Thursday, June 17, 2010

Climate change beginning to disrupt agriculture, threatening food security, experts say

Climate change is beginning to disrupt agriculture around the world, four experts said yesterday at a panel discussion sponsored by the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The disruption comes at a time when global population is forecast to grow by half in the next 40 years and "the price of major grains like rice and wheat were already projected to also increase by roughly 50 percent," Darius Dixon of Environment & Energy News reports on ClimateWire, citing panelist Gerald Nelson, an agricultural economist and fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute. "With the added environmental stresses expected of climate change, prices could instead double, according to IFPRI."

Dixon reports, "Panelists stressed the need for funding aimed at mitigating the damage to agricultural resources around the world potentially affected by climate change," already being seen in accelerating cycles of drought and rain. "Climate variability has already affected rains, droughts and temperatures in several parts of the United States, said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a senior research scientist with NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies." She noted "significant reductions in rainfall across large portions of the Northwest and Southeast. Idaho, Washington, Montana, Georgia and Florida had some of the most drastic changes in rainfall on the map."

On the other hand, "Increased soil moisture in some areas could potentially harbor insects and other pests," Dixon reports. Also, "The reproductive development in many important grains is a process sensitive to temperature, said Paul Gepts, a professor of agronomy at the University of California, Davis. One of the potential side effects of climate change is a trend toward milder winters in some regions. Vital plants, Gepts said, require a cold winter in order to properly develop their seeds for the next season."

The panel also included R. Cesar Izaurralde, a fellow at the Joint Global Change Research Institute. All the panelists "reaffirmed the belief that ripples in agricultural stability inevitably lead to civil unrest and a substantial threat to national security." (Read more, subscription required)

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