Food Security and Dryland Ecosystems

Food security is a growing challenge to most countries located on dryland areas. Drylands are home to nearly 2 billion people and cover 40 percent of the world’s land surface.

Dryland Countries Map

Dryland countries are extremely vulnerable to the adverse consequences of climate variability and change, which can have a devastating environmental impact on soil, water and biodiversity.

The detrimental effect this can have on the production and supply of food means that the populations in many of these countries suffer some of the largest concentrations of food insecurity and poverty in the world.

Dryland countries face unique challenges to ensuring food security for their populations. By definition, dryland countries are those that have limited, variable rainfall and short growing seasons, which create natural constraints to growing crops. In addition, global trends have increased the potential for food insecurity.


A Complementary New Approach

The challenges facing drylands already form part of the agenda of many initiatives aimed at addressing food security, sustainable livelihoods, hunger, and poverty. Throughout the world, a range of organizations are producing valuable research and implementing much needed development programs in drylands. These efforts are widely supported by dryland nations and will not be duplicated by GDA.

However, to speed deployment of technological innovations, a need exists for the nations affected by dryland challenges to collaborate to identify effective food security policies. These activities should complement efforts already underway, whilst targeting the specific needs and conditions of individual nation states.

As members of GDA, dryland nations can play a leading role in crafting integrated agricultural, water and energy use strategies for their own benefit, and in sharing the best practices they develop with other dryland countries across the globe. The Alliance will act as link between organizations working to address food security, and facilitate the dissemination of solutions to its members.


The commitment of Alliance members will include:

  • Participation in joint preventive and response mechanisms
  • Supporting research and technology development to enhance sustainable food production
  • Making means-based financial contributions to support a small and focused secretariat


GDA is collaborating with research institutions and development agencies in the governmental, civil society and private sector, which are focused on food security solutions for dry lands.

By cooperating and collaborating with these organizations and networks, GDA will facilitate the sharing of knowledge and best practice, and support its member countries in navigating the solutions that address dry land issues.


  • Islamic Development Bank
  • African Development Bank
  • World Bank
  • International Center for Biosaline Agriculture
  • Asian Development Bank

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Despite best efforts to reduce or transfer risk, a food crisis can still materialize. Grain prices may spike, or the availability of critical food stuffs may be compromised as a result of adverse weather events, conflicts, pest infestations, or other factors. When faced with such circumstances, dryland countries need an arsenal of emergency response measures at their disposal.

Global Dryland Alliance aims to create a unified and coherent response to cope with a crisis once it has occurred.

GDA will initiate a process, upon its launch, for the member nations to agree on a set of crisis response measures or mechanism that is based on needs assessment. Needs assessment will provide an analysis of each member country’s exposure and vulnerability to food crisis; identifying member nations’ risks and evaluating existing capacity to manage these risks and respond to a food crisis.

One method of crisis response is through creation of a mechanism for sharing grain reserves with member countries experiencing a food crisis. GDA is currently investigating the viability of implementing this measure.

Other measures of crisis response in emergencies include making in kind transfers or distributing food rations to minimize impact on populations, instituting price controls on grains and other critical foodstuffs in collaboration with other GDA members, and agreeing to refrain from imposing export restrictions on grains and other critical foodstuffs in trade among GDA members.

Following the 2008 food crisis, special attention was paid to the issue of food security and a wide range of measures was proposed to address the problem. Some measures were implemented at a national level by various governments and some were implemented cooperatively by coalitions of countries. Others remained as ideas or concepts and have yet to be implemented.

With respect to risk mitigation measures that are in pace, such as strategic grain reserves, more can be done to enhance their effectiveness. For instance, a food monitoring system could be used to optimize stock levels and releases, while financial hedging instruments and improved contracting strategies could be sued to reduce the cost of maintaining the reserves. In most cases, the effectiveness of these measures improves when the measures are implemented on a larger scale by a collaborative alliance of nations with shared interests.

A number of measures can be undertaken by GDA to reduce the likelihood of a food crisis occurring. These measures have a long term orientation, requiring advance planning and an extended period of time for implementation.

Policy Development

Member states of GDA can effectively address the threats of food insecurity by helping each other improve national food security capabilities. Learning how other countries have adopted to these threats can help member states to adapt their own policies and technologies. Improving food security at the national level requires the development and implementation of innovative, science-based public policies. Such policies need to take account of demographic, economic, environmental, and natural resource conditions. They also need to capitalize on the best available agricultural, water and energy technologies internationally.

To facilitate the development of state of the art food security policies among member states, it is envisaged that GDA would launch an expert peer review process for member states’ national policies. The mutual policy review process would enable member countries to collaborate in creating new solutions and improving policies to ensure their food security, by reviewing and commenting on each other’s’ approaches to these issues. It will help to improve cooperation, enable members to communicate in a common language about common problems, and contribute to the ability of GDA member countries to address food security threats together, individually and with non GDA countries.

Research & Innovation

Various organizations currently conduct or finance research on topics related to food security in drylands. In addition, many developed and developing countries have national research institutions and implementing agencies that address dryland issues, as well as universities and other private organizations that engage in relevant research and technological innovation.
However, two key gaps remain in terms of research and development in food security for dryland countries:

  • Adoption of economically viable improved technologies and management techniques remains low in many dry land areas. Understanding and overcoming barriers to adoption are necessary steps toward harnessing the potential for improved agricultural productivity.
  • Most dryland countries depend upon imported food to satisfy at least some of their domestic consumption, and research on the optimal mechanisms for procuring and distributing a staple food supply is limited.
  • Global Dryland Alliance will facilitate investment in research and, the development of innovative solutions relevant to improving food security for the dryland countries. In particular, GDA will focus on research and innovation that is targeted to:
    • Understanding and easing constraints to domestic production.
    • Developing appropriate international and domestic institutions and mechanisms for ensuring an adequate food supply.
    • Creating tools to aid policymakers in GDA member countries.