Drawing on ideas advanced during the course of an international workshop, this paper reviews agricultural research priorities in the dry areas of the developing world, where economic and demographic pressures are driving a rapid intensification of production, even on very fragile lands. Current priorities for research and research funding reflect a strongly felt need, among governments and donor agencies, for rapid problem-solving to relieve poverty. In this context, traditional long-term agronomic research trials, with essentially strategic and basic objectives, are often seen as irrelevant. Yet the need to anticipate problems impending in environments where intensification is consuming the natural resource base and degrading the production potential is an urgent one. To accommodate this need to the perceptions of the different stakeholders, a new research paradigm, ‘Anticipatory Long-Term Research for Sustainable Productivity’, is proposed. It invokes a holistic approach, building a longer view and greater dynamism into traditional agronomy, enhancing ties to socio-economic and resource management disciplines, and reconciling the immediate demand for high-yielding technology with the strategic issues of sustainable production.