Farmers should be aware of climate changes to adapt their agricultural practices: this sounds simple. Yet in developing countries, an extra effort is needed to make sure that farmers can easily access critical information on evolving weather conditions.
Basically, these tools translate complex climate data into information that can allow decision-makers to assess the impact of different decisions on agricultural systems and livelihoods.
The applications on offer include the country-specific climate information and decision support system (IDSS) from Uruguay, which “integrates monitoring of weather and vegetation conditions, seasonal climate forecasts, soil water and water stress estimates within an internet-based GIS platform (www.inia.org.uy/gras/), informing climate risk management decisions from farm to national level.”; also available is the regional Africa RiskView, which takes a amalgamation of information including “globally-available rainfall data, crop parameters and livelihood information” and simplifies them into easily used “food security outlooks.”
The above examples clearly demonstrate that the major differentiation. For farmers, these software tools are easy to use and can help filter through large quantities of data so that the required climate information can be extracted and “climate-smart agriculture” can be properly implemented
James Clarke (International Water Management Institute – IWMI) reports from the session on “Reconciling food security, biodiversity and multiple ecosystem services in agricultural landscapes” at the “Planet under Pressure” conference:
We can feed the world without expanding industrial agriculture according to Ivette Perfecto of the University of Michigan. Addressing a packed session at the Planet Under Pressure conference, Professor Perfecto outlined the land sharing and land sparing approach to sustainable agriculture (explored here by CIFOR’s Terry Sunderland) which seeks to promote wildlife friendly farming.
There is a widely held view that we have to bring more land into production in order to provide enough food for the world’s population. But Perfecto argued that by expanding agro-ecosystems farming rather than pursuing a more industrial approach, we could not only spare natural habitat, but deliver global food security as well.
“Ideology underpins this debate” she said. “The best options depend on our initial assumptions.”
“The first important fact to establish is that global food security is not linked to global food production. In fact food production is actually sufficient just now. Enough calories are grown for everyone on the planet to have an adequate diet, but 1 billion are still hungry and this number is increasing.”
This is not simply a question of income and resources. Food usage is inefficient and wastage is high. Agricultural policies and trade also have a huge impact, as the recent debate over biofuels has shown. Commodity speculation is now a major influence on food security. 60% of food commodity markets are currently controlled by speculators compared with just 12% 10 years ago. The result of all this activity has been an increase in “land grabs” and inequity.
But policymakers can at least agree that we need to feed the hungry and malnourished. Can this be done sustainably? Already agriculture is viewed as the main culprit responsible for global biodiversity loss. Increasing yields, however, doesn’t necessarily have to lead habitat destruction.
“The key point is that we don’t need to depend on industrial agriculture,” said Perfecto. “Yields in organic systems can be increased by 50% from current levels. Looking at agriculture in the west it would be easy to assume that large scale farming is efficient and delivers the highest yields per hectare. In fact small and medium scale can be more productive on per area basis.”
One of the arguments often deployed by proponents of industrialised agricultural intensification is that it results in land sparing. In other words, if farms can grow more food on the same amount of land, there will be no need to encroach on natural areas. The facts suggest otherwise. Intensifying agriculture in many regions has been clearly shown to directly lead to more deforestation. Even if land is spared, ecological systems are not static and biodiversity loss can still be a risk. Local extinctions can occur in isolated pockets of land habitats
“We should support diverse systems,” said Perfecto. “That way we can preserve biodiversity and increase yields at the same time.”
“Are we just talking to ourselves?”
(Nishai Pillai, facilitator at Planet Under Pressure)
A major stream of discussion at Planet under Pressure (PUP) has been how we communicate science. Many of the challenges facing the planet are not about technical solutions but rather how we communicate and negotiate science into political debates.
The CGIAR Consortium Office and its 15 research centers have been aggressively using social media in the last few years to ‘get the message out’. There has been much debate about the effectiveness of social media to ‘get the messages out’, but maybe we are not using these new tools to their full potential. Maybe we need to reflect further on how we can best use social media to have greater impact. It is not just a matter of making noise. How do we convince our scientists that investing in social media makes a difference to their work, that is not an additional burden, but integral part of their work?
