General Considerations

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Rainfed agriculture is used as synonymous with dryland farming and deals with crop production under the constraints typical of conditions in a semiarid zone, with mainly inadequate and unpredictable precipitation. The importance of optimizing the utilization of water resources in dryland farming is disputed by many. Unfortunately, our ability to achieve substantial increases in crop production under these conditions has not been as great as it has been in irrigated agriculture. However, over the next few decades, agriculture will not be able to rely on vast increases in irrigated area to maintain the required growth in output necessary to match increases in population. This means that much of the world's future food increase will have to come from the dryland regions, where productivity is currently low. In these areas, crop production often is directed toward the reliability of yields rather than their maximization.

Dryland farming can be highly productive even though the system is, by definition, extensive rather than intensive, and naturally a riskier undertaking for the farmers. Because the dominant feature of dryland agriculture is erratic and often scarce rainfall, it is implausible to expect any great degree of intensification in the dryland farming system.

Successful rainfed farming systems require efficient, low-risk management of the soil water regime and improved WUE by crops. Genetic engineering may provide great opportunities for adapting crops to these harsh environments, although this will not be in the near future. However, further development and improvement of current and new practices of soil and water conservation could offer greatly improved exploitation of dryland regions while reducing the risks of soil degradation and the costs and risks for the farmer.

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