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Food security in the Pacific at risk due to climate change

FAO publishes policy brief for Copenhagen

Photo: ©FAO/ F. Sodter
Cyclone damage

26 November 2009, Rome - Climate change is projected to impact heavily on agriculture, forestry and fisheries in the Pacific islands, leading to increased food insecurity and malnutrition, FAO warned today ahead of the UN summit on climate change in Copenhagen. The agency urged governments and donors to immediately start implementing robust and action-oriented climate change adaptation plans for all Pacific islands.  


Climate change is expected to act as a "threat multiplier" in a region that is already under severe ecological and economic stress, according to the FAO policy brief Climate Change and Food Security in the Pacific prepared for Copenhagen.


Pacific islands will have to face sea levels rise, ocean warming and acidification, changing rainfall patterns, changing sunshine hours and cloud cover, altered ocean and atmospheric circulation patterns and an increased frequency of extreme weather events such as tropical cyclones and droughts.


Many of these impacts could lead to cumulative and adverse effects on agricultural and fishery yields and food security. Land and marine ecosystem degradation, heat stress, soil erosion, salinization and nutrient depletion, the spread of plant pests and diseases, more frequent forest fires, droughts and flooding pose an acute and serious risk to food production.


Adapt and diversify


"Farmers should not be left alone when it comes to climate change," said FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller. "Countries and their development partners need to ensure that farmers receive the best available information on the choice of crop varieties as well as soil and water management options to adapt to climate change," he added.


Those Pacific islands with monoculture crop production will need to assess their food security potential closely, as diversified agricultural systems will fare better under all climate change scenarios. "Integrated systems of crops, trees and possibly livestock offer opportunities for sustainable intensification of food production while creating a more resilient ecosystem," Müller said.


Fisheries


Climate change also seriously threatens the sustainability of the fishing industry and has the potential to undermine food security in a region strongly reliant on fish as a source of protein and income derived from renting the sea to foreign fleets. Subsistence and commercial fishing, particularly of tuna species, are mainstays of many Pacific island economies. Changes in the distribution and abundance of tuna have serious implications for the long-term viability of industrial fisheries and canneries in the western Pacific. Subsistence and commercial fishing will have to diversify production, fish industry infrastructure and distribution patterns in order to adapt to abrupt environmental and industry change.  


Forestry


"Climate change impacts, coupled with ongoing overexploitation of forest resources in the region, will place immense pressures on remaining forests," FAO said. Forests and trees provide important staple crops in the Pacific such as breadfruit, mangos, citrus fruits and coconuts. Mangrove forests prevent from coastal erosion, provide protection from storm surges and tsunamis, and offer important habitats for numerous fish species. Governments in the region should be supported in managing forests sustainably and in promoting integrated agro-forestry systems. The potential of forests to contribute to carbon sequestration should be recognised.


Robust adaptation


"International climate change negotiations should consider the close linkages between food security and global warming," Müller said. "All Pacific islands should be supported in implementing their ‘National Adaptation Programmes of Action', also including food security issues."


Research and development should be intensified in agriculture, fisheries and forestry to identify and promote the use of salt- and drought-resistant crop varieties, the rehabilitation of coastal forests and infrastructure development in vulnerable coastal areas.


"Failure to act is likely to lead to increased poverty, political instability and conflict," he stressed


The policy brief was written together with the Pacific Expert Group on Climate Change and Food Security.