The climate of the region greatly limits the portion of land presently suitable for livestock production and crop agriculture. Two-thirds of the domestic livestock are supported on rangelands (IPCC 1996, WG II, Table 2-1), although in some countries, large percentages of animal fodder come from crop residues (e.g., 70% in Pakistan) (Pakistan Country Report, 1994). In many countries, crop agriculture is highly dependent on irrigation because rainfall is low and highly variable (Khan, 1985; UNEP, 1997). Only 8 of the 21 countries of the region have more than the world average area of arable land per person (0.26 ha/person); some countries have effectively no arable land. (Kazakstan is an exception, with more than 2 ha of arable land per person.) Nevertheless, agriculture is an important sector in the region as a whole, contributing a high proportion of the GDP in about half of the countries (>10% net added value in agriculture as a percent of GDP, compared with the world average of about 5%; World Bank, 1997). About a third of the GDP of the Kyrgyz Republic, Syria, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan can be attributed to agriculture.
Many countries in the region (e.g., the countries of the FSU, Syria, Israel), are highly dependent on local agriculture for food; although some (e.g., Turkey and Kazakstan) are major food exporters, most countries are net importers of food (World Bank, 1997). Some countries (e.g., Tajikistan) rely heavily on imports of grain, both for human consumption and for livestock production (World Bank, 1995b). Land degradation and the consequential need to move to even more marginal lands threaten food security and the economies of countries that are highly dependent on agriculture.
In some countries, up to 89% of the croplands are irrigated (41% for the region as a whole; see Table 7-1). Improved irrigation practices (e.g., wider use of drip and underground irrigation) could save up to 50% of the water used in conventional irrigation systems (IPCC 1996, WG II, Chapter 4). Adoption of such conservation techniques could become increasingly important if climate change leads to reduced water availability. The expansion of winter-growing crops that demand much less water (and would use more of the projected precipitation in the region) may be another option (IPCC 1996, WG II, Chapter 4). Some of the FSU countries are making major changes in agricultural practices and would be able to incorporate new varieties that might respond better to low-water conditions (e.g., cotton in Tajikistan) (World Bank, 1995b).
Increasing populations in areas with limited arable land have led some countries (e.g., Jordan, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen) to use irrigated farming throughout the year, as well as to increase their use of fertilizers and pesticides (UNEP, 1997); these trends may add to the land degradation problem.
Little quantitative work has been done on the impacts of climate change on this sector. National and local assessments providing a detailed understanding of crop-specific responses and regional impacts for this region are still lacking (IPCC 1996, WG II, Section 13.6.1).
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