Reflections from the new Chair of the Drylands CRP Independent Steering Committee

harry_0By Harry Palmier
I recently attended the meeting of the CGIAR Research Program (CRP) on Drylands Systems held in Hyderabad, India, at the invitation of ICRISAT, and was honoured to be selected as the Chair of the Program’s new Independent Steering Committee (ISC).
I have been participating in meetings of the CGIAR Research Program on Drylands Systems since it was established and I remember at its launch  in May 2013 that I was impressed by how the Program had reached out to so many partners and had in place assets that could really make a difference.  In following the Program since then, I have continued to be gratified by the effective collaborative and partnership-oriented approach the Program has taken. Hence, assuming the Chair of the ISC is not only an honour but a pleasure as well.

To me, the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems is an example of what the future of international research for development programs could look like. It engages in large-scale action research to identify ‘best-bet’ intervention packages and validates their effectiveness in specific agro-ecosystems, and promotes their scaling up to benefit the poor and highly vulnerable populations of the dry areas.
I take over from Dr. Mahmoud Solh, who has been an excellent Chair and has guided the Program through a number of early challenges including those associated with initiating the revamping of the Program governance. I fully concur with the recommendations of the independent evaluation and feel that the ongoing substantial revamping is necessary to ensure that the Program’s approach and impact is sustained through the CGIAR’s revision of its research portfolio. I feel strongly that drylands will continue to be an important area for future agriculture research for development investment. Preserving a dedicated research program on Dryland Systems will certainly represent a huge asset that cannot be ignored.  I have no doubt that the task ahead is challenging and it will require the full commitment and engagement of ISC members, but it is certainly within our reach.
From my own experience I know how powerful the role of dialogue, partnership and communication can be. I plan to encourage the Program in this direction by ensuring that external research and development partners are included in designing robust impact pathways. In this I find a strong ally in the Program’s Director, Dr. Richard Thomas. We share similar views in building a strong working relationship between the Program’s Research Management Committee (RMC) and the ISC to mobilize support and resources for Dryland Systems.
The RMC has already started to sharpen the focus of the Program by targeting specific grand dryland challenges, identifying specific research themes, strategically reducing the number of research sites and designing integrated system research activities. This should address an important concern raised by some investors in the Program about the need for clearer focus on research that generates demand driven International Public Goods and research outcomes that are responsive to regional and national demands.
The program management recognizes that there is also room for more teamwork and better site and activities integration with other Research Programs and partners. With the CRP Director, the ISC will build on the positive ongoing strategic discussions with the Director Generals of ICRAF, ICRISAT, ILRI and relevant CRPs (Dryland Cereals, Grain Legumes, Livestock and Fish. Dryland Systems has adopted a pragmatic approach and is looking at how best to reorganize around different flagships across existing CRPs and other Centre’s programs active in dryland areas.
A similar discussion is being engaged with national and regional partners operating actively in sub-Saharan Africa with whom the Program’s activities should work, preferably on a contractual basis, to respond to expressed priorities, or at least clearly align with them. I am pleased to announce that the Dryland Systems Program has already brought into the ISC, the CORAF-WECARD Director of Research Dr. Aboubakar Njoya, and is discussing with similar partners at national and regional level, as appropriate, in Central Asia and the Caucasus, North Africa and Near East, the retailoring of flagship projects.
I certainly hope that my long history with the Program will contribute positively to its future. I’m looking forward to my new role and working closely with the ISC members and the Dryland Systems Program Director. I’m sure that together we will contribute to successfully shaping the Program’s future.

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