Dry lands under a changing climate – waiting for bad to get worse?

Compilation of stories by Clare Pedrick

Changing climate patterns will affect people farming in all ecosystems. But those living in dry areas will face more acute challenges. Many times these are countries already suffering from high poverty levels due to poor land and water availability, problems which will be made worse by climate change, with erratic rainfall, more frequent droughts, extreme temperatures, shifting climatic zones and the arrival of new crop pests and diseases. Of all the problems facing dry lands water is the common denominator – ever-present and affecting all aspects of food production on these lands.

“We now face the additional challenge of climate change,” said Prof. Thomas Rosswall, chairman of the Independent Science Panel for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) at the International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands (FSDL) in Doha, Qatar on Nov 14. “The increased variation in rainfall and decrease in the total amount will dramatically affect production in the dry lands” he continued. If temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius, as forecasted by some climate change models, vast areas of dry lands will have their growing seasons cut by more than 20%. Seeing as dry areas cover more than 40% of the world’s land surface and are home to 2.5 billion people, the situation is more than acute.

But, “climate change adaptation will be very costly for agriculture,” said Prof. Rosswall. It is absolutely essential that the agriculture sector receives a share of funding available. The prospect of agriculture continuing to be bypassed in negotiations carries the risk that the sector will lose out on substantial investment to combat the effects of climate change on small holder farmers.

Even if agriculture is part of the problem, being a high emitter of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and major driver of deforestation, “agriculture has to be part of the solution to climate change,” said Dr. Patrick Verkooijen, the World Bank’s special representative for climate change at the FSDL conference.  Prof. Rosswall pointed out that “practical solutions exist today that could increase food security. Countries now need precise action plans to make these interventions work.” The useful technologies can adapt food production to climatic changes, reduce emissions and improve livelihoods, but often they remain on the shelves. Examples of successful climate smart farming projects can be found in Niger, where 200 million nitrogen-fixing trees have been planted, and in Tunisian where farmers have been linked to by mobile phones to crop and weather monitoring systems.

Despite the prospects, there still remains a challenge of bringing these farming systems up to scale. This is an issue CCAFS will engage negotiators, researchers, organizations and civil society members on by inviting them to join the side event “Lessons learnt from scaling-up actions on food security, adaptation and mitigation.” The event will be held during the upcoming UNFCCC COP18 conference, in Qatar National Convention Centre, and be chaired by Patrick Verkooijen, World Bank.

To sum up, dry land countries are engaged in finding a solution that will ensure a stable and food secure future. The upcoming climate conference COP18 is an opportunity for them to help shape the agenda for dry lands under a changing climate. The FSDL conference was a first step towards that. In other words, dry land countries are not waiting for bad to get worse – they are taking action. And so can you. Join the discussion on Twitter, using #ALLForest and raise your voice.

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