Robynne Anderson's Emerging Thoughts on Ag

Climate Change Impact on Agriculture – Hard to Overcome

Every 6 years, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change releases a three part assessment report on climate change.  The second part of the fifth of these reports was released on March 31st, and its focus is on the effect of climate change on ecosystems, economy and human society in general. Chapter 7, which the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has condensed into a brief analysis paper, is focused on impacts on food and agriculture.

The big take-home message is that climate change depresses yields. Even moderate climate change, anticipated in the next few decades, is associated with yield losses. By the second half of the century two-thirds of simulations project yield decreases of more than 10%. The previous IPCC report thought that warmer climates should mean longer growing seasons, and more carbon should mean an increased rate of photosynthesis. This updated report confirms that tropical cereals are experiencing a decline in yields, and that increased carbon dioxide has had no effect on the rate of photo synthesis. The news continues to be bad for tropical zone crops and the projections look more bleak in temperate zones where improved technology may only keep up with climate change effects, which leaves big gaps.To quote CCAFS, for which Emerging has done several projects:  “Maize yields in the USA increased 600% over the 20th century. Looking forward, scientists argue that yield increases of 45-70% are possible for most crops through improved nutrient management and increased use of irrigation. Climate change may exert a drag on yield growth, but perhaps technology and careful use of resources can more than compensate.

The report suggests unfortunately that technology may not be able to keep up, with a great hit to tropical agriculture. “Simulations for the 2040s and 2050s that include on-farm adaptations – changes in planting date, fertilizer, irrigation, cultivar or other agronomic practices – give a yield benefit of 14% for temperate crops, but no discernible benefit for tropical crops,” summarizes CCAFS.

The report can be found here. The Economist’s coverage of the report can be found here.

The synthesis, also published independently as A meta-analysis of crop yield under climate change and adaptation, by Andy Challinor, James Watson, David Lobell, Mark Howden, Daniel Smith and Netra Chhetri, distills the consensus among modellers on future yields of the major food security crops – rice, wheat and maize – that provide half the food we consume.

POGA President Speaks to House of Commons

A week ago, the Canadian government introduced legislation to put into law the Order in Council measures taken earlier in March. The House of Commons Standing Committee on Agriculture asked the President of the Prairie Oat Growers Association(POGA), Art Enns, to testify about the legislation (Bill C-30, or Fair Rail for Grain Farmers Act). He was also representing the Grain Growers of Canada, in a rather expedited committee stage. He spoke effectively about the need for both short term assistance for farmers who cannot move their grain to market, and long term reform to fix the system that created this situation. In particular, he requested that the legislation include some corridor specific considerations, as setting general minimum requirements may not help oat farmers enough. I’m hopeful that the government will have heard his requests, and put them into this legislation.

You can read the the Brief submitted with his testimony here.

Women Farmers share their innovative stories at UN Event

The World Farmers Organization (WFO) and Global Forum on Agricultural Research(GFAR) co-sponsored an event at the UN Commission on the Status of Women, giving voice to women farmers who came to speak about their experiences. They spoke about how much responsibility women farmers have; raising a family, running the household, and providing income as well.

Many studies have shown that women are more amendable to change and innovation than women. While many women lack the resources other than their own skills and labour, they continue to seek innovative solutions to the problems they are presented with.

Rose Akaki, a beef farmer from Uganda, told her story at the event. She diversified her family’s beef farm by becoming a beekeeper, and encouraged her neighbours to do the same. Together, they formed the Maruzi Beekeeping Association, which now markets their own brand of “Go Honey”.

Adela Nores, an Argentine rancher, used innovative seeding methods to improve her ranch’s pastures, and then its profitability.
Mildred Crawford, a Jamaican pig farmer, helped create the Jamaican Pig Farmer Association and the Jamaican Network of Rural Women Producers. The shared case studies of women farmers in Jamaica, as well as why she created these organizations.

GFAR has mobilized the Gender in Agriculture Partnership (GAP). This movement directly links 150 agencies worldwide to work towards empowering rural women around the world. This issue is important to all of us, and seeing action taken to address it is fantastic.

Feeding Crops to Feed the World: The International Stewardship Symposium

The Canadian Fertilizer Institute, along with other partner organizations, is hosting a symposium from July 15-16th of this year on the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program. As mentioned in previous posts, the 4R Nutrient Stewardship program is an exciting series of best management practices that has the potential benefit of increasing yield, improving soil sustainability, and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions.

I am honored to sit on the Advisory Group for the Symposium, and look forward to what the Farming 4R Land project will be able to accomplish in the coming years.

The Farming 4R Land program is an implementation program for the Nutrient Stewardship, and supports implementation of Alberta’s Nitrous Oxide Emission Reduction Protocol (NERP). A recent George Morris Institute study showed that implementation of the 4R Stewardship BMPs can result in a 15 to 25 per cent decrease in N2O (nitrous oxide) emissions, and could result in benefits for farmers of up to $87 per acre.

To register for the symposium, click here.

Howard G. Buffett Foundation, together with the World Food Prize Foundation, funds program to recognize under-40 Global Leaders

The 40 Chances Fellowship Program will fund four Fellows with the most innovative social enterprise plans that incorporate principles from the book 40 Chances: Finding Hope in a Hungry World — roots, bravery, lessons, challenges, and hope — and address issues of hunger, poverty, or conflict. The application for the 40 Chances Fellow program is open until May 31st and can be found here.