Africa / Agriculture / Climate Change / Food Security / ILRI / Impact Assessment

Round-up of news reports of ILRI study on the impacts of a 4-degree-C increase on African food production

Malawi household in the rainy season #1

A farming household in the rainy season in Malawi; here, as in much of Africa, people’s livelihoods depend on the climate. This homestead is in Khulungira, a village of 150 families in central Malawi, 27 km from the nearest paved road and 50 km from the nearest town; there is no electricity and no running water; no one here owns a car or a motorcycle; few parents can afford to send their children to secondary school. Changes in weather here will change lives (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

A study led by Philip Thornton, of the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), along with Polly Erickson, Peter Jones and Andrew Challinor, which examines the probable impacts of a four-degree temperature increase on sub-Saharan Africa’s food production, reached the international media shortly before the start of the climate change negotiations held last November–December in Cancún, Mexico. The ILRI study says farmers will need serious help in coping with potentially unmanageable impacts of climate change on the continent.

The following is a round-up of some of the media reports about the ILRI study, published in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series A.

29 NOVEMBER 2010
REUTERS ALERTNET
‘Another piece of work that picks up the migration ball is a new study examining the potential impact of four-degree and above temperature increases on food production in sub-Saharan Africa, published in the journal Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society Series A. By the 2090s, most of southern Africa could see growing seasons shortened by at least 20 percent, according to simulations carried out using various climate models, while eastern Africa could see modestly expanded seasons. For sub-Saharan Africa as a whole, a temperature rise of five degrees would depress maize production by 24 percent and bean production by over 70 percent. And the rate of crop failure would increase in all parts of the region except Central Africa, with much of southern Africa’s rain-fed agriculture failing every other season. “More frequent crop failures could unleash waves of climate migrants in a massive redistribution of hungry people,” lead author Philip Thornton of the Kenya-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) warned in a statement. ILRI Director General Carlos Sere told AlertNet the researchers had not tried to work out how many poor farmers could be forced from their land by climate change, but many in southern Africa would find their current practice of cultivating crops and rearing livestock – known as “mixed farming” – no longer viable. “They will have to give up their livelihoods and migrate. In areas where there may already be conflict and other stresses, this will create an enormous amount of tension,” he said. Sere hopes the paper will act as a wake-up call to government officials gathering in Cancun, Mexico, this week for the annual U.N. climate conference.’

AUSTRIAPRESSEAGENTUR (AUSTRIA) AND DPA (GERMANY)
‘In Afrika könnte eine Erhöhung der globalen Temperaturen um vier Grad bis 2090 zu einer deutlichen VERKÜRZUNG DER VEGETATIONSZEIT und damit zu deutlichen Ernteeinbußen führen. Den Simulationen zufolge würde ein Anstieg um fünf Grad Celsius die Maisernte um 24 Prozent schmälern, die Bohnenernte sogar um mehr als 70 Prozent, berichten Philip Thornton vom International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi (Kenia) und seine Mitarbeiter. Immer häufiger würden Ernten aufgrund von Wetterereignissen ganz ausfallen.’

VOICE OF AMERICA
‘A new study warns of the potential problems Africa faces from rising temperatures. The Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) says the continent must learn to adapt to shorter growing seasons. The report was released as the U.N. Climate Change Conference is held in Cancun, Mexico. Most warnings about climate change are based on a possible rise in global temperatures by two degrees Celsius. But this report considers what might happen if temperatures increased by four degrees. Institute Director-General Carlos Seré says, “We already know that two degrees Celsius increases are highly probable, even if we get into action. So this study was showing what would happen with scenarios with about four degrees, which are not completely out of the realm of the possible. A number of modeling exercises show that this could happen.” Seré says computer models indicate such an increase is possible by the year 2090. “The main concern is really the fate of Africans. Africans are, as you know, largely working in rural areas. We estimate at least 60 percent of the total employment is in the rural areas and it‘s largely in mixed systems–crop/livestock systems where people have small acreages, grow some cereals, some roots and tubers and keep some animals,” he says. A U.N. report predicts a tripling of the population of African cities over the next 40 years. Seré says the population in rural areas will increase as well. “All our models indicate that the absolute number of people in rural areas is still going to grow. So, farms are going to get smaller. There‘s going to be less resources. And we‘ll have to be much smarter in terms of improving the productivity to feed not only people in the rural areas, but those rapidly growing cities,” says Seré. Scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute say with a four degree Celsius rise in temperature, the growing season in many African countries could dramatically shorten. “So that would really put large numbers of poor people into a very difficult situation in terms of coping with this change,” he says. Adapting to climate change could mean having diversity in crops and livestock. Seré says, “Clearly, farmers would have to change some of their crops. So, for example, areas which are getting a reasonable maize harvest, a corn harvest, nowadays, might have to move into more drought tolerant grains like sorghum or millet. Similarly, on the livestock side there would have to probably be quite a shift to more hardy local breeds instead of high yielding imported breeds, which are much less able to cope with higher temperatures and more variability.” The genetic resources of hardy local crops and livestock could be used to help develop new varieties and breeds better able to deal with climate change. Seré says the report calls for “sustainable intensification.” “Finding sustainable ways of better using the resources that we have on the farms. Making sure that, for example, besides using fertilizers, manure is used efficiently to bring those nutrients back into the soil. That crop residues are used smartly to feed animals. We will have to get all these nutrient loops much more efficient than they are today,” he says. He says there would also be “significant changes in disease patterns.” “Because,” he says, “disease vectors like mosquitoes, like tsetse flies, etc.—the pattern of distribution would change quite dramatically.” The Institute says, “While many options are already available that could help farmers adapt . . . it is quite possible that the adaptive capacity and resilience of hundreds of millions of people in Africa could simply be overwhelmed by events.”‘

