Climate Change Could Impact Food Security: IPCC Reviewer
March 31, 2014 - News Release
An international report on climate change suggests that unless policies are put in place to help farmers, crop yields may decline and threaten food security around the world.
Prof. Evan Fraser, Department of Geography, served as an expert reviewer for a chapter discussing food security in the fifth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which was published today in Japan. The IPCC report says scientific data show more clearly that temperature extremes are becoming the norm.
The report’s chapter on food and farming predicts that climate change, population growth, increasing meat consumption and declining land available for agriculture will make feeding people a challenge, especially those in poor countries.
Fraser, a Canada Research Chair, said even a slight change in temperature can have a tremendous impact on farmers, particularly outside of North America.
“When we look at farmers in some African countries, they can have a bad year due to a small change in weather, just because they do not have the technology or support systems in place that we have. This can lead to devastation and even death.”
Referring to the 1983-85 Ethiopia drought, he said, “There were other political, economic and social factors, but it was only a small change in weather that triggered a severe food crisis and hundreds of thousands of people dying. That’s not going to happen in Canada or the U.S. However, temperature extremes can have a negative impact on crops here and lead to higher food prices for consumers. Most critically, some farmers could lose their farms if they have a bad year.”
Fraser points to 2012 as an example of how extreme temperature can play havoc with farmers’ livelihoods. That year, a spring frost nipped Ontario apple production by 19.2 per cent compared to 2009, according to Ontario Apple Growers.
“The profit margins for farmers can be very thin at times, and that kind of year can ruin families,” Fraser said.
“If we want farmers to thrive, and we want to eat food grown locally, there is a need to build a strong safety net, possibly involving affordable crop insurance or governmental loan forgiveness. This is particularly important in the developing world but is also relevant to Ontario.”
He also pointed to a need to increase soil organic matter and the biodiversity of farms as ways of helping protect crops from bad weather.
“We need to have farms that are mixed-use, with animals and plants, as well as farms that rotate crops. All of this builds up the soil organic matter. This is important because organic matter acts as a sponge. So if a drought happens, the ground holds onto more water and plants are more likely to survive.”
More globally, Fraser says we need to invest in technology and research. He says scientists must develop partnerships with farmers, and especially with farmers in poorer nations, to ensure that technological fixes address local problems.
“The IPCC report anticipates a possible food shortage if changes are not made. But if farmers get the access to the tools and knowledge that they need, a catastrophe is not inevitable. We can anticipate the kind of world we want to move into and make changes that ensure food security.”
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Prof. Evan Fraser
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