24) Dealing with climate change with cutting-edge agricultural research

Climate change is expected to affect developing countries more adversely in the initial decades. For the international agricultural scientists working to improve agricultural productivity in these developing countries, climate change adds a new dimension to their research. They are seeking answers on how to climate-proof their mandate crops.

According to the projections made by the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the changes anticipated in the medium-term future will adversely affect the farmers of the developing countries – the countries in which the CGIAR Centers are working. The scientists at these centers have already started research on understanding the impact of climate change on the crops they work on, and have initiated research to breed varieties and hybrids that will overcome the adverse impacts. The scientists are presenting their research work at the Symposium.

Dr Martin Parry, Co-Chair of IPCC, delivered the Keynote Address on the Implications of Climate Change for Crop Yields, Global Food Supply and Risk of Hunger, in which he reviewed all the studies from 1994 to 2007. Dr Parry stated: “There are some conclusions common to all studies – that climate change will generally reduce production potential and increase risk of hunger, and that Africa is the most adversely affected region. An additionally important initial conclusion is that pathways of sustainable economic development have a marked effect in reducing the adverse effects on climate change.”

The IPCC has been selected for the Nobel Peace Prize 2007 for its to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.

Dr Simon Best, Chair of Governing Board of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), said that though there are challenges that climate change can create for agricultural production, they can be overcome by using good science to develop crops that overcome the adverse impacts predicted for the future. The CGIAR Centers are the most appropriate agricultural research institutions that can work on these challenges.

According to Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT, there are one billion poor people in the world who are vulnerable to climate change, desertification, land degradation, loss of biodiversity, water scarcity and shortage of fossil fuels. India alone accounts for 25.93% of this population and China 16.66%. The remaining part of Asia and Pacific accounts for 18.30%. In short, Asia is a hub where the poor, undernourished and the vulnerable live. This is followed by sub-Saharan Africa , which accounts for 23.94% of the one billion.

The poor can be made less vulnerable with greater science and knowledge-based interventions, and more importantly significant donor support from the developed and developing countries to support this research, Dr Dar said.

“Business as usual will not help us meet the Millennium Development Goals and much more the goal of reducing poverty by half by 2015,” Dr Dar said.

ICRISAT believes that unless the livelihoods and resource base of such vulnerable rural communities can be made more resilient, coping with climate change and desertification may be next to impossible for poor dryland farming communities, Dr Dar said.

“ICRISAT has been doing this work in 48 countries of the semi-arid tropics of Asia and Africa for the past 35 years,” Dr Dar added. “Our future focus will build on our past work, and look at ways to climate-proof our crops, which already are those that grow in marginal lands.”

ICRISAT's strategy looks at climate change in two time frames – short to medium-term and medium to long-term. In the short to medium-term the strategy is to help farmers and stakeholders to cope better with current rainfall variability as a prerequisite to future climate change.

In the medium to long-term the strategy is to adapt the mandate crops – pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut – to grow in a warmer world. The breeding will focus on improving the following traits in crops – higher temperature tolerance, ability to endure moisture extremes, withstanding higher pest and disease attacks, and migration of ICRISAT crops to areas too marginal for other crops.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics is organizing an International Symposium on Climate Change, between 22 and 24 November, coinciding with the 35th Annual Day celebrations of the Institute.

The symposium brings together experts from the 15 international agricultural research centers under the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), who will present their research work on climate proofing their mandate crops. In addition, experts from the World Vegetable Center and the Columbia University will present papers. The International Development Research Centre (IDRC) of Canada and the Japan International Research Center for Agricultural Sciences (JIRCAS) are supporting the Symposium.

For further information, contact Dr Dyno Keatinge at d(dot)keatinge(at)cgiar(dot)org.

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