Drought and Deluge: Food Supplies in an Era of Climate Change

Food Supplies in an Era of Climate ChangeAgricultural production in South and Southeast Asia will be severely affected by increasing temperatures and erratic water supplies brought on by global climate change, according to a report released last week by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank. Agriculture in the region is being threatened by unpredictable rainfall, which includes more intense periods of rain and drought.

The report compares predicted yields and production in 2050 with statistics from 2000 for rice, wheat, maize, soybeans and groundnuts.

Using two Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) climate models based on the A2 emissions scenario, the report shows broad regional variation in crop yields and production. It estimates a total negative outcome for agriculture and human well-being.

South and Southeast Asia will be especially hard-hit, with yields of irrigated wheat declining 20 to 34 percent. Wheat production will see an even greater decline of 44 to 49 percent due to decreasing yields and marginalization of current crop areas.

While these developments will hurt national economies and local farmers, the effects will also be felt globally. IFPRI expects grain and meat prices to climb and nutrition to suffer.

Countries like India, which produces roughly one-sixth of the world’s wheat, will be hardest hit.

Current Indian agriculture is largely an effect of the Green Revolution in the 1960s, which increased crop yields through the development of new seed varieties and application of fertilizers and pesticides. However, those varieties require stable climatic conditions. The 2009 monsoon season in India has been unusually dry, with periods of heavy rainfall that damage crops.

This same trend is occurring in Indonesia where monsoon deluges are destroying the rice harvest.

To counteract decreasing yields, some organizations are encouraging a move to traditional agricultural methods and inputs, according to recent Inter Press Service reports. The seeds that the Green Revolution varieties supplanted are adapted to a broader range of conditions as a result of long-term natural selection. Programs like the Farmer-Scientist Partnership for Development (MASIPAG) in the Philippines are running experimental plans with farmers to select the best seeds for specific locations. MASIPAG helps farmers breed traditional local seeds in small trial plots on their farms. Each organization in the network then selects the ten highest-yielding seeds to be distributed within its area.

IFPRI does not endorse a move to the traditional over the technical, but its report concludes that more investment is needed in productivity research, rural infrastructure (e.g. roads and efficient irrigation) and local farm-extension services to prevent disastrous declines in agricultural production.

Himalayas photos

Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton

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