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Food production in South Asia may collapse this century

By Joydeep Gupta, IANS

Bali : Global warming may lead to a collapse in food production in South Asia by the end of the century, say the World Bank and scientists from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) who launched a $140 million initiative to develop “climate-ready” farming and forestry systems here Saturday.

As over 10,000 delegates from 187 countries attended the Dec 3-14 UN conference on climate change, CGIAR called on the international community “to step up its investment in global climate change research on food crops for poor countries”.

At a meeting earlier this week in Beijing, the 15 centres of CGIAR – one of them is in Hyderabad – sought funding to “double its current investment in climate-ready crops and better land management”, Jeff Haskins of CGIAR said.

“We are increasingly alarmed that if we don’t move quickly to give farmers in the developing world the tools they need to deal with climate change, we could see food production in places like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia collapse before the end of the century,” said Katherine Sierra, World Bank vice president for sustainable development and the CGIAR chairperson.

She urged “donors and research centres around the world to join us in investing in solutions to climate change”.

CGIAR scientists have already shown how more frequent and more serious droughts, floods and storms due to climate change is impacting agriculture already and will hit harder in the years to come. Their analysis has gone into the now-famous fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

In the next few decades, climate change can lead to a 30 percent drop in agricultural production in South Asia, the CGIAR scientists have warned.

With the new initiative launched during the Bali summit, the scientists will now work on developing crops with higher “stress tolerance”, Haskins said. They will also work on “developing better practices for crop and natural resource management; helping farmers choose and breed livestock suitable for particular climate conditions; and assessing how climate change will affect specific regions, production systems, and the wild plant and animal relatives of domesticated varieties”.

CGIAR is now starting to breed more resilient varieties of maize, rice and wheat. Its scientists have identified a naturally occurring rice gene that can withstand flooding better, a problem that is likely to get worse in the wake of global warming. Farmers in Bangladesh are already using the variety they have developed and which allows rice plants to stay submerged for up to two weeks without dying.

The international group is also assessing emissions of greenhouse gases – that cause global warming – due to deforestation and is developing new technology to measure the carbon captured in the trees and soils of relatively small land-holdings, Haskins said.

“These efforts are focussed on helping farmers in poor countries participate in a global trading market that is now valued at more than $30 billion but, under its current structure, has largely excluded the rural poor.”

CGIAR also plans to “generate an array of data that helps policymakers at all levels to understand how particular decisions and tradeoffs regarding conservation and development affect food security and agricultural systems,” Haskins added.