Thursday, July 24, 2008

Link between crop failure and climate change often missed

More from that Fynbos conference in Capetown, reported by the indispensable IPS. The reporter is Miriam Mannak: Climate change has a profound effect on food security in Africa, as increasing temperatures and shifting rain patterns reduce access to food across the continent. This transpired at a conference on global warming and climate change that started in Cape Town, South Africa, on July 21 and ends today. The discussion was organised by South Africa’s Fynbos Foundation, which aims to realise investment in the media, publishing, arts and culture sectors, and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University in the United States.

The relationship between climate change and food security is complex. Many factors influence food security, which means that often “the link is not even made between failed crops and changing weather patterns,” Dr Gina Ziervogel, senior researcher at the Climate Systems Analysis Group at the University of Cape Town, told the conference. Over the past decade Ziervogel has conducted extensive research on people and the environment in southern Africa.

Climate change affects African food systems in the broadest sense of the word: “It affects the availability of, access to and utilisation of food,” she explained. “Changing weather patterns or extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts, can have negative consequences for agricultural production. As a result people have less access to food, which forces them to buy food products. This affects their financial situation….”

…Another scenario where the effects of climate change on the vulnerability of food systems become visible is where arable land is lost. This happens as a result of declining ground water levels and rising sea levels. It can lead to aridity of the soil or increasing levels of saline. “It reduces the suitability of land for cultivation of crops,” Ziervogel argued. Such changes require farmers to alter their agricultural practices. Sorghum, for instance, is more heat resistant and therefore does better than maize in places where rainfall decreases…

…Climate change also leads to pest outbreaks that further weaken food systems. “Climate change induces outbreaks of pests such as the desert locust,” Professor Onesmo ole-MoiYoi of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology told the conference. The centre, which has its headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, aims to alleviate poverty, ensure food security and improve health in the tropics by developing management tools against harmful insects.

Locusts feeding. Shot by NASA, of all places, Wikimedia Commons

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