Opportunities to reduce the vulnerability of dryland farmers in Central and West Asia and North Africa to climate change
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The world’s drylands will face not only increasing temperatures with climate change but more importantly also disruptions to their hydrological cycles resulting in less and more erratic rainfall that will exacerbate the already critical state of water scarcity and conﬂicts over water allocation. The rural poor in dry areas will suffer the most from these changes and will require a range of coping strategies to help them adapt to changing climates. Strategies will include changing of cropping systems and patterns, switching from cereal-based systems to cereal–legumes and diversifying production systems into higher value and greater water use efﬁcient options. The latter include judicious use of water using supplementary irrigation systems, more efﬁcient irrigation practices and the adaptation and adoption of existing and new water harvesting technologies. Scope for the application of conservation agriculture in dry areas is thought to be limited by low biomass production but current evidence suggests that even small amounts of residue retention can signiﬁcantly decrease soil erosion losses. These options will be supplemented by the development of more drought and heat tolerant germplasm using traditional and participatory plant breeding methodologies and better predictions of extreme climatic events. The majority of drylands are occupied by rangelands with some 828 Mha in West Asia and North Africa alone. These vast areas provide environmental services such as the regulation of water quantity and quality, biodiversity and carbon sequestration. Rangelands have been neglected in the past partly because of problems of ownership, access and governmental policies that discourage investments in rangelands. The idea of payment for environmental services in rangelands is in its infancy but is discussed here as a potential option for better use and management of rangelands and as a safety net to reduce the vulnerability of rangeland inhabitants to climate change. In addition to the promising technological options to reduce vulnerability to climate change a brief discussion is included on the institutional and policy options needed to create a better enabling environment for increased adaptation and ecosystem resilience.