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Adapting agricultural water to climate change

This policy brief, published by the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), examines the relationship between climate change, water and food security and outlines potential adaptation strategies and policy priorities for developing countries.

Agriculture in developing countries is already under pressure from growing populations, industrialisation and environmental degradation. Climate change is expected to exacerbate and add to these problems. For example, estimates predict that for each degree Celsius rise in average temperature, dryland farm profits in Africa will drop by nearly ten per cent.

Changes in rainfall variability and increased evaporation will directly impact rainfed agriculture and reduce water availability for irrigation and hydropower.

Strategies to reduce rural poverty in the face of climate change will largely depend on improving water management in agriculture.

A first step must be to increase our understanding of water use and rural livelihoods in poor countries, says the author, ODI research fellow Eva Ludi.

She outlines a number of strategies that could then be implemented to adapt agricultural production and water to climate change. These include switching to more drought-tolerant crops or livestock breeds, modifying irrigation techniques, adopting practices such as zero-tillage to conserve soil moisture, changing crop calendars or grazing times, and implementing seasonal climate forecasting.

Policy attention is also needed in several key areas, says Ludi.

First, developing countries must develop long-term water policies structured around country-specific legal, institutional, economic, social, physical and environmental conditions. These must integrate the different sectors that depend on water — from agriculture, livestock and fisheries to manufacturing, industry and municipal water use.

Institutional and governance reforms will be needed to balance demand and supply across these sectors. And enhanced stakeholder participation will be necessary to secure uptake of adaptation strategies.

Policymakers will also need to develop their skills and those of end-users to understand the new challenges posed by climate change.

They must also promote efficient irrigation and drainage systems to increase water productivity, while also making better use of groundwater storage to enhance water availability.

Link to full policy brief from ODI [393kB]