Global Warming Puts Food Supplies At Risk, New Green Revolution Needed

cattle-oz-rslBy Stephen Leahy

UXBRIDGE, Canada, Apr 2 (IPS) – Don’t forget about agriculture in the upcoming global negotiations to combat climate change, experts warn. Not only is farming most at risk in an increasingly variable and tempestuous climate, it is also a major emitter of greenhouse gases.

But with the right policies in place, agriculture could both continue to feed the world and play a crucial role in solving the climate problem.

“Agriculture has been missing in the run-up talks to Copenhagen,” says Mark Rosegrant of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

The nations of the world will meet in Copenhagen this December to hammer out a new climate treaty to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases (GHGs) and establish a fund to help poorer countries adapt. The complex process began in 2007 at the Bali talks, continued in Poznan, Poland in 2008 and is ongoing this week in Bonn.

Agriculture accounts for about 15 percent of human emissions of GHGs, IFPRI says, although the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts it higher at 25 percent. Much of those emissions come from developed countries that rely heavily on fossil fuels and fertilisers and raise far more methane-emitting livestock.

With climate change the world is facing reduced yields of up to 20 percent in maize and rice by the year 2050, Rosegrant told IPS. Much of that yield decline will be in the developing world, mainly because sub-tropical and tropical regions are expected to be hit hardest by significant changes in water availability and warmer temperatures.

Climate change could mean ever-rising food prices and therefore significant investments are needed in agricultural research to help countries cope with the coming changes, he says: “We’re trying to work out what the costs for adaptation in agriculture might be.”

IFPRI seeks sustainable solutions for ending hunger and poverty. It is one of 15 centres supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

Countries have been talking about creating an adaptation fund, but agriculture hasn’t been a part of that yet. Agriculture is where forests were about 10 years ago – known to be important but peripheral to the actual negotiations, Rosegrant says.

“It is going to be very tough to get anything like this (an adaptation fund). Who is going to pay?” he noted.

And pay for what? There is major divide about the direction the next “green” revolution should take.

The technology-oriented view sees a future involving genetically engineered seeds, fertilisers and new technologies designed to cope with higher temperatures and drought conditions. The eco-agricultural view sees a knowledge-intensive future applying skilled on-farm management to create resilient, smaller-scale operations.

Scientists say climate change doesn’t just mean hotter or drier, it means far more variable weather in the future, says Marcia Ishii-Eiteman, senior scientist at the Pesticide Action Network, an environmental NGO in San Francisco.

“Future conditions will not be like the past. All bets are off. We need to focus on creating adaptive, resilient farming systems,” Ishii-Eiteman said in an interview.

The technological approach of conventional agriculture in developed countries is not only fossil-fuel intensive it is ill-suited to high levels of variability and volatility in weather, she said.

And a three-year assessment of global agriculture completed in 2008 reached similar conclusions.

The International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) tapped some 400 scientists and other specialists, including Ishii-Eiteman, to conduct an evidence-based assessment of what direction agriculture should take to feed the world in an era of climate change.

The main conclusion: the dominant practice of industrial, large-scale agriculture was unsustainable, mainly because of its dependence on cheap oil, negative impacts on ecosystems and growing water scarcity.

The way forward for agriculture, according to the non-partisian IAASTD, are agro-ecosystems that marry food production with ensuring water supplies remain clean, preserving biodiversity, and improving the livelihoods of the poor.

“The ag assessment (IAASTD reports) should be used as the starting point,” for finding ways to adapt and reduce GHGs, said former IAASTD Co-chair Hans Herren, president of the Arlington-based Millennium Institute, a body that undertakes a variety of developmental activities around the world.

“Agriculture could be a major sink for CO2,” Herren told IPS.

For complete article click: CLIMATE CHANGE: Farming Could Be Friend or Foe.

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