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Strengthening the resilience of dryland agriculture


Farmers in dryland countries are already hard-hit by climate change – with many forced to contend with increasingly erratic rainfall, more frequent drought, extreme temperatures, shifting climatic zones, and the arrival of new crop pests and diseases. As a result, there is an urgent need to strengthen agricultural resilience to support rural livelihoods and maintain domestic food production. Failure to do so risks an unhealthy reliance on imported food, which would expose ordinary people to the vagaries of global commodity markets.

Experience suggests that resilience can be achieved through a combination of new climate-smart technologies and institutional and policy reforms, including improved extension strategies and safety nets for farmers, particularly those in marginal areas who are most threatened by crop and livestock failures.

Fortunately, countries that find themselves on the front-line of climate change can learn from the experiences of other countries. Across the dry areas of the developing world, decision makers are already taking steps to adapt to and mitigate to new and emerging climate scenarios. Innovations and new approaches include:

Improved varieties: harnessing scientific advances in advanced crop breeding to develop new varieties of strategic crops that are capable of tolerating drought, intense heat, and new crop diseases and pests. Recent ICARDA efforts include new wheat varieties able to resist rust diseases in Ethiopia; high-yielding what varieties that have raised yields by an average 28 percent across ten Arab Countries; and heat-tolerant wheat varieties that are flourishing across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Weather-based insurance schemes: offering valuable protection to farmers faced with erratic climate conditions. These initiatives encourage producers to continue investing in farming, safe in the knowledge they will be protected if natural events prevent them reaping the profits they deserve. Examples include a livestock insurance system in Kenya which has started paying out pidends to herders who have lost animals to drought. Elsewhere, in India, a weather-based crop insurance scheme covered over 9 million farmers in 2010/11.

Climate information services: adapted to local farmer needs and disseminating forecasts and advice via new technologies such as mobile phone SMS. In Tunisia, farmers receive updates via crop and weather monitoring systems, and are alerted when irrigation of crops is required.

Rehabilitation efforts: tree rehabilitation projects bring enormous benefits for farmers in marginal lands affected by climate change – helping to fix nitrogen in soil, improve yields, enhance carbon capture, and increase fodder availability for livestock. In Niger, for example, the planting of 200 million trees has transformed 5 million hectares of once infertile land, benefiting some 2.5 million farmers.

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