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 user 2008-02-01 at 2:23:00 pm Views: 44
  • #18954

    Climate ‘could devastate crops’

    Wheatage: Marshall Burkeorder=

    The work can help prioritise investment, say the authors

    Climate change could cause severe crop losses in South Asia and
    southern Africa over the next 20 years, a study in the journal Science

    The findings suggest southern Africa could lose more than 30% of its main crop, maize, by 2030.

    In South Asia losses of many regional staples, such as rice, millet and maize could top 10%, the report says.

    The effects in these two regions could be catastrophic without effective measures to adapt to climate change.

    The majority of the world’s one billion poor depend on
    agriculture for their livelihoods. Yet, said lead author David Lobell,
    it is also “the human enterprise most vulnerable to climate change”.

    The researcher, from Stanford University in California,
    US, added: “Understanding where these climate threats will be greatest,
    for what crops and on what timescales, will be central to our efforts
    at fighting hunger and poverty over the coming decades.”

    ‘Crushing’ losses

    The study used computer models to assess the impact of
    climate change on farming in 12 world regions where the bulk of the
    world’s malnourished people live. This included much of Asia,
    sub-Saharan Africa, the Caribbean and Central and South America.

    “To identify which crops in which regions are most under
    threat by 2030, we combined projections of climate change with data on
    what poor people eat, as well as past relationships between crop
    harvests and climate variability,” Dr Lobell explained.

    The scale and speed of the effects on agriculture surprised the scientists.

    “For poor farmers on the margin of survival, these
    losses could really be crushing,” said co-author Marshall Burke, also
    of Stanford University.

    All the models agree that there will be adverse effects
    on maize in southern Africa and rice in South-East Asia, but the
    picture is less certain in other areas such as parts of West Africa
    where it is unclear how global warming will impact the local climate.

    Early investment

    “For these regions, you get half of the climate models
    telling you it’s going to get wetter and the other half giving you the
    opposite,” said Dr Burke.

    “As a result, our study raises the potential for very
    bad impacts in these regions but with much less certainty than in other

    A few developing regions, such as the temperate
    wheat-growing areas of China, could actually benefit in the short run
    from climate change, he added.

    Since it typically takes 15 to 30 years for major
    agricultural investments to be fully realised, work must start soon to
    help subsistence farmers increase their yields or switch crops, the
    study says.

    While relatively inexpensive changes, such as switching
    crops or altering planting seasons, could trim the losses, “the biggest
    benefits will likely result from more costly measures, including the
    development of new crop varieties and expansion of irrigation,” the
    authors wrote.