Taking a young goat to market at Mieso, in the Mirab Hararghe Zone of the Oromia Region, Ethiopia (photo credit: ILRI/Apollo Habtamu).
Nature News reports on a new CGIAR study that says ‘One-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture’ and advises farmers to abandon vulnerable crops in the face of climate change.
‘The global food system, from fertilizer manufacture to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the latest figures from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a partnership of 15 research centres around the world.
‘In two reports published today, the CGIAR says that reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint is central to limiting climate change. And to help to ensure food security, farmers across the globe will probably have to switch to cultivating more climate-hardy crops and farming practices.
‘“The food-related emissions and the impacts of climate change on agriculture and the food system will profoundly alter the way we grow and produce food,” says Sonja Vermeulen, a plant scientist at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark and a co-author of one of the studies, which estimates the emissions footprint of food.
‘Vermeulen and her colleagues examined for the first time the carbon emissions for all stages of the global food system. Previous work has only looked at the contribution of agricultural production to greenhouse-gas emissions, including the release of nitrous oxide from soils from farming techniques such as tilling.
‘. . . The researchers found that agricultural production provides the lion’s share of greenhouse-gas emissions from the food system . . . . Increasing temperatures and the likelihood of flooding will challenge farmers’ ability to safely store and distribute food, boosting the risk of food-borne illnesses and diarrhoeal diseases, they add.
Food safety will in future be a crucial issue. This is a different take from the usual focus on crop yields and emissions,” says [Bruce] Campbell.
In the second report, Philip Thornton, an agricultural scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute, headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, examined the potential effects of climate change on 22 of the world’s most important agricultural commodities, including wheat, soya beans and potatoes.’
‘By 2050, climate change could cause irrigated wheat yields in developing countries to drop by 13%, and irrigated rice could fall by 15%. In Africa, maize yields could drop by 10–20% over the same time frame.
‘For some crops, improvements to heat resistance through conventional and transgenic breeding, for example, will help farmers to adapt. But for others, more radical changes are needed. . . .’
Read the whole article by Natasha Gilbert in Nature: One-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture, doi:10.1038/nature.2012.11708, 31 Oct 2012.
Read the policy brief by Philip Thornton. Recalibrating food production in the developing world: Global warming will change more than just the climate. CCAFS Policy Brief no. 6. CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, 2012.
Read more about this on ILRI’s News Blog: As the cooking pot turns: Staple crop and animal foods are being ‘recalibrated’ for a warmer world, 1 Nov 2012.