“Improving farm management vital”

Agriculture in developing countries needs to become “climate smart” to cope with the combined challenge of feeding a warmer, more heavily populated world, says a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation.

The sector needs to produce more food, waste less, and make it easier for farmers to get their produce to consumers. Farming must become more resilient to disruptive events such as floods and droughts. “Improving agriculture's management and use of natural resources like water, land and forests, soil nutrients and genetic resources is the key,” says the report, “Climate-Smart Agriculture: Policies, practices and financing for food security, adaptation and mitigation.

Estimates show that world population will grow from 6.7 billion at present to 9 billion by 2050 with most of the increase occurring in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. Climate change is expected to reduce agriculture productivity, stability and incomes in many areas that already experience high levels of food insecurity — yet world agriculture production will need to increase by 70 per cent over the coming four decades to meet the food needs.

Climate change threatens production stability and productivity. In many areas of the world where agricultural productivity is already low and the means of coping with adverse events are limited, climate change is expected to reduce productivity to even lower levels and make production more erratic.

Long-term changes in the patterns of temperature and precipitation that are part of climate change are expected to shift production seasons, pest and disease patterns and modify the set of feasible crops affecting production, prices, incomes and ultimately, livelihoods and lives, cautions the report.

Major challenges

“Increasing agricultural production, reducing post-harvest losses and improving food distribution channels in the developing world have always been major challenges. Climate change raises the bar significantly — a major transformation of agriculture is needed,” said FAO Assistant Director-General for Agriculture Alexander Mueller.

“Still, we must not forget that many effective climate-smart practices already exist and could be widely implemented in developing countries, as this report points out,'' he added.

There are a number of areas where changes in the food production sector are required, the report says. For one, agriculture in developing countries must adopt an eco-system approach, working at landscape scale and ensuring inter-sector coordination and cooperation. Considerable investment is required in filling data and knowledge gaps and in research and development of technologies, methodologies as well as conservation and production of suitable varieties and breeds.

The report underscores the need for institutional and financial support to enable small holders to make the transition to climate-smart agriculture. Greater consistency between agriculture, food security and climate change policy-making must be achieved at the national, regional and international levels. The vulnerability of farming communities to climate-related disasters must be reduced, and better warning and insurance systems to help them cope with climate-related problems need to be established. Agriculture has to find ways to reduce its environmental impacts — including lowering its own greenhouse gas emissions — without compromising food security and rural development.

  • Agriculture production needs to increase by 70% in four decades
  • Climate change threatens production stability and productivity