Study maps global 'hotspots' of climate-induced food insecurity

Jun 03, 2011

A new study has matched future climate change "hotspots" with regions already suffering chronic food problems to identify highly-vulnerable populations, chiefly in Africa and South Asia, but potentially in China and Latin America as well, where in fewer than 40 years, the prospect of shorter, hotter or drier growing seasons could imperil hundreds of millions of already-impoverished people.

The report, "Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics," was produced by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, and Food Security (CCAFS). The work was undertaken by a team of scientists responding to an urgent need to focus climate change adaptation efforts on people and places where the potential for harsher growing conditions poses the gravest threat to food production and food security.

The researchers pinpointed areas of intense vulnerability by examining a variety of climate models and indicators of food problems to create a series of detailed maps. One shows regions around the world at risk of crossing certain "climate thresholds"—such as temperatures too hot for maize or beans—that over the next 40 years could diminish food production. Another shows regions that may be sensitive to such climate shifts because in general they have large areas of land devoted to crop and livestock production. And finally, scientists produced maps of regions with a long history of food insecurity.

"When you put these maps together they reveal places around the world where the arrival of stressful growing conditions could be especially disastrous," said Polly Ericksen, a senior scientist at the CGIAR's International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, Kenya and the study's lead author. "These are areas highly exposed to climate shifts, where survival is strongly linked to the fate of regional crop and livestock yields, and where chronic food problems indicate that farmers are already struggling and they lack the capacity to adapt to new weather patterns."

"This is a very troubling combination," she added.

For example, in large parts of South Asia, including almost all of India, and parts of sub-Saharan Africa—chiefly West Africa—there are 369 million food-insecure people living in agriculture-intensive areas that are highly exposed to a potential five percent decrease in the length of the growing period. Such a change over the next 40 years could significantly affect food yields and food access for people—many of them farmers themselves—already living on the edge.

Higher temperatures also could exact a heavy toll. Today, there are 56 million food-insecure and crop-dependent people in parts of West Africa, India and China who live in areas where, by the mid-2050s, maximum daily temperatures during the growing season could exceed 30 degrees Celsius (86 degrees Fahrenheit). This is close to the maximum temperature that beans can tolerate, while maize and rice yields may suffer when temperatures exceed this level. For example, a study last year in Nature found that even with optimal amounts of rain, African maize yields could decline by one percent for each day spent above 30ºC.

Regional predictions for shifts in temperatures and precipitation going out to 2050 were developed by analyzing the outputs of rooted in the extensive data amassed by the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). Researchers identified populations as chronically food-insecure if more than 40 percent of children under the age of five were "stunted"—that is, they fall well below the World Health Organization's height-for-age standards.

"We are starting to see much more clearly where the effect of climate change on agriculture could intensify hunger and poverty, but only if we fail to pursue appropriate adaptation strategies," said Patti Kristjanson, a research theme leader at CCAFS. "Farmers already adapt to variable weather patterns by changing their planting schedules or moving animals to different grazing areas. What this study suggests is that the speed of climate shifts and the magnitude of the changes required to adapt could be much greater. In some places, farmers might need to consider entirely new crops or new farming systems."

Crop breeders at CGIAR centers around the world already are focused on developing so-called "climate ready" crop varieties able to produce high yields in more stressful conditions. For some regions, however, that might not be a viable option—in parts of East and Southern Africa, for example, temperatures may become too hot to maintain maize as the staple crop, requiring a shift to other food crops, such as sorghum or cassava, to meet nutrition needs. In addition, farmers who now focus mainly on crop cultivation might need to integrate livestock and agroforestry as a way to maintain and increase food production.

"International trade in agriculture commodities is also likely to assume even more importance for all regions as climate change intensifies the existing limits of national agriculture systems to satisfy domestic food needs," said Bruce Campbell, director of CCAFS. "We have already seen with the food price spikes of 2008 and 2010 that food security is an international phenomenon and climate change is almost certainly going to intensify that interdependence."

Ericksen and her colleagues note that regions of concern extend beyond those found to be most at risk. For example, in many parts of Latin America, food security is relatively stable at the moment—suggesting that a certain amount of "coping capacity" could be available to deal with future climate stresses that affect agriculture production. Yet there is cause for concern because millions of people in the region are highly dependent on local agricultural production to meet their food needs and they are living in the very crosshairs of climate change.

The researchers found, for example, that by 2050, prime growing conditions are likely to drop below 120 days per season in intensively-farmed regions of northeast Brazil and Mexico. Growing seasons of at least 120 days are considered critical not only for the maturation of maize and several other staple food crops, but also for vegetation crucial to feeding livestock.

In addition, parts of Latin America are likely to experience temperatures too hot for bean production, a major staple in the region.

