GLOBAL FOOD REPORTER
The world's largest alliance of agricultural scientists unveiled a new strategy early today in Copenhagen, aimed to lessen the impact climate change is expected to have on the global food supply.
Their goal is to jump-start efforts before climate change worsens food-supply problems. For years, experts have warned that the amount of food on our tables will be directly affected by the onset of hotter, drier climates.
Solutions, however, have been notably absent from climate negotiations this week. Outside the official talks, non-governmental food and agriculture advocates are highlighting the relationship between agriculture and climate change - and the dangers of ignoring it.
"It's odd that this conference is not giving more space to agriculture because it's important to food security," said Wendy Mann, a senior adviser with the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, who is in Copenhagen. "Food security and climate change are the two key priorities on the international agenda."
As a result, the food-security arm of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, a global alliance of agricultural experts, issued their report today that calls for an intensive effort to speed the implementation of dozens of agriculture-related technologies in developing countries, which are the most vulnerable to climate change.
"Agriculture is one of the areas that is most suitable for early action because there are certain agricultural practices that not only suck up carbon from the atmosphere and store it in the soil, but those same practices increase agricultural productivity and resilience," Ms. Mann said. "They're very crucial to food security and development."
Listed below is a sampling from the CGIAR wish list.
TECHNOLOGY IN THE FIELD
In developing countries, 70 per cent to 90 per cent of total water use is devoted to agriculture. Technologies such as water harvesting, better storage, use of wastewater and drip irrigation must be more widely employed, particularly in the southern-hemisphere countries where temperature increases will have the most dramatic effects.
With less water, higher temperatures and more people, farmers will need to grow more with less. Stress-tolerant varieties of staple crops such as maize, potato and rice are already available, and more advanced varieties are on the way, including drought-tolerant beans and flood-tolerant rice. The key is getting more of the new, high-powered seeds into fields everywhere, including poor and hungry countries.
Teaching farmers in vulnerable countries how to increase the organic nutrient content in soil is also critical to the success of the new-age, hardier crops, and for realizing the potential for plants to hold carbon. Key options are advocating "conservation agriculture," in which soil is minimally disturbed, and "eco-farming," which promotes planting of several crop varieties to achieve ecological balance in the field.
Pests and diseases
Balmier year-round temperatures are expected to breed new pests and give familiar seasonal bugs lengthier lives. Computer models to predict the impact of temperature increases on pests will add a degree of predictability to where and when outbreaks are likely to happen, so strategies such as breeding disease-resistant crops can be implemented in advance.
Raising livestock - from producing feed to end-stage processing - already accounts for about 18 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Demand for meat and milk protein is on an upswing in developing countries in spite of the ever-looming climate crunch. Breeding more efficient and less-methane-producing animals can lessen the public health toll.
As climate change puts pressure on other food sources, people are expected to eat more fish. But an over-reliance on aquaculture also poses dangers. Pilot projects are investigating ways to mitigate the risks of over-fishing, develop salt-tolerant fish varieties (to increase supply) and help farmers diversify by adding fish farms, which can help water and feed livestock.
Source: Alliance of the CGIAR Centers