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[ACCRA] People in drylands in several regions in Africa and Asia are set to benefit from a new global research partnership that aims to boost food security and agricultural productivity.

Launched in Jordan last month (21 May), the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems is a three year, US$120 million initiative targeting dry lands in low-income countries, which are home to more than two billion people, and subject to ongoing climate change and food shortages.

The project, which is led by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA, a member of the CGIAR Consortium), focuses on five regions —western Africa and the dry savannahs; eastern and southern Africa; North Africa and West Asia; Central Asia and the Caucasus; and South Asia, following consultation among scientists, civil society partners and policymakers in 2012.

There are more than 60 partners in the programme, including national agriculture and research agencies, and a range of national and international development partners. They will work alongside rural communities to identify, develop and encourage the use of innovation in improved technologies, farming practices and policies, and promote access to new agri-business market opportunities.

"The programme strives to help communities in the driest areas to adapt better to climate change and increase food production in sustainable ways for their rapidly growing populations," Piers Bocock, director of knowledge management and communication at the CGIAR Consortium, tells SciDev.Net.

Bocock says it will involve a wide range of "technology and policy packages" with high-potential innovations that can be scaled up to improve the lives of dryland communities.

Potential research strategies include improved drought-tolerant crops, integrated crop–livestock systems, better surface irrigation and conservation agriculture.

Bill Payne, programme director, adds that the aims are also to provide better health and nutrition, conservation of natural resources, and reduced social inequity among the poor and vulnerable, especially in th

e face of such shocks as drought or food price spikes.

"To realize impact quickly, we have set out to identify specific opportunities where we believe new technologies, policies or partnerships might have impacts in the short-to-medium term," he says.

Gender, capacity building and biodiversity will also feature as themes during the programme.

"The consequences of not addressing development in dryland systems include further land degradation, more poverty, increased food insecurity, poorer nutrition and even greater social inequality," Payne says.

Walter Alhassan, coordinator of Strengthening Capacity for Safe Biotechnology Management in Sub-Saharan Africa (SABIMA) at the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA), says the approach has high potential to extend technologies and farming systems to similar ecologies, so making the research more cost-effective.

As well as drought, floods can also be a problem in drylands, and should also be addressed in the project, he says.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.