People living in Africa and South Asia will be among the most vulnerable to food insecurity as the climate changes, new research shows.
Growing seasons for staple crops such as maize will become shorter, hotter and drier in less than 40 years, severely limiting food production and imperilling the lives of millions of already impoverished people, says the study.
The red areas are food-insecure and intensively farmed regions that are highly exposed to a potential 5% or greater reduction in the length of the growing season.
For example, by 2050 the best growing conditions will drop below 120 days a season in intensively farmed regions of northeast Brazil and Mexico. But maize, other staple crops, and the vegetation on which livestock feed need at least 120 days to grow and mature. Likewise, parts of Latin America will suffer temperatures too hot for bean production, a major food staple in the region, finds the research.
The study, Mapping Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics, was carried out by scientists from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) – a group of world leading agri-science labs. (See Nature’s coverage of the potential impact of climate change on food production here and here.)
They used data from models of changes in temperature and precipitation up to 2050 and indicators of food insecurity, to create a series of detailed maps to identify the most vulnerable regions in the tropics.
“When you put these maps together they reveal places around the world where the arrival of stressful growing conditions could be especially disastrous,” says Polly Ericksen, a senior scientist at the CGIAR’s International Livestock Research Institute in Nairobi, Kenya, and the study’s lead author.
“These are areas highly exposed to climate shifts, where survival is strongly linked to the fate of regional crop and livestock yields, and where chronic food problems indicate that farmers are already struggling and they lack the capacity to adapt to new weather patterns,” she adds.
The researchers say they hope the results will help focus climate change adaptation efforts on people and places that are most at risk of food insecurity.
“Major adaptation efforts are needed now if we are to avoid serious food security and livelihood problems later,” said Philip Thornton, a CGIAR scientist and one of the paper’s authors. “The window of opportunity to develop innovative solutions that can effectively overcome these challenges is limited.”
Map courtesy of CGIAR.