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CIAT in Asia

Asia is home to over half of the world’s population. As a result of major economic development in recent decades, average household wealth has greatly increased in the region, though inequities persist between and within countries. A significant proportion of the population living in rural areas and relying on agriculture remain poor, while rapid urbanization in many parts of the region has given rise to the challenge of providing sufficient and nutritious food to millions of low-income and livelihood-insecure people living along the urban and peri-urban spaces’ socio-economic margins.

Agriculture continues to be an important component of Asian economies amidst rapid growth in other sectors. But while economic growth in the region has created opportunities for agriculture, efforts to sustain and enhance growth have as well generated major challenges.


Across tropical Asia, intensification of agricultural livelihoods has put undue pressure on natural resources – from soil degradation to deforestation. Pressure on land for non-agricultural uses, and land grabbing by large companies or even other countries in order to divert land used by smallholders to large-scale agricultural production, presents another major threat. Finally, besides being the world’s most vulnerable region to long-term climate change impacts, the more frequent occurrence of extreme weather events is threatening the livelihood resilience of smallholder agricultural producers and consumers.

In Asia, a key challenge is to help marginalized communities gain a greater share of the wealth created by rapid economic development. In order to help facilitate sustainable agricultural intensification and foster resiliency among smallholder farmers, CIAT works with partners towards increasing competitiveness and efficiency of local farming systems through sustainable land-use, and livestock, soil and natural resource management; boosting yields through continued genetic improvement, better agronomy, and pest and disease management; and boosting incomes by engaging smallholders more effectively with markets.

Adding value to cassava for diverse markets and uses

In Asia, particularly in Southeast Asia, cassava is primarily grown as a cash crop by smallholder farmers and sold into a range of complex value chains – livestock feed, biofuel, sweeteners, noodles, gluten-free products, etc. To help smallholder farmers tap into the abundant opportunities offered by cassava, CIAT continues to develop improved varieties and works to create stable and sustainable yields through enhanced pests and diseases, soil and seed systems management.

In order to enhance overall competitiveness of value chains, the team in Asia implements a mix of innovations, which includes, for example, investigating novel options for adding value to cassava industrial waste; using spatial analyses and geo-referencing techniques to track cassava demand and identify bottlenecks; investigating cassava seed systems, including policy and procedures for moving plant material; and analyzing regional policy, infrastructure and logistical regulations to evaluate supportive networks and value chain-wide services which foster smallholder development.

Integrated farming systems and resilient agricultural landscapes

Farmers – particularly in upland areas where minority communities have limited support to manage sustainable agricultural practices – are in danger of pursuing agricultural intensification that could compromise natural resource sustainability. CIAT takes a holistic perspective in addressing the diverse crop, livestock, trees and other components that make up smallholder farming systems. CIAT’s research provides science-based information and tools to assess existing conditions and help improve soil health and land-use management through conservation agriculture.

Value chains and food systems that benefit both producers and consumers

Over half of the planet’s population live in Asia, including 2 billion in cities. Producing and providing safe food for urban and rural consumers remains the fundamental responsibility of the agricultural sector, and sustainable food systems play a critical role in combating hunger and ensuring that the world eats nutritious food and balanced diets. And while farmers have a huge role in that, the rest of the world also has a responsibility to ensure that food producers are sustained well enough by incomes derived from feeding the world. CIAT works with the whole range of value chain actors to help boost incomes for smallholders by engaging them more effectively with markets. By coordinating activities in Vietnam related to the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, CIAT contributes to the goal of achieving healthier diets for poor and vulnerable populations through better understanding of food system-diet dynamics, and through identifying and enabling innovations in value chains and policies. CIAT’s work on food systems responds to concerns about diet trends (transitions) and demands for systemic solutions that address problems such as food insecurity, undernutrition and overnutrition.

Enhancing forage integration and access for smallholder livestock production

Planting highly productive, nutritious forages on small areas of the farm can allow farmers to increase livestock productivity without relying on increasingly scarce natural resources. By helping protect and improve soils, forages provide an alternative to unsustainable practices such as slash-and-burn agriculture, helping reduce the livestock environmental footprint of smallholder agricultural systems, and helping contribute to creating eco-efficient agricultural livelihoods through livestock-crop-tree systems. CIAT’s research aims to support farmers by making available forage options that meet quantity and quality requirements for profitable animal raising, while improving productivity through gains in overall efficiency and access to livelihood-enhancing ecosystem services.

Responding to climate change including by safeguarding ecosystem services

Long-term increases in temperature and altering precipitation patterns, along with extreme weather events – flooding, drought – and impacts like rising salinity in the Greater Mekong sub-region increasingly threaten tropical agriculture. Short- and medium-term climate variability, such as cold stresses in Southeast Asia’s upland areas, undermines crop growth and yield. CIAT’s research focuses on dynamic interaction between farms and landscapes, mobilizing climate science to aid national and regional agenda set their priorities. A portfolio of tools – climate scenarios, mapping exercises, prioritization processes, climate advisory services, monitoring and early warning systems – help guide partners’ land management planning and policy formulation. These tools also help identify best-bet climate-smart agriculture (CSA) technologies and practices. By promoting protection of soil health, CIAT helps partners protect their landscapes’ capacity to provide ecosystem services – sufficiently nourished soils, water, climate regulation – thereby, helping them be more resilient to impacts of climate change. CIAT’s research partnerships bring an ecosystem perspective to specific agricultural technologies, with the aim of increasing productivity and environmental benefits to farming systems and agricultural landscapes.

Research updates

Asia | CIAT Blog Science to Cultivate Change