Nov 30, 2012

New Report Warns of Climate Risks for Farmers in Dryland Areas

Many of the solutions to climate change in the dry areas are known, but increased investment and urgent action are needed to bring food security to people in the world’s dry areas. Photo: ICARDA

Authors Argue for Urgent Investment to Deploy Available Solutions More Widely

Doha, Qatar: Women, men and children living in rural communities in the world’s dry areas are the hardest hit by today’s changing climate patterns – ranging from floods and drought to unpredictable rainfall and hot and cold temperature extremes, according to a report released today at the United Nations climate change conference.

Strategies for Combating Climate Change in Drylands Agriculture - published today by a group of leading international experts in climate change and agriculture – asks why agricultural solutions are not a higher political priority in the international climate change debate. The authors argue that many of the solutions are available now but increased investment and urgent action are needed to bring food security to people in the world’s dry areas.

Many of the solutions to climate change in the dry areas are known, say the report’s authors. These approaches have been produced by agricultural research centers over the past four decades. They range from water and land management practices, to improved crop varieties, and strategies for diversifying traditional crops. Solutions also include bringing crops and livestock into the mix for improved nutrition, farmer income, and a means of hedging against unpredictable climate shifts that can reduce crop yields.

The report shows how targeted agricultural investment in innovative technologies and practices, backed up by robust policies, can reduce the vulnerability of farming communities to drought and climate change and increase agricultural production, with minimal effects on the environment.

The report is authored by three organizations with vast scientific expertise as members of the CGIAR network of agricultural research centers – the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA); the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS); and the new CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems. The report comes out of the International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands which took place 14-15 November, where dryland government Ministers together with the research and international development community released a declaration on how to address the challenge of increasing agricultural production in dry countries, under conditions of severe water scarcity and climate change.

“The best technologies serve little purpose without a strong policy environment in which they can be put into action, financed and managed,” says Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA’s Director General.“ Unfortunately, today, many dry area countries are under-investing in research and have inadequate policy environments.” He cites the example of several dryland countries – and that of Ethiopia, which has evolved from being the victim of frequent famine and food crises in the 1980s, to becoming a producer of vegetables for home markets and an exporter of high-value vegetable crops for European markets. “Once the country’s policy environment was in place, the situation progressed rapidly,” he says.

Dry areas cover more than 40% of the world’s land surface and are home to 2.5 billion people worldwide – one-third of the global population. People in these regions are forced to grow crops on degraded or marginal soils using rainfed agriculture or limited irrigation. Due to the difficulties of growing food, countries in the drylands tend to rely on ‘untenably high’ food imports, which make them additionally vulnerable to commodity price spikes.

Innovations by agricultural scientists offer a range of practical solutions that can help these small-scale farming communities become productive now, and remain productive, in the face of changing weather.

“If you look at the prognosis for Africa, you can see that climate change can potentially devastate agricultural production, through rising temperatures, more frequent and severe extremes, and increased aridity,” says Bruce Campbell, Director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). “But fortunately, for many of the options that are needed to build adaptive capacity, they also provide what we call a ‘mitigation co-benefits.’”

The report gives an example of farmer-assisted tree generation in Niger where farmers have added trees over an area of five million hectares. This is essentially rehabilitating degraded farmland. Through this practice, crop yields have increased and there is more fodder for livestock. Some 2.5 million households have benefited. This practice also contributes to mitigation. It brings large-scale sequestration of atmospheric carbon created by 200 million new trees, and also reduces carbon loss from soils.

These research innovations are complemented by specific ‘climate smart’ options that countries can use to reduce the ill effects of changing climates. These include work on shade agriculture, soil carbon sequestration, early warning systems, livestock insurance schemes, rotational grazing, or flexible water storage techniques tailored to local conditions.

The new CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems aims to take current research innovations further by testing a series of policy and technology packages to determine which approaches have the highest potential for scaling-up - and in which areas. “A package can be a combination of drought tolerant seeds, farming practices such as conservation agriculture, for example zero tillage, and raised bed farming that saves water and increases yields,” explains Program Director William Payne.

“Our projections suggest that the planned interventions will, over the coming years, result in higher and more secure incomes for 87 million people, while improving the productive capacity of natural resources and reducing environmental degradation across nearly 11 billion hectares.“

The report strongly concludes that agriculture must be a national priority for dry land countries, and increased investment in research and extension are crucial to ensure food security now, and under a changing climate.

Download the report

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is a strategic partnership of the CGIAR and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). CCAFS brings together the world’s best researchers in agricultural science, development research, climate science and Earth System science, to identify and address the most important interactions, synergies and tradeoffs between climate change, agriculture and food security. For more information visit

ICARDA, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas is a global agricultural research center working with countries in the world's dry areas to promote sustainable agriculture, raise farmer incomes, and strengthen food security. It contributes to the improvement of livelihoods of the resource-poor in dry areas by enhancing food security and alleviating poverty through research and partnerships to achieve sustainable increases in agricultural productivity and income, while ensuring the efficient and more equitable use and conservation of natural resources. ICARDA is a member of the CGIAR. For more information visit

About the CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems

The CGIAR Research Program on Dryland Systems embodies a new approach to integrated and ‘holistic’ agricultural research. It combines several research disciplines, including crop selection and rotations, natural resource management, and socio-economics. The research will bring rural communities living in the world’s dry areas practical solutions for improved livelihoods and food security. Targeted outcomes and impact includes strategies and tools to minimize risk and reduce vulnerability in low-potential and marginal dry lands, and providing support for sustainable intensification of agricultural production systems in higher-potential regions. For more information visit