There are 4 million people with limited access to food in Chad, which ranks as second hungriest of the 119 countries assessed in the 2018 Global Hunger Index (GHI). Chad is also hotter and drier now than it was 40 years ago. The country is highly dependent on small-sized subsistence agriculture, but inadequate or maldistributed rainfalls have reduced crop production, resulting in food shortage and increased undernutrition. Now, the International Research Institute for Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) aims to provide food security and resilience for people in West and Central African drylands like Chad through more climate-smart crops.
Amid growing homogeneity of crop species worldwide in the past 50 years, major crops like rice, wheat, and maize have dominated markets. But climate-smart crops like pearl millet and sorghum can be incredibly reliable in regions with high temperatures, poor soil fertility, and recurring droughts. They typically do not require as much water to grow as other crops and can grow under challenging conditions. Served mainly as porridge or flat-breads, in addition, pearl millet and sorghum can provide Chadians with energy and micronutrients such as zinc and iron. These nutrients are essential for child growth and development—the future of the country.
ICRISAT has been developing even more stress-tolerant hybrids with improved yields. These cultivars can be more productive than other varieties in unfavorable environments, and they are more resilient to high temperatures and droughts, increased stress length, greater stress intensity, and varying onset times. In Chad, farmers who planted the S35 variety of sorghum (developed by ICRISAT researchers) are decreasing resource inputs by 33 percent and increasing yields by 51 percent, compared to yields of other sorghum varieties.
Pearl millet and sorghum are also core crops in ICRISAT’s Inclusive Market-Oriented Development (IMOD) framework in West and Central Africa, where the organization aims to end poverty instead of alleviate it. While the poorest farmers often lack access to markets, more wealthy farmers can use information and resources to generate more income. The poor will remain poor, and the gap between rich and poor will continue to widen without inclusive approaches, according to ICRISAT.
To help more farmers get involved in markets, the framework includes multidimensional actions. Subsistence farmers who grow just enough food for themselves often experience food shortages, but cultivating climate-resilient crops can put more surplus in the poorest farmers’ hands. Then they will be able to trade goods in the market and invest for better future production. While farmers themselves take a leading role in this process, ICRISAT supports them by providing them with access to innovations and by improving safety nets and livelihood capital. And as the process continues, the organization hopes for a shift from external relief aid towards self-reliance.