In many countries, drought is responsible for the greatest loss of agricultural production. For example, in the United States, drought was the predominant source of indemnities paid because of crop losses between 1970 and 2003. ttese losses totaled more than S15 billion (USDA/RMA). In China during the period from 1949 to 2000, drought affected an average of 21 million hectares. More than 60 million tons of grain was lost in China as a result of the drought of 2000, the highest loss in 51 years (Zhang et al. 2005). Recent droughts in Europe, Brazil, Mexico, Australia, Southern Africa, and many other regions have also resulted in devastating impacts in the agricultural sector. With growing pressure on water and other natural resources because of population increases and other factors, there is an increasing need to reduce both the impacts of drought on agriculture and other sectors and the demand for government- or donor-sponsored drought assistance programs, ttese programs are costly and largely ineffective in reducing societal vulnerability to future drought episodes.
Agricultural producers in both developed and developing countries have many options available to them to lessen their drought risk. Irrigation has long been an important mitigation measure, but increasing pressure on limited water supplies is reducing opportunities for further expansion and placing more pressure on agriculture to use water more efficiently. Supplemental irrigation offers tremendous opportunities to increase yields if water is applied strategically during critical periods of crop growth and development during both drought and non-drought periods (Oweis 2005). Water harvesting has also been used successfully for centuries to sustain plant growth in arid or semi-arid regions and is being widely promoted today as a drought risk reducing strategy. Other agricultural practices such as changes in crop type, the timing of planting, and changes in cultivation practices can also lessen vulnerability to drought if applied in a timely manner. Given new computer tools and techniques such as Geographic Information Systems (GIS), satellite-based remote sensing products, and the ability of the Internet to deliver timely and reliable information to agricultural producers, natural resource managers, and other decision makers, there are now added opportunities to further mitigate agricultural drought impacts. However, the development of appropriate decision-support tools for agriculture requires improved communication between the developers of these tools and users throughout the development process. To be successful, this process must be based on a greater awareness and understanding of the drought hazard and how changes in management can alter vulnerability to reduce risk.
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