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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Guaranteeing food security in times of (climate) change

(Reposted from CIAT-Blogs and IDB’s Let’s Talk About Climate Change blog)

Latin America and the Caribbean is known for its incredible diversity of people, plants, animals, and ecosystems , but despite a collective reputation for contrast and extremes, all countries in the region have one thing in common: the serious impact that climate change is likely to have on their rural populations and agricultural systems.

Agriculture contributes importantly to food security and rural livelihoods, accounting for about 6% of the total GDP and 15% of total employment in the region. But an increasingly variability in factors like the intensity and frequency of rainfall, drought, or storms is expected to decrease crop yields by up to 30% by 2020. This, together with the increase in population and new and changing eating habits, will put considerable pressure on the regional and global food system.

This situation will pose an important risk for those in need: the impacts of climate change will disproportionately affect the most vulnerable, such as poor and indigenous people and those who rely principally on agriculture for a livelihood.

The good news is that there are solutions for this pressing problem: the region can respond to climate change vulnerability with adequate adaptation measures, such as diversification of production systems and the implementation of enabling policies. The diversity of this region, however, complicates the formulation of adaptation measures. Climate change risks across LAC are still not fully understood, so adaptation must begin with an assessment of the various dimensions of climate impacts. Which crops and corresponding agro-ecosystems are likely to be most vulnerable, and why? Where and how will the impacts present themselves?  What are the social and economic consequences of these impacts?

Analyses of climate impacts in LAC are becoming common, although they are usually performed on a small scale: a country, a single crop, or even a single region. An initiative prepared by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the IDB to promote sustainable growth in LAC – including environmental protection, adaptation to climate change, and food security promotion – is committed to addressing climatic vulnerability on a larger scale. The “Climate Change Vulnerability in the Agricultural Sector” project will contribute to a more thorough understanding of the effect of climate change on production and productivity of key crops in the entire LAC region, from Tijuana to Tierra del Fuego.

A maize farmer near Alauca, Honduras, digs irrigation channels in advance of maize planting.

A farmer, near Alauca, Honduras, digs irrigation channels in advance of maize planting. Photo by: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

How can we achieve these ambitious goals? CCAFS and the IDB have created an intervention model that, over the next two years, will use climate, crop, and economic modeling techniques to identify the effects of climate change on the performance of the  most important crops in the region, selected for their contribution to caloric intake, economic value, and appropriateness for modeling purposes. This comprehensive analysis will assess both economic and social impacts of climate change related to food security to identify the most affected regions, crops, and communities. An additional focus of the project will be the increased soil temperatures expected as a result of climate change: warmer soils may lead to seed stress and soil degradation, affecting the germination, development, and overall productivity of crops.

We hope that the results of this study will guide decision makers in the identification, design, and implementation of options for adapting agriculture to climate change, minimizing the risks for farmers and consumers. As this project will demonstrate, science has the capacity to predict when, where, and how – not just whether – climate change will be relevant to agriculture and food security, and on more than just a local scale.

The impact of the study will not only make agriculture more resilient to climate change: by helping farmers, governments, and other stakeholders prepare for climate change, we will significantly lower the risk of food insecurity and human suffering in Latin America and the Caribbean.

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