Agriculture in a Warmer World

According to IPCC (2007), agricultural land covers 40-50% of the world’s land surface and this sector accounts for 14% of annual global greenhouse gas emission, which makes agriculture is one of the main contributor to climate change. Total global greenhouse gas contribution of agriculture from both direct and indirect sources extended up to 32% and about 74% of total agricultural related greenhouse gas emissions originate in developing countries.

The most prominent sources include:

  1. land conversion to agriculture,
  2. Nitrous oxide released from soils,
  3. Methane from cattle and enteric fermentation,
  4. Biomass burning,
  5. Rice production,
  6. Manure,
  7. Fertilizer production,
  8. Irrigation,
  9. Farm machinery and
  10. Pesticide production.

Climate change on agriculture and farming community

The cumulative impact of climate induced from increase of GHG will have wide range of cross-sectorial impacts affecting health, water and energy resources, ecosystems, and land use. This leads to meaningful economic consequences for the wellbeing and sustainable development of rural populations.  The impacts of climate change to agriculture over the next 50 to 100 years include:

  1. Changing spatial and inter-temporal variability in stream flows,
  2. Onset of rain days, and dry spells,
  3. More frequent floods and droughts
  4. Greater erosion rates from more intense rainfall events and flooding,
  5. Increased crop water requirements from high temperatures, reduced precipitation and increased evaporation,
  6. Yield changes for crops including maize, wheat, and rice. Resulting in changes in crop and management choices,
  7. Increased heat and water stress on livestock,
  8. Management (i.e. stock increases) under increased temperatures with a different mix of more heat resistant.
  9. Higher temperatures in arid and semi-arid regions will likely depress crop yields and shorten the growing season due to longer periods of excessive heat.

However, climate change will not equally affect all countries and regions, even if Africa represents only 3.6% of total global emissions of GHG, Africa will be one of the continents that will be hard hit by the impact of climate change due to an increased temperature and water scarcity. The report pointed out that there is “very high confidence” that agricultural production and food security in many African countries will be severely affected by climate change and climate variability. This means that countries already struggling with food security are likely to find they struggle still harder in the future. Without compensating by climate smart innovations, climate change will ultimately cause a decrease in annual GDP of 4% in Africa. An increase of global temperatures of just 2-4 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels could reduce crop yields by 15-35 percent in Africa , While an increase of two degrees alone could potentially cause the extinction of millions of domestic and wild species.

Adaptation to climate change

The vulnerability of agricultural system depends on its exposure and sensitivity to climate changes, and on its ability to manage these changes (IPCC, 2001). Climate change adaptation enhanced by altering exposure, reducing sensitivity of the system to climate change impacts and increasing the adaptive capacity of the system while explicitly recognizing sector specific consequences. Adaptation programs include provision of crop and livestock insurance, social safety nets, new irrigation schemes and local management strategies, as well as research and development of stress resistant crop. Options for adapting agriculture to climate change have related cost for research, Irrigation efficiency, Irrigation expansion and development of infrastructures.

Improving the use of climate science data for agricultural planning can reduce the uncertainties generated by climate change, improve early warning systems for drought, flood, pest and disease incidence to increase the capacity of farmers and agricultural planners to allocate resources effectively and reduce risks.

Mitigation for climate change

Climate change mitigation constitutes anthropogenic intervention to reduce the sources or enhance the sinks of GHG to reduce the causes of climate change by limiting the amount of heat trapping gases that emitted into the Earth’s atmosphere. Agriculture had immense potential for carbon sinks, as well as reducing emissions per unit of agricultural product for sustainable development co-benefits. Intervention pillars in climate mitigation are reduction of emissions, avoided the emissions and creating sinks that can remove emissions. Lower rates of agricultural expansion in natural habitats, agro-forestry, treating of degraded lands, reduction or using more efficient use of nitrogenous inputs, better management of manure, and use of feed that increases livestock digestive efficiency are some to be mentioned.

soil carbon sequestration could be realized, if carbon markets could introduce to “ provide strong incentives for public and private carbon funds in developed countries to buy agriculture-related emission reductions from developing countries. Moreover using improved nutrient management could increase the plant uptake efficiency of applied nitrogen; reduce N2O emissions, while contributing to soil C sequestration. Agroforestry systems tend to sequester much greater quantities of carbon than agricultural systems without trees. Planting trees in agricultural lands is relatively efficient and cost effective compared to other mitigation strategies, and provides a range of co-benefits important for improved farm family livelihoods and climate change adaptation. Climate change mitigation through improved livestock brought by research on ruminant animals, storage and capture technologies for manure and conversion of emissions into biogas are additional contributions that agriculture can make towards mitigating climate change. The anaerobic digestion of manure stored as a liquid or slurry can lower methane emissions and produce useful energy, while the composting solid manures can lower emissions and produce useful organic amendments for soils.

