No. 1381 25 September 2009

Land Degradation Central to a Looming Perfect Storm

“The world is facing a perfect storm, with a number of huge problems converging around land issues. At the center of this storm are the poor, who depend on the land for survival – yet, they are unable to fight off the massive storm clouds that are building,” thus warned Director General William Dar at the conclusion of UNCCD’s first scientific conference that concluded yesterday in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

An apex meeting of the Ninth Conference of Parties (COP9) and attended by over 200 scientists from all over the world, the conference was organized by ICRISAT and four other international research institutes under the Drylands Science for Development (DSD) Consortium in collaboration with the UNCCD Secretariat. The DSD Consortium is made up of five leading desertification organizations catalyzed by ICRISAT.

DG at UNCCD conference Director General Dr William Dar (Chair CST) addressing the conference.

Representing ICRISAT with the DG at the Scientific Conference were Drs Mark Winslow and Suhas Wani. This was Dr Dar’s final session as Chair of the UNCCD Committee on Science and Technology (CST).

His two-year term marked a turning point for the Convention as it coincided with a major revision of UNCCD strategy. Dr Dar’s leadership in overhauling the CST has been highly appreciated by UNCCD leaders and CST members.

Elaborating on the perfect storm Dr Dar said, “Climate change threatens ever harsher temperatures, droughts and storms, all of which can send the poor right back to the bottom of the development ladder. Increasing population pressure and poverty will just increase the intensity of this perfect storm, and the suffering that it causes.”

The phrase ‘Land Matters’ gained momentum at the conference, because together with the poor, land degradation, which is progressing at a rate of 1 per cent every year, is at the epicenter of the perfect storm.

UNCCD conference in progress Participants of the scientific conference.

Dr Dar praised the Scientific Conference as a historic event for the UNCCD that is “setting in place the steps that will enable outcomes from scientists to get to the decision-making bodies at the national level.”

The Conference proposed five major recommendations to lay the ground for monitoring and assessing desertification, land degradation and drought (DLDD). First, the monitoring and assessment of DLDD should make use of knowledge-management approaches across different scales and levels, sectors and scientific disciplines. Second, knowledge-sharing science would enhance monitoring and assessment, and strengthen human capacities. Third, information is collected on the costs and benefits of DLDD. Fourth, the Convention establishes an interdisciplinary scientific advisory mechanism to facilitate the coordination and dissemination of new knowledge, and with clear channels for its advice in decision-making. And fifth, that the UNCCD make use of a networking body so that results can be accessed, shared and used with greater ease.

The foregoing recommendations were drafted by three Working Groups convened by the DSD Consortium which is coordinated by Dr Mark Winslow. The Working Groups focused on integrated assessment, sustainable land management (SLM), and socio-economics/knowledge management.

UNCCD conference Dr Mark Winslow at the conference.

ICRISAT and ICARDA co-led the SLM Working Group, positioning SLM as a bridge between combating land degradation and climate change, and a positive win-win opportunity for the environment and for livelihoods.

Other major concepts included complex systems science and geographical information systems. Key messages and recommendations from the Working Groups aim to change both the culture and implementation of the UNCCD to be more science-driven.

During the conference, Dr Wani also represented ICRISAT at the launching of the new African Drylands Commodity Atlas at the side event of the Global Network of Dryland Research Institutes (GNDRI) where ICRISAT is a founding member, along with other ten dryland research institutes. During this event, Dr Wani made a presentation about ICRISAT and highlighted our Integrated Genetic and Natural Resource Management approach.

The UNCCD 1st Scientific Conference is the outcome of a request made in September 2007 to scientists by countries that are party to the Convention for guidance in monitoring and assessing the bio-physical and socio-economic aspects of desertification and land degradation to support decision-making in land and water management.

The recommendations from the Scientific Conference will be considered by the Parties during their ninth Conference session taking place concurrently in Buenos Aires, Argentina, from 21 September to 2 October.

