Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Switching crops could help soften climate change threat to food

Agriculture must adapt quickly in order to meet the challenges of climate change. Studying what needs to be done might not cut it, as food production is already seeing big decreases.

A new report says that farmers in the regions prone to drought must diversify their crops. The report authors recommend changing to cowpea and lentils, and growing less corn. Maize suffers greatly with little rain, while the varieties of beans can still grow without much of it. 

From Reuters Alert Net, we read of more recommendations from this new policy brief.
Yields of the world's three biggest crops in terms of calories provided will decrease in many poorer countries as temperatures rise and rainfall becomes more unpredictable, according to a policy brief from the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
By 2050, climate change could cause yield declines of 13 percent for irrigated wheat crops and 15 percent for irrigated rice in developing countries, the study warns. In Africa, farmers of maize - which is not well-suited to higher temperatures - could lose 10 to 20 percent of their yields, it adds.
Feeding livestock with maize and grain will also become more expensive, and fish availability will be increasingly limited, warns the analysis, which studied the potential effects of climate change on 22 of the world’s most important commodities, as well as water, forestry and agroforestry.
“The problems that climate change produces in the fields will be tackled in industrialised countries. It is the smallholder farmers in Africa and South Asia and the urban poor who spend too much of their wages on food - these are the people who will have less to eat in the near future unless we adapt at a much faster pace,” Robert Zougmoré, CCAFS programme leader for West Africa, said in a statement
Hardier crops, including cassava, yam, barley, cowpea, millet and lentils, could fill the expected food gaps for poor communities, says the research.
Millet and lentils, for example, are highly nutritious and can withstand harsher growing conditions. Yet they are "not a bullet-proof adaptation option since certain climate stresses can reduce their yields as well", the brief notes.
"Ecosystem changes due to climate change may spawn shifts in the intensity of pests and diseases, including potato blight and beetles, that will further limit food production. Indeed, even if crops could withstand increased temperatures and decreased rainfall, their yields could drop because of these scourges,” said CCAFS scientist Philip Thornton, who authored the study.
Plant breeders are working to develop new crop varieties that are especially tolerant of heat, drought, flooding, salinity and crop diseases. But this effort is time-consuming, expensive and requires robust predictions of how growing conditions will change in different parts of the world in the next few decades, the research says.
Another problem lies in convincing people to switch from cultivating and eating a food staple such as maize to something new like cowpea - often described as "the poor man’s meat". "This cultural challenge is another facet of climate change adaptation that should get as much attention as plant breeding," the brief urges.

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