Climate Shocks, Food & Fodder Security - Role of Agrobiodiversity in Drylands

Climate Shocks, Food & Fodder Security - Role of Agrobiodiversity in Drylands
Photo by Mike Erskine on Unsplash

Agrobiodiversity in drylands has unquestionably played a crucial role in ensuring food and fodder security, as well as increasing dryland tolerance to climatic shocks. However, due to climate change caused by global warming as well as anthropogenic factors such as habitat destruction, high grazing/browsing pressure, unsustainable exploitation of natural resources, and dilution of traditional conservation practises, agro-biodiversity is facing several complex challenges. This predicament necessitates a number of scientific and policy measures in order to preserve genetic diversity.

Dryland genetic resources are potential sources of native genes conditioning resistance to various biotic and abiotic stresses, provide unique study material for understanding the mechanism of abiotic stress adaptation, and are likely to serve as an excellent genomic resource for isolation of candidate genes for climatic and edaphic stress tolerance, thereby accelerating further genetic improvement. For these reasons, huge attempts have been undertaken in the past to collect and preserve them. Given the dynamic nature of agrobiodiversity, ongoing studies using GIS and other modern techniques are required in areas where collection gaps have been identified. Ex situ conservation activities must be bolstered, and e-resources must be established to improve the use of genetic resources in order to extend the crop genetic base, which is critical for mitigating climate change effects.

Agrobiodiversity in drylands, which includes a wide range of field crops, horticultural crops, grasses, shrubs, and multi-purpose trees, is essential for supplying food, fodder, nutritional security, and environmental security to dryland residents. Despite severe biophysical limits, the drylands support a large human and cattle population with limited resources, resulting in natural resource overexploitation. Furthermore, drylands are more sensitive to climate change caused by global warming, such as severe drought, abrupt rainfall bursts, high ambient temperatures, and the emergence of new diseases and pests. Agro-biodiversity management in drylands is expected to be a crucial factor for sustainability, food and fodder security, and enhancing livelihood in drylands, in addition to other technical interventions.

Local landraces, improved elite material, traditional cultivars, genetic stocks, and wild relatives of coarse cereals, horticultural crops, grasses, shrubs, medicinal plants, and multi-purpose trees are among the dryland species' genetic resources. So far, research has shown that dryland genetic resources have a distinct advantage since they have evolved over ages through natural and human selection amid drought, high temperature, and saline conditions. They are more adaptable to local conditions and would help to improve farm resilience. These resources could be extremely valuable, particularly as sources of native genes that shape resistance to diverse biotic and abiotic challenges, as well as unique study material for understanding the mechanisms of abiotic stress adaptation. They could also be a valuable genomic resource for isolating candidate genes for climatic and edaphic stress tolerance, allowing for faster genetic progress.