR is using the latest scientific approaches and technologies in a series of new global research programs aimed at improving food security and the sustainable management of the water, soil, and biodiversity that underpin agriculture in the world’s poorest countries.

What is more, the reformed structure of the CGIAR opens the door for stronger collaboration and partnership with other research and development actors. The 11 new research programs approved in the last year, bring together the broadest possible range of organisations, combining the efforts of multiple CGIAR centres with those of many and diverse partners from across the research and development spectrum. Working in partnership on such a large scale, makes this new CGIAR effort unprecedented in terms of its size, scope and expected impact on development.

The work of the aid agencies is vital to provide the emergency aid that is desperately needed right now, but even aid agencies this time appeal for more to be done. We at CGIAR are doing our best to ensure that such famines never happen again. I was once told that the CGIAR is the best kept secret in agricultural research. We must make sure that our work remains a secret no longer, because agricultural research really is the key to better global food security and a sustainable, famine-free future.

Lloyd Le Page
Chief Executive Officer, CGIAR

Can India Teach Europe how to Deal with Drought?

June 21, 2011

Europe is suffering from a record breaking drought, jeopardizing food production and restricting households’ water access. European governments have announced emergency plans and aid money to help farmers.

As June 17 marked World Day to Combat Desertification, does Europe need to start thinking seriously about adapting to recurrent water scarcity?  What needs to be done so that drought damages are mitigated?

Europe might take a look for inspiration at communities in the South, who face drought almost every alternate year but are using effective solutions to adapt to water scarcity.Those include rainwater harvesting – capturing and storing rainwater for later use – and water conservation, which includes reducing run-off and increasing the capacity of soil and vegetation to retain water.

Such techniques are nothing new. During the Roman era, rainwater harvesting structures were essential and at the centre of settlements. However, in developed European countries, such practices have largely died away with the introduction of more centralized “pipeline” water. People open the tap and take the availability of water for granted.

Much of Europe’s modernized agricultural sector now neglects water conservation principles such as maintaining organic content in the soil for better water retention. But better water use and management in drought situations is becoming more important as recurrent droughts hit Europe and agriculture remains the biggest water user.

Kothapally is a 1,500 inhabitant rural community in India’s semi-arid Andhra Pradesh state. Nearly every household is involved in agricultural activities, and water availability and water access are what stands between farmers and poverty.


Channeled rainwater drains into a well in Kothapally village in Andhra Pradesh. Photo: ICRISAT

Thirty years ago, Kothapally was a poor community facing recurrent droughts. The government of Andhra Pradesh asked the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), part of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), to explore low cost water conservation solutions to improve crop yields in the face of drought.

In response, a project was designed with and managed by the community. This required a long term collaborative approach, but it has paid benefits.

The Kothapally community’s 270 farmer families all became members of the watershed association, a local group that worked with scientists to identify and build water harvesting structures.  Projects included installing drainwater gullies to divert run-off water to collection ponds or wells, creating  or maintaining bunds to stop soil erosion, and using vermicompost –compost processed by worms – to enhance organic content and improve its ability to hold water. The farmers operate and maintain these systems and the women in the village formed self help groups to run the vermicomposting as a business.

Kothapally is now a green prosperous village boasting healthy crop and high value vegetable yields even in the scorching summer. The village receives frequent visits from water experts from Asia and Africa as this participatory watershed system is promoted as a model for successful water management.

 “Kothapally proves the long-term benefits of a holistic and participatory approach to promote local low-cost water and soil conservation,” said William Dar, director general  of ICRISAT. “This is a valuable model to follow given the water crisis that many countries are now facing.”

Europeans are not so accustomed to water stress in a region where resources are normally adequate. That does not encourage farmers to apply the best agricultural practices in terms of water conservation.

In Asia and Africa, especially in dryland agriculture and in the semi-arid tropics, however, communities are under pressure and are rapidly implementing water conservation best practices when they have the right knowledge and tools.

 “Long term investments in international agriculture and natural resources research is not just about solving the challenges of developing countries,” said Lloyd Le Page, CEO of the CGIAR Consortium. “This is about investing in our children’s future, and about good stewardship of the limited resources that we have to feed the planet both today and tomorrow.

 “The drought today in Europe shows that the lessons we learn from our research in arid and tropical regions in the South can be valuable to the North given the unforeseen consequences and the global nature of climate change,” Le Page said.

Given the global nature of climate change, Europe’s drought today suggests the lessons learned from research in the South could be valuable to the North as well.

Read full story on Reuters AlertNet

Alina Paul-Bossuet is a communications specialist for ICRISAT.

