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Sustainable, Productive Agriculture Amid Climate Change
Climate change may be unavoidable, but agriculture can and must become more productive and sustainable to feed the growing global population. By 2050, climate change could cause child malnutrition rates to rise by 20 percent.
In honor of World Environment Day tomorrow, read this excerpt of the 2012 Hunger Report today:
Climate change is no longer avoidable. The only questions are how soon, and by how much, we allow it to happen. The last decade was the hottest on record; the one before that was the second-hottest. Residents of developed countries have more choice than others about when and how to get serious about containing the damage caused by climate change.
Adapting to climate change would be hard enough with a set population, but, in fact, the world population increases every day. By the end of the century, the number of mouths to feed is expected to reach 10 billion. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), agricultural productivity will need to increase by 70 percent to keep up with the growing population.
There is no doubt that this is everyone’s problem: the consequences of failing to solve it will affect us all. Nothing fuels global instability like hungry people taking their frustration to the streets of capital cities, as we’ve seen in recent years when food prices spiked.
Agricultural productivity must be increased quickly enough to stay ahead of climate change and population growth combined. The most recent news is quite alarming: if climate change continues at its current rate, child malnutrition rates will increase by 20 percent by 2050. This forecast is based on existing data and scientific models which extrapolate from that data. For example, the model combines data on the increasing severity of droughts with research from West Africa showing that children born during drought years are 72 percent more likely to be stunted.
Responding to climate change alone would be a significant challenge, but there are additional reasons to be concerned about whether the production agriculture system that provides us with plentiful, affordable food is sustainable.
Malthusian predictions that population will outstrip food production have been proven wrong ever since Malthus himself made this argument in the 19th century. But climate change could make for a different outcome in the 21st century. The U.S. Global Change Research Program, a consortium of 13 government departments and agencies, reports that climate-change impacts can already be observed in major crop-producing areas of the United States. Over the past 30 years, the Midwest and northern Great Plains have experienced increases in average winter temperatures of more than 7 degrees Fahrenheit.
Developing countries are experiencing the destructive effects of climate change now—before many of the developed countries have truly mobilized to help slow the changes. Most developing countries are in southern latitudes whose higher temperatures create environments that are inherently difficult for agricultural production. In parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where rain-fed agriculture employs 70 percent of the population, drier conditions are producing smaller harvests or none at all, posing a grave threat to already-fragile food security situations. In coastal regions, climate change is producing more frequent and severe cyclones, leading to flooding and outbreaks of disease.
The surest way to slow climate change is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Because agriculture itself contributes one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions, the agricultural sector must become more sustainable while simultaneously becoming more productive
Photo by Tomas de Mul/IRIN
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