As the science weighs more heavily toward a consensus that a) climate change is a real phenomenon and b) human-generated carbon emissions are playing at least a part in causing more volatile weather patterns, it is critical that the global agricultural community combat this phenomenon, to the extent that it can.
The World Bank Group on Dec. 4 took a leading role by doubling its current five-year investments to around $200 billion in support for countries to take climate action. As part of this initiative, it will be financing climate-smart agriculture investments in 20 countries. Examples of climate-smart agriculture projects already sponsored by the World Bank include: in China, where better water-use efficiency and new technology have improved soil conditions on 44,000 hectares of farmland; in Mexico, where 1,165 small and medium agribusinesses have adopted environmentally sustainable energy technologies, reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 3.3 million tonnes (agriculture generates 19% to 29% of total greenhouse gas emissions); and in Senegal, where seven new high-yielding, early-maturing drought resistant varieties of sorghum and millet have been developed.
While virtually all of the world’s major grain-producing regions are affected by climate change, perhaps no country has been affected more than Australia, the world’s fourth largest wheat exporter.
On the same day that the World Bank announced its initiative, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) issued a dire forecast for that country’s grain crop in 2018-19, estimating a 23% drop in production compared to last year. That includes a 20% drop in wheat production, to 17 million tonnes, the lowest total since 2008-09’s disastrous, drought-ravaged 13.6-million-tonne crop. According to the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), since the beginning of the 20th century, Australia has experienced an increase of nearly 1 degree Celsius in average annual temperatures, with warming occurring twice the rate over the past 50 years than in the previous 50 years.
The outlook is ominous in other hotbeds of grain production as well. In 2018, the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research released a report that said that in the United States higher temperatures may cut the wheat harvest by 20% by the end of the century without efficient carbon reductions. Even more alarming, the study found that yield reduction could reach 40% for soybeans and nearly 50% for corn.
“By the end of the century” may make this threat seem distant, but most scientists believe the impact already is being felt and will continue to grow in intensity over the next several decades. The International Food Policy Research Institute, for instance, said climate change will put an additional 70 million people at risk of hunger in2050.
That is why every weapon in our arsenal must be utilized, whether it involves reducing carbon emissions, utilizing irrigation systems more efficiently, developing seeds that grow better in adverse weather conditions, or changing the types of crops that are grown in certain regions.
Action must be taken by every government, farmer, grain processor, food producer and individual to mitigate the impact of climate change and ensure that these grave forecasts don’t come to fruition.