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Mandate

West African countries are presently marked by profound and significant changes, which are having significant negative effects on agriculture. The population is doubling every 25 years and is tending towards urbanisation. This increasing urbanisation of the population, which should have a beneficial effect in creating potential market for farmers, has in fact very little impact in the Sahel zone. In effect, farmers in this zone are more involved in subsistence rather than commercial farming. They depend on the exploitation of local resources. Moreover, the climatic situation of the growing season is the main factor which determines yield and therefore the farmers’ resources.

This effect is accentuated by the fact that the plant material grown in these regions is sometimes poorly adapted to the milieu and/or to market demands. The crops are in effect not sufficiently diversified, and the varieties and production methods practised, are not always adapted to drought. Even when they are, it is necessary to anticipate climatic changes, which still requires improving their tolerance to water deficit.

Other local constraints do exist, especially the growing scarcity of land resources. The traditional methods of soil fertility management, such as fallow, are affected by the increasing population pressure. More consideration is, therefore, given to the extension of cultivated lands and certain forms of intensification. Moreover, agricultural political reforms, especially the suppression of subsidies for inputs, creates more imbalances in the production systems, which are constrained to export more from the land than what they return to the land, thus leading to the degradation of natural resources. Low soil fertility is aggravated by the limited potentialities of crop intensification, which is in turn dueto several constraints. Apart from these main limitations mentioned, socio-cultural constraints amplified by the quasi-disappearance of extension systems create difficulties for farmers, who are faced with the task of changing cultural practices to those which will enable them to improve the management of risks brought about by climatic changes.

These factors explain the reasons for the Sahel region being affected, for over several decades, by a stagnant and sometimes reduced agricultural yield of food crops, because this situation leads to an increase in the food deficit due to the growing population.

This production deficit is translated by a deterioration of the farmers’ revenue and increasingly difficult living conditions, which in many cases is equivalent to survival. There is, therefore, an urgent need to find proper solutions to stop this tendency, in order to improve living conditions in the rural areas.

The previously described context has alarming consequences, which are notably food deficit and poverty among the rural population, as well as the desertification of the zones considered.

CERAAS was created to face some of these challenges. It is a national laboratory with a regional vocation under the tutelage of two institutions ISRA the mother institution and CORAF/WECARD. CERAAS is responsible for implementing its national programme on plant adaptation to drought. It is also a regional base centre of CORAF/WECARD, implementing research programmes of one of the 5 research themes of the drought resistant research network (R3S), a CORAF/WECARD network.

Its mission is to provide technical solutions for:

- reducing the negative effect of drought on agricultural production and by doing so reducing food deficit and increasing the livelihood of populations.

- contributing to the control of desertification and the improvement of genetic resources management.

To fulfil its mission, the scientific programme of CERAAS is basedon priorities defined in the strategic plans of both ISRA and CORAF with respect to research and training in the area of agriculture.

The activities of CERAAS could be classified under two main axes:

* RESEARCH

The objective is to identify and select plant material adapted to drought and with increased production potential, thereby leading to the stabilisation and even reduction in the food deficit of countries in dry areas in general. To attain this objective, CERAAS carries out research activities aimed at understanding the reaction of plants to drought and propose some solutions in terms of improved plant material and technical protocols for reducing the impact of this constraint.

* TRAINING

The objective is to improve the human capacity of countries in dry areas working on the theme. CERAAS carries out training programmes specifically oriented towards plant adaptation to drought, such that countries could increase the critical mass of specialised scientists capable of developing and implementing high performance breeding programmes, which could lead in fine to an increase in national production.