From Good Intentions to Good Deeds

April 12, 2011

International development donors added significantly last week to the momentum building behind an unprecedented effort to reduce world hunger and poverty while curbing natural resource destruction and confronting climate change.

Meeting at Montpellier, France, investors and others supporting the CGIAR Fund (set up last year) approved three research-for-development programs dealing with forests, maize and drylands. Donors took other key decisions as well to start the flow of funds into these new initiatives together with two others approved in November 2010 .

CGIAR Fund donors and stakeholders meet in Montpellier, France.

For 2011, donors are expected to provide the CGIAR Fund with a total of US$358 million. This covers about half of the costs of research conducted by the Consortium of International Research Centers including the programs just approved. Donors will cover the other half of the CGIAR’s 2011 budget through bilateral agreements already in place.

“I am especially gratified that, in the year of the CGIAR’s 40th anniversary, we have gone beyond commemorating past achievements to set the stage for even greater development impacts in the coming decades,” said Inger Andersen, CGIAR Fund Council Chair and Vice President for Sustainable Development, World Bank. “Achieving those impacts, however, is contingent on increased funding for the wider agricultural research effort, which is essential for bringing about the 70 percent increase in agricultural production that is needed to provide food security for a global population of 9 billion people in 2050.”

The new program on forests, including trees grown on agricultural land, promises to deliver important results within 10 years, including a doubling of rural household income for a significant portion of the target group of about 500 million people living in or close to forests in Asia, Africa and Latin America.

This research will also improve the efficiency of new schemes for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+). Within a decade, efficiency gains could boost the amount of REDD+ credits available to developing countries by $108 million to $2.7 billion per year. To be implemented by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) in collaboration with three other CGIAR Centers, the program will have a budget of $67.8 million in its first year.

“The world urgently needs a well-conceived and well-resourced research effort to better manage our remaining forests and derive more value from trees cultivated on agricultural land,” said Frances Seymour, CIFOR’s Director General. “Time is no friend of forests and trees, so we have to slash the time it takes to get from science to impact.”

The new maize program is designed to ensure that productivity can be doubled by 2050, enough to meet expected demand (including inexpensive food for some 900 million poor consumers) while stabilizing developing countries’ total maize area to avoid environmental damage. To be implemented by the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), this program will have a budget of $54 million in its first year. It is part of a wider effort to strengthen global food security that involves other crops, several of the CGIAR Consortium’s member centers and numerous partner organizations.

“Assessing the impact of this research will be challenging but only because it is expected to be enormous, encompassing not just the value of increased production but other important benefits, like improved health for women and children,” said Thomas Lumpkin, Director General of CIMMYT.

The world’s vast drylands, which occupy 40 percent of the earth’s land area and are home to a third of its population, are especially vulnerable to climate change and thus require a dedicated effort to protect vulnerable people and natural resources. The International Center for Agriculture in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) will implement a program involving eight other CGIAR centers, with a budget of $37.4 million in its first year, aimed at reducing the risks involved through a mix of improved technologies and policies that help diversify and sustainably intensify crop and livestock production.

“This program is about providing poor people – particularly women, who are often the de facto heads of households in drylands – with the right mix of options and helping them blend these into viable enterprises that boost incomes, improve livelihoods and provide food security while reducing the pressure on dryland ecosystems,” said Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA’s Director General.”

A fourth program – set for approval in July of this year after modest adjustments – will put in place the policies and institutions needed for smallholder producers and other rural people, especially women, to gain easier access to markets and thus raise their incomes and strengthen household food security. The two other programs approved last year focus on boosting rice productivity and providing the rural poor with options for climate change adaptation and mitigation.

Funders Forum, April 2011, Montpellier, France

While agreeing to support ambitious new programs, CGIAR Fund donors also approved last week the broad strategy within which the programs will operate. It commits the CGIAR to a business-like, results-based approach to management that precisely defines the organization’s development objectives and systematically directs all of its research capacities and investments toward achieving these, with full accountability for measurable progress. At the same time, donors ironed out details of the formal agreements under which they will disburse funds to the new programs.

“Our new strategy and programs provide a strong and flexible basis on which all 15 of the CGIAR Centers can act collectively with hundreds of partners to deliver results that contribute to the Millennium Development Goals,” said Carlos Pérez del Castillo, Consortium Board Chair.

Mexico for More

April 7, 2011

Mexican President Felipe Calderón Hinojosa

Speaking to a large audience of scientists and government officials at the headquarters of the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) in Texcoco, Mexican president Felipe Calderón Hinojosa announced the official launch this week of a major collaborative research initiative – for which the government expects to provide about US$140 million in financial support over the next decade.

