25) Technical and policy options for the drylands

To restore the eroding confidence of dryland farmers, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) and its strategic partners offer research and policy options.

The 670 million poorest of the poor living in the semi-arid tropics are highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change. In India alone, nearly 80 million hectares of cultivated area is rainfed. Although productivity of crops like millets, pulses, and oilseeds are low, these can potentially yield up to 2 tons per hectare. The yield gaps are exacerbated by the vagaries of climate and the southwest monsoon.

In the absence of strong adaptation strategies, climate change will exacerbate food insecurity. Millions of people in countries that have food shortages will have to give up traditional crops as seasons become increasingly unpredictable.

Calling for a conducive and comprehensive policy environment, ICRISAT Director General Dr William Dar says, “It must include adaptation and mitigation strategies, more investment in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and access to markets for small farmers, among other things. The bottom line is to ensure that they develop resilient ecosystems, resilient crops, resilient livestock and resilient communities.”

Technical options

Climate change being a threat multiplier, ICRISAT recommends that adaptation and mitigation strategies need to be urgently integrated into national and regional development programs. Policies on adaptation include changes in land use and timing of farming operations, adaptive plant breeding and crop husbandry technologies, irrigation infrastructure, water storage and water management.

Mitigation measures include better forecasting tools and early warning systems, improved crop and livestock management practices including better use of inputs as fertilizer microdosing, systems diversification and improved water management.

Policy options

ICRISAT also recommends the following policy options:

  • More investments in agricultural research and infrastructure and better management of agricultural knowledge.
  • More efficient use of water for agriculture.
  • Diversification and natural resource management, including protection of biodiversity are critical.
  • Control of soil erosion and soil conservation measures, agroforestry and forestry techniques, forest fire management and better town planning are some steps that can be initiated to blunt the impacts of climate change.
  • Stock-taking of available climate information in developing countries to ascertain where the systematic observation needs are most pressing, collaboration between national and international providers of climate information and its users, and awareness among different communities of the usefulness of such information are essential.
  • Holistic approaches including the engagement of the private sector should feature in any national and international approach to address climate change and facilitate the transition to a low-carbon economy.
  • Enhancing the effectiveness of rural institutions at the local, national and international levels will be a central concern as they seek to speed up the pace of agricultural adaptation.
  • Documentation and sharing of a comprehensive database of adaptation options of different farming and livelihood systems and agro-ecological zones.
  • Better access to credit (micro-finance) and agricultural inputs in order to intensify integrated production systems need attention.
  • Value addition in the agricultural value chain and smallholder farmer participation in these value chains.
  • People’s p articipation in carbon emission trading schemes.

ICRISAT’s role

ICRISAT develops farming systems resilient to shocks, buffering crucial resources like water and nutrients and adapting crops to warmer temperatures and new pest patterns. We have proven innovations in crop, soil and water management that can help farmers better adapt to climate change. Its repository of genes of dryland crops like sorghum, pearl millet, pigeonpea, chickpea and groundnut are well adapted to changes in climatic regimes.

To help farmers in sub-Saharan Africa cope better with climate variability, ICRISAT currently facilitates a consortium of 15 national, regional and international partners endorsed by the New Partnership for Africa Development. Likewise, ICRISAT is currently working with meteorological services, CGIAR centers and climate science specialists in several projects on climate risk management.

This is a gist of the J Raghotham Reddy Memorial Lecture delivered by Dr William D Dar at ANGRAU, Hyderabad, India on 26 November 2009)

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