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Tortillas on the Roaster: new study to support maize/bean farmers in Central America to adapt to climate change

Oct 10th, 2012 | By | Category: Climate Change

Maize seed ready for planting in Nicaragua. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT)In Central America more than one million smallholder families depend on the cultivation of maize and/or beans for their subsistence. Vulnerability to extended drought periods and extreme weather events in the region is a harsh reality. To soothe the threats of future climatic changes to food security and national economies, effective and timely adaptation interventions must be developed, putting communities at the centre of such strategies.

Combining scientific research with community knowledge, CIAT, CIMMYT and CRS have recently joined forces to analyze the impact of future climate conditions on crop production in Central America. More specifically, scientists sought to predict climate-change impacts on maize-bean production systems in four Central American countries (El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua). The research also analyzes socio-economic implications and puts forward adaptation- and mitigation strategies for smallholder farmers in the region. The results of the “Tortillas on the Roaster” study will be presented during a high-level CRS-sponsored event held in San Salvador this Thursday, 11 October 2012.



The study shows that parts of Central America are highly vulnerable to climate change: increases in temperatures (more than 1 degree Celsius by 2020 and more than 2 degree Celsius by 2050), less annual rainfall and prolonged drought. For maize and beans in particular, this means increased evapotranspiration, less water available, increased plant stress and thus lower yields. For maize/bean farmers, this may represent a serious threat to food security.

But behind this gray scenario there lays a massive window of opportunities. The study shows that with sufficient and adequate knowledge, stakeholders at all levels – from smallholder farmers to national authorities – can start investing in adaptation strategies. Several options can mitigate the risk of predicted yield declines and economic losses: extending production into drought seasons in regions where there is sufficient annual precipitation (irrigation and water- catchment); prioritizing soil management and water harvesting practices; converting grazing land into cropland (by improved forages) so as to avoid deforestation by a moving agriculture frontier; or investing in improved varieties with more resistance to heat stress. Whichever the response, it is important that it answers to the local needs and reflects the urgency of the measures to be taken.

See the CIAT Policy Brief on ToR in English and in Spanish

See the final technical report – “Tortillas on the Roaster” .

See also Central America photo stream of Neil Palmer (CIAT)

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One Comment to “Tortillas on the Roaster: new study to support maize/bean farmers in Central America to adapt to climate change”

  1. Natalie says:

    The rich, industrial countries like the US and China remain highest emitters of CO2, yet countries like Guatemala will be the ones immediately effected by the costs of climate change. It is sad to see that mistakes of wealthy nations ruining the two food staples in South America. In the US, agriculture can be altered with money to invest in other crops, whereas many people in poorer countries do not have this option. Ultimately, the countries emitting most greenhouse gases will not be the ones immediately affected. The US has seen worsening tropical storms, however our as many as one million corn and bean farmers. If two main dietary staples are affected, the small farmers may not be able to bounce back from these changes like big agriculture is in the US. The US would respond to changing rainfall patterns with increased irrigation to no end, which is not an option for all countries.

    The only solution for problems like those mentioned in South America would be a worldwide climate plan. Although these efforts have been underway for years, nothing substantial has occurred. Sadly, it seems unlikely that any real changes will come about without a large event that will change the minds of the rich countries in power.

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