Climate smart agriculture (CSA) way forward

The future of agricultural production relies on both designing new ways to adapt to the likely consequences of climate change, as well as changing agricultural practices to mitigate the cli-mate damage that current practices cause, all without undermining food security, rural development and livelihoods. Climate-smart agriculture is a practice that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs (mitigation) and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals. Efficiency, resilience, adaptive capacity and mitigation potential of the production systems can be enhanced through improving its various components. To materialize CSA, major transformation of the agriculture sector is necessary and will require institutional and policy support. Better-aligned policy approaches across agricultural, environmental and financial boundaries and innovative institutional arrangements to promote their implementation. Enabling policy environment to promote CSA is greater coherence, coordination and integration between climate change, agricultural development and food security policy processes.


Global food security findings

A new index released recently by the Economist Intelligence Unit, that was commissioned by DuPont, has uncovered some interesting findings on food security.

Amongst them is the news that there is a strong correlation between women’s economic opportunities and access to affordable, safe food. The Global Food Security Index shows a hefty 0.93 correlation with the EIU’s Women’s Economic Opportunity Index, which measures female economic participation.

The reports says, “The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates that if women had access to the same productive resources as men—better seeds, fertilisers and fungicides—they could increase their yield by 20% to 30%. As women make up 43% of the world’s farmers, this would increase total agricultural output in developing countries by 2.5% to 4%, and reduce hunger globally by 12% to 17%, according to the FAO.”

The correlation between food security and EIU’s Democracy Index was only 0.77 – a much weaker link than with women’s labour equality. This suggests that what happens to our food has less to do with politics and more to do with the social sphere.

The index ranks 105 different countries with a model that looks at 25 individual indicators with regards to affordability, availability and quality and safety.

Other findings of interest are that landlocked nations show only a modest increase in food insecurity, on average seven points lower on a scale to 100.

China was the country that had the least volatility of farm output over the last 20 years, but this is explained by generous subsidies that create a floor for food commodity prices. North African countries such as Algeria, Tunisia and Morocco showed the most variance.

The good news is that several of the countries at the very bottom of the index, notably Mozambique, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Nigeria, are also ones with strong economic growth, suggesting that their food situation may improve as living standards rise and as sound policies are hopefully put in place.



Four African leaders to join food security talks at G8 summit

President Barack Obama has invited four African leaders to join food security talks at the annual G8 summit this month.

Presidents Yayi Boni of Benin, John Mills of Ghana and Jakaya Kikwete of Tanzania, and Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia will attend the summit at the presidential retreat in Camp David.

They will join Obama and other leaders of G8 member nations for a session on food security in Africa, the White House said in a statement.

G8 — or Group of Eight — comprises Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The summit planned for May 18-19 comes amid fears of famine and drought in some parts of Africa.

Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya battled drought last year, and aid groups have warned that several other nations are at risk of a hunger crisis.

“A combination of drought, poverty, high grain prices, environmental degradation and chronic under-development is affecting Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal, Chad, northern Cameroon and Nigeria,” the United Nations said this year. “More than 10 million people are struggling to get enough to eat, including 5.4 million in Niger.”

The food and nutrition insecurity threatens the fragile development the region has made, according to Valerie Amos, the U.N. aid chief.

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ETHIOPIA: Late rains threaten food security

ADDIS ABABA, 30 March 2012 (IRIN) – Late and erratic mid-February to May (`Belg‘) rains could significantly reduce crop yields in central and southern Ethiopia and adversely affect food security, warn officials.

“There is concern about the food security situation in `Belg’-producing areas,” Judith Schuler, Ethiopia’s spokesperson for the World Food Programme (WFP), told IRIN. “Field reports, as well as remote sensing, confirm that the `Belg’ rains up to now are far below normal.”

She said there has been limited land preparation for, and planting of, sweet potatoes in northeastern parts of the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR).

“Sweet potatoes are the major transitional crops consumed mainly among poorer households until the `Belg’ harvest begins in June,”according to the US Agency for International Development’s Famine Early Warning Systems Network.

In the Amhara (central highlands) region, for example, only 3 percent of planned cropland had been planted as of 16 March,according to an update by the UN Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. `Belg’ crops there, and in eastern Oromia and Tigray regions, are normally planted by the end of February.

`Belg’ production accounts for 5-30 percent of annual food production in the northern `Belg’ cropping areas, and 30-60 percent, or more, of production in southern `Belg’ cropping areas.

