Food challenge looms

20 Jun, 2011 04:00 AM
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CLIMATE change is a huge threat to farmers in the Mediterranean climates of Australia, but for subsidence farmers in Africa, India and Latin America a small change will not merely threaten their livelihood, but their lives themselves.

A report commissioned by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) has found scores of climate ‘hotspots’, where a shift towards hotter and drier conditions could jeopardise hundreds of million of people below the poverty line in less than 40 years.

The major problem areas are likely to be in Africa and the subcontinent, however parts of China and Latin America could also be under threat.

CGIAR commissioned the project in response to what it said was an urgent need to focus climate change adaptation efforts on people and places where the potential for harsher growing conditions poses the gravest threat to food production and food security.

The researchers pinpointed areas of intense vulnerability by examining a variety of climate models and indicators of food problems to create a series of detailed maps.

One shows regions around the world at risk of crossing certain “climate thresholds”—such as temperatures too hot for maize or beans—that over the next 40 years could diminish food production.

Holger Meinke, based at the Tasmanian Institute of Agricultural Research (TIAR) and part of the project as a member of its independent science panel, said the problem was complex and could not be solved by addressing just one facet.

The major staple crops studied were maize, various legumes and rice.

Prof Meinke said simply focusing on germplasm improvement would not provide a solution in itself.

“Improved varieties will certainly help play a role, but it is only one piece of the puzzle.”

He said there needed to be further work done in order to get farmers to adapt the technology and varieties that became available.

“Many of the farmers are illiterate and it is a huge challenge to get them to change their practices.

“We really need to do more work on how we get that knowledge out there and put it in a format that farmers able to act on it.”

He said along with these issues, poor infrastructure meant much grain was lost, because it could not be moved, and due to poor grain hygiene.

“Varietal work is useful, but education and hands on training is the important aspect.

“We also need to work to ensure there are sustainable rotations rather than a focus on one particular crop.”

Prof Meinke said in spite of the challenges, there were also potential growth.

“Africa, for instance, has huge potential.

“It is nutrient limited, but if you could fix those nitrogen and phosphorus issues, you could quite feasibly triple the production.”

But there are big challenges, particularly when many areas will be confronted with a five percent decrease in the length of the growing season over the next 40 years according to current warming trends.

The added heat will also push beans off-limits in some areas, with the legume unable to tolerate growing season temperatures in excess of 30 degrees.

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READER COMMENTS

Qlander
20/06/2011 8:57:53 AM

Climate change is not a threat to farmers, farmers are used to dealing with climate variation. The main threat to farmers are radical activist groups, and the media that prefers sensation, over facts and balanced reporting.
Loc Hey
20/06/2011 9:14:27 AM

More scare mongering garbage and lies. Anyone who knows anything about man's brief history on this planet will be aware we have only one real climate change enemy, and that is the cold. And cold is what we might be in for if the latest studies on the sun's cycles are correct. Cycle 24 has been very quiet and cycle 25 may not happen at all. When the sun has no sunspots and goes quiet like the mounder minimum of the 1600s we can have a mini iceage as we had between 1550 and 1850. A return to the little iceage as we had back then I can assure you will kill far more life than a little warming.
Ian Mott
21/06/2011 11:14:26 AM

But wait, the IPCC's SRES emission projections (the ones Guano doesn't question) have all the worlds subsistence farmers enjoying GDP of US$63,000 each, and emissions to match, by 2100. So how do they get to $63,000 each by 2100 if they starve to death by crop failure in 2040? On one hand the "peer reviewers" are telling us that half the planet will be starving while other "peer reviewers" are telling us their emissions will toast the planet. So which is it? Take the bull$#it out of the projections and there is no problem and no justification for urgent action.

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