Guest Article #48

Hardest Hit: The Impact of Climate Change on Developing World Farmers

The 2010 floods in Pakistan, which ruined 650,000 hectares of monsoon season crops and displaced countless smallholder farmers, demonstrate the often tragic relationship between agriculture, weather, and food security. In much of the developing world, as in Pakistan, subsistence and smallholder farmers are already confronted with rising food and fuel prices and rapid population growth. They are also hard pressed to deal with the ravages of extreme weather such as floods and droughts that climate change will likely make worse, decreased crop and livestock yields due to variable precipitation and temperatures, and the loss of cultivatable land to rising sea levels. IFPRI research suggests that developing countries will be hit hardest by climate change and will likely face bigger declines in crop yields and production than industrialized countries. The negative effects of climate change will be especially pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia.

As part of IFPRI's efforts to determine climate change's potential impact and how policymakers should respond, IFPRI's climate change research team, led by Gerald Nelson, produced a comprehensive assessment of the impact of climate change on agriculture last year. Combining climate and crop models with IFPRI's economic model of world agriculture, the study found that there will be 25 million more malnourished children in 2050 with climate change than without climate change. The report, however, showed that a scenario of lower yields, higher prices, and increased child malnutrition could be avoided if an additional annual investment of about seven billion US dollars is devoted to agricultural productivity—specifically agricultural research, improved irrigation, and rural roads. The study found that, otherwise, without new technology and adjustments by farmers, climate change will reduce irrigated wheat yields in 2050 by around 30% in developing countries. Irrigated rice yields will fall by 15%. IFPRI plans to release a major new report later this year that assesses more comprehensively the combined food security and climate change challenges.

A 2008 IFPRI study of adaptation in Sub-Saharan Africa, underlines the need for concrete policies that target on-the-ground realities. In interviews, African farmers said that they already perceived long-term changes in both temperature and rainfall. Surprisingly, however, more than a third of rural Ethiopian households in the Nile River Basin and two-thirds of South African farmers in the Limpopo River Basin did not adjust their farming practices accordingly. Farmers reported that they were constrained by lack of access to credit, extension services, water and markets. Shortage of land and insecure property rights were also identified as barriers.

Farmers, however, don't just suffer from the impacts of climate change—they also contribute to it. Globally, agriculture contributed about 14% of annual GHG emissions in 2000. Adding emissions from land-use change and forestry makes the total 30%. Of this, the developing world contributes 50% of agricultural emissions and 80% of land-use change and forestry emissions. Therefore, smallholder farmers who adopt sustainable, cost-effective practices, including soil and water conservation, agroforestry, and low-energy irrigation, are well positioned to play a meaningful role in the mitigation of GHG emissions.

It wasn't until the 2009 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen that agriculture earned a place at the global climate negotiating table. This was due in part to the insistence by developing world negotiators that agricultural policies—specifically pro-poor agricultural policies—be integrated into a final document. Farming First's Lindiwe Sibanda captured this sentiment when she declared “a deal without agriculture is no deal” during Agriculture and Rural Development Day, an event co-organized by IFPRI, its sister CGIAR centers, and other national and international organizations

IFPRI's climate change research is devoted to finding ways in which policymakers can help smallholder farmers adapt and mitigate against the backdrop of climate change. In addition to our modeling work, our research focuses on adaptation, such as finding ways to take advantage of Africa's untapped irrigation potential, and mitigation, such devising ways for smallholder farmers to sell "charismatic carbon"—carbon credits with clear poverty reduction, food security and nutrition, and environmental sustainability benefits—in informal and formal carbon markets. We also look at innovative adaptation-mitigation synergies that produce co-benefits.

The costs of agricultural adaptation and the barriers to mitigation are high, but IFPRI's climate change research consistently shows that the right mix of investments and policies that emphasize both adaptation and mitigation would pay off enormously by helping subsistence and smallholder farmer's improve their livelihoods—even in the face of climate change.

Animated Climate Change Maps:

In an effort to evaluate and represent a greater quantity and broader scope of climate-change related data, IFPRI researchers created three-dimensional animations that display monthly average values for precipitation, and daily minimum and maximum air temperatures for large regions worldwide.