Agriculture, food & climate change
Lessons from the Green Revolution ; Green Revolution: Curse or Blessing? ; Agriculture & Food ; (International Food Policy Research Institute) Agriculture and climate change: An agenda for negotiation in Copenhagen ; Global Treaty on Climate Change ; Climate Change (that is, Global Warming) and Sub-Saharan Africa (2005)
“Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change” in the news
Climate adaptation pilot project launched for African farmers
The World Meteorological Organization launched a Climate Services Adaptation Program last month to help farmers in Tanzania and Malawi use weather information for better crop planting and harvesting, writes Kizito Makoye. The pilot project is designed to assist farmers in learning how to counteract the impact of extreme weather, such as floods and droughts. Thomson Reuters Foundation (12/13)
Climate change sends Africa’s agricultural extension officers back to school
(Thomson Reuters Foundation) Smallholder farmers, who keep Africa fed, need extension officers who are well informed about climate change, as its impacts – already being witnessed in more extreme and erratic weather – threaten the continent’s food security.
Knowledge of climate change among agricultural information providers was a key topic for discussion at the first ever Africa Extension Week, which took place in Gaborone, Botswana’s capital, earlier in August.
Researchers and extension practitioners spoke of a huge knowledge gap, not just on the links between climate change and agricultural policies but on the phenomenon of climate change itself.
Climate change could accelerate hunger in Africa, Asia
Climate change will alter farming around the world and likely result in food shortages, especially for the poor, writes John Vidal. Frank Rijsberman of CGIAR says, “We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the 1 billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change.” The Guardian (London) (4/13)
Bioscience should underpin African agriculture, meeting hears
(SciDev.net) Bioscience projects including ones that turn tannery waste into manure can improve crop productivity and food security, and boost agricultural resilience to climate change-related impacts in East Africa, according to scientists.
Agricultural and biosciences scientists who met at the 1st Bio-Innovate Regional Scientific Research Conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, last month (25-27 February), say that using bioscience in East Africa could bring about socioeconomic transformation.
For instance, in Uganda, tannery and slaughter wastes are being turned into manure for crop production and clean water. Other innovations include the production of drought-resistant seed varieties that are suitable to specific agriecological areas.
Study: Biofuels pose small, significant risk to health, crops
Biofuels aren’t as good for air quality as we’ve thought, researchers say. A study published in the journal Nature Climate Change suggests that large-scale production of wood-based fuels would emit higher levels of a chemical that can combine with other pollutants to cause premature deaths and reduce crop yields. The Guardian (London)/Reuters (1/7)
Scientists torn over Kenya’s recent GM food ban
(SciDev,net) Scientists fear that Kenya’s recent banning of the import of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) may be a significant blow to progress on biotechnology research and development in the country.
A cabinet meeting chaired by Kenya’s president, Mwai Kibaki, this month (8 November), directed the public health minister to ban GMO imports until the country is able to certify that they have no negative impact on people’s health.
In a statement to the press, the cabinet said there was a “lack of sufficient information on the public health impact of such foods”.
Propping up cassava, Africa’s essential food
Scientists are trying to make the already hardy cassava stronger and more nutritious to combat extreme weather and hunger in Africa, where the tubers are an essential food for 500 million. “We need to make it even more hardy as the dry periods are getting longer and the soil fertility is declining,” said Robert Asiedu of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture. The Washington Post/The Associated Press (11/1)
Testing new technologies on crops — virtually
The Global Futures project is growing virtual crops to test new technologies for small-scale farmers and rural poor in regions of the world most vulnerable to climate change. It is the first time computer modeling is being used to assess the effects of technologies on complex biological processes in plants before the crops are deployed, writes Gerald Nelson of the International Food Policy Research Institute. AlertNet/Climate Conversations blog (10/31)
Crops and climate: Cowpeas in lieu of wheat? Bananas for potatoes?
