Hardest hit: The impact of climate change on developing world farmers

This article by IFPRI’s Director General Shenggen Fan appeared on Climate-L on September 29th, 2010.

The 2010 floods in Pakistan, which ruined 650,000 hectares of monsoon season crops and displaced countless smallholder farmers, demonstrate the often tragic relationship between agriculture, weather, and food security. In much of the developing world, as in Pakistan, subsistence and smallholder farmers are already confronted with rising food and fuel prices and rapid population growth. They are also hard pressed to deal with the ravages of extreme weather such as floods and droughts that climate change will likely make worse, decreased crop and livestock yields due to variable precipitation and temperatures, and the loss of cultivatable land to rising sea levels. IFPRI research suggests that developing countries will be hit hardest by climate change and will likely face bigger declines in crop yields and production than industrialized countries. The negative effects of climate change will be especially pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

As part of IFPRI’s efforts to determine climate change’s potential impact and how policymakers should respond, IFPRI’s climate change research team, led by Gerald Nelson, produced a comprehensive assessment of the impact of climate change on agriculture last year. Combining climate and crop models with IFPRI’s economic model of world agriculture, the study found that there will be 25 million more malnourished children in 2050 with climate change than without climate change. The report, however, showed that a scenario of lower yields, higher prices, and increased child malnutrition could be avoided if an additional annual investment of about seven billion US dollars is devoted to agricultural productivity—specifically agricultural research, improved irrigation, and rural roads. The study found that, otherwise, without new technology and adjustments by farmers, climate change will reduce irrigated wheat yields in 2050 by around 30% in developing countries. Irrigated rice yields will fall by 15%. IFPRI plans to release a major new report later this year that assesses more comprehensively the combined food security and climate change challenges.

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