“When it rains, it does not rain on one roof only”
This is a saying from the home village in western Kenya of my friend and colleague Dennis Rangi, CABI’s Executive Director for International Development. He said this in his introduction to the CABI Summit in London which I though was particularly apt as I listened to speakers talk about the impact of climate change on their part of the world. Dennis showed two photographs of Mount Kilimanjaro and described how he remembers growing up looking at the mountain, a powerful symbol of Africa thats snow-cap has receded in a stark reminder of the reality of climate change.
Dr. Lewis Ziska from the Crop Systems and Global Change Laboratory, USDA-ARS also used before-and-after pictures of a famous mountain – Mt. Hood, taken in 1979 and 2009 to illustrate what is happening on the other side of the globe in his overview. He described threats to food security posed by climate change, and went on to suggest a number of ways we can meet these threats. He reminded us that while technological innovations are always adaptive, we should avoid putting all resources into a ‘one size fits all’ solution and instead advocated looking at ways to increase the efficacy of available tools: for example, by increasing the infrastructure needed for water availability (small dams), more efficient delivery of water (drip irrigation), and more precise application of scarce resources like nitrogen (SPAD meter). He also exhorted plant breeders to "look to the weeds" – today's breeders look for uniformity/homogeneity but this can take away from the diversity needed to adapt to a changing climate – nature has endowed these wild relatives with the traits that help them survive and thrive which may be what is needed to adapt to the changing climate. In conclusion, Dr Ziska stressed that to appreciate the dynamic and uncertain nature of global climate change a long-term commitment to research and education is needed.
Describing the current situation as "the perfect storm", Professor John Beddington, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Government spoke of the intrinsic link between the challenge we face to ensure food security throughout the 21st century and other global issues, most notably climate change, population growth (six million/month) and the need to sustainably manage the world’s rapidly growing demand for energy and water. It is predicted that by 2030 the world will need to produce 50 per cent more food and energy, together with providing 30 per cent more fresh water, whilst mitigating and adapting to climate change. He emphasized that securing this contribution requires that high priority be attached both to research and to facilitating the real world deployment of existing and emergent technologies. On food, he believes we need a new, “greener revolution”. Techniques and technologies from many disciplines, ranging from biotechnology and engineering to newer fields such as nanotechnology, will be needed. On water, he stressed that managing and balancing supply and demand for water across sectors requires a range of policy and technological solutions. Meeting the demand for energy, while mitigating and adapting to climate change, will require a mix of behavioural change and technological solutions.
The final speaker, Dr Lindsey Norgrove, Global Director, Invasive Species, CABI, told the audience that in tropical regions any increase in temperature will cause a decrease in yield. For example a five degree increase in temperature will lead to a 50% yield loss by 2080 and this does not take into account the impact of pests, weeds and diseases. In order to adapt, Dr Norgrove suggested that we need "a basket of informed options" coupled with improved cropping system diversification, and knowledge transfer between climate matched regions (e.g Ghana can learn from the experience of Burkina Faso). Referring to biofuels as "the old conflict; new horizon", she highlighted the point that in some parts of Africa 90% of energy is currently derived from biofuels (animal dung, fire-wood etc). In conclusion, Dr Norgrove said that a drastic rethinking of all production systems is needed alongside adaptation strategies such as diversifying cropping systems, disseminating crop varieties with drought and temperature tolerances, and weather forecasting including pest outbreak prediction.