Mitigation and adaptation critical to guaranteeing food security

By Tierney Smith 

Ahead of the UN climate summit, in Doha, researchers have warned that mitigating the impacts of agriculture on the atmosphere and adapting to the effects of climate change on food systems will be equally crucial to feed a growing population.

Feeding the world produces up to 17,000 megatonnes of carbon dioxide annually, according to new analysis from the CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

This accounts for 19-29% of global emissions, around 80% of which comes from agriculture, with the rest from pre-production and post-production activities such as processing, packaging, refrigeration, transportation and waste disposal.

CGIAR stresses that there are still many uncertainties regarding the impacts of the food system on climate change.

But while the ‘footprint’ of global food systems must be reduced, a companion brief from CGIAR outlines how climate change is not only impacted by food production but how climate change may affect which crops can be grown where.

New research warns climate change could impact the relationship we have with food in the future, as what can be grown where changes.

“Climate change mitigation and adaptation are critical priorities,” said Bruce Campbell, CCAFS’s programme director. “Farmers around the world, especially smallholder farmers in developing countries, need access to the latest science, more resources and advanced technology.

“This research serves as an urgent call for negotiators at the upcoming UNFCCC [summit] in Doha.”

Last year, the world population hit seven billion and is expected to rise to nine billion by 2050.

One billion people continue to go hungry globally, while another two billion suffer from ‘hidden hunger’ where they do not get the nutrients they need for a healthy diet.

Feeding a growing world

By 2050, according to the research, climate change could cause irrigated wheat yields in developing countries to fall by 13% and irrigated rice production in the same countries could fall 15%.

In Africa maize yields could fall 10-20% as they become unsuited to rising temperatures.

Additional calorie and protein sources could also suffer as feeding livestock with maize and grain becomes more expensive, reducing the ability for farmers to rear meat sources.

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The availability of fish will also be impacted because of rising temperature levels and ocean acidification.

While there are some crops – cassava, yams, barley, cow-pea  millet and lentils – that could fill in the gaps, this would mean the time consuming and costly process of breeding new plant varieties, says CGIAR.

It says that the culture of food consumption will have to adapt as different crops are used to compensate for new growing conditions.

“So far, the climate change discussion has focused on the need to reduce emissions and sustainably boost crop yields, but it is crucial also to include food safety in our foresight and planning,” said Sonja Vermeulen, head of research at CCAFS.

Recommendations

CGIAR suggests several steps to securing the food system in a world of advancing climate change:

– Financing initiatives to ensure food systems become more resilient to weather variability and climate shocks.

– Reshape consumption patterns to ensure nutritional needs are met and promote sustainable and healthy eating patterns.

– Raise global investment in sustainable agriculture over the next decade.

– Develop specific programmes to aid populations and sectors most vulnerable to climate change and food security.

– Establish robust emergency food reserves.

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