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Dryland Conservation

Altaf Hussain

Drylands are limited by rainfall, high evapotranspiration and show a gradient increase in productivity from hyper arid to arid and semi-arid to dry sub-humid areas, on decreasing aridity or moisture deficit. Drylands cover about 41 per cent of earth's available land surface and three quarters of world food supplies come from drylands (FAO, 1999). The challenges for global agriculture in 21st century is to produce 7 per cent more food to feed a projected population of 10 billion by 2050 by making sustainable use of existing resources and responding climate change (FAO, 2009). Drylands span over 41 per cent of earth's available land surface will need to contribute their share to this yield increase. So improving dryland crop yield is important, both to maintain food security and to improve livelihoods of the poor.

Drylands in India contribute 70 per cent total cultivated area and about 50 per cent of the geographic area is affected by desertification) Food insecurity, extreme poverty and environmental nexus are the most challenging in the drylands. Improving crop productivity is important both to maintain food security and to improve livelihoods of the people in drylands. Investments are needed for soil and water conservation in order to improve soil fertility and soil moisture. Conservation and efficient utilization of natural resources are two key components to achieve sustainability in drylands. Land degradation and over exploitation of resources prompted researchers and policy makers to evolve innovative technologies which halt degradation and restore productivity. A number of technological innovations are used which include cultural practices, engineering methods, sustainable agricultural practices, precision conservation and agroforestry. Hence, transforming drylands is necessary to achieve second green revolution.

Every continent contains dryland regions. Drylands are most extensive in Africa (13 M km2) and Asia (11 M km2). About three quarters of the world food supplies consisting of wheat, maize, sorghum, pulses, oilseeds, potato and fruits are grown of drylands (FAO, 1999). According to the Millennium Assessment (MA) report there are 2.3 billion people living in the drylands, out of which 1 billion are below poverty line accounting half of the world's poor (MA, 2005). Millions of rural dryland dwellers are directly dependent on local dryland ecosystem services for their daily survival. Therefore, any shortfall in any one of such services will create food insecurity, famines, conflicts and vulnerability of millions of rural poor. Climate change will have a disproportionate effect of dryland areas, contributing to desertification and increasing the vulnerability of people in drylands. We need to put the conservation of dryland ecosystem services at the heart of development policy, if we want to reduce poverty and achieve the millennium development goals.

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