Jan 262011
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A new study attempts to estimate the effects of climate change on global agriculture–and outline ways to mitigate its most dire consequences

The people of East Africa once again face a devastating drought this year: Crops wither and fail from Kenya to Ethiopia, livestock drop dead and famine spreads. Although, historically, such droughts are not uncommon in this region, their frequency seems to have increased in recent years, raising prices for staple foods, such as maize.

This scenario may simply be a taste of a world undergoing climate change in the mid–21st century, according to a new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), a Washington, D.C.–based organization seeking an end to hunger and poverty through appropriate local, national and international agricultural policies. By IFPRI’s estimate, 25 million more children will be malnourished in 2050 due to the impact of climate change on global agriculture.

“Higher temperatures and changes in precipitation result in pressure on yields from important crops in much of the world,” says IFPRI agricultural economist Gerald Nelson, an author of the report, “Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security: Impacts and Costs of Adaptation to 2050”. “Biological impacts on crop yields work through the economic system resulting in reduced production, higher crop and meat prices, and a reduction in cereal consumption. This reduction means reduced calorie intake and increased childhood malnutrition.”

Nelson and his colleagues, working with funding from the World Bank and Asian Development Bank, estimated global agricultural impacts by pairing IFPRI’s own economic models for crop yields with climate models for precipitation and temperature from the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and Australia’s Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization. Assuming a world that is slow to adapt to climate change and focused on regional self-reliance, the researchers found that children in the developing world—which are the countries expected to provide the bulk of population growth to nine billion or more by mid-century—will be hardest hit.

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