Developing-world yields of the world’s top three calorie-rich crops — corn, wheat and rice — could decline because of climate change, prompting changes to diets and a move to hardier crops including cassava, yam and barley, according to researchers from the CGIAR agricultural partnership. The potato also is likely to suffer against higher temperatures, paving the way for banana varieties as a replacement, researchers said. AlertNet (10/31), BBC (10/30)
Tree regeneration boosting farm fertility in Sahel
Africa’s Sahel is in its third drought in 10 years, but some farmers have managed to restore the sandy soils by planting and cultivating trees. The trees, traditionally seen as competing with crops, actually reduce the effects of winds, provide shade to manure-producing livestock and contribute organic matter to the soil. The Guardian (London) (6/11)
Vietnamese farmers battle climate change effects
Vietnamese farmers are getting help from development organizations to introduce new crop variations and adopt alternative farming techniques to battle the effects of climate change. Vietnamese farmers have been battling rising sea levels and saltwater intrusions into farmland that are already causing significant crop damage. IRINNews.org (12/28)
Famine alert: West Africa still has time to avoid 2012 food crisis
A Famine Early Warning System – which accurately predicted the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa – warns that millions of West Africans may face a food crisis in 2012.
(CSM) Early reports suggest that as many as 6 million people in Niger and 2.9 million people in Mali live in vulnerable areas, where low rainfall, falling groundwater levels, poor harvests, lack of pastureland, rising food prices, and a drop in remittances from family members living abroad are starting to take their toll.
Changing weather patterns have hit the Sahel region as recently as 2010, and many people who are most vulnerable in the looming food crisis are those who had sold off their livestock and seed crops in order to survive the 2010 drought, and now have fewer assets to draw on in the future.
West African farmers ‘already adapting to climate change’
(SciDevNet) African farmers have developed new cultivation techniques and adopted short-season crop varieties using their own experience and observation to adapt to climate change a workshop in Benin has heard.
Projects back drought-resistant crops for Africa development
Development advocates are looking to promote small-scale farming of drought-resistant crops such as cassava and sorghum in Africa as a means to enhance food security. The Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund is providing farmers with interest-free loans and partnering them with the private sector to help develop markets to support the crops. The Guardian (London) (9/5)
Improved seeds are promoted to overcome Africa drought
African communities facing prolonged spells of scarce rain and drought would be more likely to survive if farmers grew improved varieties of neglected crops, according to the International Crop Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics. A lack of demand for the drought-resistant seeds is complicating efforts to market affordable trial packs to farmers, who are wary that improved varieties of dryland crops — such as groundnut and pigeonpea — will sell as well as more marketable, lower yielding crops. The Guardian (London)/Poverty Matters blog (8/29)
Tracing the roots of African drought to climate change
It is impossible to directly link the drought in eastern Africa to climate change. But “events like this have a higher probability of occurring as a result of climate change” worldwide, says a U.K. scientific adviser, Sir John Beddington. The Guardian (London)/Poverty Matters blog (8/8)
Seed bank preserves endangered plant species
The Kew Millennium Seed Bank is working with 120 partners in 50 countries to collect and store plant seeds from 25% of the world’s species by 2020. Conservationists warn 25% of the world’s plant species — between 60,000 to 100,000 species — are in danger of extinction. The Christian Science Monitor (8/4)
FAO: Climate change to hit agriculture hard
Farmers will soon be feeling the effects of climate change on their ability to produce crops, endangering the livelihoods of millions and the food supply for urban areas, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization says. Governments need to improve water-management systems, and farmers should consider more water-efficient planting patterns now to help mitigate the effects. AlertNet/Reuters (6/9)
The New Geopolitics of Food
(Foreign Policy May/June 2011) … Everything from falling water tables to eroding soils and the consequences of global warming means that the world’s food supply is unlikely to keep up with our collectively growing appetites. Take climate change: The rule of thumb among crop ecologists is that for every 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature above the growing season optimum, farmers can expect a 10 percent decline in grain yields. This relationship was borne out all too dramatically during the 2010 heat wave in Russia, which reduced the country’s grain harvest by nearly 40 percent.
