European Commission, Environment DG

Rapid action needed to help protect food supplies in vulnerable regions


Source: European Commission, Environment DG

Agriculture is vulnerable to climate change, and in order to protect food security, food production will have to adapt to rising temperatures and unpredictable changes in rainfall. Agriculture in poorer countries with harsh climate conditions is likely to be most affected. New research predicts how these vulnerable areas are likely to be affected by climate change in the next 20 years. The research could help governments and aid agencies identify where to invest in crop protection, and can be used to build a comprehensive approach to securing food supplies.

Predicting the impact of climate change on specific food crops throughout the globe could help avoid the worst effects on food security. Scientists at Stanford University in the US used established climate change models to analyse the impact of climate change on agriculture in vulnerable regions. The research suggests that the areas most likely to suffer significant loss of food supplies within the next two decades are Southern Africa and South Asia.

The study focused on 12 major ‘food-insecure’ regions, and the main food crops grown there. It assessed how important a crop was to the region’s supply of food in order to calculate the impact that a reduction in the crop would have on hunger.

Using past crop yield and climate data, the researchers were able to measure how each type of crop would respond to predicted climatic change. They used 20 different climate models that have contributed to the World Climate Research Programme. The results show not only which regions, but which crops, will be worst affected. Southern Africa, for example, could lose more than 30 per cent of its maize crop by 2030.

As well as Southern African maize, the highest priority investments would be needed to protect Southern African wheat and sugarcane, Western African yams and groundnut, and Sahel wheat. As the results show that food supplies could significantly diminish within just two decades, the importance of acting quickly is highlighted.

Some simple and relatively cheap adaptation measures, such as planting alternative crops or altering the time of year crops are planted, could help prevent some of the effects on food security and hunger in these regions. However, the study concluded that tougher measures, including developing strains of crops better suited to the future climate and investing in water supplies for irrigation, would be needed to protect food security in the most vulnerable areas.

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