Experts recently warned of a high probability of drought returning to the Greater Horn of Africa amid fears of poor rains in March-May 2012.

“We don’t think the situation will improve any time soon and the rainfall might not come, particularly in southern and major ` Belg’ producing areas,” Diriba Koricha, director of the Forecast and Early Warning Department at the Ethiopian Meteorology Agency, told IRIN.

Almaz Demisse, a senior Ministry of Agriculture official, urged farmers to plant crops that have long cycle yields such as maize and sorghum.

Expected low yields are contributing to an increase in cereal prices; inflation is already running at 36.3 percent. “Food prices are showing an unseasonable increase and are higher than the average of the last five years,” said WFP’s Schuler.

“We are closely monitoring the situation since mid-February and jointly with the government we will do some rapid food security assessments in the coming weeks in SNNPR and possibly also in Amhara.”

Meanwhile, the government is planning ahead. “We are preparing to provide seedlings for farmers that want to replace what they already planted,” and “allocating enough food in every incidence command post located in [the] most affected areas,” Aklog Nigatu, spokesperson of Ethiopia’s Disaster Risk Management and Food Security Sector office, told IRIN.

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East Africa May Get Below-Normal Rain, Threatening Food Security

Rain may be “significantly” below average in the Horn of Africa’s main growing season, potentially threatening a region still recovering from famine in 2011, the Famine Early Warning Systems network reported.

Rain from March through May in the region, which includes Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, is expected to begin late and amount to only 60 percent to 85 percent of average, the U.S.- funded provider of food-security warnings wrote in a statement on its website dated April 3. Poor rains are likely to reduce local food security, it said.

The amount of precipitation was previously expected to be between 75 percent and 105 percent of the long-term average, based on a February forecast. The Horn of Africa region suffered from drought and famine last year that affected more than 13 million people.

“This is a significant deterioration compared to earlier forecast analysis and would have significant impacts on crop production, pasture regeneration and the replenishment of water resources,” FEWS wrote.

Below-average rain means the number of people experiencing food insecurity and the severity of conditions are likely to increase, according to the report.

In the worst-case scenario, rainfall would be less than 60 percent of average, meaning a “major failure” of the region’s main growing season similar to the “very dry years” of 2000 and 2011, according to the report. The chance of the worst-case scenario is estimated at 30 percent, FEWS said.

“Given the impacts of extreme food insecurity and famine during 2011 on human health and household livelihoods, and the likelihood of a poor March-May season, humanitarian partners should immediately implement programs to protect livelihoods and household food consumption in the eastern Horn of Africa,” wrote FEWS, which is funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development.

To contact the reporter on this story: Rudy Ruitenberg in Paris at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Claudia Carpenter at

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Africa: World Scientists Tackle Food Insecurity

Dr. Christine Negra is the Secretariat of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.

Nearly one billion people in the world are undernourished, while millions suffer from chronic diseases due to excess food consumption. Global demand for agricultural products is growing and food prices are rising, yet roughly a third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted.

Climate change threatens more frequent drought, flooding, and pest outbreaks, and the world loses 12 million hectares of agricultural land each year to land degradation. Land clearing and inefficient practices make agriculture the largest source of greenhouse gas pollution on the planet.

Clearly, humanity must transform the way food is produced, distributed, and consumed in response to changes in climate, global population, eating patterns, and the environment. “To operate within a ‘safe space’ for people and the planet, we need to balance how much food we produce, how much we consume and waste and how much agriculture contributes to further climate change,” explains South African Commission Professor Bob Scholes of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

To address these alarming patterns, an independent commission of scientific leaders from 13 countries released today a detailed set of recommendations to policymakers on how to achieve food security in the face of climate change.

In their report, the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change proposes specific policy responses to the global challenge of feeding a world confronted by climate change, population growth, poverty, food price spikes, and degraded ecosystems. The report highlights specific opportunities under the mandates of the Rio+20 Earth Summit, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Group of 20 (G20) nations.

Chaired by Sir John Beddington, the Commission draws upon the diverse expertise of its members which include senior natural and social scientists working in agriculture, climate, food and nutrition, economics, and natural resources in governmental, academic, and civil society institutions in Australia, Brazil, Bangladesh, China, Ethiopia, France, Kenya, India, Mexico, South Africa, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Vietnam.

To understand the path forward, the Commission reviewed the major components and drivers of the global food system including the role of changing diet patterns; the link between poverty, natural resource degradation, and low crop yields; the need to address inefficiencies in food supply chains; gaps in agricultural investment; and the patterns of globalized food trade, food production subsidies, and food price volatility.