UN agency: Weather will affect global food supply
Extreme weather patterns associated with climate change are likely to adversely impact global food production over the next decade, the World Meteorological Organization warns. China, the U.S. and Mediterranean regions will face some of the biggest challenges with food production drops. Bloomberg (5/26)
How warming affects crop yields worldwide
A new study shows that rising temperatures are cutting into the global yields of crops such as wheat and corn. Overall, however, the impact of global warming has been less than expected, as some countries also reported increases in crop yields because of higher levels of carbon dioxide, which can act like a fertilizer to encourage plant growth. However, the authors of the study caution that warming is expected to speed up in coming years, increasing pressures on the global food production system. The New York Times (tiered subscription model) (5/5)
Paul Krugman: Droughts, Floods and Food
We’re in the midst of a global food crisis — the second in three years. World food prices hit a record in January, driven by huge increases in the prices of wheat, corn, sugar and oils. These soaring prices have had only a modest effect on U.S. inflation, which is still low by historical standards, but they’re having a brutal impact on the world’s poor, who spend much if not most of their income on basic foodstuffs.
… While several factors have contributed to soaring food prices, what really stands out is the extent to which severe weather events have disrupted agricultural production. And these severe weather events are exactly the kind of thing we’d expect to see as rising concentrations of greenhouse gases change our climate — which means that the current food price surge may be just the beginning.
Genome breakthrough heralds new dawn for agriculture
Steve Connor: Decoding of genome hailed as most significant breakthrough in wheat production in 10,000 years
In a scientific tour-de-force that has been hailed as the most significant breakthrough in wheat production since the cereal crop was cultivated by the first farmers more than 10,000 years ago, scientists have decoded the genome of the wheat plant.
As a result, new breeds of disease-resistant crops could be producing higher wheat yields in as little as five years’ time, raising the prospect of lower bread prices and greater food security in a more populated world. And rather than guard their knowledge, the British scientists responsible for the research will today place a draft version of the genome online, making it available for free to wheat breeders around the world, who will be able to use it to speed up the creation of the new disease-resistant varieties that are urgently needed.
Sean O’Grady: What is good news for hungry people may not be good news for the planet
It may be that green technology will allow us to support hundreds of millions more humans with no adverse consequences, but that is far from a given. If the burgeoning populations of the emerging world want the same standard of living as Americans enjoy today we would need several more planet Earths, even on a very optimistic view of what technology can do for us. The limits to economic growth aren’t technological; they are environmental.
Wheat Shortage May Mean Higher Grocery Bills
Cost of Bread, Cereal Likely to Rise; Poorer Countries Will Feel Brunt
(ABC News) A summer of relentless heat in Russia could mean higher grocery bills for the rest of the world come autumn.
Tanzania to test new drought-resistant corn crop
Eastern and South African countries are confident that a new technology to be tested by Tanzania will greatly enhance their ability to grow corn — a primary staple — despite drought. Tanzanian officials believe that by planting biotechnologically fertilized seeds, subsistence farmers will be able to sustain crops even through the country’s terrific drought periods. The key to sustainability in this technology is its “scale-neutral applicability” — subsistence farmers may plant it as easily as large corporate farms. AllAfrica Global Media (5/2)
Paul Krugman: Running Out of Planet to Exploit
What Americans mostly remember about the 1970s are soaring oil prices and lines at gas stations. But there was also a severe global food crisis, which caused a lot of pain at the supermarket checkout line — I remember 1974 as the year of Hamburger Helper — and, much more important, helped cause devastating famines in poorer countries.
… the bad weather hitting agricultural production this time is starting to look more fundamental and permanent than El Niño and La Niña, which disrupted crops 35 years ago. Australia, in particular, is now in the 10th year of a drought that looks more and more like a long-term manifestation of climate change.
Suppose that we really are running up against global limits. What does it mean?
