Agricultural research ‘masterplan’ unveiled

[COPENHAGEN] A “masterplan” for agricultural research and technology transfer was unveiled at the UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen today by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), the world’s largest alliance of agricultural scientists.

The 45-page strategy calls for, on the one hand, action that harnesses multiple advances that the group says are waiting to be rolled out. The second strand is to boost research into longer-term solutions.

The report thus calls for an intensive effort to “speed the development and dissemination of dozens of existing improved technologies”, including hardier crop varieties and more efficient ways to manage water, trees, soils, livestock, fish and forests. These have emerged from more than 30 years of research, the group says.

“Turning this wealth of knowledge into action will create immediate benefits, bolstering food security and adapting agriculture to climate change impacts in the near term, while mitigating future impacts through reduced greenhouse gas emissions,” said Thomas Rosswall, chair of the CGIAR Challenge program on climate change, agriculture and food security.

“A quick response now will also buy us time to develop the more potent climate change solutions that will be needed 10 years from now.”

CGIAR experts also argued that the proposed adaptation fund “to enable developing countries to cope with the impacts of climate change“ should cover agriculture.

“Agriculture is part of the [climate change] problem and part of the solution,” said Rosswall.

Agriculture contributes to a third of the total global greenhouse gas emissions but is also highly vulnerable to changes in temperature and rainfall, and extreme weather events.

An International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) analysis published this month (December) predicts a 10–40 per cent decline in crop yields by 2050. Food prices are projected to rise by 30–70 per cent by 2050 even without climate change and by an additional 30–100 percent due to the impact of climate change.

The CGIAR report highlighted the use of computer modelling to inform decisions about difficult trade-offs, such as those between environmental impacts and socioeconomic benefits in the global livestock sector.

The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi, for example, is modelling ways of making crop and livestock production more profitable without depleting natural resources, said Philip Thornton, senior scientist at ILRI.

It has prepared maps indicating where the environmental pressures of such production are most intense.

Computer simulations are also helping to explore the potential of crop substitution, for example, replacing beans, a major crop that is declining in many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, with the more drought-tolerant cassava.

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