Help farmers adjust to climate change

Crop yields are in decline. Water resources are threatened. There is a significant risk of rising hunger. These are the alarm bells sounding on global food production in a world of climate change. 


A major new report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change argues that these are not distant threats. 


Climate change’s impacts are already felt everywhere, and it’s threat to global food security is real and imminent.


The report, Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability, is also clear that the need to help farmers around the world adapt to climate change is urgent. Adaptation can significantly decrease the threats to global food security, at least in the short term. 


This report is deeply concerning to the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. 


Those who already live on the edge of hunger will struggle even more. Our partners in the developing world, many of whom depend on small-scale agriculture to survive, have long been telling us their seasons are changing, and they are experiencing more floods and more droughts. 


These stories from the field increasingly align with scientific research and suggest our mission to end hunger is only getting more difficult.


However, there is also cause for hope. 


Much of the agricultural programs that the foodgrains bank supports, such as conservation agriculture, small scale irrigation projects and reforestation efforts, are already helping farmers adapt to warming temperatures and increasingly variable weather. These efforts make a real difference in helping farmers feed themselves and their families. 


More government funding for adaptation at a large scale will also make a critical difference in reducing the threat of hunger from climate change. 


This will in turn help reduce the need for migration, lower the threat of conflict and support economic growth worldwide.


The foodgrains bank has been calling for the federal government to support adaptation in developing countries to meet these rising needs. The IPCC report estimates that global adaptation will cost $70 to $100 billion US per year from 2010-50 in developing countries. 


These estimates are substantially greater than current adaptation funding and investment. Much more is needed.


The report is also clear that adaptation without concurrent action to slow climate change is not enough. Mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions over the next few decades can substantially reduce risks of climate change after 2050.


The scenarios start to sound downright scary without sufficient action on adaptation and mitigation. 


Food production could fall by two percent per decade after 2030 if temperatures continue to rise, with the risk of even more severe impacts after 2050. This is set against the backdrop of rising demand for food production.


Half of the wheat growing area of the Indo-Gangetic Plains in India, which now produces 15 percent of the world’s wheat, could become significantly heat stressed by 2050.


In Africa, all major cereal crops will suffer in the future. Crop yields could be slashed by up to 30 percent in parts of the continent by mid-century. 


Drought also threatens livestock, which the report calls critical given the extensive rangeland in Africa.


The report’s message is mixed for Canadian farmers. Climate change effects tend to be lowest in temperate regions. 


At low levels of warming, some areas may benefit from longer growing seasons and more heat units. However, the arrival of new pests, an increase in weather variability and the possibility of water stress in some areas would suggest that complacency isn’t in order.


The foodgrains bank remains hopeful that a world without hunger is still possible, but the task isn’t getting any easier. For the poorest people already living on the front lines of climate change, action on all fronts is urgent.


Carol Thiessen is a senior policy adviser at the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, which is a partnership of 15 Canadian churches and church-based agencies working together to end global hunger.


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