The Cereal Systems Initiative for South Asia (CSISA) was established in 2009 to promote durable change at scale in South Asia’s cereal-based cropping systems. CSISA supports regional and national efforts to improve cereal production growth in South Asia’s Indo-Gangetic Plains, home to the region’s most important grain baskets. Operating in rural “innovation hubs” in Bangladesh, India and Nepal, CSISA involves more than 300 public, civil society and private sector partners in the development and dissemination of improved cropping systems, resource-conserving management technologies, new cereal varieties and hybrids, livestock feeding strategies and feed value chains, aquaculture systems and policies and markets. In essence, CSISA is an innovation systems platform that links a wide range of public, private and civil society sector programs within and across South Asia.
CSISA is run by a collaboration of five international agricultural research centers, all members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), and each with a distinct but complementary expertise in agricultural production systems. Partners include the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the WorldFish Center and the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Funded by USAID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, CSISA utilizes strategic partnerships, participatory technology development, future-oriented cropping systems research, and capacity building to catalyze locally-appropriate, sustainable change in rural communities across the region.
The project Stress-Tolerant Rice in Africa and South Asia (STRASA) began at the end of 2007 with IRRI in collaboration with AfricaRice (called WARDA at that time) to develop and deliver rice varieties tolerant of abiotic stresses to the millions of farmers in the unfavorable rice-growing environments. STRASA was conceived as a 10-year project with a vision to deliver the improved varieties to at least 18 million farmers on the two continents. The project was also anticipated to have significant spillover effects for nonparticipating countries. The poorest rice producers produce their crop under rainfed conditions, in which drought, submergence, salinity, iron toxicity, and cold reduce yields and harm their livelihoods. Recent advances in genetics and breeding have made the development of rice varieties tolerant of such stresses feasible and their cultivation can substantially contribute to poverty alleviation of rice farmers in unfavorable environments and of poor rice consumers globally.
For these areas, we expect to achieve, within the next seven years, a 50% increase in yield in farmers’ fields, with improved cultivars and additional gains with improved management practices. In its second phase, we expect the project to further develop and disseminate improved stress-tolerant rice varieties to at least 5 million farmers (0.4 million in SSA and 4.6 million in SA); in the longer term, we expect varieties tolerant of drought, submergence, and/or salinity, and iron toxicity to benefit at least 20 million households. In addition, we aim to build the capacity of researchers and seed producers and promote the exchange of elite germplasm.
During the first three-year phase, major progress was made on developing improved germplasm, developing participatory evaluation networks, seed production, and release of stress-tolerant varieties, targeting of stress-tolerant varieties for large-scale delivery, impact analysis, and strengthening capacity. The successes of this first phase clearly indicate that we can reach 20 million farmers with improved stress-tolerant varieties by the end of the project. In Phase 2, lasting three years, seed and information dissemination in the 10-year project will be scaled up considerably, while the breeding work will focus on taking advantage of the progress made in identifying genes conferring tolerance for the major stresses.
To better coordinate rice research efforts targeted to the world’s poor, IRRI, AfricaRice, and CIAT (International Center for Tropical Agriculture) have joined forces to create the Global Rice Science Partnership (GRiSP) mega-program. This new partnership, involving close collaboration with national agricultural research and extension systems (NARES) as well as advanced laboratories, will better position us to take advantage of recent scientific discoveries and advances—particularly in genetics, genomics, and crop physiology—that have opened up new opportunities to reduce the impact of these abiotic stresses.