New IFAD report reveals dry lands as key to global food security

A new report launched on Friday by the United Nation’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) reveals the crucial role the world’s dry lands play in buffering the negative impacts of climate change, land degradation and drought.

“Drylands are absolutely key to global food security for the whole planet,” said IFAD President, Kanayo F. Nwanze. “Environment friendly and water efficient agriculture for smallholders is key to reducing poverty, boosting smallholder adaptation to climate change and rehabilitating degraded lands. We look to empower more rural farmers to sustainably manage their land, so that while they feed their families for generations to come, they can also get out of poverty.”

Present in each continent and covering over 40 per cent of the earth, drylands generally refer to arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas, and are home to more than 2 billion people. Drylands also hold up to 44 per cent of the world’s cultivated agricultural systems.

The report, The Drylands Advantage: Protecting the environment, empowering people, shows how drylands support important ecosystems and a great variety of biodiversity, as well as their vital role in the livelihoods and cultural identity of many smallholders.

IFAD-supported projects are helping smallholders thrive in dry lands, as well as contribute to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals under the 2030 Agenda to “protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss.”

“Despite their importance, dry lands are being degraded with enormous economic consequences,” the Director of IFAD’s Environment and Climate Division, Margarita Astralaga, said, adding that “desertification of dry lands could lead to some 50 million people being displaced within the next 10 years.

“By investing in dry lands, IFAD is seeing significant human and environmental dividends. Environment-friendly and water-efficient agriculture for smallholders is key to reducing poverty, boosting smallholder adaptation to climate change, as well as rehabilitating degraded lands.”

In a related development, a previous report from the organisation had revealed that each dollar invested through its Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), farmers could earn a return of between US$1.40 and $2.60 over a 20 year period by applying climate change adaptation practices.

The report, The Economics Advantage: Assessing the value of climate change actions in agriculture, was produced as part of a collaboration between IFAD and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

“There is a strong economic case to be made for investing in agriculture for future food security, even under changing climate conditions, Margarita Astralaga,” IFAD’s Director of Environment and Climate, said.

According to report findings, in all regions where IFAD invests in adaptation, the rate of return for farmers, or even the government agencies that put the projects in to practise, comes in 15 to 35 per cent higher, even when you take in to account the cost of borrowing.

“Agriculture is especially sensitive to climate change, as well as accounting for significant emissions, and is therefore a priority for both adaptation and mitigation,” said CCAFS’s Head of Research, Sonja Vermeulen.

The Paris Agreement, adopted at COP21 in December 2015, provides a strong platform for action. The majority of Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to the Paris Agreement have actions on agriculture and the report confirms the strong economic rationale for supporting this.

“Climate change proposals on agriculture need to be supported by credible economic and financial proposals in order to unleash significant public and private finance,” adds IFAD’s Margarita Astralaga. “The purpose of this report is to share emerging information to support the use of clear and concise economic data that shows when, where and how IFAD investments bring financial returns to the communities we work with.”

At the farm level, according to the report, positive economic returns can be demonstrated for several practices that build adaptive capacity and reduce emissions intensity such as innovative rice cropping in Vietnam, or switching from growing coffee to cocoa in Nicaragua.

Alongside farm-level actions are a further set of non-technical mitigation and adaptation interventions, which are just as important but more difficult to quantify and value, says the report. These include capacity building, institutional strengthening, access to value chains and research. These climate resilient practices also have a demonstrated effect on food security both locally and globally.

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