At the session on “The digital age and tipping points in social networks: opportunities for planetary stewardship”, some new ways of thinking about social media were discussed. Dr. Amy Luers of the “Skoll Global Threats Fund”, presented some new ideas of how we should link science to on-going social networks. One point she raised resonated with CGIAR’s current strategy to promote and use social media. She showed the evolution of communication over the last century. On one side were our traditional communication tools: 1) the telephone (one-to-one communication) and 2) the mass-media (one-to-many). These help us tell a story and get our message out.
CGIAR is a scientific organization. With scientific publications we build evidence. With traditional communication tools we tell the story. But is this enough?
On the other side of Luers’ graph there are the new social media tools – they are about moving to many-to-many conversations and even more to many-among-many conversations. These tools are about engaging, joining a conversation and being part of a dialogue.
Dr. Leurs continued and called for ‘network spanning mechanisms’ which linked science to the social discussions going on in different areas. This is not about providing our messages to these groups but collaborating together in such areas such as ‘citizen science’ and resource assessments.
Another way of looking at it is: ‘Can we afford the risk of not engaging?’Can we afford to be isolated when we have committed ourselves to engage in meaningful partnerships? When it is our fundamental mandate to deliver on science that is applicable?
We have a number of empirical cases to support our assertion that you are better off engaging in conversations in all stages of a research program. From identifying your research question all the way to delivering your results.
But we need to hear from you… tell us your story, your story of success or frustration alike in regards to using social media to engage with others. These stories will help us refine our strategy and plans to support the work of our scientists.
Report offers roadmap for action by global leaders to create a sustainable food system
Nearly one billion people in the world are undernourished, while millions suffer from chronic disease due to excess food consumption. Global demand is growing for agricultural products and food prices are rising, yet roughly one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted. Climate change threatens more frequent drought, flooding and pest outbreaks, and the world loses 12 million hectares of agricultural land each year to land degradation. Land clearing and inefficient practices make agriculture the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution on the planet.
To address these alarming patterns, an independent commission of scientific leaders from 13 countries released today a detailed set of recommendations to policy makers on how to achieve food security in the face of climate change. In their report, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change proposes specific policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes and degraded ecosystems. The report highlights specific opportunities under the mandates of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Group of 20 (G20) nations.
“Food insecurity and climate change are already inhibiting human well-being and economic growth throughout the world and these problems are poised to accelerate,” said Sir John Beddington, chair of the Commission. “Decisive policy action is required if we are to preserve the planet’s capacity to produce adequate food in the future.” The report was released at the Planet Under Pressure conference where scientists from around the world are honing solutions for global sustainability challenges targeted to the Rio Summit, which will be held on 20-22 June in Brazil.
Make global food security and climate stabilization a reality
The Commission has outlined seven recommendations designed to be implemented concurrently by a constellation of governments, international institutions, investors, agricultural producers, consumers, food companies and researchers. They call for changes in policy, finance, agriculture, development aid, diet choices and food waste as well as revitalized investment in the knowledge systems to support these changes.
Professor Judi Wakhungu, executive director of the African Center for Technology Studies (ACTS), said, “As a Commission, we were charged with harvesting the wealth of scientific knowledge and practical solutions that have been accumulated by recent assessment reports on food security and climate change. Together, we carefully distilled the seven most important ways for policy makers to make global food security and climate stabilization a reality.”
The Commission’s recommendations encourage significantly raising the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade; sustainably intensifying agricultural production on the existing land base while reducing greenhouse gas emissions; and reducing losses and waste in the food system. “It’s past time to realize that farms of every size all over the world are fundamental to human nutrition and economic well-being, but they are also facing critical choices with significant implications for the way we manage the planet for long term sufficiency,” according to U.S. Commissioner Professor Molly Jahn of the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
Mobilize science and policy for sustainable agricultural practices
Alternative agricultural practices have the potential to deliver benefits for both adaptation and mitigation of climate change and the Commission has urged the UNFCCC to establish a work program that addresses these issues together under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA). “Without an integrated SBSTA work program for agriculture, we risk crafting fragmented global climate policy,” says Commission Vice-Chair Dr. Mohammed Asaduzzaman, Research Director at the Bangladesh Institute of Development Studies. “Countries like Bangladesh clearly need support for climate-resilient agriculture, but we also need a serious global commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, including in the agriculture sector.” Sea level rise threatens major areas of Bangladesh, which already experiences significant environmental migration.
