Conclusion

The impact of climate on present and future food security cannot be evaluated solely through use of crop yields estimates and models of future production and food deficits. Uncertainties in such estimates are large. There is also a clear need to understand how climatic factors might interact with future food and agricultural markets, sector and trade policy, and political instability, as well as the relevance of historical resource inequities and past development trends. The high sensitivity of tropical production to climatic extremes and variability, the importance of the sector to the livelihood security of significant proportions of the total population in the tropics, and the disadvantaged position of tropical food producers in globalized agricultural markets, present difficult challenges for the future food security of these regions. Even in countries such as Mexico, in which famine is only a very distant memory, malnutrition and rural poverty have become chronic problems.

Some populations that are currently highly vulnerable to food insecurity have, in the past, shown considerable resilience and innovation when confronted by risk and uncertainty. However, not enough is being done globally to strengthen that capacity and to build on existing knowledge. We do not yet know the types of farm systems or the types of agricultural technologies that will be most appropriate and most flexible in the future. Despite this uncertainty, the technology preferences and research priorities of the industrialized world are disturbingly becoming decisive for all.

The trend toward less public investment in agricultural research in developing nations and the concentration of basic grain production among a handful of nations may be undermining what remains of the capacity of rural populations in the tropics to feed themselves or to have the resources with which to purchase what they require.

Despite the fact that global food production may keep up with global population growth, as models tend to predict, current regional and local trends in income disparity, persistent poverty, and food insecurity are cause for considerable concern. While trade has increased significantly across the developing world, a recent CIMMYT (Centro Internacional de Mejoramiento de Maíz y Trigo) report argues that trade alone will be unable to accommodate the growing maize needs in developing nations (Pingali and Pandey, 2000). According to this assessment, countries in which maize is the staple grain face particularly difficult challenges. Over the period 1995 to 2020 maize demand in developing nations will increase by an average of 50% (Pingali and Pandey, 2000). Yet the political and economic trends observed in Mexico and mirrored in other Latin American nations (FAO, 2001) suggest that meeting these needs with improvements in domestic production will be difficult.

It is likely that rural Mexico's declining command over food and its persistent poverty would have occurred without the climatic events of the 1990s. However, droughts that affected the commercial agricultural districts of Mexico's northern states, and the frosts, floods, and water stress in Mexico's highlands apparently contributed to both the political decision to increase Mexico's reliance on foreign grain and to reduce public investments in a crop considered to have a limited future in Mexico (SAGARPA, 2000). Mexico's domestic production of maize, and the access of its citizenry to the quantity and type of maize that it requires, is thus being doubly threatened by both climatic uncertainties and economic realities. As a result although white maize continues to be the preferred crop for millions of small farmers, and is critical in the diet of millions of Mexicans the role of domestically produced maize in Mexico's future food security is uncertain.

As adaptation to climate change is introduced into national policy debates, the tendency may be to create adaptation policies, or in other words, distinct programs and policy initiatives designed to specifically address climatic threats to sector development or infrastructure. Separating adaptation to climatic risk from adaptation to economic challenges may be useful in climate research, but poorly reflects the reality experienced by many of the world's farmers. Changing the focus of analysis from the model to the field, and from the crop to the farmer may help to understand the complex equation of global change and local response to it. It is hoped that this understanding will hold the key to more sustainable and humane development, as well as to greater resilience and adaptation by rural smallholders in Mexico and elsewhere.

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