A 'systems' approach to serve communities in the dry areas
In the face of complex dryland agro-ecosystems, research efforts often address only a part of the problem rather than deal with all its dimensions. This restrictive sectoral approach tends to rely on narrow perspectives, unrealistic extrapolations, untested assumptions, misapplied narratives, and offers few lasting benefits to rural households.
ICARDA’s experience over the past four decades tells us that an alternative strategy is needed – one that incorporates the constellation of social, economic, and institutional factors that control the adoption of new innovations and technologies. This integrated agro-ecosystem approach – or systems approach – better serves communities across the world’s dry areas.
It has been central to many of the initiatives ICARDA has implemented since 1977 – bringing together stakeholders to develop technologies, resource management strategies, and institutional arrangements that are capable of solving the many problems confronting dry area production systems.
Selected ‘systems’ initiatives and impacts (1977-2017):
ICARDA has promoted integrated crop-livestock systems to help rural dryland communities adapt to the impacts of climate change – providing an effective way of cushioning each sector from external pressures and getting maximum effects from a symbiosis of both. Initiatives have included: on-farm feed production, rotating barley with forage legumes, growing cactus and fodder shrubs, and making feed blocks from crop residues and agro-industrial by-products.
An ICARDA-led initiative in the Mashreq/Maghreb region of North Africa involved multi-disciplinary research teams working alongside local communities to initiate constraint diagnoses, develop plans, establish institutions, implement solutions, and conduct effective monitoring and evaluation. This integrated strategy helped identify potential interventions at the individual, household, regional, and national policy level. Improved crop management and complementary feed sources raised feed and forage productivity and eased pressure on over-exploited resources.
In Ethiopia, an integrated approach to watershed management has improved the effectiveness of food production systems and generated widespread livelihood benefits. Efforts to conserve fragile natural resources, water harvesting, and the introduction of appropriate new innovations and technologies have all contributed to the initiative’s success.
In May 2013, ICARDA launched the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. The Program builds on traditional crop and livestock improvement programs to promote a holistic ‘systems’ research program that seeks to understand the interactions and trade-offs between the whole spectrum of elements that constrain or improve dryland agricultural productivity. The Program’s research themes are: pastoral, agro-pastoral, rainfed agriculture, tree-based agriculture, and irrigated production systems.