How will climate change affect agriculture?

Future climate change will affect global agriculture adversely, a new study says.

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    Rural Zimbabweans learn to use minimum-tillage farming methods to feed themselves. A new study estimates that global climate change will be especially hard on African agriculture.
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"Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate changes," notes a new study from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) that looks at how climate change will affect food production around the world by 2050.

“Developing countries are likely to be hardest hit by climate change and will suffer bigger declines in crop yields,” said Gerald Nelson, lead author of the study and an IFPRI research fellow, in a conference call with journalists on Tuesday.

Temperatures will rise to "intolerable levels" for some plants, he noted, while higher temperatures will encourage proliferation of weeds, insects, and crop diseases.

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And those negatives won't necessarily be offset by an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations. In the laboratory, plants generally respond favorably to higher levels of CO2, but the story is different in farm fields. There, higher concentrations can cause more insect damage.

Overall, says the study, "Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation," the effects of climate change on agriculture and the world's food supply are likely to be negative.

South Asia will see large declines in crop yields, the study predicts through "detailed modeling of crop growth under climate change with insights from an extremely detailed global agriculture model, using two climate scenarios to simulate future climate." Sub-Saharan Africa will also fare poorly.

China, northern Russia, and Canada should see some improvement in their ability to grow more crops, but that won't be enough to offset what happens in the rest of the world.

By 2050, wheat prices will have increased by an estimated 170-194 percent, rice by 113-121 percent, and maize by 148-153 percent because of climate change.

This leads the researchers to suggest that 40 years from now, the impact of climate change will cause 25 million more children to become malnourished.

Scientific American reports:

To prevent this agricultural crisis, Nelson estimates, would require an investment of at least $7 billion per year in the most affected countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America for increased agricultural research into, for example, drought-resistant crop varieties. "Crop and livestock productivity – enhancing research, including biotechnology, will be essential to help overcome stresses due to climate change," the report's authors wrote.

With that money, notes the Monitor in an editorial:

Roads into rural areas would help farmers get crops to markets more easily. Irrigation projects could compensate for less rainfall. New varieties of crops using biotechnology could be more drought resistant. New farming techniques could help, too. Improvements in general health and education, including safe drinking water and better education for women and girls, would ease the problem.

For more articles about the environment, see the Monitor’s main environment page, which offers information on many environment topics. Also, check out our Bright Green blog archive and our RSS feed.

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