Agricultural research should be a strategic priority of the UN's efforts to lessen the impacts of climate change, according to a report launched at a UN climate change conference in Doha, Qatar.
The report, released by a group of leading international experts in climate change and agriculture last month (30 November), is intended to inform policymakers and agricultural planners about the risks climate change poses to dry areas. It offers practical solutions to reduce these threats and boost the productivity of this type of land.
'Strategies for Combating Climate Change in Drylands Agriculture' was produced by the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA) with two CGIAR research programmes — on Dryland Systems and on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) — and the Qatar National Food Security Programme.
Drylands constitute more than 40 per cent of the world's land surface and are home to 2.5 billion people, says the report. Those lands have less than eight per cent of the world's renewable water sources and are vulnerable to temperature extremes, frequent drought, land degradation and desertification, it adds.
Climate change is worsening the situation, with extreme temperatures causing climate patterns to change, resulting in shorter growing seasons and the prevalence of pests and diseases in new areas, according to the report.
Despite this, the report says that agriculture has previously been sidelined in UN climate-change talks and has never been included in agreements linked to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This made the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention (COP18) event in Doha an unprecedented opportunity to put it on the global climate agenda.
At Doha, ministers and countries' representatives agreed to establish a permanent secretariat for food security in drylands under the Qatar National Food Security Programme.
The report discusses strategies and best practices for crops and livestock, such as diversification and water management, and highlights successful examples.
One of these is the use of ICARDA's gene banks, which contain wild relatives of barley, wheat and legumes, to develop hardier crops with higher yields.
'To take forward the options and examples proposed in the report, countries need to invest more in science and technology to improve livelihoods in the two major agro-ecosystems in the dry areas: marginal lands where people are living and higher potential lands where production can be improved,' Mahmoud Solh, ICARDA director general, tells SciDev.Net.
In the report, Thomas Rosswall, chairman of the CGIAR independent science panel for CCAFS, explains that small-scale farmers have so far had little opportunity to adapt. He warns that climate change adaptation will be costly for agriculture. 'It is absolutely essential that the agriculture sector receives a share of funding available,' he says.