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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

High Altitude Agriculture in Cauca Under Threat from Climate Change?

A recent study carried out by the DAPA program, in collaboration with Apolinar Figueroa and colleagues of the University of Cauca in Colombia, whose input data for the study was invaluable, has demonstrated that four of the most important crops in the departments of Cauca and Huila (coffee, rapeseed, onions, and potatoes, all of which are grown in highlands in the region), are likely to be significantly affected by changing climates.  In some cases, there is a 100% loss of the optimum growing zone.  The key message states that:

“Coffee growing areas below 2000 m.a.s.l. would be negatively impacted, with substantial decreases, in some cases of up to 30% by 2020s, and 50% by 2050s, and more aggressive patterns are observed for rapeseed, potatoes and onions, for which niches could be completely lost in the region by 2050s”

Food security and rural livelihoods in these areas depend on highland agriculture. Implications of changing climates will threaten rural populations, making them vulnerable into  future.  Specialization of niches and the limited amount of land remaining for cultivation in such areas makes it complicated when thinking about adaptation strategies. Above the cultivation zone are some of the most fragile and threatened ecosystems in Latin America; the Paramos.  Shifting cultivation further upland to beat the heat is hardly an environmentally friendly scenario.  And further, according to IPCC figures, increases in temperatures in highlands could occur at a greater extent than in lowlands. What options do we still have for adapting highland farmers in Cauca and Huila? We need to further understand the available agricultural diversity, and analyse the market and consumption demands to see if varietal change is a viable option for the region.  Perhaps crop wild relatives are to provide novel traits for adapting to the new conditions? Here’s a draft picture for potatoes for you to think about it:

Potato suitability for current conditions (left), 2020s (center), and 2050s (right)

Potato suitability for current conditions (left), 2020s (center), and 2050s (right)

Collaborative efforts to assess the likely impacts of climate change are required. National institutions are key for providing the necessary input data for such assessments as well as the local knowledge in order to contextualize the research, while our role (at CIAT’s DAPA program) remains in data mining, scientific background, and in adaptive response planning.

A preliminary report is currently being finalised and will be published as an internal publication of the DAPA program, in collaboration with the University of Cauca, but a peer reviewed publication is being drafted and we’ll keep you posted.

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