African farmers feel the heat from climate change
African farmers are suffering as rain patterns become increasingly erratic as a consequence of climate change. Agriculture experts say immediate investment in irrigation, infrastructure and better farming supplies will help the continent’s farmers adjust to the changes. AlertNet.org/Reuters (4/20)
12 December 2009
No Food Security without Climate Security
The panelists spoke of the challenges facing farmers and the agricultural community around the world, particularly in developing countries, whose are the most vulnerable to the economic challenges presented by agricultural failure. Farmers, who rely on predictable weather patterns to grow and harvest their crops, are facing tremendous challenges as climate zones shift due to atmospheric warming. An increase of 2 or more degrees would mean the collapse of most agriculture, says Gilberto Camara, the General Director of Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research. Such a collapse would deprive countries around the world not only of their immediate food supply, but of the economic ability to confront the challenges at hand.
Investment in Monocultures violates Human Rights and aggravates Climate Change
On December 10, the report “Red Sugar, Green Deserts. Latin American report on monocultures and violations of the Human Rights to adequate food and housing, to water, to land and to territory” will be launched in Copenhagen by the organizations FIAN (FoodFirst Information & Action Network), HIC-AL (Habitat International Coalition Latin America Regional Office) and Solidarity Sweden-Latin America (Latinamerikagruppe ma). The report, consisting of articles from 26 different writers and cases from 10 Latin American countries, shows that the agroindustrial model based on monocultures has grave impacts on the human rights. Monocultures also cause destruction of biodiversity and the ecosystem, deforestation and increased greenhouse gases, aggravating climate change.
This should provide food for thought/debate
Kevin Libin: From sci-fi tech, food for the masses
(National Post) While Western environmentalists lionize unrefined, organic farms, one of the best ways to protect our environment is by spreading 21st century farming technology and corporate agricultural products. Food production that truly sustains the planet is the very stuff that the eco-priests decry: fish farms, genetically modified foods, and farms relying more, not less, on corporate-made chemicals.
“Intensive agricultural production is the key,” says Patrick Moore, co-founder and former Canadian president of Greenpeace, now chairman of Vancouver-based communications firm Greenspirit Strategies. “It’s simple arithmetic: The more food you grow per acre, the less natural world you have to clear to do it.”
The late Norman Borlaug, father of the Green Revolution that modernized farming, ending frequent famines, in India and Asia, illustrated it this way: in 1990, America produced 596 million tons of crops. Had it stuck with 1960 methods of farming, it would have needed 460 million more acres than in 1960, of fertile land. Only, there wasn’t 460 million more acres of good-quality land, so it would have been millions more yet, of poorer quality land.
Climate change deepens cycle of poverty in India
With climate change exacerbating the failure of crops in areas of impoverished India, poor villagers endure suffering at the hands of lenders, who take advantage of corruption, widespread illiteracy and a large bureaucratic banking system. Farmers working under the burden of excessive loans are encouraged to grow soybeans, a more water-intensive crop, forcing them to take out more loans. Los Angeles Times (12/1)
Research: Climate change makes conflict in Africa more likely
Conflict across the African continent has been 50% more likely in unusually warm years, according to researchers who have tracked the role climate plays in conflicts in Sudan and sub-Saharan Africa. According to the research, crop yields are sensitive to even small changes in temperature, leading to increased conflicts over diminished food resources. BBC (11/24)
For peat’s sake The world’s wetlands are big sources of greenhouse gases
PEATY wetlands emit about 1.3 billion tonnes of CO2 a year as a result of human activity that drains them and thus exposes them to the oxidative effect of the atmosphere … is the conclusion of a report published by Wetlands International. However, the report’s findings contrast with the conclusions of a paper on deforestation also published this week in Nature Geoscience. The conventional figure is that tree-felling causes 20% of man-made CO2 emissions, but the new paper puts that figure at closer to 12%. Together, both studies suggest a change of emphasis may be needed, and that efforts should be made to preserve not just forests, but also bogs.
No simple solution to livestock and climate change
Simply reducing livestock farming in developing countries will neither cut emissions nor benefit the poor, says livestock expert Carlos Seré.
