Rapid Climate Change Threatens World’s Rice Bowl

Rice production could decrease due to rapid climate change, threatening food security in South and Southeast Asia. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
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Abr 11, 2012

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By Jeff Haskins and Dan Klotz

As Asia’s monsoon season begins, leading climate specialists and agricultural scientists meeting in Bangkok warned today that rapid climate change and intensified droughts and floods could devastate Southeast Asia’s important role in the global rice trade and pose a significant threat to millions of people across the region and global food security.

The conference on climate smart agriculture in Asia is being convened by the Asia-Pacific Association of Agricultural Research Institutes (APAARI), the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP).

Last year’s record flooding in Thailand and Southeast Asia was preceded by a record drought in 2010. These and many other extreme weather events have hammered global food prices, stretching their impact beyond the immediate personal and ecological tragedies. Climate change in South and Southeast Asia is expected to reduce agriculture productivity by as much as 50 percent in the next three decades, with a dramatic impact on stability and livelihoods. In response, agriculture must become more productive, resilient and above all climate-friendly.

“The debate on whether climate change is happening or not is not taking place in the fields,” said Raj Paroda, Executive Secretary APAARI. “Now, we must think about what the research community needs to do to catalyze governments to prioritize climate-smart agriculture as the central part of Asia’s climate resilience strategy.”

South and Southeast Asia is home to more than one-third of the world’s population and half of the world’s poor and malnourished. Agriculture is the backbone of most economies in the region.

Farming, along with forestry and land use change, also account for almost one third of greenhouse gas emissions globally. Some of the most innovative approaches to reducing these emissions have been developed in Asian countries.

“Climate change is real. The effects are happening now. Future projections highlight an increase in their frequency,” said Jerry Lengoasa, Deputy Director of the World Meteorological Organization, a convener of the meeting. “We need to use evidence and lessons learned to find sustainable solutions that ensure the well-being of our future earth.”

Some of the work being presented at the conference looks at:

  • Capturing seasonal flooding in major river systems and using it to recharge aquifers and irrigate crops in drier parts of the growing season;
  • Preparing farmers to respond to increased demand for meat, milk and other livestock products, while not only lowering the sector’s emissions but mitigating the increased risks of disease outbreaks and epidemics associated with expanded operations.
  • Helping farmers switch from rice to aquaculture in response to increasing salinity of coastal areas and other changes in water resources;
  • Maintaining current levels of cassava production in Thailand, the world’s largest cassava exporter, as the changing climate increases the variety of crop pests requiring management; and
  • Growing rice in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta that can tolerate a larger amount of saltwater flooding, more acidic water and soil, elevated levels of pollution, and new strains of pests and diseases—all while decreasing the crop’s water usage and emissions footprint.

This blogpost was written by Jeff Haskins and Dan Klotz from Burness Communications, attending the Climate-Smart Agriculture Conference in Bangkok, Thailand. More updates from the conference will be published on this blog, and on Twitter @Cgiarclimate and Facebook.