The Commission’s report cites recent evidence that closing the gap between potential and actual yields for 16 major crops could increase productivity by more than 50 percent. “To produce enough food for our rapidly growing population, much greater investment is needed to dramatically increase agricultural yields now and in the long-term,” Commissioner Dr. Nguyen Van Bo, president of the Viet Nam Academy of Agricultural Science. “In Viet Nam, we have established model programs to boost rice productivity and quality, mitigate greenhouse gases and increase income for farmers.”
Sustainably intensifying agricultural production on existing land, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture, is one of the seven Commission recommendations. “There have been some impressive successes in sustainably boosting agricultural production, but there is a lot more to be done,” says Commissioner Dr. Carlos Nobre of the Brazilian Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. “Brazil has made strides in reducing poverty while protecting rainforests in the last seven years, but if we do not advance the science and practice of sustainable intensification, our forests and our farming economies will be at risk.”
In China, nearly 400 kilograms of chemical fertilizer are used on every hectare of farmland. “We have an opportunity and a plan to stop unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions from inefficient farming practices,” said Commissioner Professor Lin Erda, director of the Research Centre of Agriculture and Climate Change at the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. “We are mobilizing public policies and budgets towards low-emission crop breeds and conservation of land, water and energy.”
In Mexico, agriculture accounts for 77 percent of domestic water use, in part due to substantial subsidies applied to the price of water and electricity for irrigation. “We must redirect public subsidies to promote economically and environmentally sound farming practices that conserve finite natural resources,” says Commissioner Dr. Adrian Fernández of the Metropolitan Autonomous University in Mexico.
A comprehensive approach to reshaping food systems
In addition to tackling agriculture, the Commission’s recommendations explicitly recognize the “demand side” of food insecurity. “If we don’t start to make use of the tools at our disposal to encourage eating choices that are good for people and the planet, we must resign ourselves to a growing diet-related disease burden,” cautions Commissioner Dr. Marion Guillou, president of the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA).
The Commission also calls for policies and programs explicitly designed to empower vulnerable populations. “Enabling smallholder farmers to invest in the productive capacity of their land has been shown to create economic and environmental resilience,” reports Commissioner Professor Tekalign Mamo, state minister and advisor to the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture. “We must build on what we’ve learned by expanding such programs, otherwise communities will remain vulnerable to a downward spiral of lost productivity, poverty and food insecurity.”
“Recent legislation in India has shown that poverty alleviation programs can also address environmental sustainability objectives,” says Indian Commissioner Dr. Rita Sharma, secretary of the National Advisory Council in India. “The 2006 Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act helps rural farmers and households to manage risk while delivering climate change resilience and mitigation through projects that recharge groundwater, enhance soil fertility and increase biomass.”
The need for improved data and decision support for land managers and policy makers is underscored by the Commission. “Smart, sustainable food production requires that we upgrade our knowledge of water, soils, energy, meteorology, emissions, agricultural production and forests, and that we understand how these elements work together as a system,” says Australian Commissioner Dr. Megan Clark, chief executive of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). “In Australia, researchers, farmers and data managers are working together to build an integrated capacity to deal with the inevitable trade-offs embedded in our decisions.”
Decisive action to ensure a safe operating space for current and future generations The Commission’s report presents a stark picture of the challenges ahead and calls for significantly raising the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade. For example, it urges stronger follow-through on the 2009 G8 L’Aquila commitments to provide USD 20 billion for agricultural development in poor countries and incorporating food security and sustainable agriculture programs into UNFCCC “Fast Start” funding. But it also provides examples of important progress, pointing to major investments such as the Adaptation Fund of the Kyoto Protocol and the €5.3 million climate-smart agriculture project in Malawi, Viet Nam and Zambia funded by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Commission.