GUARDIAN
‘In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), “the prognosis for agriculture and food security in a 4C world is bleak”, according Philip Thornton, of Kenya’s International Livestock Research Institute, who led another research team. He notes there will be an extra billion people populating the Africa continent by 2050. “Croppers and livestock keepers in SSA have in the past shown themselves to be highly adaptable to short- and long-term variations in climate. But the kind of changes that would occur in a 4C+ world would be way beyond anything experienced in recent times. It is not difficult to envisage a situation where the adaptive capacity and resilience of hundreds of millions of people could simply be overwhelmed by events,” Thornton’s team concludes.’

BBC
‘Philip Thornton and colleagues have this to say about food: “The prognosis for agriculture and food security in Sub-Saharan Africa in a 4C+ world is bleak. Already today, the number of people at risk from hunger has never been higher . . . and it is estimated that it may exceed 1 billion in 2010. Croppers and livestock keepers in Sub-Saharan Africa have in the past shown themselves to be highly adaptable to short- and long-term variations in climate, but the kind of changes that would occur in a 4C+ world would be way beyond anything experienced in recent times.” . . . All in all, these papers conclude, it’s over-simplistic to think in terms of 4C being twice as bad as 2C: “A 4C+ world may require a complete transformation in many aspects of society, rather than adaptation of existing activities; for example, high crop failure frequency in southern Africa may require shifts to entirely new crops and farming methods, or sea-level rise may require the relocation of cities.” In so far as the scientists assembled here come up with a prescription, it is to increase research effort on the big unknowns (such as answering the outstanding questions on sea-level rise), take a new approach to adaptation so plans are implemented that can cope with a 4C+ world as well as a 2C world, and research geo-engineering technologies in case they need to be deployed at any stage.’

CLIMATE PROGRESS
‘A key reason the scientific community hasn‘t studied the high emissions scenarios much until recently because they never thought humanity would be so self-destructive as to ignore their warnings for so long, which has put us on the highest emissions path (see U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm . . . the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realized”—1000 ppm [A1FI]). A special issue of the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, “Four degrees and beyond: the potential for a global temperature increase of four degrees and its implications,” lays out this 4°C (7°F) world. . . . ‘There are several important articles, like “Agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa [SSA] in a 4°C+ world,” which concludes: “The prognosis for agriculture and food security in SSA in a 4°C+ world is bleak. Already today, the number of people at risk from hunger has never been higher: it increased from 300 million in 1990 to 700 million in 2007, and it is estimated that it may exceed 1 billion in 2010. The cost of achieving the food security Millennium Development Goal in a +2°C world is around $40–60 billion per year, and without this investment, serious damage from climate change will not be avoided. Currently, the prospects for such levels of sustained investment are not that bright. Croppers and livestock keepers in SSA have in the past shown themselves to be highly adaptable to short- and long-term variations in climate, but the kind of changes that would occur in a 4°C+ world would be way beyond anything experienced in recent times. There are many options that could be effective in helping farmers adapt even to medium levels of warming, given substantial investments in technologies, institution building and infrastructural development, for example, but it is not difficult to envisage a situation where the adaptive capacity and resilience of hundreds of millions of people in SSA could simply be overwhelmed by events.”‘

DIEPRESSE.COM
‘In Afrika könnte eine Erhöhung der globalen Temperaturen um vier Grad bis 2090 zu einer deutlichen VERKÜRZUNG DER VEGETATIONSZEIT und damit zu deutlichen Ernteeinbußen führen. Den Simulationen zufolge würde ein Anstieg um fünf Grad Celsius die Maisernte um 24 Prozent schmälern, die Bohnenernte sogar um mehr als 70 Prozent, berichten Philip Thornton vom International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi (Kenia) und seine Mitarbeiter. Immer häufiger würden Ernten aufgrund von Wetterereignissen ganz ausfallen.’

