Agriculture together with land-use change much of which involves deforestation driven by clearing for crop and livestock production account for nearly a third of global greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). The sector’s direct emissions (10-12% of the global total) come from various sources, including the release of carbon dioxide through tillage, of nitrous oxide as a result of fertilizer use, and of methane from livestock and irrigated rice production.
While agriculture is clearly among the culprits of climate change, the sector is also a victim. According to a growing number of simulation studies, the impacts of climate change including higher temperatures, more extreme weather, and worsening disease and pest problems could significantly reduce the yields of important grain crops, such as beans, maize, potato, and wheat.
At the same time, climate change will bring about notable shifts in the suitability of agricultural land for a wide variety of crops. Some species (like banana and cassava) could emerge as overall winners, while others will tend to lose ground, literally.
The Challenge for Smallholders
Tropical agriculture will be hard hit by the negative impacts of climate change. Smallholder families and their communities are especially vulnerable, because they have limited resources with which to adapt.
For that reason, agriculture research must give high priority to generating more precise knowledge about climate change impacts, while identifying adaptation options that can be brought within reach of the rural poor. They urgently need solutions that make it possible to intensify agricultural production sustainably in the face of climate change impacts, thus strengthening food security and reducing rural poverty. In many cases, it should also be feasible for tropical agriculture to help mitigate climate change.
Solutions from Agricultural Science
CIAT is actively engaged in the search for win-win solutions.
Center experts on decision and policy analysis are developing and applying novel methods to project the likely impacts of climate change on agricultural production. One such tool, called Climate Analogues, permits comparisons between projections of future climates at specific locations and similar conditions already existing at other sites on the same or other continents. In addition, CIAT scientists are assessing best-bet policies and actions to enhance farming systems and ecosystem services, despite a hostile future climate.
CIAT research on crops has made significant strides in developing new generations of more resilient varieties, such as drought-tolerant rice and beans, insect- and disease-resistant cassava, and superior tropical forages adapted to drought, flooding, and other harsh conditions. Some of the latter also show great potential for sequestering carbon and reducing nitrous oxide emissions.
Center specialists in soils are exploring the close links between improved soil health and climate change adaptation and mitigation.
A Global Research Partnership
CIAT is lead center for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and much of the Center’s work contributes directly to the global efforts of CCAFS.
Since no single organization alone can address all aspects of the climate change challenge, CCAFS unites diverse partners, bringing together many of the world’s best experts in agricultural research and development as well as in climate and earth system science. Together, CCAFS partners examine the effects of climate change on agriculture and food security and test options for adaptation and mitigation in close consultation with farmers, policy-makers, donors, and other experts.