Cultivating drylands, food security, and climate change adaptation: the role of no-till wheat


A large part of the world’s wheat is produced in drylands which are expected to expand, with more frequent droughts, and fewer but heavier rainfalls. Maintaining the production of wheat, climate change notwithstanding, is hence a major global food security challenge. No-till (NT) enhances soil moisture and organic components and is therefore a sustainable land management practice suitable to drylands. While NT benefits have been documented, the economics of dryland NT incorporating price and weather uncertainties remains unknown. Yet it is essential to predict how NT feasibility performs under increasingly erratic conditions. Using 30 years of daily weather data and a soil moisture indicator to predict NT wheat yields, this simulation shows that from a production function perspective and considering all other components being equal, rainfed NT wheat is feasible until the semiarid-arid boundary while CT requires state support to be cultivated at the same aridity level. In other words, risk-neutral wheat farmers under conditions similar to those in Israel (one rainy season in winter) will find in NT wheat farming a form of agriculture management suitable for highly uncertain environments. With climate change induced warming, increasing dry spells, and heavier but decreasing rainfalls, dryland farmers will need more inputs and state support for CT and less so for NT wheat. Moreover, soil conservation collateral benefits and climate change mitigation are likely to further support dryland farmers. NT wheat presents significant climate smart agriculture features, which are better adapted to the uncertainty of drylands.


Henri Rueff is a geographer interested in smallholder’s livelihoods living in resource scarce and remote areas in mountains and deserts. Henri conducted extensive research in the Hindu Kush-Himalaya Mountains of Northern Pakistan, the Gobi and in the Middle East. After completing two postdocs at University of Bern and Oxford he is now a researcher and lecturer at University of Bern, Switzerland, evaluating critically farming technologies and innovative payment schemes affecting smallholders’ practices. He investigates the validity of complex human-environment interactions leading to an environment-poverty nexus. He is especially interested in documenting and understanding smallholders’ strategies such as income diversification in areas undergoing rapid changes. The effects of changes he explores are mostly environmental (climate change, climate shocks) and institutional (multilevel) using economic models, climate data, and qualitative analysis from first hand data.