21) Bracing for a ‘perfect storm’ that looms large over the poor

In the run up to the world leaders meeting on climate change in Copenhagen, ICRISAT highlights solutions to global warming for poor farmers in semi-arid tropics.

The world must brace itself for a brewing ‘perfect storm’ – a confluence of crises brought about by climate change, desertification, high energy demand and an exploding population. This wake up call comes from the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) which has a repository of crop varieties that could successfully grow in a warmer world.

The poorest of the poor in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are particularly vulnerable to the perils of climate change. Dr William Dar, Director General of ICRISAT says, “The world is facing a perfect storm, with a number of huge problems converging around us. At the center of this storm are the poor people, who depend on agriculture for survival.”

According to Dr Dar, warmer temperatures, persistent droughts and erratic rainfall could send poor farmers right back to the bottom of the development ladder. Increasing population and poverty would intensify this perfect storm, and the suffering that it causes.

Scientists predict that climate change will adversely affect agricultural productivity and human well-being. Crop yields are expected to decline, particularly at lower latitudes in the dry and tropical regions, increasing the risk of hunger.

On the other hand, agriculture releases carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, amounting to around 10 to12% of global greenhouse gas emissions annually. The challenge is therefore to design an agriculture that adapts to the changes in climate, as well as reduces greenhouse emissions.

Banking on its scientific work, ICRISAT has solutions that could help reduce the vulnerability of dryland farmers, and increase their resilience to the perfect storm.

To begin with, ICRISAT works on crops (pearl millet, sorghum, chickpea, pigeonpea and groundnut) that have several natural advantages in a changing climate. For example, pearl millet and sorghum have high salinity tolerance.

Moreover, ICRISAT has pearl millet hybrids that can flower and produce seeds even in hot weather and improved sorghum lines capable of producing good yields in warmer temperatures. ICRISAT’s s hort-duration groundnut varieties have good drought tolerance. Likewise, ICRISAT has developed extra-early (maturing in 85 to 90 days) and super-early (maturing in 75 to 80 days) chickpea varieties that can escape terminal drought.

Climate change is expected to expand drylands by 11 percent, and scientists predict this will increase the frequency and severity of droughts across the globe. While fighting the spread of deserts, ICRISAT’s integrated natural resource management strategy also benefits dryland farmers, as pursued through conservation agriculture in Eastern and Southern Africa, and the Sahelian Eco-farm in West and Central Africa.

In the nutrient-starved soils of sub-Saharan Africa, ICRISAT is increasing agricultural productivity with fertilizer microdosing, which ensures that the right quantity of scarce fertilizer is given to the crop at the right time.

With better crop varieties and agricultural practices, ICRISAT helps dryland farmers cope well with climate change. Above all, ICRISAT has signed the Copenhagen Communiqué for a globally equitable deal on climate change.

ICRISAT agrees with the University of Cambridge Program for Sustainability Leadership, the force behind the Communiqué: “The problem of climate change is solvable – many of the technologies required are available today while others can be developed if the right incentives are in place. The policies needed are relatively clear, and the costs of transition are manageable, even in the current economic climate. The one thing we do not have is time. Delay is not an option.”

About ICRISAT:

ICRISAT is a nonprofit, non-political organization engaged in innovative agricultural research and sustainable development with a wide array of partners across the globe. ICRISAT's mission is to empower 600 million poor people to overcome hunger, poverty and a degraded environment in the dry tropics through better agriculture. ICRISAT belongs to the Alliance of Future Harvest Centers of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR).

For further information on ICRISAT's work on helping the poor adapt to climate change, Dr William Dar (Director General of ICRISAT) can be contacted at Email: w(dot)dar(at)cgiar(dot)org.

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