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By definition, dry land farmers operate against a background of water scarcity. Today, a number of converging trends, including land degradation, population growth and climate change, exacerbate the challenges of the dry areas.

These trends all add to the increasing uncertainties facing the rural poor who depend largely on a fragile natural resource base. Sustainable increases in future food supplies must come from increased productivity of both rainfed and irrigated agriculture – producing 'more crop per drop.' 

Climate change models predict that northern and southern Africa and West Asia regions will become hotter and drier, experiencng changes in the seasonal and spatial distribution of precipitation, and the increasing incidence and strength of extreme weather events such as drought.

With this in mind, one focus of the program is improved rainwater harvesting in dry areas. Methodologies have been tested in several ongoing research activities with partners in Libya, Jordan and Eritrea. These approaches have the potential for widespread use by countries with dry areas to pinpoint locations where water harvesting can increase food security and farm productivity at community, farm or household level.

Another focus of research is supplemental irrigation – providing small quantities of water at crucial growth stages, to supplement rainfall. This technique significantly increases both yield and water productivity, i.e. the quantity of grain produced per unit of water used. ICARDA researchers are studying yield and water productivity in different crops, at different levels of supplemental irrigation. The results will help farmers make informed decisions on irrigation.

The Water Benchmarks Project, covering ten countries from Morocco to Saudi Arabia, looks at three major agro-ecosystems: rainfed areas, irrigated systems and rangelands. The first phase of the project tested a number of effective, low-cost technologies to increase water productivity and optimize water use at farm level. The second phase, now under way, will build stronger linkages with policy makers, development agencies and others to disseminate these technologies more widely, and create policy and institutional support to encourage adoption.