The report points to opportunities across the whole food supply chain to protect the environment and the bottom line. “Many public and private sector leaders are already taking steps to overcome technical, social, financial and political barriers to a sustainable food system,” says Dr. Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, which convened the Commission in February 2011. “The Commission’s work spells out who needs to do what to take these early efforts to the next level.”
The report encourages continued progress under the G20 on 2011 agreements, including design of rapid response and insurance strategies to protect very poor populations from rising food prices or meager harvests, as well as improved market transparency through a new agriculture and energy database. At the Rio+20 Earth Summit, Commissioners urge governments to make financial commitments for regionally-based research, implementation, capacity building and monitoring to improve agriculture and food systems. The report also points to global agreements, such as World Trade Organization trade treaties, and initiatives, such as the United Nation’s High-Level Taskforce on the Global Food Security Crisis, and also emphasizes the critical role of farmers and agribusinesses.
The Commission has created an animated video to illustrate why and how humanity must transform the way food is produced, distributed and consumed in response to changes in climate, global population, eating patterns and the environment. “To operate within a ‘safe space’ for people and the planet, we need to balance how much food we produce, how much we consume and waste and how much agriculture contributes to further climate change,” explains South African Commission Professor Bob Scholes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The Commission is launching the video describing the intersection of these limits at the Planet Under Press Conference: http://bit.ly/SafeSpaceClimateFood
Integrate food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national policies
Significantly raise the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade
Sustainably intensify agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture
Target populations and sectors that are most vulnerable to climate change and food insecurity
Reshape food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met and to foster healthy and sustainable eating habits worldwide
Reduce loss and waste in food systems, particularly from infrastructure, farming practices, processing, distribution and household habits
Create comprehensive, shared, integrated information systems that encompass human and ecological dimensions
The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change is an initiative of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (www.ccafs.cgiar.org), with additional support from the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development. The Commission brings together senior natural and social scientists working in agriculture, climate, food and nutrition, economics, and natural resources from Australia, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, France, Kenya, India, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States and Viet Nam to identify the policy changes and actions needed now to help the world achieve sustainable agriculture that contributes to food security and poverty reduction, and helps respond to climate change adaptation and mitigation goals.
James Clarke (International Water Management Institute – IWMI) reports from the session on “Options And Opportunities – Intensifying Agriculture Within Planetary Boundaries” at the “Planet under Pressure” conference:
There are plenty of opportunities for intensifying agriculture without destroying the natural environment, according to Kate Brauman of the Institute on the Environment at the University of Minnesota. Recent revolutions in data acquisition and processing have enabled us to clearly identify where intensification can be implemented without significantly impacting water or nitrogen supplies, or encroaching on natural ecosystems. Even though nearly all available agricultural land is currently used for cultivation, the prospects for increasing production on this land are good.
But boosting productivity is only part of the solution. 30-40% of all food grown is wasted. It developing countries it often rots before it can get to market. In richer societies much is thrown away by consumers. Add to that the fact that only two thirds of all crops grown are directly consumable, the rest being used for animal feed or biofuels, and the potential to improve food security without increasing crop production is clear.
Brauman emphasised that all solutions need to be on the table for this transformation to take place. “It is not about organic versus conventional or local versus global,” she said. “We need to be open to all ideas”
Development will occur, said Cook, but the question will be whether it is good or bad, going on to define “bad” development as “individualistic, short term and non-adaptive.” Good development, which promotes sustainability and equity, is achievable but only if we look at river basins holistically.
Each region, however, has its own unique set of circumstances, so we need to understand how water, land and ecosystems work together if we want to identify the best development paths to follow. For instance the Ganges basin there is intense population pressure, but many areas with very low agricultural water productivity. This contrasts starkly with parts of China where there have been massive improvements in land productivity. Indonesia on the other hand does not seem to be intensifying its agriculture to any significant degree, it is just expanding the area on which farming takes place.
Cook ended on a call for a more “collaborative politics” arguing that the changes that are required are behavioural and political rather than technical.
