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.