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Feeding a larger population on a warmer planet

At a recent event hosted by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) in Washington D.C., Mark Rosegrant, Director of the Environment and Production Technology Division, said, “Income and population growth drive food prices higher, putting pressure on our food system.” And climate change adds more pressure to these already big challenges. “We can expect to see more extreme events – more floods, more droughts, more shocks to agriculture,” noted Sherman Robinson from the United Kingdom’s Foresight Programme on Global Food and Farming Futures Project. There is, therefore, an urgent need to manage these challenges in a more sustainable way.

We need to start talking about adaptation and mitigation now to effectively deal with the effects of climate change on food security. (Photo credit: Julie Carney

The event marked the launch of a new IFPRI report titled “Food Security, Farming, and Climate Change to 2050,” co-authored by Rosegrant and a team of 12 other researchers. By focusing on the period between 2010 and 2050, the report details the impact of climate change on food security, highlighting how policymakers can effectively facilitate adaptation and mitigation. The report was also simultaneously released on December 1st at the United Nations Conference on Climate Change in Cancun, Mexico.

There is growing evidence that prices of staple foods, like maize, rice, and wheat will rise steadily due to increased population and income growth. The report highlights how higher prices will result in lower calorie intake, affecting food security in the coming years. “If you add the projected effects of climate change, you see much lower calorie consumption,” noted Rosegrant in his presentation. The report finds an overall 12 percent decrease in calorie intake in 2050 in developing countries.

Rosegrant noted that “investing in agricultural productivity growth is the key adaptation policy.” This includes on-farm investments in water harvesting and integrated soil fertility management, as well as a building rural infrastructure to improve access to markets, inputs, training, and technology.

Ann Tutwiler, coordinator for the Global Food Security Initiative at the United States Department of Agriculture, said, “There is a sea change in how policymakers and business leaders are beginning to see this nexus.”

But she emphasized the need for a more detailed understanding of where funds can and should be invested, including genetic research, extension services, and on-farm management. Tutwiler also highlighted the need for a more comprehensive approach by addressing some key, but often-ignored questions, including the impact rising temperatures and changes in humidity levels will have on already-high post-harvest losses. And, while climate change models often focus on carbon dioxide emissions, they ignore other factors. Ozone depletion, for example, accounts for 10 percent of losses in soy crops.

The message was clear—we need to start talking about adaptation and mitigation now to effectively deal with these challenges in the future.

But first we must make the discourse on climate change and food security more inclusive — “We neglect talking to farmers directly,” said Tutwiler. She suggests investing in greater outreach to newspapers and publications that farmers read.

Innovations in adaptation to climate change and efforts to improve food security will be featured in “Chapter 8: Coping with Climate Change and Building Resilience in the forthcoming State of the World 2011: Innovations that Nourish the Planet.

Janeen Madan is a research intern with the Nourishing the Planet project.

Editorial Notes: The somewhat confusing link to access the 140-page report is here. The link to this article seems to be temporarily down on the Nourishing the Planet site, will hopefully be back up later. In the meantime, lots of good stuff to check out over there. -KS

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