Sustainable land management can arrest degradation of dry lands, says International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) headquartered in southern India.
Investing in sustainable land management techniques to control and prevent land degradation is an essential and cost-effective way to deliver other global environmental benefits, such as maintenance of biodiversity, mitigation of climate change and protection of international waters, it is pointed out.
Drylands cover about 41% of the earth's surface and the survival of more than 250 million people depends on those tracts.
In such circumstances, their livelihoods are at risk due to land degradation. The situation is further exacerbated by increasing population growth as that puts considerable pressure on fragile land resources.
The ICRISAT addresses the problem of land degradation through sustainable land management (SLM) techniques, according to a press release.
ICRISAT is the executing agency and coordinator of the Desert Margins Program (DMP) funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). DMP is a collaborative initiative among nine sub-Saharan African countries - Botswana, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Mali, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, South Africa and Zimbabwe, which are assisted by five Centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and three advanced research institutes. The DMP focuses on better understanding land and biodiversity degradation and finding ways to counter them, says ICRISAT Director General Dr William D Dar.
The institute is catalyzing a global research program called 'Oasis' to intensify the effort against dryland degradation and desertification. Oasis brings the best global science partnerships to bear across Africa, Asia and Latin America.
To address the issue of poor soil fertility ICRISAT has developed a "microdosing" technique that involves the application of small, affordable quantities of fertilizer with the seed at planting time or as a top dressing 3 or 4 weeks after emergence. This enhances fertilizer use efficiency and improves productivity.
The Institute is also testing two market development strategies to address constraints such as difficult access to fertilizer and credit; insufficient flow of information and training to farmers; and inappropriate policies. In West Africa, the 'Warrantage' or inventory credit system aims to resolve the farmers' capital constraint. Farmers place part of their harvest in a local storehouse in return for loans, which they use to pay debts and start various income-earning activities to tide over the long dry season.
The stored grain is sold later in the year when prices are high, and the farmer is able to repay the loan. ICRISAT has also succeeded in getting private fertilizer companies to sell fertilizers in small packs that smallholder farmers can afford.
The Institute has partnered with other organizations and has evolved a new consortium watershed management model to control land degradation and improve rural livelihoods. The approach is built on the principle of harnessing the strengths of the consortium partners for the benefit of all the stakeholders, and is based on a holistic systems approach called the Integrated Genetic and Natural Resource Management (IGNRM) strategy.
The Drylands Eco-farm (DEF) is an innovative trees-crops-livestock system for rainfed crop production. Fast-growing, drought tolerant Australian Acacias and a high value tree crop (Zizyphus mauritania) are intercropped with annual crops. It also incorporates principles of crop rotation, mulch application, windbreaks and nitrogen fixing trees. Profits from the DEF are 3-5 times higher than profits from current cropping systems.
The Institute is also undertaking Bioreclamation of Degraded Lands (BDL) project in barren, unproductive soils that are widespread in the West African Sahel.
Besides developing and promoting these techniques to curb land degradation and improve the quality of agricultural soil, ICRISAT is putting great emphasis on strengthening the national capacities in studying climate, soil, vegetation and livestock trends and dynamics, standardization of methodologies to ensure data quality.