Climate Change Likely to Increase Risk of Hunger

Mon, 10/01/2007

 Agriculture is the sector most affected by changes in climate patterns and will be increasingly vulnerable in the future. Especially at risk are developing countries, which are highly dependent on agriculture and have fewer resources and options to combat damage from climate change.

Agriculture is both culprit and victim when it comes to climate change. It is estimated that the livestock sector alone accounts for 18% of global greenhouse gas emissions, while deforestation is responsible for 18% of carbon dioxide emissions.

Rice production is another major source for greenhouse gas emissions. It is perhaps the main source of anthropogenic methane, with some 50 to 100 million metric tons per year emitted from the world’s 130 million hectares of rice paddies.

Climate change is a global phenomenon with local and regional features which needs to be understood and anticipated.

“Climate change is likely to undermine food production in the developing world, while industrialized countries could gain in production potential, Food & Agriculture Organization (FAO),” Director-General Jacques Diouf said in a speech at the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation Conference in Chennai, India.

“Crop yield potential is likely to increase at higher latitudes for global average temperature increases of up to 1 to 3 degrees Celsius depending on the crop, and then decrease beyond that,” he said. “On the contrary, at lower latitudes, especially in the seasonally dry tropics, crop yield potential is likely to decline for even small global temperature rises, which would increase the risk of hunger.”

“Greater frequency of droughts and floods would affect local production negatively, especially in subsistence sectors at low latitudes,” Dr. Diouf added.

“Rainfed agriculture in marginal areas in semi-arid and sub-humid regions is mostly at risk,” he explained. “India could lose 125 million tons of its rainfed cereal production – equivalent to 18% of its total production.”

“The world faces a daunting array of challenges, from poverty and climate change to conflict in Darfur.” -UN Secretary General Ban Ki moon.

The impacts of climate change on forests and on forest dependent people are already evident in increased incidences of forest fires and outbreaks of forest pests and diseases. Climate change adaptation will be needed in a variety of ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems (crops, livestock and grasslands) forests and woodlands, inland waters and coastal and marine ecosystems, according to Diouf.

Science and technology must spearhead agricultural production in the next 30 years at a pace faster than the Green Revolution did during the past three decades, Dr. Diouf asserted.

“Exploiting the new biotechnologies, including in particular in vitro culture, embryo transfer and the use of DNA markers, can supplement conventional breeding approaches, thus enhancing yield levels, increasing input use efficiency, reducing risk, and enhancing nutritional quality,” he said.

But, he cautioned, most genetically modified (GM) crops being cultivated today were developed to be herbicide tolerant and resistant to pests. Development of GM crops with traits valuable for poor farmers, especially within the context of climate change – such as resistance to drought, extreme temperatures, soil acidity and salinity – is not yet a reality.

“I cannot sufficiently underline the need to also address the needs of resource poor farmers in rainfed areas and on marginal lands,” said Diouf. “Ensuring that new biotechnologies help achieve this goal, in full awareness of bio-safety, socio economic and ethical concerns associated with the use of some of these technologies remains a challenge for the entire scientific community.”

Noting that the theme of this year’s World Food Day (October 16th) is The Right to Food, Diouf praised India for playing a pioneering and model role in implementing this right with contributions from all parts of society.

In particular, he highlighted the country’s Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) programme, which provides millions of mothers and children with health, nutrition and hygiene education, preschool education, supplementary feeding, growth monitoring and promotion, and also links to primary healthcare services like immunization and vitamin A supplements.

Lack of access to adequate, safe water limits our ability to produce enough food to eat or earn enough income. Without access to water for drinking and proper hygiene it is more difficult to reduce the spread and impact of life-threatening diseases like HIV/AIDS. Every day, 3800 children die from diseases associated with a lack of safe drinking water and proper sanitation.

The water scarcity situation is being exacerbated by climate change, especially in the driest areas of the world, which are home to more than 2 billion people and half of all poor people. The human impact on the earth’s environment and climate must be addressed in order to protect the world’s water resources. But there are other factors involved, such as increases in the amount of water needed to grow the food for a growing population. Agriculture is the number-one user of freshwater worldwide. Also, the trends towards urbanization and increases in domestic and industrial water use by people who live in more developed areas are factors that lead to growing water use.

By thinking both big and small, FAO advocates short-term small scale irrigation projects at the village level, including the development of low-cost and relatively simple, cost-effective methods that focus on small scale irrigation or community based systems for harvesting rainfall that can be used by small farmers to irrigate crops.

One must help people to recover from severe water and food shortages by providing new crops and livestock while setting up irrigation projects supported by governments and international donors. Long-term success is to break out of the cycle of responding to one water emergency after another and to put into place workable, sustainable long-term programmes. This requires policy changes and cooperation on a larger scale. It means upgrading and improving the management of the facilities and then working across national borders to develop and protect water basins.