At the Planet Under Pressure‘s “World Cafe”, the question was asked: “How can science and business work together to create a sustainable world?” While the solution warrants some merit, it doesn’t get to the question that comes before communication even begins. What value is there in a nexus between science and business to answer the sustainable development question?
I had the pleasure of working with two groups that took a step back and attempted to answer this question. The first round involved some common themes:
the need to establish trust between the scientific and business sectors
the opportunity for visionary science to forecast conditions and drive stability for business
the idea that public sector science cannot be anti-profit
the idea that business must be long-term in thinking
and lastly that we must move the conversation from pure Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to that of core business for it to be sustainable.
Each of these messages points to assumptions made on either side about the goals and intentions of the other. Pointing this out was crucial to deciding how then do we go about building relationships between the two sectors that provide innovative contributions for a more sustainable world. The next round of discussion bought about a more contentious but necessary debate.
“Is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) an effective place to begin the relationship?” , “Can scientists effectively communicate to external audiences?”, “Is stressing communication enough?” were just a few of the questions that sparked challenges among those in the 2nd part of the session. Some felt that CSR was inherent in company strategy and planning while others argued that CSR was simply a way for companies to receive a pat on the back from consumers.
I personally felt that the CSR strategy can help an organization determine the interests of a particular company but a discussion with those within the business line at the same time enables long-term partnerships with the most innovative solutions. On the communications side some felt that scientists could and were bestows intoned to communicate effectively while others felt that communication to external, non-scientific audiences should be left to those in communications professions. All interesting nonetheless.
Stressing communication is important but certainly not enough. As CIMMYT‘s link to the private sector, the most challenging part of my job is understanding and translating our research into something of value to a prospective partner or supporter. Pulling out the right set of data, stories, and themes that align with the interests of any given partner is challenging. Add to that the need to demonstrate impact, often a new concept in research organizations, or the desire of businesses to see the results of their investment in less than 3 years and you see a practical example of where our wires can get crossed.
However, as the host of the discussion said…we need each other. Business is the ultimate driver, the locomotive so to speak, in development. Science provides facts and direction while policy provides the enabling environments to make it all come together. The roles ad responsibilities of each of us are important to understand as we seek ways to address the next phase of human and planetary development. As scientists our best bet is to make sure the pieces we provide are clear, understandable and linked to the goals of the whole.
Worldwide research initiative launched to tackle global crises in water, food and the environment. New program expects initial funding of around US$75 million per year to investigate how agricultural production can be intensified whilst protecting natural systems.
An ambitious new research program, launched today by the world’s largest consortium of agricultural researchers, aims to address some of the world’s most pressing problems related to boosting food production and improving livelihoods, whilst simultaneously protecting the environment.
The CGIAR Research Program on Water, Land and Ecosystems is a ten year commitment to bring about a radical transformation in the way land, water and natural systems are managed. It is being led by the International Water Management Institute, which has just been named this year’s Stockholm Water Prize Laureate.
“We believe that there is enough water and land in the world’s major breadbasket regions to adequately feed the world’s population at least until 2050, but only if we improve the way we manage global ecosystems,” says Dr. Simon Cook the new director of the research program. “While we still have acute crises of hunger, ecosystem degradation and water scarcity in many areas, we have many of the solutions already at hand. This program will focus on capitalizing on these opportunities, minimizing risks and helping the world’s poorest farmers maintain and improve their livelihoods and the ecosystem services that sustain them and others”
The research team is clear that major new sources of finance will be required if this ambition is to be fulfilled. That will mean attracting not just bilateral donors, but private sector money as well.
“What this research program is all about is providing the information needed to make investments happen,” says Dr. Cook. “To get such investment, we must clarify the risks and benefits to poor farmers of increasing their yields and reducing their environmental footprints. So we have to look at all aspects of food supply chains in such a way that consumers, food companies, marketing groups and farmers can see the benefits of how better land and water management can increase the bottom line and bring environmental benefits. This is what the new program is designed to do.”
