The UK's chief scientists, Sir John Beddington, has said that no technological option be left untried in the effort to enhance agricultural productivity and improve food security for the world's growing population. This includes genetically modified crops, which Beddington said, are "no silver bullet," but their use must be justified in light of the problem the world faces: "water shortages and salination of existing water supplies, for example. GM crops should be able to deal with that."
A recent AlertNet analysis pulls together the various threads of the issue, citing key reports from our colleagues at IFPRI and FAO, and innovations in breeding from CIMMYT.
Developing “climate-ready crops”, as they are often called, will be essential to avoid production declines in the face of more extreme weather conditions, and to feed a growing global population in the coming decades.
There are many obstacles, including poor public opinion on GMOs in the North and the South, a monopoly of patent-holders, and of course, isolating the right genetic traits for the right conditions.
Africa flirts with GM technology in rush for climate-ready crops by Megan Rowling - AlertNet. 18 February 2011.
“Germplasm collection”, “allele diversity”, “Crop registers”, might sound like mystic academic terms to you. Likewise for me, I could hardly link them into the discussion about climate change and food security…. Until I visited the genebank on the ICRISAT campus near Hyderabad in India.
The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) is a non-profit organization conducting agricultural research for development in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. ICRISAT is part of a consortium of similar agricultural research centers supported by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).
…and they have a bank. Not to store money or gold, but to safeguard something much more precious: the genetic material – or “germplasm”- of 119,000 “accessions” -or varieties- of sorghum, pearl millet and six other types of small millets, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut, collected from 144 countries.
During my past visits to Kenya, Ghana, Mali and Burkina Faso, one common streak always came up when talking to farmers about climate adaptation techniques: they were all actively using new seed varieties for their different crops.
I had not really questioned where those seed varieties came from. I saw them in the shops of commercial seed traders, so I asked no more. A bit like a child does not ask where Santa comes from. A long and complex process of seed selection and breeding remained hidden for me.
A visit to ICRISAT, the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics near Hyderabad in India, changed all of that. I discovered the world’s headquarter for the agriculture research on five crops: sorghum, pearl millet, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut. And I discovered the link between chickpeas, chickpea heroes and the war against hunger.
In light of rising food prices and their alaming consequences (such as political instability), access to correct, relevant, and useful global price and market information is more important than ever before. The new and improved Food Security Portal, facilitated by our colleagues at IFPRI, been redeveloped to support and inform the global food security discussion by making news, data, and price analysis more accessible to a wider range of users.
The role played by livestock in contributing to greenhouse gas emissions has been covered in much mainstream media, with the UN urging a global move to a meat and dairy free diet. As the world's population increases, and more people become wealthy enough to afford to eat meat and dairy regularly, the impact of livestock on ecosystems is becoming more severe. Ernst von Weizsaecker, an environmental scientist who contributed to the UN study said:
"livestock now consumes much of the world's crops and by inference a great deal of freshwater, fertilisers and pesticides."
It's not likely that North Americans will go completely vegetarian, or that increasingly wealthy Chinese consumers will stop demanding meat; however, there are smaller scale opportunities for reducing the impact of livestock on the environment, and making it part of the solution to climate change.
Our colleagues at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) point to the opportunities for livestock farmers both to mitigate their greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to climate change, in the recently released WorldWatch "State of the World: Innovations that Nourish the Planet": Read more »
Although scientists have come a long way in identifying the best practises for adapting agriculture to climate change, a significant gap remains for translating this into policy change.
CCAFS director Bruce Campbell pitches in with a guest article at IISD's Climate Change Policy and Practice website:
"The sheer variety of perspectives on the best ways to adapt agriculture to climate change and reduce emissions while boosting carbon storage in the soil has resulted in a confusing mix of messages, which are leading to inaction or, worse still, the wrong actions.
We need new approaches for sharing knowledge and tools between scientists and decision makers at all levels, including farmers and the organizations that represent them. The idea is to make science more comprehensible and to involve all key actors in decisions about how its results are interpreted and used."
Bruce points to the new international Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change that CCAFS is setting up this year, which plans to pull together concrete policy recommendations from the myriad of reports and research that already exists.
China launched the decade with its first nationwide pollution census – the result of three years of data collection involving half a million staff. Agriculture, included for the first time in official statistics, was revealed as a major polluter, sending over 13 million tonnes of effluent from fertilizers and pesticides into waterways each year.
China is the world’s largest producer and consumer of synthetic nitrogen and phosphorus fertilizers, accounting for about a third of global manufacture and use. High application of fertilizers has implications for greenhouse gas emissions as well as water pollution. China’s last GHG census was in 2000. Since then scientists have been actively trying to improve estimates and evidence to feed public debate and policy-making. A recent example is the journal paper Greenhouse gas emissions from nitrogen fertilizer use in China by Fredrich Kahrl, Yunju Li, Yufang Su, Timm Tennigkeit, Andreas Wilkes and Jianchu Xu.
Previous Chinese field studies have shown that farmers could reduce application of nitrogen fertilizers by 20-30% without loss of yield. If scaleable, Kahrl and colleagues estimate that farmers could save 7–10 MtN a year by 2020 by reducing fertilizer intensity, while maintaining harvests. The mitigation potential is impressive: GHG emission reductions of 100-310 MtCO2e yr-1, roughly equivalent to the mitigation potential of Indonesia’s entire power sector at the low end, or Africa’s at the high end. Read more »
La Chine a entamé la décennie avec son premier recensement national des sources de pollution environnementale. Résultat de trois années de collecte de données, celui-ci a mobilisé plus d'un demi million de personnes. Le secteur agricole a été inclus pour la première fois dans les statistiques officielles et s'est révélé comme un grand pollueur. D'après l'étude, chaque année plus de 13 millions de tonnes d'effluents issus des engrais et des pesticides seraient déversés dans les cours d’eaux.
La Chine est désormais le plus grand producteur et consommateur mondial d'engrais synthétiques d'azote et phosphore. Environ un tiers de leur utilisation et leur production mondiale lui est attribué.
L'application d'engrais en grandes quantités a non seulement des implications pour la pollution des eaux mais également pour les émissions de gaz à effet de serre. En Chine, le dernier recensement de GES a été réalisé en 2000. Depuis, les scientifiques cherchent activement à améliorer les estimations et a rassemblé des évidences qui alimentent le débat public et contribuent à l'élaboration de politiques. Pour exemple, le récent article de Fredrich Kahrl Greenhouse gas emissions from nitrogen fertilizer use in China. Read more »
CCAFS Coordinating Unit - University of Copenhagen, Faculty of Science, Department of Plant and Environmental Sciences, Rolighedsvej 21, DK-1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark, phone +45 35331046; Email ccafs [at] cgiar [dot] org, EAN 5790000279012
Lead Center - International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)