Dryland Agriculture and Land Use; Past Present and Future [AGRI-DRY] Marie Curie Doctoral Network project launched

Published: 27 May 2024

We are pleased to announce the launch of the EU/UKRI-funded AGRI-DRY project.

Dryland Agriculture and Land Use; Past Present and Future [AGRI-DRY]

We are pleased to announce the launch of the EU/UKRI-funded AGRI-DRY project. 

This Horizon Europe-Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Doctoral Network AGRI-DRY aims to develop an interdisciplinary approach to traditional crop cultivation through the recognition of the complementary value of cultural heritage and sustainable living. AGRI-DRY is a four-year Horizon Europe Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions Doctoral Network,  funded by the European Commission and UKRI. The project is coordinated by the University of Glasgow and Universitat Pompeu Fabra.

The network is composed of 6 academic institutions from Spain (University of Pompeu Fabra), the United Kingdom (University of Glasgow), Italy (University of Saleto), Denmark (University of Aarhus), Botswana (University of Botswana) and South Africa (University of Wits). AGRI-DRY will integrate leading researchers within this research field to recruit 10 doctoral candidates and offer them the unique opportunity to perform top-level and high impact research, whilst working to obtain a PhD.

Our emphasis is on drylands, using the Mediterranean Basin, North Africa and the Sahara, and Southern Africa as our main geographic focus.

Why drylands?

Drylands cover c. 40% of the Earth’s land surface, with 2 billion people inhabiting them, representing about 40% of the world’s population, c. 90% of them in developing countries. These areas are especially vulnerable to climate change, including shifts in precipitation patterns, increasing desertification, and extreme events. Drylands are also subjected to land use changes and soil degradation, the consequence of inappropriate land management practices in recent periods. These factors hinder the ability of communities to produce food, and negatively influence their ways of life and well-being. Future climate change will continue to severely impact these ecosystems and communities and there is a critical need to understand how to produce food more sustainably and improve landscape and ecological resilience within this context. Nevertheless, drylands have been inhabited for thousands of years and are home to societies that display a range of adaptive behaviours; these practices are underpinned by Traditional Ecological Knowledge (TEK), which is key to the resilience of these communities.  In addition, TEK of indigenous communities have been shown to be critical for ecosystem management and sustainable use of resources in the light of climate change. Traditional agricultural systems are a testimony to humanity’s long interaction with the land, revealing rich cultural, biological and landscape diversity. 

We can thus turn to lessons learned by our ancestors and modern traditional agricultural communities on how people developed and interacted sustainably with their environment. These systems have developed because of long-term, time-tested practices arising from ingenious combinations of technologies in addition to cultural identification with these systems. Through a remarkable process of co-evolution between human populations and their environment, “heritage” agricultural (including pastoralist) systems have emerged over millennia of cultural and biological interactions and synergies. These small or larger-scale agricultural systems contain the accumulated knowledge of rural peoples and constitute the foundation for contemporary and future agricultural innovations and technologies. When discussing traditional agriculture, it is therefore not sufficient to investigate and record contemporary traditional agricultural systems practices but there is a strong need for long-term perspectives on how and why agricultural systems have emerged and developed in the light of evolving needs and changing environmental conditions, and their impacts on land-use systems

Knowledge of how these systems have changed under specific climatic or socio-environmental pressures is therefore key to understanding possible future trajectories. Combined traditional and ancient agricultural practices provide more than a historical perspective: together, they offer solutions to the challenges posed by the need to grow food within a warming world. In addition, interest in traditional agriculture is a worldwide trend: as people reclaim their heritage, they increasingly turn to lessons learned by their ancestors about how to sustainability interact with their environment.

The AGRI-DRY network will train 10 doctoral candidates in new interdisciplinary approaches to examine three interlinked research questions:

  • How and why have agricultural systems emerged and developed in the light of evolving needs and changing environmental conditions?
  • What were the impacts of these systems on modern and ancient land use and ecosystems, and on our climate systems historically, and how do they continue to impact these today?
  • What can be learnt from these ancient and traditional agricultural systems for policy and practical applications around current food production, social and ecological resilience, and climate mitigation? 

Further information on the AGRI-DRY network

Opportunities for PhD study funded through the AGRI-DRY network at the University of Glasgow will open shortly (next 2 weeks) and will be advertised via the project web site, the EU Euraxis web site, UoG web sites and also web sites that advertise PhD studentships.

First published: 27 May 2024