A good example of underinvestment in the face of soaring demand is agriculture in Africa. It currently operates at a fraction of its potential: only 5% of sub Saharan African fields are irrigated. But there are some bright spots where things are changing. In Ethiopia for instance, credible scientific data on water flows has helped open up political discourse between Addis Ababa and the downstream countries of the Blue Nile. This has given investors confidence. Egyptian money is now being used to develop Ethiopian agriculture. A similar openness between Ghana and Burkina Faso on the Volta River, underpinned by sound scientific data, has catalysed small reservoir development in the region. Many lessons are being learned from Latin America about the potentials for improved management of ecosystem services.
The research program has five main themes:
Irrigation: researchers will explore new strategies for increasing its use in Africa, whereas the focus in South Asia will be to develop greater efficiency through integrated governance and technical approaches
Rainfed agricultural systems which account for 90% of African agriculture can benefit from the use of supplementary irrigation plus improved supply chains, markets and finance. The researchers will aim to find out how this can be achieved as there is huge scope for improvement in African rainfed agriculture to meet future demands for food from a rapidly expanding population
River basins management research will look at how intensifying agricultural production can be attained without harmful offsite impacts to environment and downstream water users
Resource reuse and recovery: understanding how we can turn waste water and sewerage into valuable resources for farm use, whilst the cash generated can be ploughed back into sanitation.
Information research will explore how new technologies like cell phones can get information to poor farmers about soil and water and how to bring together natural resource data from across CGIAR and its partners and deliver it in innovative ways to those who need it.
“If we look locally, southern England is experiencing its worst drought in a generation,” says Dr. Cook. “And extreme weather events like this are likely to become more common as climate change takes hold. The UK will hopefully have the wherewithal to deal with these new challenges, but this research program is targeted at some of the world’s poorest and most vulnerable, such as the millions of people in the African Sahel who are enduring one of the worst droughts in living memory.”
The new research program is the latest in a series of initiatives designed to promote more joined-up-thinking on agricultural research for development at CGIAR. One such approach, the CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food, has been running since 2002. Its ground breaking, cross disciplinary paradigm has paid handsome dividends, providing valuable insights into what needs to be done to ensure food security whilst maintaining the environmental systems on which farmers rely. Some clear lessons have emerged from this work. More effective, equitable and environmentally sensitive pricing of natural assets like water needs to be mainstreamed. At a larger scale the project has drawn attention to the complete fragmentation of how river basins are managed. Different sectors, such as agriculture, industry, environment and mining, are considered separately rather than as interrelated and interdependent. A re-think is needed.
“The problems of food security, water scarcity and environmental degradation are intimately connected,” says Dr. Colin Chartres, Chartres director general of the International Water Management Institute (IWMI), which is the new research program’s lead agency. “We can no longer continue to address them as separate entities. This new approach, which envisages unprecedented levels of collaboration between the various international research centres of CGIAR, aims to deliver innovative research that can have real impact on how we manage natural resources and ensure food security for the world’s population, predicted to grow to 9 billion people by 2050.”
The International Water Management Institute (IWMI) is a nonprofit, scientific research organization focusing on the sustainable use of land and water resources in agriculture, to benefit poor people in developing countries. IWMI’s mission is “to improve the management of land and water resources for food, livelihoods and the environment.” IWMI has its headquarters in Colombo, Sri Lanka, and regional offices across Asia and Africa. The Institute works in partnership with developing countries, international and national research institutes, universities and other organizations to develop tools and technologies that contribute to poverty reduction as well as food and livelihood security.
Mary Sikirwayi with her new varieties of drought-tolerant maize
For farmers like Mary Sikirwayi, maize is life. Although she also grows wheat, peanuts, and beans on her farm in Zimbabwe’s Murewa District, maize is her most important crop. She usually eats white maize, which she grinds and cooks to produce sadza, Zimbabwe’s staple food. But she also grows yellow maize as feed for her chickens and other livestock, and local red maize that she uses for medicinal purposes, milling it into a special sadza to treat ailments ranging from indigestion to heart problems.
