More than 40% of the earth is considered to be drylands. Despite the poor quality of such lands (soil degradation, low soil fertility) and its climate (low rainfall, high evaporation rate) people depend on it for their survival through practicing agriculture.

Environmental problems in dryland areas include the following:

  • Short and erratic rainfall; low total rainfall
  • During rainfall the soil is exposed to waterlogging and erosion
  • During dry seasons the sandy soils are exposed to wind erosion
  • Intensive use of external inputs is risky.

Due to this last point alternative production techniques are needed that should:

  • Conserve and enhance soil quality;
  • Be location specific and thus developed locally with the farmers;
  • Be knowledge and management intensive in order to improve productivity with limited use of external inputs.

DCG promotes agricultural development and research in partnership with farmers, national and international research institutions, extension systems, NGOs and government institutions in targeted dryland countries. Thanks to this collaboration, DCG has already identified promising pathways towards improved production and livelihoods through better resource management.

A "traditional" conception of agricultural extension assumes that researchers generate information that is transferred to extension agents and adopted by farmers. Agricultural knowledge and knowledge about use of natural resources is however not only science-based. Hence, knowledge and skills developed by farmers and pastoralists should not be ignored. DCG focuses on undertaking activities that improve farmer (pastoralist)-extension-researcher linkages and facilitate interaction between different stakeholders. Consequently, a fruitful exchange of appropriate knowledge is achieved.

An example of this approach is the 'Ecofarm project', which is being developed and experimented in Mali, Ethiopia and in Sudan. This project is part of a strategy to generate technologies that reduces poverty through increased production while at the same time preserving the environment. This concept is holistic as it focuses on strengthening the interaction between different components of the farm. Furthermore, it is based on the belief that the combination of scientific knowledge and farmer knowledge leads to sustainable development. The participating villages develop their own land-use plans and based on these plans, ways of managing the land are tested. The partners of the ecofarm project have at their disposition a 'basket of options' from which they choose elements that are useful for their farm and possible to implement (i.e. adapted to their local conditions). Thus, the ecofarm project leaders do not impose any 'one-size-fits-all package'. For more information about this project, please consult our factsheet and report.

DCG also works with researchers on new agricultural techniques such as the Integrated Plant Nutrient Management (IPNM) project, which is taking place in Mali. IPNM maximizes the use of organic sources of fertilizer, minimizes the loss of nutrients, and uses judiciously inorganic fertilizers based on needs. This technique is implemented based on mutual learning by all the participants, which is in line with DCG's approach discussed above. Traditional agriculture systems are also a focus of DCG's work and based on applied studies (e.g. on-farm storage) recommendations and suggestions are provided.

DCG is also working with another dimension – the policy level. DCG members in partner countries include governmental bodies enabling DCG to be aware of national policies and engage in policy dialogues with national decision makers. Moreover, DCG in collaboration with partner organizations is assisting governments in implementing national policies. For example, DCG conducted a study on evaluating the implementation of the Integrated Pest Management technique in Ethiopia. In doing so, the study identified gaps at the policy level in terms of implementation, level of knowledge of this technique, extent of research on this technique, its implementation strategy through extension agriculture, etc. As a result, the study also came up with recommendations.

(Sources: Trygve Berg and Jens Aune)