Impacts in Sub-Saharan Africa
In response to the global concern for an embattled continent, ICRISAT has steadily increased its investments and pursued its commitments in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA). This intensified in 2000 despite the tight funding environment for international agricultural research and development. The process involved critical analysis of human, financial, and physical resources, guided by strategies and priorities developed through dialogue with partners in the continent. This brochure describes ICRISAT's renewal in SSA which includes innovations, strategic partnerships and impacts that have helped the continent's poorest of the poor.
ICRISAT in Sub-Saharan Africa
ICRISAT focuses on the semi-arid tropics which encircles the heart of the African continent. The zone's 80 million rural poor earn a living from rainfed agriculture and raising livestock, supplemented by meager off-farm earnings. They rank near the bottom of the Human Development Index, a quality of life indicator monitored by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP). ICRISAT works on the staple food crops of the poor: sorghum, millet, groundnut, chickpea and pigeonpea. This focus has been broadened to also address opportunities of increasing incomes by growing fruits, trees, vegetables, and specialty crops. Against this challenging backdrop, ICRISAT has been working closely with partners for 30 years to improve rainfed farming systems in SSA.
Dialogue and strategic partnerships
ICRISAT believes that its agenda in SSA should be needs-driven and guided by a clear vision. Thus, in 2001, ICRISAT carried out wide consultations in the region. Since then, ICRISAT and regional bodies have been engaged in each other's strategy deliberations, including those of the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF), Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) and Southern African Development Community/Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources (SADC/FANR).
ICRISAT's fifth External Program Review (EPR) in 2003 recommended strengthening the Institute's SSA programs. ICRISAT's Governing Board formed a Task Force that included the partners listed above, along with development investors and national agricultural research system (NARS) members, to help the Institute in mapping out a new Vision and Strategy to 2010. ICRISAT's strategy has now been shaped to closely fit with NEPAD's CAADP (Comprehensive Africa Agricultural Development Programme) and initiatives by the African Union, the Economic Commission for Africa, the Inter-Academy Council for the UN Secretary General, and the UN Millennium Development Goals.
Concurrently, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which supports ICRISAT, has been assessing its programs, structure and processes to rationalize efforts and increase effectiveness in SSA. ICRISAT will harmonize its renewal process in SSA with emerging CGIAR decisions such as joint ventures with relevant institutions in East/Southern and West/Central Africa and developing regional medium term plans with other CG Centers and partners. This is part of the initiative of the Alliance of Future Harvest Centers of the CGIAR where ICRISAT plays an active and leadership role at present.
Asia-SSA synergy and collaboration
Established as a global agricultural research institution with its headquarters in India, ICRISAT has always optimized the balance, complementation and synergy between its work in Asia and SSA. In its post-EPR strategy deliberations, ICRISAT noted that the challenges facing SSA require a holistic perspective. Hence, it adopted an integrated genetic and natural resource management (IGNRM) approach. IGNRM treats germplasm as an integral part of a larger array of biophysical resources to be addressed simultaneously by research.
In Asia, the NARS are effectively coping with natural resource management challenges. Thus, ICRISAT is able to focus on the strategic enhancement of plant genetic resources. This germplasm enhancement strongly complements its IGNRM work in SSA. A few examples of major benefits obtained from Asia-SSA synergy and collaboration are as follows:
Human resource investments
Scientists are the lifeblood of ICRISAT. While the actual numbers of ICRISAT scientists have changed in the last ten years, the relative proportion of the balance has been growing in SSA relative to Asia. Funding new staff positions has been extremely challenging. Major core declines in donor support to the CGIAR since the mid-1990's forced significant budget cuts at ICRISAT. In spite of this, ICRISAT has steadily shifted scientist headcount to SSA (total of 34 at present) partially boosted by increased special-project scientists (excluded from the chart as their assignments do not allow re-deployment).
In its guidance to ICRISAT management, the Governing Board asked the Institute to invest 50% of its core and 60% of its gross resources in SSA by 2006. The figures show that good progress is being made.
Another hallmark of ICRISAT's renewal in SSA has been the decentralization of management to the West/Central and East/Southern African regions. Directors were appointed for each sub-region and assigned broad responsibilities and authority. This makes it easier for the Institute to respond to regional priorities and gives ICRISAT a higher profile and stronger dialogue with its partners. A global research committee provides the forum for discussion and integration of thematic activities across regions. Regional logframes link workplans to higher-level objectives and priorities, and fold into a global logframe. To cement the new regional structure, intensive team-building activities are underway. Internet connections at ICRISAT's SSA stations are also being improved to enhance communication.
Impacts and the road ahead
ICRISAT's renewal in SSA is delivering the goods. Improved crop varieties are reaching poor farmers. New crop choices and linkages to larger markets empower them to grow out of poverty. The NARS have been considerably strengthened and knowledge is shared more effectively with stakeholders. Partnerships are stronger and more interdependent. Not withstanding this, keeping ICRISAT's renewal in SSA is still a top management priority. Moreover, it will relentlessly pursue its transformation as the premier center for scientific excellence in the semi-arid areas of Asia and SSA.
One million hectares
Dryland farmers have adopted ICRISAT-NARS varieties of sorghum, millet, groundnut, chickpea and pigeonpea on a million hectares across Africa.
Growing higher value fruits, vegetables and specialty crops–rewarding better land care.
Smallholder-appropriate soil, water and gene management strategies to reduce drought risk.
New science tools for SSA
Geographic information systems, models, rural telecenters and biotechnology.
Involving farmers in research
Participatory plant breeding, farmers' field schools and supporting farmer associations.
Linking farmers to markets
Innovative partnerships link smallholder farmers to lucrative urban and export markets.
Raising soil fertility
More affordable, efficient and environmentally-safe ways to use fertilizer, raising and stabilizing yields.
Rebuilding after emergencies
Strengthening local seed systems, rehabilitating NARS and helping aid agencies become more efficient and effective.
Joint programs and projects, network coordination and support, and learn-by-doing opportunities.
Africa-Asia exchanges of expertise, germplasm, advanced science techniques, soil-water management experiences and training.
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