The country’s Secretariat for Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food (SAGARPA) considers this to be Mexico’s most important initiative of recent years in support of the agricultural sector. Called MasAgro (mas means “more” in Spanish), the new program will offer substantial benefits to farmers and consumers in Mexico, other Latin American countries and at the global level as well.

Its overall aim is to deliver sustainable increases in the maize and wheat productivity of smallholder farmers to strengthen food security despite the expected impacts of climate change. MasAgro will work toward this end through several closely intertwined strategies, which it will pursue in collaboration with a half dozen key Mexican research institutions as well as the country’s seed industry.

One strategy will involve a major effort to promote conservation agriculture in Mexico’s diverse maize- and wheat-based systems, together with the adoption of improved crop varieties and techniques for more efficient use of fertilizer. At the same time, MasAgro will strengthen the seed sector and widen the array of maize varieties available to farmers in other countries of the region.

Two components of the initiative promise to generate global benefits. One will focus on boosting the yield potential of wheat by as much as 50 percent through cutting-edge science. And the other will entail an unprecedented effort to open the “black box” of maize and wheat genetic resources and make them more useful for crop improvement worldwide by using state-of-the-art techniques to characterize these resources comprehensively.

Seven Pillars of Food Security Wisdom

April 5, 2011

Photo: IFPRI.

As observers of world food security strain to see whether another major crisis like that of 2007-08 looms on the horizon, CGIAR food policy experts are sending a strong message to developing and developed country governments as well as international organizations: Action must be taken now to prevent food price crises from becoming a recurring world nightmare in the decades to come.

The actions needed – constituting a comprehensive approach to the problem – are spelled out in a recent policy brief from the CGIAR’s International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), with headquarters in Washington, D.C. Titled Urgent Actions Needed to Prevent Recurring Food Crises, the brief calls for key actors to:

  1. Minimize food-fuel competition through policy reforms.
  2. Strengthen social safety nets.
  3. Make global trade more fair and transparent.
  4. Create a global emergency physical grain reserve.
  5. Promote and invest in agricultural growth, emphasizing improved smallholder productivity.
  6. Invest in realizing agriculture’s potential for climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  7. Set up an international working group to monitor the world food situation.

While not necessarily predicting another another major crisis, the IFPRI experts point out that international prices of maize and wheat almost doubled from June 2010 to mid-March 2011, noting the “substantial impacts” such increases can have on “domestic prices in many parts of the world.”

The policy brief also explains that the forces driving the 2007-08 crisis – such as expanding biofuel production, rising energy prices and export restrictions – still weigh heavily on current price trends. In addition, it describes important differences between today’s predicament and the food price situation 3 years ago, some of which are positive (like increased overall grain production) while others are not (especially high food inflation in China and India).

Most important, the authors emphasize that, with or without another major crisis, unrelenting food price inflation and volatility will continue to cause great harm to the world’s poor consumers. These people spend half or more of their income on food, and their means of adjusting to rapid prices increases are extremely limited.

National governments and international organizations face constraints too. But it is clearly within their power to reduce chronic hunger, and IFPRI’s wise advice makes clear how this power can best be applied.

Getting Past Climate Change Paralysis

March 23, 2011

Photo: Neil Palmer.

A recently created international Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change will seek to define the actions most needed to achieve global food security and deal effectively with the climate threat. While there is general agreement about agriculture’s vulnerability to climate change, the sheer variety of approaches available for coping with it has so far slowed progress toward formulating a coherent global response.

“Our ability to deal with the effects of climate change on food security, in both the developed and developing world, will largely determine whether our future is one marked by stability or perpetual food shocks,” said Bruce Campbell, Director of the Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) – launched last year by the CGIAR and Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP) with support from the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development. “But there are so many perspectives on the best way for farmers to adapt and reduce greenhouse gas emissions that we have ended up paralyzed by a lack of clear choices.”

In a 10-month effort to overcome this paralysis, the commission will derive a clear synthesis, together with specific policy recommendations, from a wealth of scientific findings on likely climate change impacts in agriculture and on the potential of diverse practices for achieving sustainable increases in farm production. Its findings will be directed primarily to international policy bodies, including the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Rio+20 Earth Summit and Group of 20 (G20) industrialized and developing countries.

Chaired by Sir John Beddington, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK government, the commission brings together senior scientists from more than a dozen countries.

“Extreme weather like the droughts in Russia, China and Brazil and the flooding in Pakistan and Australia have contributed to a level of food price volatility we haven’t seen since the oil crisis of 40 years ago,” Beddington said. “Unfortunately, this could be just a taste of things to come.”