A new look at dry areas

Countries in the Middle East, North Africa and elsewhere, with vast dry tracts threatened by increasingly frequent droughts as the climate becomes more capricious, will have to rethink food production. Growing food will be about "more crop per drop", rather than getting the most out of every bit of land.

Agricultural policies need to shift from a focus on "land productivity" to "water productivity", writes Theib Oweis, of the Syria-based International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas (ICARDA), in a compilation of abstracts of new research presented at a conference organised by the centre.

The book provides a valuable snapshot of research that is probing the impact of climate change in countries like Qatar, Jordan, Nigeria, Kenya, Sudan and Syria, and trying to develop coping strategies along the way.

 More on water stress in dry areas
SYRIA: Drought over but crops still failing
MIDDLE EAST: Climate change could threaten food security - FAO report

In-depth Running Dry
In-depth climate change
The Gathering Storm

Drylands cover more than 40 percent of the global land area, and are home to nearly a third of the world's population, 90 percent of which live in developing countries, noted Awni Taimeh, professor of Land Use at the University of Jordan.

Almost 95 percent of Qatar is desert, making the entire country a dry area. Dry areas can be found in almost any country and they all come with a peculiar set of problems - rapid population growth, chronic poverty, land degradation - which make the people living in them even more vulnerable.

Besides country-specific research, the compilation has little gems on how weed will thrive in higher levels of carbon dioxide, and how a fungus could help prevent erosion. The world's arid areas have probably not had the coverage they need, but this book goes some way to filling the gap.