(SciDev Net) Farming is a significant contributor to climate change, and also a victim. Agricultural activities, including forest clearing, fertilising soils and transporting produce, and indeed livestock farming, account for about a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Meanwhile farmers, particularly in developing countries, are threatened by climatic changes such as shifting rainfall patterns and more extreme and unpredictable weather. A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute estimated that US$7 billion will be needed to adapt developing-country agriculture to climate change.
Switch On the Sun to Get Cooking
KAJIADO, Southern Kenya (IPS) – The women in Kajiado were sceptical – unwilling to believe that cardboard containers lined with aluminium foil on the inside could cook food when placed in the sun.
But, their minds were changed during a recent demonstration of the unassuming containers. These solar cookers, also called “panel cookers”, were loaded with several pots filled with meat, rice, eggs and other kinds of food – the pots black in colour to absorb heat, and covered in plastic bags to retain warmth. The shiny foil reflected sunlight onto the pots, creating additional heat for cooking.
Dwindling Fish Catch Could Leave a Billion Hungry
UXBRIDGE, Canada, Oct 9 (IPS) – Fish catches are expected to decline dramatically in the world’s tropical regions because of climate change, but may increase in the north, said a new study published Thursday.
This mega-shift in ocean productivity from south to north over the next three to four decades will leave those most reliant on fish for both food and income high and dry.
“The shift is already happening, we’ve been measuring it for the last 20 years,” said Daniel Pauly, a renowned fisheries expert at the University of British Columbia (UBC). In the first major study to examine the effects of climate change on ocean fisheries, a team of researchers from UBC and Princeton University discovered that catch potential will fall 40 percent in the tropics and may increase 30 to 70 percent in high latitude regions, affecting ocean food supply throughout the world by 2055.
Climate change: Impact on agriculture and costs of adaptation
The unimpeded growth of greenhouse gas emissions is raising the earth’s temperature. The consequences include melting glaciers, more precipitation, more and more extreme weather events, and shifting seasons. The accelerating pace of climate change, combined with global population and income growth, threatens food security everywhere. Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Higher temperatures eventually reduce yields of desirable crops while encouraging weed and pest proliferation. Changes in precipitation patterns increase the likelihood of short-run crop failures and long-run production declines. Although there will be gains in some crops in some regions of the world, the overall impacts of climate change on agriculture are expected to be negative, threatening global food security. Download Report
One Wednesday Nighter with extensive interest in and knowledge of environmental matters writes:
Margaret Wente’s written on farming in Africa in today’s Globe and I can’t say she’s right. The dangers of oversimplifying … she doesn’t even refer to the Green Revolution’s success story, the pre-GMO IR8, let alone the environmental destruction caused by pesticides in the Philippines etc, just the yields and that environmentalists are stopping agricultural progress in Africa.
Don’t mention dumping of subsidised rice, corruption, lack of water, the fact that TRIPS are the biggest inhibitor to GMO take-up, and she doesn’t mention the fact that in her criticism of organic farming that organic no-tillage requires about 1/4 of the energy that conventional farming requires without killing all the microbial life in the soil essential to biodiversity.
Margaret Wente: Enviro-romanticism is hurting Africa
My friends would be horrified to learn their convictions are keeping children hungry
(Globe & Mail) There are many reasons for Africa’s desperate plight. The misguided environmental enthusiasms of the West is one of them. Powerful environmental lobbies have persuaded African governments to ban genetically engineered crops that would improve drought resistance and ward off common pests that can destroy an entire harvest. They have discouraged the international donor community from supporting science-based agricultural modernization projects. They have even campaigned against conventionally developed modern seeds and nitrogen fertilizers, even though these are the very same technologies Western farmers embraced to become more productive and escape poverty. Western interest groups have foisted their own anti-scientific fantasies on to the poorest continent on Earth, with disastrous results.
Unveiling Food Plan, Obama Presses Africa on Corruption
President Obama told African countries on Friday that the legacy of colonialism was not an excuse for failing to build prosperous, democratic societies even as he unveiled a $20 billion program financed by the United States and other countries to help developing nations grow more food to feed their people.
