Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Cultivating crops that cope with drought

ACIAR research is helping farmers here and in developing countries face the increasing challenge of producing more food with less water, as drought-prone farming conditions become more common. Many of the environments in the countries we work in have limited water availability, climate extremes and climate variability from year to year. A multifaceted research approach is needed to give farmers a range of solutions to keep their crops growing, especially through the dry periods.
farmer in dry dusty field
Many farmers, such as this one in Afghanistan, face enormous
challenges of dealing with drought (Photo: D. Pearce)

Recognising this, ACIAR's research covers a wide variety of issues at vastly different scales (from test tube to farm to catchment), including crop breeding, water catchment management and socio-economic research: a few examples follow.

Afghani women listening to talk
Afghani women at a training course on growing pistachio trees
In Afghanistan, a project is focused on rehabilitating a water catchment that had become dry, degraded and unproductive. Revegetating the catchment with pistachio trees and intercropping with annual crops is enabling the catchment to simultaneously withstand weather extremes and to provide a more reliable source of food and income for the local communities.

pistachio seedlings
Pistachio seedlings ready to transplant at the
Afghanistan water catchment

Economic and psychology research in the Philippines and Australia assessed the use of seasonal climate forecasts to determine their value to decision makers, at the farm, industry and policy level. The research helped understand how these forecasts can be used to better manage climate variability through crop planting, management, and grazing strategies.

Other research in India, Bangladesh, Lao PDR and Cambodia is developing strategies to reduce farmers’ vulnerability to climate variability, through diversifying their crops and forming ‘climate clubs’ that forecast weather patterns and plan ahead accordingly.

group meeting in India to discuss weather and farming
A 'climate club' meeting in India to discuss crop options
based on weather watching
Plant breeding and molecular genetics projects are working on the development of crop varieties that can better withstand dry conditions by using soil moisture more efficiently. These varieties include deep-rooted wheat in India and ‘stay-green’ sorghum in India and Africa. In Afghanistan, researchers are assessing wheat and maize varieties for their ability to tolerate a range of biotic stresses, especially drought.
sorghum crop
High-quality sorghum is sought after as livestock fodder 
(Photo: CC by agrilife)
These projects will provide a range of economic, social and environmental options to increase crop production during droughts and seasonal variations. Ultimately they all aim to improve the  livelihoods and outlook of drought-stricken farmers in developing countries and Australia.

The fourth international InterDrought conference was held in Perth last week, bringing together researchers working on the issues of drought and productivity in crop plants. ACIAR sponsored this event, including providing support for scientists from Kenya and Iraq to attend the conference.

By Dr Wendy Henderson, ACIAR's Science Communicator

More information:
InterDrought IV Conference website

Related ACIAR projects:
ASEM/2003/009 Bridging the gap between seasonal climate forecasts and decision makers in agriculture
CIM/2006/071 Indo-Australian project on root and establishment traits for greater water use efficiency in wheat
CIM/2007/120 Improving post-rainy sorghum varieties to meet the growing grain and fodder demand in India
CIM/2011/026 Sustainable wheat and maize production in Afghanistan
LWR/2008/047 Integrated catchment management and capacity building for improving livelihoods in Afghanistan
LWR2008/019 Developing multi-scale climate change adaptation strategies for farming communities in Cambodia, Lao PDR, Bangladesh and India

Partners magazine Winter 2013 edition The dryland agriculture revolution

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for taking the time to comment!

Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.