Adaptation to Climate Change Using Agrobiodiversity Resources in the Rainfed Highlands of Yemen

Project type
Project status

Yemen’s economy, the poorest among the Arabian Peninsula countries, relies mostly on agriculture which contributes more than 15% to GDP and employs more than 55% of the active population. Poverty is widespread in the rural areas, home to 83% of the poor, who derive their livelihoods and incomes exclusively from agriculture and agriculture-related activities.  Rainfed agriculture in the highlands represents more than half of the total cultivated area of Yemen.  Climate change is a real concern for Yemen. Most climate modeling scenarios indicate that the drylands of West Asia and North Africa will be the most affected by droughts and high temperatures in the years to come.  A greater frequency of droughts and flash floods has already been observed in recent years. Rainfed agricultural areas are the most vulnerable to the impact of climate change. Lower rainfall, a consequence of climate change, would have immediate detrimental impacts on rain-based agricultural systems. One study estimates that climate change could lead to a 50% reduction of crop yields for rain-based agricultural crops by 2020 (Agoumi, 2003).

The communities in the highlands in Yemen retain important agrobiodiversity and traditional knowledge related to the utilization of their agrobiodiversity resources. Yemen is well known for its agrobiodiversity based on the large number of landraces of barley, wheat, sorghum, millet, lentil, and cowpea which have evolved over more than two thousand years, and for the construction and management of terraces which help minimize land degradation and improve water use efficiency. A large number of landraces of different crops are still used within the prevailing and diverse farm systems to meet the food needs of these communities and those of their livestock. Most of these landraces have accumulated adaptive attributes for coping with the adverse environmental and climatic conditions and to the needs of local communities. In addition, many wild relative species of these crops and many other plant species having forage and medicinal values are still found in field edges and remnant natural habitats. These landraces and their wild relatives and the associated local knowledge constitute important components of the traditional farming systems prevaling under harsh environments of these rainfed mountainous regions. This invaluable agrobiodiversity should be conserved, both in-situ (on-farm) and ex-situ (genebanks), as it provides an important genetic base for crop improvement programs, specifically for the development of crop varieties which are likely to be better adapted to impending shifts in climatic patterns. Yemen is considered an important primary and secondary center of diversity for these crops which gives these genetic resources a global significance. This local agrobiodiversity is, however, threatened by global, national and local challenges including land degradation (including erosion of terraces), climate change, globalization, anthropogenic local factors, loss of traditional knowledge and limited national enabling policies.

Adaptation to climate change entails a process of building a country’s adaptive capacity to respond and adjust to climate variability and extremes by increasing its ability to moderate potential damages, take advantage of new opportunities due to climate change and cope with the consequences of the adverse effects. However, adapting to climate change is challenging because: (i) although we know that climate will change, we are not sure exactly to what extent; and (ii) for any given level, or rate of climate change, different human activities in different geographical areas exhibit different degrees of resilience. Adaptation measures implemented or designed must be flexible enough to perform their desired objectives under a wide variety of future climate conditions. Additionally, the existing scientific knowledge needs to be fine-tuned for local application to inform policy choices in the face of difficult trade-offs. These are the challenges faced by Yemen in the context of adaptation.

To achieve optimum adaptation on the ground, it is critical to downscale regional and global predictive climate models and develop vulnerability profiles, at the appropriate scale, for these communities. This localised information and prediction models would ensure that appropriate coping mechanisms are mobilised through improved extension delivery systems to the farming communinities. In Yemen, data for the meteorological stations is collected by several different agencies and needs to be co-ordinated, and standardised for operability and prediction. There is a need to enhance the capacity of monitoring stations in terms of data collection, retrieval and distribution with an overall aim to improve Yemen's predictive capabilities and decision making. It is also important to understand the micro-climatic variations within the rainfed landscape and what this means in terms of optimum coping strategies for adaptation to climate change.

The Project Objective is to enhance coping strategies for adaptation to climate change for farmers who rely on rainfed agriculture in the Yemen highlands, through the conservation and utilization of biodiversity important to agriculture (particularly the local land races and their wild relatives) and associated local traditional knowledge. The project will apply a two pronged strategy to adapt to changes in climatic patterns. First, the local agrobiodiversity, including the landraces and their wild relatives in Yemen's highlands which constitute invaluable agrobiodiversity, will be conserved, and associated local knowledge on the adaptive characteristics of the local landraces and their wild relatives documented.  Second, based on the development of predictive climatic models, a range of coping mechanisms (such as planting of drought resilient varieties, cropping patterns, terrace management, early warning systems etc.) will be developed and piloted to reduce the vulnerability of farmers to future climatic shocks.

In terms of its overall strategic approach, the project seeks to integrate adaptation to climate change with the conservation and utilization of agrobiodiversity resources by: (i)        bringing together local/traditional knowledge, particularly that of female farmers, with modern farming techniques and practices; (ii)          developing vulnerability profiles at the appropriate (community/district/governorate) level for target species/varieties, and (iii)           developing adequate and appropriate coping mechanisms as well as policy, institutional and technology options.