Friday, January 11, 2008

Can crops be climate-proofed?

In a long article, SciDev.Net notes that climate instability disrupts many crops around the world, and this was the topic of a November meeting India. They discussed crop-specific issues, and the need for finer-grained, region-specific models: … Climate change is making crop scientists review their research agenda. Until now, their main focus was on improving yields. But with successive International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports warning that increased droughts and floods will shift crop systems, 'climate-proofing' of crops has become crucial. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) institutes are now investigating how to make crops' more resilient to environment stresses.

….At a meeting of CGIAR institutes in Hyderabad, India, in November 2007, Parry said that the estimated window for implementing mitigation and adaptation programmes has shrunk from 30–40 years to 15. He advised CGIAR scientists to put climate change at the heart of research programmes.

…Rice crops are most vulnerable to global warming. Studies worldwide show that rising carbon dioxide levels may initially increase growth, but the benefit is temporary. Rising temperatures make rice spikelets — the slender branches containing rice flowers — sterile, and grain yields will fall.

Asia and sub-Saharan Africa will be amongst the most severely affected by climate change. About 90 per cent of the world's rice is grown and consumed in Asia (where 70 per cent of the world's poor live), and sub-Saharan Africa is the world's fastest growing rice consumer. The most vulnerable agricultural systems are the rain-fed uplands and lowlands that form almost 80 per cent of total rice land in Africa.

Reiner Wassman, coordinator of the Rice and Climate Change Consortium at the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in the Philippines, says IRRI strategies should include breeding rice that can survive climate change. He wants to see plants that can tolerate higher temperatures and/or flooding, that flower in the mornings before temperatures rise, and that transpire (lose water through evaporation from leaves) more efficiently to cool the air around them…

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