The study also shows that some areas today have a "low sensitivity" to the effects of only because there is not a lot of land devoted to crop and livestock production. But agriculture intensification would render them more vulnerable, adding a wrinkle, for example, to the massive effort underway to rapidly expand crop cultivation in the so-called "bread-basket" areas of sub-Saharan Africa.

"Evidence suggests that these specific regions in the tropics may be severely affected by 2050 in terms of their crop production and livestock capacity. The window of opportunity to develop innovative solutions that can effectively overcome these challenges is limited," said Philip Thornton, a CCAFS research theme leader and one of the paper's co-authors. "Major adaptation efforts are needed now if we are to avoid serious and livelihood problems later."

Explore further: No-till agriculture may not bring hoped-for boost in global crop yields, study finds

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Recommended for you

New policymaking tool for shift to renewable energy

3 hours ago

Multiple pathways exist to a low greenhouse gas future, all involving increased efficiency and a dramatic shift in energy supply away from fossil fuels. A new tool 'SWITCH' enables policymakers and planners to assess the ...

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

omatumr
1 / 5 (3) Jun 04, 2011
The work was undertaken by a team of scientists responding to an urgent need . . .


For grant funds to scare the public about AGW?

A recent interview with Czech astronomer Dr. Ivanka Charvátová confirms other studies [1-3]: Climate change is caused by changes in solar inertial motion (SIM):

www.klimaskeptik....rom-gfu/

Gravitational interaction of orbiting planets with the Sun's central neutron star apparently jerk it around inside the glowing ball of waste products (photosphere) like a yo-yo on a string.

1. Jose, P.D., Suns motion and sunspots, Astron. J., 1965, 70, 193-20

2. Fairbridge, R.W. and Shirley, J.H., Prolonged minima and the 179-yr cycle of the solar
inertial motion, Solar Physics, 1987, 110, 191-220

3. Superfluidity in the solar interior: Implications for solar eruptions and climate, Journal of Fusion Energy, 2002, 21, 193-198

http://arxiv.org/.../0501441

With kind regards,
Oliver K. Manuel
Shelgeyr
2 / 5 (4) Jun 05, 2011
Study maps global 'hotspots' of climate-induced food insecurity

Nonsense. All areas of food insecurity on this globe are in jeopardy due to political reasons.
Ethelred
not rated yet Jun 08, 2011
Oliver insists on spamming the site with identical posts here is a copy of my reply.
shows that other scientists also disagree with the global warming story
Certainly there are scientists that do. I think even Gore knows that. Has to by now. Then again even Bush came to the conclusion that GW is occurring.

army of government-paid climatologists
Ivanka Charvátová is government paid.

Gravitational interaction of orbiting planets with the Suns central neutron star
Can't happen since there is no neutron star in the Sun. Now the churning idea is reasonable BUT since the heat reaching the surface of the Sun come from reactions that took place a million years ago, according to theory that actually follows known physics, it seems that there might be a bit of lag between the churning and the heat released from the photosphere.

waste products (H/He-rich photosphere
She didn't say that despite you spamming her. She mentioned you but not one word about a neutron star.>>
Ethelred
not rated yet Jun 08, 2011
Wolf Minimum (1270-1350) 160 - 170
Spörer Minimum (~1430-1520) 190 - 190
Maunder Minimum (~1620-1710) 170 - 130
Dalton Minimum (~1790-1840) ? why not already happening?

160+170+190+190+170+130 = 1010 / 6 = 168

The 130 is a bit off from the rest without that the average is 176

Beginnings 520 / 3 = 173

Either way its close but not the the same as the 179 in the interview.

1790 + 179 = 1969 average
1790 + 160 = 1950 shortest beginning to beginning
1790 + 130 = 1920 shortest ending to ending
1790 + 190 = 1980 longest interval of any kind

So where is that minimum? The latest solar minimum did go a couple of years more than normal BUT that just ended and we still don't have new minimum UNLESS there is something causing the temperature to be high anyway. CO2 perhaps?

However a long term minimum should have few if any sunspots for decades and that isn't happening at the moment.>>
Ethelred
not rated yet Jun 08, 2011
And where did this thing come from in the interview?
We agree that in the first half of the 21st century the solar activity might be lower and even the temperatures might go down.
That doesn't follow from her numbers. Her numbers produce the mid to late 20th century for a new minimum. Funny how that got ignored. Then again the interviewer didn't want to find errors since the site is a denial site.

Its an interesting concept and I suspect it is at least partly true HOWEVER the timing of the minimums have a problem with the present lack of a minimum which should have started 30 or more years ago.

So far Oliver's only response to my reply has been to give me a one without even managing a single paragraph that shows an error in my post. Posts that people are unwilling, and in this case unable, to support are SPAM and not science.

Ethelred