Millions Hungry as Warming Shifts Seasons: Oxfam
(Reuters/Planet Ark) In a new report, global aid agency Oxfam says impoverished communities are already being hit hard by the effects of global warming, including increased drought. Without international funding to help them cope and tough targets for cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, the food, water, health and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of the world’s poorest people will be put at even greater risk. Oxfam says interviews it carried out with farmers in 15 countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America show that seasons are shrinking in number and variety. This is destroying harvests, pushing farmers to abandon traditional crops and causing widespread hunger — which, the agency predicts, will likely be “climate change’s most savage impact on humanity in the near future.” Rainfall is reported to be more erratic, shorter and more violent. Unusual weather events — including storms, drier spells and fluctuating temperatures — are happening more often. And farmers say winds and storms have got stronger.
Suffering the Science: Climate change, people, and poverty – Oxfam International Briefing Paper
(Oxfam) ‘Suffering the Science’ combines the latest scientific observations on climate change, with evidence from the communities Oxfam works with in almost 100 countries around the world, to reveal how the changing climate is already hitting poor people hard. The report outlines evidence of how climate change is affecting every issue linked to poverty and development from access to food and water to health and security. It warns that without immediate action 50 years of development gains in poor countries will be permanently lost. One of the most worrying trends highlighted in the report is the impact of erratic weather on agriculture. Poor farmers, who can no longer rely on seasons, are losing crop after crop because of sudden heat waves or heavy rains. ‘Suffering the Science’ has been published ahead of the G8 Summit in Italy (8 – 12 July) where climate change is on the agenda.
UN Talks Seek Links In Food, Climate Crises
(Reuters/Planet Ark) BONN – A new focus on the impact of farming on climate change could both curb carbon emissions and prod efforts to boost yields and rural incomes in developing countries, delegates told a U.N. climate conference.
But curbing greenhouse gases from farms also means confronting complex tradeoffs, especially to try and feed an extra 3 billion people by 2050 while encroaching less on forests, burning of which stokes carbon emissions.
In addition, new incentives to curb greenhouse gases from farms such as carbon offsetting under discussion in the United States, in the U.N. talks and at the World Bank may be inappropriate and must favour smallholders, say campaigners.
… draft texts for a new treaty … refer to high-carbon, organic soils as a possible store of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.
Africa has lower agricultural yields than farms in Asia, Europe and America. Climate-friendly practices boost fertility, especially where farming has exhausted the land.
Globally, agriculture accounts for about 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. But in some countries the figure is far higher.
A key challenge, however, is that many practices which store more carbon and cut emissions of power greenhouse gases from fertiliser, such as organic agriculture, can be lower yielding than intensive alternatives. But a drive for freer trade has cut food reserves, while new technologies have increased farmer indebtedness. Some green groups oppose one possible solution — to use more genetically-modified crops (GMOs).
Climate-friendly measures can boost soil fertility and aid water retention. In Kenya farmers are planting trees among crops to boost tired soils, said Pete Smith, lead author for farming on the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. “They cut off the leaves from fast-growing trees, feed them to goats, so their productivity goes up, they then take the manure and put it back into the soil which improves the soil fertility.” The trees store carbon in their trunks and soil.
Another practice is where farmers plow the soil less to keep high-carbon organic matter underground. That can also aid drought resistance, because not plowing keeps leaves on the ground which trap moisture.
Golden Wheat “Greens” Kenya’s Drylands
(IAEA Bulletin) The wheat is a new variety, one that is high yielding and resistant to drought. As a result, small farming families are realizing harvests on farmlands once considered too poor to cultivate, to the country´s social and economic benefit.
Put agriculture at heart of climate talks, says report
(SciDev Net) A campaign to drive agriculture to the forefront of climate change negotiations took a step forward yesterday with the launch of a document by food policy experts. Agriculture will be “dramatically” affected by climate change, says the paper, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). It could also become a potent brake on climate change if the right research and policies are implemented.