New programme seeks to ensure food security

A comprehensive international programme to ensure food security isn't crippled by climate change was formally launched at the Agriculture and Rural Development Day at COP16 UN climate talks in Cancún.

The programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) is the most comprehensive effort undertaken thus far to address the interactions between climate change and food security, livelihoods and environmental management.

Dr Andy Challinor (School of Earth and Environment) will co-lead one of the CCAFS research themes on 'Adaptation to progressive climate change' with Dr Andy Jarvis from the Colombia-based International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT).  Dr Challinor said: "CCAFS brings together university research teams and the applied work of the international agricultural research centres, allowing us to put the underpinning science we carry out into practice to secure food supplies in some of the world's poorest nations."

Amidst growing alarm that climate change could deal a catastrophic blow to food security in poor countries, a partnership of the world's premiere experts on agriculture, climate, and the environment announced an intensive global response to confront the impacts of shifting weather patterns on crop and livestock production and their dire consequences for food security.

By 2020, the effort aims to reduce poverty by 10%in the targeted regions; reduce the number of rural poor who are malnourished by 25%; and help farmers in developing countries contribute to climate change mitigation by either enhancing storage or reducing greenhouse gas emissions by an amount equivalent to 1,000 million tonnes over a decade, compared with a 'business-as-usual' scenario.

Emerging from new collaboration between the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and the Earth System Science Partnership, the programme brings together strategic research carried out by the two groups and their respective partners in a collective effort to be coordinated CIAT.

Lloyd Le Page, Chief Executive Officer of CGIAR, said: "Farmers have shown a remarkable ability over the centuries to adapt to climate uncertainty, but rapidly rising temperatures and associated unpredictable weather could push more vulnerable small farmers beyond their current ability to cope with the coming changes in crop cycles and in disease, insect and weed pressures. That's why we're bringing together the world's best scientists, and finding new ways for them to work together with farmers and decision-makers to deliver innovation and knowledge that will help solve these challenges."

The launch of CCAFS marks the beginning of a long-term endeavour with an initial three-year budget totalling $206 million. By building on current research for development and funding and by attracting new scientific collaboration and financial support, the programme will go far toward its goal of achieving sustainable food security in the face of climate change.

"This new collaborative programme represents a bold and innovative response to the challenge of adapting agriculture to climate change and variability while realizing the opportunities open to farmers for mitigating global warming," said Inger Andersen, CGIAR Fund Chair and Vice President for Sustainable Development, World Bank. "It goes far beyond current activities, marking a new phase in our efforts to cope with climate change in agriculture through cutting edge collaborative science."

Research finds that stressed agriculture systems in Africa are highly vulnerable, with studies predicting climate shifts could dramatically reduce crop yields and incomes with smallholder farmers in struggling developing countries bearing the brunt of the impact. In Asia, there are studies warning of changes in monsoon, glacier and snowmelt in areas already facing stiff competition for water resources. In Asia's populated and intensely-farmed coastal zones, rising sea levels threaten the viability of fertile croplands.

CCAFS partners will identify and test climate change adaptation and mitigation practices, technologies, and policies that are suitable for poor, smallholder farmers and other stakeholders affected by climate change.

They will also identify 'hot spots' where intervention is urgent and conduct vulnerability assessments. In addition, they will refine models that predict the impacts of a changing climate on agriculture and livelihoods, and identify ways to select crop varieties and livestock breeds with essential traits and novel farming and food systems suitable for future climate conditions.

Partners will further help farmers deal with changes in plant, pest and disease pressures, which are particularly likely in areas where temperatures are rising, and - in collaboration with other critical actors in the food system - they will conduct research on adaptation and mitigation policies that can enhance food security.

Much of the work on the ground will begin in 2011 with an initial focus on East and West Africa and the agricultural regions of south Asia known as the Indo-Gangetic Plain. Early 'wins' include securing a major role for agriculture in the post-2012 international climate change regime and establishing a global network of data collection sites that can help identify options for adapting to climate change.

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