Drought-resistant agriculture

Aug 6, 2015 Posted by:  

Food production is not possible without water. But in the increasing number of places one of the main consequences of climate change is less and more erratic rainfall. This is especially dangerous in the regions with very low food security where most food is produced on rain-dependent farms.

The impact of climate change will be felt the most by the poor inhabitants of rural areas. For this reason they will require cheap and accessible strategies allowing to adapt to increasingly unpredictable and volatile weather. This adaptation to changing climate will have to take into account not only the impeded access to water and more droughts, but also the increased risk of extreme weather events like floods.

One important way for small-scale farmers to adapt to the changing climate is by implementing on their farms more sustainable practices. Through this agriculture can become more drought-resistant and more resilient to other dangerous weather conditions, meaning that it can build the capacity to deal with the changes and recover from the crises caused by them. Central to these ecological approaches are most of all biodiversity and healthy soils. Practices that improve the ability of soils to hold moisture and reduce its erosion as well as increase biodiversity on farms help in making agricultural production and farmers' income more stable and resilient.

Building a healthy soil is crucial in aiding farms cope with the increased occurrence of droughts. There are numerous proven practices already available to farmers which can help them in improving the state of soils. Using cover plants and crop residues to protect soils from wind and water erosion; legume inter-crops as well as manure and compost use to increase organic matter; enhancing soil structure - these are all ways to increase water infiltration, water storage and accessibility of nutrients to plants.

In order to feed the world and guarantee agriculture's resilience it is essential to increase productivity of the rain-fed areas where poor farmers should implement the current know-how on soil protection and water conservation. Ecological farms that turn to biodiversity and knowledge rather than intensive use of agrochemicals might be the best solution in the context of drier and more unstable climate.

In addition to ecological farming methods mentioned earlier, what is needed are also crop varieties which can produce enough yield even in the increasingly dry conditions. Many new drought-resistant seed varieties are being developed using advanced methods in conventional plant breeding without the need of genetic engineering. There are examples of drought-resistant varieties of soybean, maize, wheat and rice that farmers could take advantage of already right now.

Furthermore, it turns out that genetic engineering is not a well suited technology to develop drought-resistant seeds. Plants' tolerance of dry conditions is a complex trait which often involves the interaction of many genes and thus is beyond the capability of the technology based on high expression of few well-characterized genes. For now there is no evidence that genetically modified crops could play a role in improving food security in the situation of changing climate.

You can learn more about the importance of ecological farming methods in the context of climate change in the report published by Greenpeace which is available here (click to download PDF file).

Source: Greenpeace

Photo credit: Danilo Pinzon / World Bank (Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0)

Last Modified: Aug 19, 2015