Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Agriculture: the missing word in the climate change conversation

Gerald C. Nelson of the International Food Research Policy Institute, in Science Alert (Australia): …Climate change will have dramatic consequences for agriculture. Broad impacts are clear: some water supplies will become more variable, temperatures will increase, droughts and floods will stress agricultural systems, and food production will fall in some places. Developing economies and the poorest of the poor likely will be hardest hit, in part because they do not have the resources to cope with the changes.

…A pro-growth, pro-poor development agenda that supports agricultural sustainability is the first step to climate change adaptation. Individuals with higher incomes and more resources can respond faster to changes. Thus, a policy environment that enhances opportunities for smallholder farmers will also be good for climate change adaptation. Such an environment would include more investment in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and access to markets for farmers. Funding should support these policy reforms.

Improvements in water productivity are critical. Climate change, by making rainfall more variable and changing its geographic distribution, will exacerbate the existing need for better water harvesting, storage, and management. Equally important is supporting innovative institutional mechanisms that give agricultural water users incentives to conserve.

Investments in rural infrastructure, both physical (such as roads, market buildings, and storage facilities) and institutional (such as extension programs, credit and input markets, and reduced barriers to internal trade) are needed to enhance the resilience of agriculture. The development of high-yielding drought- and pest-tolerant crops is needed for adaptation to new climatic conditions. Good data collection efforts are critical, especially high-resolution data that provide location-specific information. These data must be distributed freely and without restrictions.

…Many changes to management systems that make them more resilient to climate change also increase carbon sequestration. Conservation tillage increases soil water retention in the face of drought while also sequestering carbon below ground. Small-scale irrigation facilities not only conserve water in the face of greater variability, but also increase crop productivity and soil carbon. Agroforestry systems increase above- and below-ground carbon storage while also increasing water storage below ground, even in the face of extreme climate events. These synergies should receive explicit support in the final Copenhagen agreement….

Rice transplanting. Tuy Hòa province, Central Vietnam

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