DISCOVERY NEWS
‘In a collection of papers published today in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society A, researchers paint a picture of what a four-degree warmer world might look like, including changes in agriculture and water supply, ecosystems, sea level rise and the displacement of populations. “People are talking about two degrees but the chances of actually delivering on that are pretty slim,” said Mark New of Oxford University, United Kingdom, one of the researchers who compiled the collection. “If we had a kind of a Marshall Plan to transform every major economy to a non-carbon based economy over the next 15 years, it’s doable. But that’s not going to happen. A lot of work suggests that the most likely outcome is between three and four (degrees increase) with it very likely to be more than four.” . . . A team led by Peter Thornton of the International Livestock Research Institute used models to project the effect of a four-degree temperature increase on crop production in sub-Saharan Africa. “The rate of crop failure in southern Africa increases to nearly one in every two years,” New said of the study. “You can’t continue to rely on your existing crops or practices. There’s going to have to be some kind of a transformation.” “Most of these countries have low capacity to adapt,” he added.’

NEW SCIENTIST
‘Most of sub-Saharan Africa will see shorter growing seasons, according to Philip Thornton of the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and colleagues. As a result, average maize production will drop 19 per cent and bean production by 47 per cent compared with current levels.’

SCIDEV.NET
‘A widespread farming catastrophe could hit Africa if global temperatures rose by four degrees Celsius or more, according to a study that calls for urgent planning for a much warmer future and investment in technology to avert disaster. In most of southern Africa the growing season could shrink by as much as a fifth, according to scientists at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya, who carried out simulation studies based on existing climate change models. The “four degrees plus” scenario is increasingly being contemplated as negotiations, which began again in Cancún, Mexico, today (29 November–10 December), have stalled on measures aimed at limiting the global temperature rise to two degrees. Drastic changes to farming will be needed under such a scenario, said Carlos Seré, director-general of ILRI. “The general feeling is that the world is not going to move quickly enough on [confining global warming to] two degrees,” he told SciDev.Net: “We are not getting traction. The common thinking has been that there will be enough variability in farming today to allow us to cope, but the reality is that in a four degree world the range of options is very narrow.” According to the models, the growing season may increase modestly in eastern Africa. But cropping seasons are likely to decline more quickly everywhere in the region except central Africa. Much of southern Africa’s rain-fed agriculture could fail every other season by the 2090s, says the study. “It is not difficult to envisage a situation where the adaptive capacity and resilience of hundreds of millions of people in Sub-Saharan Africa could simply be overwhelmed by events.” Simply making crops more drought-tolerant or flood-resistant is just tinkering about the edges, said Seré. “The changes which will be required in the farming system are quite drastic, pushing farmers beyond the limits of their knowledge and experience. They will be overwhelmed by extreme climate events,” he told SciDev.Net. “We are talking about farmers abandoning cropping and migrating out of those regions. But where are farmers who cannot cope with this level of stress in the system to go? “Where is the alternative livelihood for 60 per cent of the continent where farming is still a very key part of coping with food security? You cannot escape the fact that for decades many people are going to be in the rural sector. It is a moral imperative to give those people a livelihood. We need to understand and find much smarter ways to get knowledge out there. Extension services in Africa have largely collapsed in many countries”. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Fourth Assessment Report in 2007 assumed that regional shortfalls in food production in Sub-Saharan Africa could be plugged with imports from global markets, says the paper, but it adds that the experience of the 2008 food crisis highlighted the difficulties of such an “adaptation” strategy. Instead ILRI scientists are calling for better monitoring, in particular “back to basics”, land-based observation and data collection in Africa, which have been in decline for decades. Information on weather, land use, markets and crop and livestock distribution is critical for an effective response to climate change, they said. “Africa’s data-collection systems could be improved with relatively modest additional effort,” the study says.’

WIRED
‘Much of sub-Saharan Africa will be vulnerable to an increase in temperature and radically reduce crop yields to the point where some types of agriculture become unsustainable, according to Philip Thornton from the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and colleagues. He has suggested that average maize yield could fall by 19 percent and bean production by 47 percent compared with today’s levels.’

