Front page article in China Daily AsiaPac on CLCF Food Security report

July 13th 2012, Karl Wilson

A report due to be released at the end of the month paints a bleak picture for food security in Asia. And the impact climate change will have on the production of rice, wheat and maize — for at least half the world’s population. Scientists are already warning that salt levels in the world’s oceans are rising, impacting weather patterns. Research by scientists in Australia and the US on data collected over the last 50 years shows arid regions are becoming drier while high rainfall regions have become wetter as the planet continues to get warmer. Meteorologists are predicting the return of severe drought-inducing El Nino weather patterns along Australia’s eastern seaboard while the forecast for Asia is longer, wetter monsoons and widespread droughts.

The upcoming report by the UK-based Centre for Low Carbon FuturesNear future drought and related food security projections for Asia — says within the next 10 years, large parts of Asia can expect long periods of severe drought. Northern China, India, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Pakistan will be among the most seriously affected.

“Until now, most projections on food security and drought have been to the 2050s … far out of range for most policymakers to contemplate,” says Jon Price, director of the centre. “Our report projects impacts for the 2020s. It shows in this period we will see marked increases in drought severity across much of Asia.”

Climate change is perhaps the biggest single threat facing future development and the growth of Asia. From China down to India, the region is home to many of the world’s fastest-growing economies. But in a cruel twist of fate, it is also home to two thirds of the world’s poorest people and more than 60 per cent of the global undernourished population.

This is a region that produces around 60 per cent of the world’s wheat, 27 per cent of maize, and 94 percent rice. The three cereals alone are worth over $100 billion annually. “Asian governments are facing challenges to ensure food security — changing consumption patterns of the emerging middle class, increased production for animal feeds and biofuels, and climate change,” says Yao Xianbin, director-general of Asian Development Bank’s Pacifi c department. “The planet is now home to seven billion people and rising. One of the key challenges for developing Asia will be ensuring food security in the face of competing rural demands, poor agricultural management, and climate change, while not compromising on equitable economic growth.”

The official says despite rapid economic growth in Asia, food insecurity and inequality remain a reality for millions. The situation is direst in South Asia, where six out of 10 of Asia’s hungry reside and eight out of 10 underweight children live. The problem, he warns, will intensify as the global population increases by more than two billion between now and 2050, with Asia accounting for more than half of the increase.

Asia’s emerging middle class will change consumption patterns as they shift away from cereal grains and demand more meat, vegetables and fruits, which require more water and other inputs, putting further strain on shrinking resources.

Professor Piers Forster of the Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science at Leeds University in the UK, and lead author of the report, says the findings were based on climate change projections from 12 climate modeling centres around the world.

“These are state-of-the-science complex computer simulations,” he tells China Daily Asia Weekly. “By 2020 we can expect to see longer  and more sustained droughts across Asia.”

“Of the major producers of cereal crops in Asia (wheat, maize and rice), China, Vietnam and Indonesia have the greatest increase in exposure to drought,” the report says.

“More specifically for China, drying trends were projected for both wheat and maize croplands in central, southern and north eastern  regions.”

Global average spring wheat yields are projected to decrease by up to 25 percent over the next 50 years. Some regions, such as South Asia and Southern Africa, may be affected sooner.

“Parts of Asia have already seen a decrease in agricultural yields due to rising temperatures and extreme weather events,” the report says.

The response by the agricultural sector to climate change will also be affected by the decreasing availability of fresh water in large parts of Asia. This can have far reaching impacts on the global food trade if Asia, which currently is largely food self-sufficient, needs to start importing significant quantities of food. According to Professor Forster, the study assesses the capacity of each  climate change poses to their wheat and maize harvests. “We found China and Indonesia are among the best placed countries in Asia to adapt to climate change and moderate its effect on harvest yields,” he says. “In contrast, India, although not projected to experience a major increase in drought, is relatively poorly placed to adapt to climate change.”

India is the world’s second-largest producer of wheat and the seventh largest producer of maize. Northern India is found to have one of the lowest adaptive capacities in Asia for wheat production, and central and northern India one of the lowest adaptive capacities for maize production.

Climate change is already impacting the production of rice, the staple for more than half of humanity.

The US-based International Food Policy Research Institute estimates that by 2050, climate change will have reduced rice production in East Asia and the Pacifi c by 10 percent and in South Asia by 14 percent. At the same time prices will have increased by between 32 and 37 percent.

Dr Robert Zeigler, director-general of International Rice Research Institute, says climate change is already impacting rice production in Asia and will continue to do so.

“Rice is grown in vast low-lying deltas and coastal areas in Asia that are exposed to sea-level rise, making rice production very vulnerable to climate change,” he tells China Daily Asia Weekly.

“Most of the gains in Asian rice production over the last decades have come from countries with major deltas. More than half of Vietnam’s rice, for instance, is grown in the Mekong River Delta — all of which would be affected by the sea level  rise and flooding.

“We are already seeing farmers there having to cope with higher levels of salt water incursion and water scarcity during the dry season.” Importantly for the world, Dr Zeigler points out, most of the rice produced in the Mekong delta region is exported, ensuring developing countries in Asia and Africa, not able to meet their own rice needs, have access to this important staple to feed their people.

“The rice available on the global market is already precariously ‘thin’ and the supply shortages predicted with climate change will push prices  even further up,” he says. “As prices increase, more people are thrust into poverty and face hunger.” Dr Zeigler says much of the institute’s climate change research is on pre-emptive measures that can be implemented by farmers on the ground.

“One good example of this is in Vietnam,” he gives an illustration.

“We are working with national partners to help farmers adopt new technologies to cope with the anticipated effects of climate change. “For example, we are supporting the local development and advancement of flood- and salt-tolerant rice varieties and the widespread adoption of water-saving technologies.”






Karl Wilson

Latest news

9th September, 2014
New nuclear event at British Science Festival
14th July, 2014
Energy storage report launch at Chatham House
11th July, 2014
Joint CLCF and University of Birmingham article in The Conversation