Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Philippine experts divided over climate change action

John Vidal in the Guardian (UK): As governments meet in Berlin, scientists and farmers on the frontline of climate change in the Philippines are at odds over how best to adapt agriculture to the much higher temperatures and weather extremes expected over the next century.

While one group argues that hi-tech rice varieties will withstand the greater floods, droughts and storms forecast this week by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), others say small farmers can best respond by avoiding chemicals and addressing problems such as soil fertility and water shortages.

In one corner is the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) in Los Baños, funded with $96m (£58m) from the US and UK governments, as well as major organisations such as Kellogg's and the Gates Foundation. There, with help from the Rockefeller and Ford foundations, scientists in the 1960s crossed rice varieties and, by using herbicides and inorganic fertilisers, more than doubled rice yields. The Asian "green revolution" was born, even as the continent was experiencing serious food shortages, and the Los Baños scientists were credited with pulling the region back from the edge of famine.

Today IRRI sees climate change as the greatest challenge in 50 years. Temperatures at the research station have risen 2-4C in 40 years, yields are below 1982 levels and minimum temperatures are rising. If the IPCC scientists are correct, yields may fall a further 25% over the next 40 years, potentially triggering the greatest food crisis the world has seen.

...Climate change, says Tolentino, needs a new green revolution: "The challenge now is to rapidly adapt farming with modern varieties to climate change and feed a fast-growing global population, half of which depends on rice as a staple food. One billion people go hungry every day....

Rice terraces in Banaue in the Philippines, shot by Uwe Aranas (CE Photo), Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license

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