Cli­mate warn­ing for African crops

Lesotho Times - - Africa -

JO­HAN­NES­BURG — Re­searchers have pro­duced a timescale of how pro­jected cli­mate change is set to al­ter the face of agri­cul­ture in Sub-sa­ha­ran Africa.

Cli­mate change is widely pro­jected to have a sig­nif­i­cant ad­verse im­pact on food se­cu­rity if no adap­ta­tion mea­sures are taken, they ex­plain.

In their study, the team pro­vides tim­ings of the “trans­for­ma­tions” needed to help min­imise th­ese im­pacts.

The find­ings have been pub­lished in the jour­nal Na­ture Cli­mate Change.

Agri­cul­tural ac­tiv­i­ties are con­sid­ered to be one of the main driv­ers to re­duce poverty and im­prove food se­cu­rity among the planet’s un­der­nour­ished pop­u­la­tion, which is es­ti­mated to be 800-850 mil­lion peo­ple.

Cli­mate change is widely ex­pected to have a desta­bil­is­ing ef­fect on food pro­duc­tion sys­tems, the au­thors ob­serve, and pre­vi­ous stud­ies have con­cluded that adap­ta­tion “will be re­quired if food pro­duc­tion is to be in­creased in both quan­tity and sta­bil­ity to meet food se­cu­rity needs dur­ing the 21st Cen­tury”.

Co-au­thor Ju­lian Ramirez-villegas from the Univer­sity of Leeds, UK, said the study car­ried out by the CGIAR re­search pro­gramme on Cli­mate Change, Agri­cul­ture and Food Se­cu­rity (CCFAS) set out to quan­tify for the first time when changes to food pro­duc­tion were likely to hap­pen.

“Rather than fo­cus­ing on what we need to do by a cer­tain time, we know that there is a range of op­tions and then we put dead­lines on th­ese op­tions,” he told BBC News.

The team as­sessed when ar­eas grow­ing nine of Sub-sa­ha­ran Africa’s sta­ple crops - which ac­count for half of the re­gion’s food pro­duc­tion - would have to un­dergo “trans­for­ma­tional adap­ta­tion”, which refers to a fun­da­men­tal shift in an area’s food pro­duc­tion sys­tem. For ex­am­ple, stop grow­ing crops and switch to live­stock farm­ing in­stead.

Dr Ramirez-villegas said the study found that six of the nine crops as­sessed were “sta­ble in re­spect to trans­for­ma­tion and adap­ta­tion”.

“It does not mean there will not be im­pacts, for ex­am­ple the yields might de­crease,” he added.

“But there are three — beans, maize and ba­nanas — that are more un­sta­ble and are there­fore pro­jected to have large amounts of area un­der trans­for­ma­tional change.

“In the case of beans, in par­tic­u­lar, we see about 60 per­cent of the area in need of trans­for­ma­tion and adap­tion (un­der a high warm­ing sce­nario — +3.0C/5.4F) be­cause the cli­mate shifts away from the con­di­tions

were you can ac­tu­ally grow the crop.”

‘Cli­mate-smart’ crops How­ever, he added that it was not all bad news as tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vance­ments of­fered hope of in­creas­ing re­silience to changes in the grow­ing con­di­tions.

One ex­am­ple was “cli­mate smart” crop va­ri­eties. In 2015, re­searchers re­ported a break­through in the de­vel­op­ment of tem­per­a­ture-re­silient beans that could help sus­tain a vi­tal source of pro­tein for mil­lions of peo­ple around the globe.

“Also, in the longer term, where trans­for­ma­tion is un­avoid­able, you can shift crops,” Dr Ramirez-villegas ex­plained.

“Just be­cause peo­ple are no longer able to grow one crop, it does not mean that peo­ple have no op­tions. In most cases, we find that there are al­ter­na­tive crops that re­main suit­able for those places.”

He said the team found that there were only “very spe­cific pock­ets” where farm­ers would have to shift away from the nine sta­ple crops that were as­sessed in the study.

“In those cases, live­stock might con­sti­tute an al­ter­na­tive liveli­hood op­tion, or peo­ple might com­pletely change their liveli­hood by mi­grat­ing, for ex­am­ple, or by com­pletely chang­ing the land-use,” he sug­gested.

In or­der to max­imise the op­tions avail­able to farm­ers to cope with pro­jected cli­matic changes, Dr Ramirez-villegas said that there were two ar­eas that needed ad­dress­ing.

“We need to work on the bar­ri­ers to the adop­tion of tech­nolo­gies, as we know that in Sub-sa­ha­ran Africa, adop­tion lev­els are some­times low,” he ob­served.

“What we also need to do is to put planned adap­ta­tion into na­tional de­vel­op­ment plans.”

In a sep­a­rate study, pub­lished in The Lancet, re­searched warned that cli­mate change could be re­spon­si­ble for more than half-amil­lion deaths by the middle of the cen­tury.

The re­search was de­scribed as the strong­est ev­i­dence yet that “cli­mate change could have dam­ag­ing con­se­quences for food pro­duc­tion and health world­wide”. — BBC

Maize was one of three sta­ple crops re­searchers found to be vul­ner­a­ble to fu­ture cli­mate change.

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