30 NOVEMBER 2010
AFRICAN PRESS AGENCY (NIGERIA)
‘The study examined the potential impact of a four-degree increase in temperature on food production in sub-Saharan Africa. It noted that much of the region‘s cropped areas and rangelands would be reduced in length by the 2090s, thereby damaging the ability of these lands to grow food. Painting a bleak picture of Africa‘s food production in a “four-plus degree world,” the study stressed the need for concerted efforts to help farmers cope with potentially unmanageable impacts of climate change. It noted that in most of southern Africa, farming seasons could be shortened by about 20 per cent, according to the results of simulations carried out using various climate models. The temperature increase of five degrees by the 2090s is expected to depress maize production by 24 per cent and bean production by over 70 per cent. “Africa‘s rural people have shown a remarkable capacity to adapt to climate variability over the centuries,” said lead author Philip Thornton, with the Kenya-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI). “But temperature increases of four degrees or more could create unprecedented conditions in dozens of African countries, pushing farmers beyond the limits of their knowledge and experience,” he said. The study noted that several options were already available that could help farmers adapt even to medium levels of warming, assuming substantial investment in new technology, institution building, and infrastructure development. To reduce the adverse impact of climate change on food security on the continent, the study recommended four actions to be adopted. It also recommended going “back to basics” in collecting data and information. It stressed the need to ramp up efforts to maintain and use global stocks of crop and livestock genetic resources to help Africa‘s crop and livestock producers adapt to climate change.’

5 DECEMBER 2010
IRIN
‘”[We wanted] . . . to get countries in Cancún to take action now to keep the global temperature increase below two degrees Celsius by the turn of the century–otherwise we are headed towards a four degree rise if greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked,” said Phillip Thornton, of the Kenya-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), who used climate models in a study showing the serious impact of a four-degree Celsius rise in temperature on food production in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2090s. . . . In the ILRI study Thornton painted a rather gloomy picture: crops failed every second year in parts of Southern Africa, and he was sceptical that international climate policies would succeed “in confining global warming to . . . [a rise of 2 degrees Celsius]—even this will require unprecedented collective will and collective action”. Data collection and dissemination on the weather as well as the land would have to improve, so as to develop adaptation strategies. At the moment, “estimates of the cropland extent in Africa range from about 1 to more than 6 million sq km . . . depending on the choice of satellite. . . . The uncertainty in such basic information (‘where are crops grown, and how much of them is there?’) adds considerable difficulty to the quantification and evaluation of impacts and adaptation options,” the ILRI study commented. It also urged investment in preserving genetic diversity so farmers would have a bigger pool of choices to cross-breed, and in providing support for smallholder farmers by developing community-based adaptation tools that were easy to implement.’

6 DECEMBER 2010
UPI
‘A study by the International Livestock Research Institute concludes that if temperatures continue to rise, maize prices could increase by 131 percent within the next 40 years. Phillip Thornton, a lead author of the ILRI report, told the United Nations’ humanitarian news agency IRIN that it was important that negotiators at a climate summit in Cancún, Mexico, come to grips with the potential catastrophic effects of global warming. “(We wanted) . . . to get countries in Cancún to take action now to keep the global temperature increase below 2 degrees Celsius by the turn of the century,” he said. “Otherwise we are headed toward a 4-degree rise if greenhouse gas emissions remain unchecked.”‘

7 DECEMBER 2010
INTERPRESS SERVICE
‘”A four-degree C world would be horrendous and must be avoided at all costs,” said Philip Thornton of the International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya and co-author of a paper in the Royal Society special issue “Four degrees and beyond”. “This special issue is a call to action so we can avoid such a future,” Thornton told TerraViva. Even if a new climate treaty came out of the final week of the 16th meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change in Cancún, 2.0 degrees C looks inevitable, he said. No one is realistically expecting a comprehensive climate treaty for several years. This means southern Africa can expect to be 3.5 degrees C hotter and much drier in future, he said. “It is going to get very difficult for rain-fed agriculture in this region,” Thornton warned. . . . A great deal of work will be needed to help farmers adapt to these new conditions, including the development of heat and drought-tolerant varieties, said Thornton. Learning from other regions with conditions similar to those expected in southern Africa in the next 20 to 30 years, as well as bringing seeds from those regions, has to be part of the adaptation strategy. It also means that water-hungry crops like maize will need to be replaced by cassava, millet and sorghum. That involves social change since local people largely prefer maize and food preparation of those other crops is different and may be more difficult, he said. “It’s a towering challenge,” Thornton noted. Climate projections for the rest of sub-Saharan Africa are less clear in a 2.0 degrees-plus world. Changes in seasons and rainfall patterns have already been occurring for the last 20 or 30 years. That’s expected to continue. Higher temperatures mean crops need more water, and projections for precipitation, especially in dry regions, are that rainfall will be similar or less abundant. More importantly, rain will likely occur in fewer events with longer dry periods between, making agriculture very difficult as the planet heats up. The paper concludes that the cost of reaching the Millennium Development Goal on food security—halving the proportion of hungry people by 2015—in a +2°C world will be around $40–$60 billion per year. “Without this investment, serious damage from climate change will not be avoided,” it said.’

Read the ILRI paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, Series A: Agriculture and food systems in sub-Saharan Africa [SSA] in a 4°C+ world, 29 November 2010.

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