Desert Technologies Conference in San Antonio draws international attendees

Conference addressed drought, land degradation, food insecurity, more

SAN ANTONIO – Experts from around the globe converged at the 11th annual Desert Technologies Conference in San Antonio to discuss, among other things, how methods pioneered in drought-ridden Texas, the U.S. and beyond could be applied to benefit other water-scarce regions of the developing world.

The conference, held Nov. 19-22, was attended by more than 150 scientists, academics and other professionals representing various countries, including the U.S., Japan, Egypt, India, Tunisia, Kuwait, Ethiopia and Uzbekistan.

Scientists and other desert technologies experts from around the globe recently converged in San Antonio to examine solutions for water-scarce agriculture at the 11th annual Desert Technologies Conference. (Borlaug Institute photo)

Scientists and other desert technologies experts from around the globe recently converged in San Antonio to examine solutions for water-scarce agriculture at the 11th annual Desert Technologies Conference. (Borlaug Institute photo)

Organized by the Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture at Texas A&M University, College Station, the conference focused on the challenges and solutions to affecting viable agriculture in desert areas and other ecological zones with limited water resources.

At the conference, Dr. Tim Davis, the Borlaug Institute’s regional director for Asia and this year’s conference chairman, described Texas’ expertise in the desert tech realm as being largely based on the state’s own challenges with water and aridity across 11 ecological zones.

“A significant portion of West Texas is occupied by the vast Chihuahuan Desert, and drought conditions are common in that region,” he said. “Also, much of the entire state has been in the grips of severe drought for the past several years, so many of the papers presented at this conference are directly relevant to the state of Texas.”

In addressing a general assembly of conference attendees, Dr. David Lunt, associate director of Texas A&M AgriLife Research, pointed out that dryland research initiatives have been conducted by scientists and others at Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Extension centers throughout Texas for many years.

“Much of this research is useful in addressing food security and ecosystem management in other parts of the world,” he said. “Many of the agricultural regions of the world are replicated here in Texas, so data gathered here can be of practical use in numerous countries worldwide. Also much of the information on dry and arid regions of other countries can be applicable here.”

Conference presenters addressed a variety of technical topics, including: dryland systems, the role of terrestrial vegetation, achieving sustainable dryland agriculture, managing land degradation, enhancing water and land productivity, evaluating and employing bio-resources, political and economic considerations in pastoral degradation, biomass production for biofuel, developing countermeasures to global warming, invasive and native trees, and propagation of economically important desert plants.

About 40 posters on crops, flora wildlife and animals in arid zones, as well as on soil, water, energy and other relevant topics, were also displayed and discussed.

Development project posters outlining innovations in desert agriculture line the exhibit hall at the Hilton Palacio Del Rio in San Antonio - the site of the 11th annual Desert Technologies conference hosted by the Texas A&M Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. (Borlaug Institute photo)

Development project posters outlining innovations in desert agriculture line the exhibit hall at the Hilton Palacio Del Rio in San Antonio – the site of the 11th annual Desert Technologies conference hosted by Texas A&M University System’s Norman Borlaug Institute for International Agriculture. (Borlaug Institute photo)

“Agricultural productivity in the drylands of the developing world is low because of drought, floods, extreme temperatures, land degradation and other biophysical stresses,” said Dr. William Payne of the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas during his keynote address to conference attendees. “The inability to address these issues will lead to increased poverty, food insecurity, rising unemployment and growing conflict and instability that will affect the rest of the world.”

Dr. Elsa Murano, interim director of the Borlaug Institute, named for Dr. Norman Borlaug, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and father of the Green Revolution, also noted the importance of resolving the world’s food security challenges.

“There will be an estimated 9 billion people on the planet by 2050,” Murano said. “Drought and other difficult climatic conditions will continue to make it difficult to produce sufficient food for a rapidly growing population. It will take the sound application of science to help address these global issues.”

Murano said technology such as that associated with increasing water use efficiency, improving plant physiology and breeding, desalination, modeling of cropping systems and learning how certain microorganisms benefit soil function, will be necessary to “feed the world” and help maintain global stability.

Davis called issues of desertification a “global concern requiring continued and expanding research to mitigate consequences.”

“These conferences examine special characteristics and benefits of desert ecosystems, understanding and managing desertification, and identifying appropriate technologies for developed and developing regions of the world,” he said. “We’re glad to have helped provide the opportunity for these scientists to come together, exchange ideas and learn from one another about how technology and science can help improve the future of the planet.”

Conference proceedings will be published as a special issue of the Journal of Arid Land Studies. The journal website is http://jal.xjegi.com/EN/volumn/home.shtml.

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