The Commissioners concluded that humanity’s collective choices related to agriculture and food systems must be revisited if we are to meet our food needs and stabilize the global climate.

For each of their 7 major recommendations, the Commission’s final report characterizes the current policy landscape, the major opportunities for positive change and the roles that specific communities can play. These include treaty negotiators, global donors, agribusinesses, farmers’ associations, multilateral agencies, researchers, national governments, and others.

The report weaves together issues that have commonly been ‘stovepiped’ into different scientific disciplines, economic sectors, policy processes, and geographic regions. And it outlines a more integrated approach for dealing with the urgent, globally interconnected challenges.

These multiple emergent challenges – food insecurity, climate change, increased competition for energy, water, degradation of land, and biodiversity – are connected in complex ways and demand an integrated management approach. Efforts to alleviate the worst effects of climate change cannot succeed without simultaneously addressing the crises in global agriculture and the food system and empowering the world’s most vulnerable populations.

“We must create an enabling environment for all stakeholders, from small farmers to national governments, to invest in the economic and environmental resiliency of their land resources,” reports Commissioner Professor Tekalign Mamo, state minister and advisor to the Ethiopian Minister of Agriculture.

The Commission’s Action points (full details elaborated in Final Report document)

1. Integrate food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national policies

2. Significantly raise the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade

3. Sustainably intensify agricultural production while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture

4. Target populations and sectors that are most vulnerable to climate change and food insecurity

5. Reshape food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met and to foster healthy and sustainable eating habits worldwide

6. Reduce loss and waste in food systems, particularly from infrastructure, farming practices, processing, distribution and household habits

7. Create comprehensive, shared, integrated information systems that encompass human and ecological dimensions

The Commission was set up by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) with additional support form the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development. Learn more about the Commission at

For more information on climate change and food security, see: Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change, Community Livelihood Strengthens Food Security at Grass Root Level, Four Billions New Reasons Why Food Will Become a Local Government Issue, Bridging the Gap in Climate Change Strategies, Agricultural Development Key to Ending Hunger in Afric

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Africa: Climate Change Exacerbates Scarcity in Already Food Insecure Regions

A recent report by The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), offers new insight into the threat that climate change poses to the livelihood of millions of farmers worldwide. The report, Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics, maps areas at risk of crossing “climate thresholds – temperatures too hot for maize or beans,” by 2050.

These threshold models were compared against food insecure countries, defined as places where over 40 percent of children under the age of five experienced stunted growth as a result of malnutrition. When these two factors overlap, the model “reveals places around the world where the arrival of stressful growing conditions could be especially disastrous,” says Polly Ericksen, a senior scientist at the CGIAR’s International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Within these hotspots, “there are 265.7 million food-insecure people living in agriculture intensive areas that are highly exposed to a potential five percent decrease in the length of the growing period” according to a press release announcing the results of the report. This may sound like a small reduction but “these are areas highly exposed to climate shifts, where survival is strongly linked to the fate of regional crop and livestock yields, and where chronic food problems indicate that farmers are already struggling and they lack the capacity to adapt to new weather patterns,” explains Ericksen.

CGIAR emphasizes that “growing seasons of at least 120 days are considered critical not only for the maturation of [wheat] and several other staple food crops, but also for vegetation crucial to feeding livestock.” But, according to their projections, “prime growing conditions are likely to drop below 120 days per season in intensively farmed regions of northeast Brazil and Mexico” by 2050.

Furthermore, according to the press release, “there are 170.5 million food-insecure and crop-dependent people in parts of West Africa, India and China who live in areas where, by the mid-2050s, maximum daily temperatures during the growing season could exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit).” At these temperatures maize, rice, and bean yields are expected to decline.

CGIAR researcher Patti Kristjanson says that the report signals that farmers will have to develop new ways to adjust to climate change. “Farmers already adapt to variable weather patterns by changing their planting schedules or moving animals to different grazing areas” she explains. But “what this study suggests is that the speed of climate shifts and the magnitude of the changes required to adapt could be much greater”, she concludes.

This means that farmers need to consider growing different crops. Due to its temperature sensitivity, wheat might be replaced with indigenous crops, like sorghum or cassava, which are better adapted to changing climate conditions. Farmers will also need to adopt farming systems, such as agroforestry, that help them to maintain and increase food production, according the report. The report’s co-author, Philip Thornton, stresses that while innovations can help countries develop agricultural practices that address challenges presented by climate change, time is limited. “Major adaptation efforts are needed now if we are to avoid serious food security and livelihood problems later,” he explained.

Grant Potter is an executive assistant at the Worldwatch Institute and Graham Salinger is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

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