LONDON (Reuters) — Development agencies worldwide are joining forces to spend $200 million in a 10-year programme to help the agriculture sector prepare for climate change and cut greenhouse gas emissions, farm research groups said on Wednesday.
The funding will go to research on how to feed a growing, more affluent world population in the face of expectations of worsening floods and droughts.
“The food security challenge facing us as humans is large,” said Gerald Nelson, a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, speaking to reporters alongside other farming experts.
By 2050 as a result of climate change, global “potential to produce food” could decline by 5 to 10 percent, after an average increase through 2020, said Andy Jarvis, an agriculture policy expert at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, based in Cali, Colombia.
Higher temperatures and more variable rainfall will produce agricultural winners and losers, especially favoring cooler, northern hemisphere countries that do not suffer food shortages.
“It shows globally there’ll be greater inequity in production,” said Bruce Campbell, head of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), which will help direct the new research programme.
The programme will use an Australian climate model to look at how rising temperatures and rainfall changes affect 50 major crops worldwide including sorghum, millet, sweet potato, wheat, rice and maize.
Climate models point to accelerating declines in production of rain-fed wheat worldwide of 2.2 percent by 2020, 4 percent by 2050 and 18.6 percent by 2080, unless climate change is curbed or effective adaptive measures are put in place, scientists told reporters.
Early work shows that West Africa could see declines in soybean, wheat, potato and sorghum production, but some gains – at least initially – in crops such as sugarcane and sweet potato.
In India’s Indo-Gangetic Plain, a major rice and wheat breadbasket that feeds 600 million people, higher temperatures in March would damage heads of wheat as these fill out, cutting harvests, Jarvis said.
Maintaining adequate food production in the face of climate pressures may require some societies to switch their staple crops, if varieties more tolerant of drought, floods and pests cannot be successfully developed, Jarvis said.
In one example of how to increase production and cut greenhouse gases at the same time, herders could curb emissions of methane from their livestock and as much as triple milk and meat production by grazing animals on specialized grass species rather than wild pasture.
Agriculture produces between 20 and 33 percent of the world’s carbon emissions, depending on whether the conversion of forests to farmland is included, scientists say.
The project aimed to reduce poverty by 10 percent by 2050 in targeted “hot spot” regions in Africa and India, and reduce the number of malnourished poor in those areas by 25 percent, as well as curb greenhouse gas emissions by “millions of tonnes,” Campbell said.
(Additional reporting by Gerard Wynn, editing by Jane Baird)