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Living with climate change
Adaptation strategies needed to build resilience
10 September 2007, Rome - Climate change is emerging as one of the main challenges humankind will have to face for many years to come. It could become a major threat to world food security, as it has a strong impact on food production, access and distribution.

Abnormal changes in air temperature and rainfall and the increasing frequency and intensity of drought and floods have long-term implications for the viability and productivity of world agro-ecosystems.

This was the main message delivered today by Alexander Müller, FAO Assistant Director General, to over 140 world experts convened in Rome for a workshop on “Adaptation Planning and Strategies."(*) While continuing to deal with the causes of climate change -- by reducing emissions and increasing greenhouse gas sinks -- it is crucial, Müller said, to also take immediate action to cope with its effects. Ways must be found to build up peoples’ resilience as well as that of food production systems, he added.

Developing countries at risk most

Agriculture is the sector most affected by changes in climate patterns and will be increasingly vulnerable in the future. Especially at risk are developing countries, which are highly dependent on agriculture and have fewer resources and options to combat damage from climate change.

In the short term, as the global average temperature rises 1-3º C, industrialized countries may well gain in food production potential. However, in lower latitudes -- especially in subsistence sectors, marginal, semi-arid and sub-humid regions, where rain fed agriculture is the norm -- even with a minimal rise in global temperature crop potential will most probably decline.

Agriculture both culprit and victim

Agriculture is both culprit and victim when it comes to climate change.

It is estimated that the livestock sector alone accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while deforestation is responsible for 18 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.

According to FAO, introducing improved livestock management and crop practices, coupled with adaptive management of forests, could have a very significant impact. Adopting land use practices such as conservation agriculture would also help to maintain significant amounts of carbon in the soil.

Rice production is another major source of greenhouse gas emissions. It is perhaps the main source of anthropogenic methane, with some 50 to 100 million metric tons per year emitted from the world's 130 million hectares of rice paddies.

At the same time adverse and extreme weather conditions can jeopardise rice crop production, which feeds more than half the world’s population. Of major benefit would be introducing different and improved rice varieties with greater salinity tolerance. These were successfully used by FAO to expedite the recovery of production in areas damaged by the 2004 Asian tsunami.

More hardy varieties, yielding over four tons per hectare, have been developed and tested successfully in Bangladesh, a country repeatedly affected by flooding.

The rapid transition toward greater use of biofuels could also help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, so long as food security and environmental considerations are taken into account.

The role of FAO

Climate change is a global phenomenon with local or regional features which needs to be understood and anticipated.

“FAO is already actively assisting its Members, particularly developing countries, to enhance their capacity to confront the negative impacts of climate change on agriculture, forests and fisheries”, said Müller. This means helping people to adapt their agricultural systems to changed conditions and specific stresses. It involves providing creative solutions and alternative approaches, such as introducing crop varieties that can tolerate heat and water stress.

Müller went on to say that forecasting extreme events and trends by collecting data and developing tools to produce on-hand information for adapting countries’ agriculture is another area that needs greater attention.

(*) The workshop “Adaptation Planning and Strategies” is organized by the Secretariat of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, under the Nairobi work programme on impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change. It is part of a series of meetings to assess strategies to cope with the effects of climate change.

Luisa Guarneri
Media Relations, FAO
(+39) 06 570 56350


Luisa Guarneri
Media Relations, FAO
(+39) 06 570 56350
(+39) 348 870 5979

© FAO/12025/T. Fenyes, MTI

The UNFCCC defines climate change as “a change of climate which is attributed directly or indirectly to human activity,” not climate variability due to natural causes.

Did you know?

• In developing countries, 11%of arable land could be affected by climate change, including a reduction of cereal production in up to 65 countries.

• The world’s average surface temperature has increased by around 0.74°C over the past 100 years (1906-2005). A warming of about 0.2°C is projected for each of the next two decades.

• The warmest recorded year was 2005, followed by 1998 and 2002.

• Over 95% of Africa’s agriculture depends on rainfall. Models indicate that 80,000 square km of agricultural land in sub-Saharan Africa currently deemed constrained will improve as a result of climate change. However, 600 000 square km currently classed as moderately constrained will become severely limited.

• Cereal crop yields will decline by up to 5% by the 2080s. There will be a general decline also in most subsistence crops such as sorghum in Sudan, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Zambia; maize in Ghana, millet in Sudan and groundnuts in the Gambia.

• By 2025 approximately 480 million people in Africa could be living in water scarce or water stressed areas

© Jim Peaco

Climate change could become a major threat to world food security.

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Living with climate change
Adaptation strategies needed to build resilience
10 September 2007 - In a workshop at FAO, organized under the framework of the UNFCCC, experts share knowledge and experiences regarding impacts, vulnerability and adaptation to climate change.
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