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DG appreciates novel research for climate change

On 10 September, Director General Dar made a special visit to the climate change and dry root rot experiments initiated by the Legumes Pathology unit at Patancheru.

Dry root rot (DRR) caused by Rhioctonia bataticola is a potentially emerging disease of chickpea, predisposed by climate change variables. Our legume pathologists S Pande and Mamta Sharma have developed a hypothesis on why and how the pathogen becomes aggressive in heat and moisture stressed chickpeas, the levels of heat and moisture stress that the chickpea crop can tolerate, and how to manage DRR.

DG inspecting chickpea plants
Dr Dar with Dr Suresh Pande looking at the chickpea plants.

The scientists have simulated the effects of 1) drought alone, 2) drought + pathogen, and 3) pathogen alone on DRR infection and development in the greenhouse, in collaboration with our physiologists L Krishna Murty and Vincent Vadez. Scientists found that the pathogen infects the chickpea plant and manifests DRR when climate variable temperature is 350C and the soil moisture holding capacity maintained at ≤ 60%. Scientists clearly demonstrated the combined role of drought + pathogen responsible for DRR infection and development.

Dr Dar was pleased to see the experimental findings. He congratulated scientists on this remarkable initiative on quantifying the effect of climate change on diseases important to semi-arid tropical crops.

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ICRISAT in Dharwad Krishimela

The Karnataka Agricultural Minister Mr Ravindranath along with Dr JH Kulkarni, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Agricultural Sciences (UAS) Dharwad, inaugurated the ICRISAT stall at the Krishimela (Farmers’ Fair) jointly organized by UAS, ICRISAT and the State Department of Agriculture and Horticulture on 19 September.

Farmers at Krishimela in Dharwad
Farmers thronging the ICRISAT pavilion at the Krishimela-2009 in Dharwad.

About 500,000 farmers visited the Krishimela during the four-day program. ICRISAT posters were a big attraction to the visiting farmers. Farmers were given brochures in the local language, Kannada, depicting various activities of ICRISAT. They were particularly interested in ICRISAT’s chickpea and sorghum varieties for this Rabi season.

Borlaug, during his last visit to ICRISAT in 1996 wrote in the visitors book, “It is wonderful to revisit ICRISAT and see the progress you have made in improving the agriculture for the dryland tropical areas. Congratulations. Keep up the good work.”

The Karnataka Agricultural Commissioner, Dr Baburao Mudbi, and the Director of Agriculture, Dr KV Sarvesh, also visited the ICRISAT stall. Dr RR Hanchinal, Director of Extension, UAS Dharwad presented a memento and certificate for ICRISAT’s participation in the Krishimela.

The ICRISAT team in the Krishimela included Ashok Alur, K Krishnappa, G Pardhasaradhi, B Ramaiah, M Mohan Rao and B Manik Reddy.

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Child Nutrition project for ICRISAT

The McKnight Foundation has recently awarded a grant to three institutions, ICRISAT, Compatible Technology International (CTI) USA, and Tanzania’s Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), to address the issue of malnutrition in children of Malawi and Tanzania. The project will be led by CTI; a St Paul, Minnesota based nonprofit organization, which was founded in 1981 by a group of food scientists, missionaries and research engineers to address the post-harvest needs of the food chain.

African mother with her child
File photo of an African mother feeding her child.

The organizations are combining their expertise for a four-year (September 2009-August 2013) $673,000 research and development grant project, which will focus on enhancing child nutrition and the livelihoods of rural households in these two African countries.

Malnutrition is widespread in Malawi and Tanzania, particularly among children under five whose diet is deficient in protein, oils and micronutrients. There is an urgent need for developing improved, nutritious foods using locally available crops such as groundnut. Increased groundnut production can improve economic security as well.

Some of the major project objectives include, reduction of food losses during handling, processing and storage; improving the nutrition of rural households, particularly for children; raising household revenues through sale and distribution of groundnut-based food products for local markets; improving productivity, and reducing the intense daily labor typically endured by women.

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