Drought-resistant ecological agriculture

Less but more erratic rainfall patterns and extreme events like floods due to climate change are further devastating regions where food security is already low. Farming practices will need to adapt to these climatic changes.

A Greenpeace report – Ecological farming: Drought-resistant agriculture – examines strategies to withstand drought in agriculture using ecological farming based on biodiversity. 

The key contribution of ecological agriculture is building healthy soils that are rich in organic matter, which helps in increasing water infiltration and retention, and makes nutrients more accessible to plants. High soil biodiversity also helps with drought-resistance and increases resilience.

The report also looks at the successes and assesses the potential of conventional breeding methods to produce drought-resistant varieties without the environmental and food safety risks associated with genetically engineered crops.

Please find below the report’s summary. The full report can be downloaded at

With best wishes,

Lim Li Ching
Third World Network
131 Jalan Macalister
10400 Penang

Ecological Farming: Drought-Resistant Agriculture

Authors: Reyes Tirado and Janet Cotter
Greenpeace Research Laboratories
University of Exeter, UK


Human-induced climate change is resulting in less and more erratic rainfall, especially in regions where food security is very low. The poor in rural and dry areas will suffer the most and will require cheap and accessible strategies to adapt to erratic weather. This adaptation will need to take into account not only less water and droughts, but also the increased chance of extreme events like floods.

Biodiversity and a healthy soil are central to ecological approaches to making farming more drought-resistant and more resilient to extreme events. Resilience is the capacity to deal with change and recover after it. Practices that make soils better able to hold soil moisture and reduce erosion and that increase biodiversity in the system help in making farm production and income more resilient and stable.

Building a healthy soil is a crucial element in helping farms cope with drought. There are many proven practices available to farmers right now to help build healthy soils. Cover crops and crop residues that protect soils from wind and water erosion, and legume intercrops, manure and composts that build soil rich in organic matter, enhancing soil structure, are all ways to help increase water infiltration, hold water once it gets there, and make nutrients more accessible to the plant.

In order to feed humanity and secure ecological resilience it is essential to increase productivity in rain-fed areas where poor farmers implement current know-how on water and soil conservation. Ecological farms that work with biodiversity and are knowledge-intensive rather than chemical input-intensive might be the most resilient options under a drier and more erratic climate.

In addition to the ecological farming methods described above, continued breeding of crop varieties that can withstand drought stresses and  still produce a reliable yield is needed. Many new drought-tolerant seeds are being developed using advanced conventional breeding, without the need of genetic engineering. There are already examples of drought-resistant soybean, maize, wheat and rice varieties that farmers could start taking advantage of right now. On the other hand, genetic engineering technology is not well suited for developing drought-resistant seeds.

Drought tolerance is a complex trait, often involving the interaction of many genes, and thus beyond the capability of a rudimentary technology based on high expression of few well characterised genes. There is no evidence that genetically engineered (GE) crops can play a role in increasing food security under a changing climate.