Agricultural Drought Mitigation

FAO attaches particular importance to promoting the production and consumption of drought-tolerant food crops in areas where rainfall is uncertain. This in some cases involves redressing tendencies that were widespread in agricultural development programs during the 1970s and 1980s. During that period, green revolution packages involving high-yield hybrids or composites were promoted in pursuit of higher overall production levels. This strategy often did not identify the risks inherent in adopting varieties that do not perform well under conditions of moisture stress. Shifts in the cropping system may also entail a shift in food consumption habits and raise the need for support to maintain nutritionally balanced diets. Such support may be provided through nutrition education. Support could be furnished, for example, in the context of local-level planning workshops for the formulation of drought mitigation plans.

In many instances, drought-tolerant food plants that were traditionally used have been substituted in recent decades by other crops or varieties, and some are now perceived negatively. Nutrition education programs in this case could include the promotion of underexploited traditional foods (including production/collection, storage, processing, preparation, and consumption) involving a shift in food habits back to formerly familiar foods, rather than introduction of new ones. FAO's Nutrition Programmes Service, in collaboration with Crop and Grassland Service, supports such programs.

FAO's Food Security and Agricultural Projects Analysis Service provides technical assistance to governments and regional organizations to develop drought mitigation plans. Though the objective of this assistance is preventive, it may be a component of broader assistance to develop drought preparedness plans. It typically includes elements such as (1) analysis of the frequency, severity, history, and impacts of drought in the region or country, (2) analysis of responses of different groups of the population to drought, including both longer-term adaptation of livelihood systems and shorter-term coping mechanisms, (3) analysis of measures to undertake drought mitigation measures and identification of the national and regional institutions, including NGOs, private sector, and community organizations that can implement the action plan. Assessment of the strengths and weaknesses of the action plans and identification of the associated risks are also conducted.

FAO supports interinstitutional drought mitigation planning workshops and other activities at national and local levels. These are geared to formulate action strategies and plans. Prominent issues in such strategies are how best to support, strengthen, and supplement existing coping mechanisms. Drought-afflicted populations must minimize the cost of putting such mechanisms into effect. These require a good base of information on local livelihood systems and mechanisms used by different groups to cope with drought, which is part of early warning and food information systems.

FAO has been, and continues to be, actively involved in helping countries prepare for and respond to the adverse impact of El Niño (chapter 3). For several decades, FAO has spearheaded agricultural improvement and rural development in arid, semiarid, and dry subhumid zones ravaged by drought and desertification. These activities involve emergency and rehabilitation actions in the event of agricultural drought.

Long-term Drought Prevention Programs

FAO has assisted countries in implementing long-term preventive measures against agricultural drought. Examples of such measures promoted by FAO include programs to support the construction of wells and small-scale irrigation development programs in southern Africa and Central America, the development of drought-resistant cropping patterns for South Asia, the Sahel, eastern and southern Africa, and the Caribbean, the preparation of a disaster preparedness strategy for the member countries of the IGAD in eastern Africa and the Horn of Africa, and the design and management of strategic food security reserves.

Early Warning and Forecasting Programs

Since March 1997, FAO has intensified the monitoring of weather developments and crop prospects in all parts of the world through GIEWS. The system has issued two reports on the impact of El Niño on crop production in Latin America and Asia. In 1997-98 the focus changed to southern Africa, where the growing season was just commencing at the time. GIEWS discussed with the World Food Program (WFP) the possibility of launching advance emergency operations and sending crop and food supply assessment missions to southern Africa if drought conditions developed. These plans were jointly approved by the director-general (FAO) and the executive director (WFP). The systems assessments provide a lead in initiating food aid and agricultural rehabilitation activities in affected countries.

FAO has helped develop early warning units that work hand in hand with the GIEWS. Among such units are the SADC Regional Early Warning System (REWS), which operates as an integrated system, based in Harare, and autonomous National Early Warning Units (NEWUs) in each of the 14 SADC member countries. Their activities are coordinated by REWS. The main objective of the SADC-REWS is to provide member countries and the international community with advance information on food security prospects in the region through assessments of expected food production, food supplies, and requirements.

The REWU compiles food security data for the SADC region based on the contributions received from the various NEWUs by fax and e-mail and aggregates this information for subsequent publication in a Quarterly Food Security Bulletin, supplemented by monthly updates. Similarly, the NEWUs themselves prepare national food security bulletins. Relevant ad-hoc reports are also submitted directly to decision-makers, as required. During the crop-growing season, data are collected on rainfall for every dekad, on crop stages and conditions, and on any adverse effects such as agricultural drought. This information is compiled by NEWU agro-meteorologists and is submitted to the REWU for aggregation into 10-day agrometeorological bulletins. Satellite imagery (CCD and NDVI) is used to support and verify ground observations as well as to monitor agricultural drought in the region. FAO has also developed agrometeorological maize-yield forecasting models for each country, based on crop water-satisfaction indices, with a view to forecast preharvest yields (Dorenbos and Kassam, 1976).

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