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CCAFS Policy Brief 6 - Recalibrating Food Production in the Developing World: Global Warming Will Change More Than Just the Climate

March 1, 2013
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Around the world, weather patterns are shifting and farmers are scrambling to adjust. In quite a few places, growing seasons have expanded, while in others they have contracted. Sea levels are rising and water tables are shrinking. For agriculture, climate change is now a fact of daily life – particularly critical for farmers in the adverse environments that characterise developing world agriculture.

Crops at higher altitudes could become more productive as temperatures rise. But in the tropics and sub-tropics, geographic areas that include the world’s hungriest people, climate change could cause crop yields to fall by 10 to 20 percent, or even more, between now and 2050.

This new policy brief from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), authored by Philip Thornton, outlines the challenges incumbent in feeding the estimated 9-10 billion population of the world by 2050.  The need for a complete recalibration of what we grow around the world is detailed, as climate change brings challenges in weather, water use, and increased crop pests and diseases.

An analysis of the effects of climate change on 22 critical agricultural commodities and three important natural resources in the developing world reveals a number of cross-cutting themes, each of which is considered in the brief:

  • The world’s agricultural systems face an uphill struggle in feeding a projected nine to ten billion people by 2050. Climate change introduces a significant hurdle in this struggle.
  • Securing and maintaining necessary levels of calories, protein and nutrients for populations around the world will be an exceptional challenge.
  • Recalibrating agriculture in the face of climate change is more than planting crops that can tolerate warmer weather. Some commodities, for example, can grow in warm weather but cannot resist the insects and diseases whose prevalence will increase. Others can tolerate a lack of water but not the sporadic flooding that occurs with more common weather extremes.
  • Even as global deforestation continues, trees continue to be valued for agricultural commodities like nuts and fruit; as a mitigating resource that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere; and also as a staple of adaptation—trees help stabilize soil and prevent erosion, regulate water flows, and provide shade, firewood and fodder.
  • Production of the most common commodity staples—wheat, maize and rice—will be challenged by new weather patterns. Adjustments in production, replacement with commodities that can tolerate the new conditions in different regions, and innovations in technology are key elements of adaptation.
  • Livestock rearing, fishing and harvesting of other aquatic products—the most common sources of protein—will also be challenged by a new climate. In some areas, different plants, breeds and species can provide substitites, but in others adaptation is critical.
  • This recalibration of agriculture will eventually extend beyond what is grown and raised. The world’s many cultures must adapt to the changing food menu forced upon them due to climate change.

A downloadable  pdf version of the policy brief is attached.

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