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Scientists warn that disaster looms for hundreds of millions whose chronic food insecurity seem to be on a collision course with climate change.

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, Agriculture 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.

"We are starting to see much more clearly where the effects of climate change on agriculture could intensify hunger and poverty," said Patti Kristjanson, an agricultural economist with the CCAFS initiative that produced the report.



Appropriate adaptation strategies need to be pursued, and in some places farmers might need to consider entirely new crops or new farming systems.

With many areas in Africa predicted to become drier, countries such as South Africa which predominantly farm maize have the option to shift to more drought resistant crops. But for countries such as Niger, in western Africa, which already supports itself on very drought resistant crop varieties, like sorghum and millet, there is little room for manoeuvre, explains Bruce Campbell, the director of CCAFS.

"West Africa really stands out as problematic. Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali. They are already dependent on sorghum and millet. In many places in Africa you are really going to need [a] revolution in farming systems," he says.

However, some countries lack the capacity to adapt to these changes on their own, as is evidenced in Africa. Drought, the worst in 60 years, has already hit some 12 million people across what local media have dubbed a "triangle of death" straddling Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia. Nearly half of Somalia’s people are in need of relief assistance, owing largely to the effects of the drought that prompted the United Nations to declare famine for the first time this century. The World Food Programme recently airlifted emergency food for starving children into the Somali capital Mogadishu as aid groups warned of a growing influx of hungry families from the famine-hit south of the country.

If climate change is gradual, there will be time for political and social institutions to adjust. Slow change also may enable natural biota to adapt. However, even a minor change (for example, one-tenth of a degree per decade) could spark significant changes in the frequency of climate extremes, including heat waves, floods and droughts... and jeopardize agriculture, forestry, and biodiversity worldwide.

Seeking to overcome the threats to agriculture and food security in a changing climate, the CCAFS is exploring new ways of helping vulnerable rural communities adjust to global changes in climate. In doing so they have focused on four themes:

  • Adaptation to Progressive Climate Change - Building adaptive capacity and food systems that are more resilient to climate change through the provision of technologies, practices and policies.
  • Adaptation through Managing Climate Risk - Bringing promising innovations in climate risk management to bear on the challenge of protecting and enhancing food security and rural livelihoods.
  • Pro-poor Climate Change Mitigation - Identifying climate change mitigation strategies that reduce poverty among the rural poor in developing countries.
  • Integration for Decision Making - providing a framework for the whole of the CCAFS research program and ensuring effective engagement of rural communities and institutional and policy stakeholders.

Whilst being able to identify the areas highly exposed to climate shifts, where survival is strongly linked to the fate of regional crop and livestock yields, we still need everything we can lay our hands on to plan for adaptations.

“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 food security and livelihood problems later.”


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