New dryland development paradigm grounded in empirical analysis of dryland systems science
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Drylands occupy 41% of the global land surface (Reynolds et al., 2007) and are inhabited by more than 2.5 billion of the poorest, hungriest, least healthy and most marginalized people in the world (Middleton et al., 2011). Dryland agricultural livelihoods are being undermined by converging factors including poverty and unemployment related to high population growth rates, weak governance, low inherent agricultural productivity, low levels of investment, and land degradation (Reed & Stringer, 2016). Climate change, conflict and civil unrest impose additional pressures on scarce resources in vulnerable drylands and exacerbate human migration (Okpara et al., 2015; 2016a). Despite their problems, drylands also possess valuable assets, e.g. abundant solar energy, rich plant biodiversity, 50% of the world’s livestock and opportunities to diversify and intensify agriculture and increase soil carbon storage (Mortimore et al., 2009; Stringer et al., 2012). Overall, these challenges and opportunities combine to create a major scientific and international development task: identifying pathways towards dryland agricultural development that both harness the strengths and complexity of these areas and tackle their problems in a timely and cost-effective way. The economic and human costs of inaction or delayed action in addressing dryland problems are likely to be substantial (ELD, 2015), while failure to substantially address the challenges posed by these environments will stall progress towards achieving international development goals (Mortimore et al., 2009). Indeed, slow movement towards the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is testament to this (Middleton et al., 2011). Dryland development efforts have been spearheaded by a range of international actors and agencies for several decades: historically, by investing in large-scale, top-down agricultural interventions, devised to control or manage biophysical processes (Toulmin & Brock, 2016); more recently, through the development and application of systems approaches and research for development (Reynolds & Stafford-Smith, 2002; Reynolds et al., 2007). Herein, the agricultural sector has received significant attention. Smallholder agriculture remains the main driver of development in developing countries, and is central to food security, generating employment and contributing a significant percentage of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in many drylands (Mortimore et al., 2009). Improving the benefits from and profitability of smallholder farming remains an urgent task for dryland communities where livelihoods are characterized by risks and complexities associated with water scarcity, climatic variability, land degradation and the governance and social systems that have developed to cope with uncertainty (UNEMG, 2011). Dryland development also remains a key priority for international actors and agencies which recognize that the future pathways taken by the drylands have multiple knock-on global impacts. The aim of this paper is to provide an empirically-grounded assessment of the stateof- the-art in dryland science and development, informing the identification and application of a new, forward-looking dryland development paradigm, and a research agenda that can help to address the key dryland challenges identified above. We first assess the current state of dryland research, highlighting the importance of Reynolds et al.’s (2007) Dryland Development Paradigm (DDP) and illustrating its use by the dryland science community. From this, we take stock and empirically establish eight key characteristics of a new DDP that capture the evolution of drylands research as presented within the literature. Synthesizing these eight characteristics as the current cutting-edge, we identify a simple set of three integrative principles that operationalize the new DDP. We apply the integrative principles to research undertaken by the CGIAR Research Programme on Dryland Systems (CRP-DS)1, assessing the current strengths and gaps in dryland science and development in the largest international drylands research initiative in the world. Application of the three integrative principles allows the derivation of future research steps that can more holistically advance knowledge and address dryland development challenges. Viewed together, the new DDP’s integrative principles can be used by researchers and donors to identify whether urgent dryland knowledge and development impact gaps are being sufficiently addressed. This is particularly important in the design of interventions seeking to advance progress towards the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in drylands.