Climate to exacerbate food insecurity in tropics: report

Areas where food supplies could be worst hit by climate change have been identified in a report from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). The report matches future climate change "hotspots" with regions already suffering chronic food problems to identify highly-vulnerable populations, chiefly in Africa and South Asia, but potentially in China and Latin America as well, where in fewer than 40 years, the prospect of shorter, hotter or drier growing seasons could imperil hundreds of millions of already-impoverished people.

"We are starting to see much more clearly where the effects of climate change on agriculture could intensify hunger and poverty," said Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist with the CCAFS initiative that produced the report.

The researchers pinpointed areas of intense vulnerability by examining a variety of climate models and indicators of food problems to create a series of detailed maps. One shows regions around the world at risk of crossing certain "climate thresholds"-such as temperatures too hot for maize or beans-that over the next 40 years could diminish food production. Another shows regions that may be sensitive to such climate shifts because in general they have large areas of land devoted to crop and livestock production. And finally, scientists produced maps of regions with a long history of food insecurity.

"When you put these maps together they reveal places around the world where the arrival of stressful growing conditions could be especially disastrous," said Polly Ericksen, a senior scientist at the CGIAR's International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya and the study's lead author. "These are areas highly exposed to climate shifts, where survival is strongly linked to the fate of regional crop and livestock yields, and where chronic food problems indicate that farmers are already struggling and they lack the capacity to adapt to new weather patterns."

Among the possible effects of climate change are suitable growing conditions dropping below 120 days per season in intensively-farmed regions of NE Brazil and Mexico (making some crops unable to properly mature), and temperatures being too high for beans in parts of Latin America where this is a staple crop. Some upland areas may benefit from warmer temperatures, making them more suitable for crop production, but these regions are greatly exceeded by those where conditions are likely to become more difficult, or where increases in climate variability will make life more difficult for farmers.

CABI's Environmental Impact Database gives comprehensive coverage of the literature on climate change and food production. To download the full CCAFS report, use the link below.

Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics (PDF – 4.1 mb)

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