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Dry land countries seek food security solutions in the face of climate change

A conference addresses how rural communities in the Middle East can enhance their resilience to climate change. Photo: Z. Sewunet (ILRI).
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Nov 15, 2012



By Clare Pedrick

Dry lands countries have a range of opportunities to increase their food production and reduce risk, in spite of climate change.

The international meeting on food security in dry lands, starting yesterday in Doha, Qatar, heard that two key strategies for the world’s dry lands are to ‘sustainably intensify’ food production in high potential rural areas. And in the most marginal lands, devise strategies for farming to be more resilient to climate change – reducing vulnerability for the most affected rural communities.

Improved crop varieties that can resist temperature extremes, drought and disease, different land and water management practices, diverse cropping and mixed crop-livestock systems can all bolster food security and increase incomes for rural communities.

A range of expert panels and consultations took place at the meeting. They are better defining the problem posed by changing climate patterns and their effect on rural populations. Practical solutions are being discussed.

In an opening keynote debate, Dr. Mahmoud Solh, Director General of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), stressed that the challenges are complex, but with more targeted research and investment, there are good prospects for reducing risk, especially for smallholder farmers.

“The challenges are complex, to the point where there is no silver bullet for solving these problems,” he said. “But practical solutions exist today that will increase food security. Countries now need precise action plans to make these interventions work.”

The meeting brings together researchers, policy makers, donors, NGOs, farmers’ unions and private agribusiness enterprises, to explore the challenge of increasing agricultural production in dry land countries, under conditions of increasingly severe water scarcity and climate change

Dry areas cover more than 40% of the world’s land surface and are home to 2.5 billion people. Poverty, food, insecurity, frequent drought and environmental degradation are widespread. Climate change is already exacerbating these countries’ problems, and experts predict that the situation is going to get worse.

A number of practical approaches presented – tested in recent agricultural research initiatives – will improve prospects for farmers and rural communities.

Many examples of positive action that countries and communities can take are emerging from the discussion. ‘Raised bed’ farming for wheat in parts of Egypt during the past two seasons has resulted in a yield increase of 20%, using 20% less water, said Dr. Solh. In rangeland areas, some farmers are including sheep and goats in their farming mix, producing income-generating products such as yoghurt, wool, or meat for nutrition. The Awasi sheep, a hardy native breed (pictured above in Ethiopia), brings resilience to rural communities in the Middle East that has considerable potential for use across marginal lands in many dry land countries.

Clare Pedrick is a journalist specializing in agriculture, rural development and the environment. She is reporting from The International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands (FSDL) held in Doha, Qatar from 14 to 15 November 2012. Read more blogs from the conference.

Are you interested in safeguarding our food system in a changing climate? Then be sure to register for Forest Day (2 December) and Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day (3 December) in Doha, and follow #ALLForest on twitter!