Climate Change not just a Threat to Staple Food Crops

Climate-smart agriculture must include a broad range of crops and farming systems, and not only the headline-hogging staples.

Millions of smallholder farmers depend on cash crops like tea and cocoa to make ends meet, and to raise enough money to buy food.

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Many cocoa farmers in West Africa, for example, treat their cocoa trees like ATM machines, picking a few plump pods to sell in order to pay school fees or medical expenses.

But as recent studies by scientists and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) have shown, climate change poses a significant challenge to these and other cash crops, as well as threatening the headline-hogging food staples we often hear about.

CIAT’s climate models predict that high-quality tea-growing zones of Kenya and Uganda, and the cocoa regions of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, will experience an average temperature rise of over two degrees Celsius by 2050.

This is enough to cause the crops to struggle – and at worst – fail.

While on the face of it, this looks like a devastating blow to a huge number of smallholder farmers, this particular cloud has a silver lining:

There is time to adapt. Not much, but time nonetheless.

While there will always be some uncertainty in prediction tomorrow’s weather, let alone the climate in three decades’ time, one thing is clear: effective adaptation to a warmer world needs to start straight away, and must be a joint effort by producers, other members of the chocolate and tea value chains, national governments, and donors.

Encouragingly, the CIAT reports have been received in earnest and the ball is already rolling. The speed with which these industries are reacting could be an example for the rest of the world to follow.

Click to read more about Africa’s chocolate meltdown and the trouble brewing in the tea lands of Kenya and Uganda.