Lack of rainfall is usually the biggest problem facing maize farmers like Mary, but rainfall from January to July 2011 was more than double the average. Nonetheless, as Mary soon discovered, the maize’s performance shone even though the sun didn’t. Two seasons ago, her farm produced only 3.5 tons of maize, but last season her harvest had increased by 2 tons.
According to Oswell Ndoro, the CIMMYT research officer responsible for on-farm participatory trials in the Murewa District, the new drought-tolerant varieties, which can also survive high rainfall, can produce yields that are up to 25 per cent higher than those of commercial varieties.
“If CIMMYT develops varieties of maize which are drought-tolerant, then that’s great,” said Ndoro. “But if these same varieties are unable to produce high yields with varied levels of rainfall, then farmers lose confidence in the product. All it takes is one bad season for farmers to lose confidence in a seed variety.
“This is a highly-populated area that has often suffered from drought-related food deficits, but this year, the issue was nitrogen deficiency caused by the excessive rains. If they are to provide useful solutions, scientists must develop versatile varieties that provide reliably good yields and have other important traits too, such as resistance to pests and diseases. DTMA maize breeders are doing just that.”
Partnerships for success
In the Murewa District, the project works in collaboration with the Zimbabwe government’s Agricultural, Technical and Extension Services Department (AGRITEX) to test and disseminate drought-tolerant maize varieties. Training is also provided by extension workers on topics such as crop management and the identification of pests and diseases.
However, not all farmers are willing or able to participate in these initial trials, because they must be committed and able to keep records. Nonetheless, Nevis Moronbo and Nogate Zvereza Moronbo, a farming couple who feed 12 children on the maize, wheat, beans, and other crops from their 4 hectares of land, are in no doubt that the effort was worth it.
“I’m happy about the trial and expect to do it again,” said Nevis. “I wanted to know more about improved varieties of maize and I’m happy about the results. I’ve tested three varieties on my farm. They were all very good. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sell the surplus to invest in poultry and cattle.”
By working in partnership with national maize programs and private seed companies, DTMA brings together CIMMYT’s international network of breeders and germplasm resources with the power to test varieties extensively under local conditions, drawing on the expertise of farmers and extension workers to produce maize varieties ideally suited to the region.
Thanks to its greater productivity, the new drought-tolerant maize has the potential to increase farmers’ yields and incomes, and improve regional food security.
“I am very excited by this creative new approach to getting the message out about the importance of managing our water better,” said Dr Colin Chartres, Director General of IWMI. “The talk of a ‘global water crisis’ is growing louder and louder. It has got business people, politicians and scientists worried. However, the good news is that it really doesn’t have to be this way. Research is clearly showing that with more investment and new thinking on resource management, we can not only have all the water we need, but also create jobs, grow more food and maintain our natural heritage.”
As the world’s population continues to grow, urbanize and become wealthier, the pressures on global water supplies are going to intensify. More water will be needed for industry, and more for food production. The natural systems that underpin the water cycle may be eyed up for the commercial development opportunities they offer, instead of the environmental services they provide. On top of this, climate change will bring new challenges. More extreme weather events are forecast, and that means more floods and droughts.
This is what Ripples on Water is all about. By bringing together art, science and development in a unique global movement, say the organizers of the campaign, the aim is to revitalize water management so that we can create jobs, grow more food, keep ourselves healthy and protect our natural heritage.
To launch the campaign a spectacular laser show and water dance will be performed in Colombo.
IWMI has been named the 2012 Stockholm Water Prize Laureate, the ‘world´s most prestigious prize for outstanding achievements in water-related activities’. Awarded annually, IWMI is the first international research institute to win the award. The announcement, made on UN World Water Day 22 March, stated that the prize was awarded in recognition of IWMI’s ‘pioneering research that has served to improve water management, enhance food security, alleviate poverty and protect environmental health worldwide.’
In its citation, The Stockholm Water Prize Nominating Committee states: “The International Water Management Institute is the foremost organization in agricultural water management. Their work has led to new policies and investments in agriculture that have not only enabled more productive use of water, but have enhanced food security, economic development and environmental health around the world.“
H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden will present the prize at a Royal Award Ceremony during the 2012 World Water Week in Stockholm on August 23.