The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) will work with six million arable farmers in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Nepal, taking in a total area of 7.5m hectares.
It is hoped that the project could be instrumental in preventing the kind of food price spikes seen in early 2008, when global demand for grain far outstripped supply, by restoring the balance in one of the world’s most populous regions.
The IRRI will lead the initiative in cooperation with the International Food Policy Research Institute, the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre and the International Livestock Research Project. It has said it will also enlist the help of national agricultural research organisations, education systems, private companies and non-government organisations.
The South Asian region has seen declining yield growth in recent years even as demand for grain has soared, and natural resources have come increasingly under strain, further exacerbating the area’s problems.
CSISA aims to provide better post-harvest farming technologies and develop improved wheat and maize varieties in an effort to ensure long-term sustainability in the region. It will also provide educational investment to create a new generation of agricultural scientists.
IRRI deputy director general for research Dr Achim Dobermann said: “The food price spikes of 2008 were a stark reminder of what can happen when agricultural productivity growth – which is reliant on continued research and development – tapers off and demand begins to overtake supply.”
The $30m project (approximately €22.32m at today’s rates) has secured $19.59m of funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and over $10m from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) over the first three years.
Dobermann said that he sees the support from such high-profile organisations as an indication that the world is beginning to recognise the need for long-term investment in agricultural research.
“By contributing critical know-how to major national initiatives and private-sector investments in new technologies for improving cereal productivity and farm income in South Asia, CSISA can take big steps in the eradication of hunger, malnutrition, and poverty in a region that has grappled with these afflictions for far too long,” he said.
Although the project will initially focus on South Asia, it is hoped that lessons learned in the region will be transferable to smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa.
The region targeted by the CSISA project plays a major role in providing food for nearly a quarter of the world’s population, and is home to 40 per cent of the world’s poor, with half a billion living on less than $1 a day.
CSISA aims to increase crop yields over the next ten years by 0.5 tonnes per hectare for four million farmers working five million hectares, and by at least one tonne per hectare for a further two million farmers on 2.5 million hectares.