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Dryland agriculture a major issue for climate change

People living in rural communities in the world’s driest areas are hit hardest by climate change impacts, according to the report from an International Conference on Food Security in the Drylands. Many of the most effective climate change interventions will be rooted in agriculture, which these communities depend on for their livelihoods.

Oxford University’s Professor Mike Edmunds and Dr Rachael McDonnell were among the invited speakers at the Qatar National Food Security Program conference which was held in Doha, Qatar on 14-15 November 2012, under the auspices of the Heir Apparent, His Highness, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Mike Edmunds’ paper addressed water security in low rainfall areas, emphasising the need to base sustainable development policy on renewable water resources (especially groundwater). He urged people to consider the advantages of locally sourced water as a basis for sustainable rural development. Rachael McDonnell examined the many new science and policy advances being made in using saline and treated wastewater to meet food security challenges in drylands.

The report calls for action to help rural communities produce food and secure their livelihoods while faced with land degradation, water scarcity and unpreditable weather patterns. Many solutions are available now, such as crop diversification, efficient water management, ‘climate smart’ technologies and conservation agriculture. Targeted investment backed up with sound policies are urgently needed to ensure that these opportunities are seized.

The conference brought together over 400 people to discuss the challenges and opportunities for building food security and mitigating climate change in drylands. These included ministers and senior government officials, policymakers, researchers, development practitioners and representatives of international and regional organisations, farmers’ unions, private and public financial institutions, and private agri-business enterprises.

Read the full conference report.

Rachael McDonnell provides water expertise at Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Court

Dr Rachael McDonnell was an invited speaker at a workshop on ‘Policy options for food insecure countries’ held in Abu Dhabi on 19-20 November 2012. The event was hosted by the Crown Prince Court and organised by the policy think tank Chatham House.

McDonnell’s paper contributed to important discussions on the role of innovations in science/technology and policy for improving water management in food production systems. She examined the contribution of marginal waters, saline and treated wastewaters, and discussed how these can be better leveraged to relieve the pressure on freshwater resources.

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a hotspot for food vulnerability. Rapid increases in water demand and population growth are compounded by extreme weather events and droughts leading to volatile food commodity markets.

The meeting brought together regional and international experts to discuss issues related to food security, including resource scarcities, crop breeding science, water efficiency strategies, environmental change and implications for policy. Other speakers included representatives from the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission, and the International Food Policy Research Institute.

Rachael McDonnell is a Senior Research Scientist at Oxford’s School of Geography and the Environment, and a Scientist (Water Policy and Governance) at the International Center for Biosaline Agriculture.