Adaptation and Food Security

Smit and Skinner (2002) showed that many different adaptation measures exist in the agricultural sector. Adaptations range from farmers changing management practices, timing of operations or crop choice, to public agencies investing in technological developments or irrigation schemes, or modifying support programmes and information sharing or early warning systems. However, little information exists on the conditions under which adaptation measures are likely to be adopted. The limited research to date indicates that producers rarely respond to climate change alone, and that adaptation to climate change risks would be undertaken as part of ongoing production and risk management decision-making.

In an effort to better understand the potential global impacts of climate change on agriculture, a major study was performed concerning the effects of changing temperature and precipitation regimes and increased CO2 concentrations on crop production and its economic implications (Rosenzweig et al., 1993). The central aim of the study was to provide an assessment of potential climate change impacts on world crop production, including quantitative estimates of changes of: major food, cash and industrial crop yields; prices; trade and risk of hunger. Three climate periods and three levels of farmer adaptation options to climate change were assumed.

• Level 1 adaptation: changes that imply small additional costs to farmers and no necessary policy changes, such as shifts in planting dates, variety and crop, and increases in water application to irrigated crops.

• Level 2 adaptation: higher order adaptations that imply significant additional costs to farmers, such as large shifts in crop production timing, increased fertilizer application, installation of irrigation systems, and development of new varieties, and/or changes in policy.

Globally, both minor and major levels of adaptation help restore world production levels, compared to the climate change scenarios with no adaptation. Average global cereal production decreases by up to about 5% from the reference case under Level 1 adaptations. These involve shifts in farm activities that are not very disruptive to regional agricultural systems. With adaptations implying major changes, global cereal production responses range from a slight increase to a slight decrease (+1 % to -2.5%).

A World Bank study (Mendelsohn and Dinar, 1999) stated that because most developing countries depend heavily on agriculture, the effects of global warming on productive croplands are likely to threaten both the welfare of the population and the economic development of the countries. Tropical regions in the developing world are particularly vulnerable to potential damage from environmental changes because the poor soils that cover large areas of these regions mean much of the land is already unusable for agriculture. Although agronomic simulation models predict that higher temperatures will reduce grain yields as the cool wheat-growing areas get warmer, they have not examined the possibility that farmers will adapt by making production decisions that are in their own best interests. A set of models examines cross-sectional evidence from India and Brazil and finds that even though the agricultural sector is sensitive to climate, individual farmers do take local climates into account, and their ability to do so will help to mitigate the impacts of global warming.

A study focusing on the USA emphasized that farmers have many adaptation options, such as changing planting and harvest dates, rotating crops, selecting crops and crop varieties for cultivation, irrigation, using fertilizers and choosing different tillage practices (Adams et al., 1999). These adaptation strategies can reduce potential yield losses from climate change and improve yields in regions where climate change has beneficial effects. At the market level, price and other changes can signal further opportunities to adapt as farmers make decisions about land use and which crops to grow. Thus, patterns of food production respond not only to biophysical changes in crop and livestock productivity brought about by climate change or technological change, but also to changes in agricultural management practices, crop and livestock prices, the cost and availability of inputs, and government policies. In the longer term, adaptations include the development and use of new crop varieties that offer advantages under changed climates, or investments in new irrigation infrastructure as insurance against potentially less reliable rainfall. The extent to which opportunities for adaptation are realized depends upon a variety of factors such as information flow, access to capital and the flexibility of government programmes and policies.

A major obstacle for farmers is the expected increase in successive years of overly dry and/or wet spells. A poor farmer might overcome a 1-year drought followed by a normal year, but a period of 2 or more years of drought, even followed by a longer period of normal years, will be catastrophic to this farmer. Crop insurance programmes for small-scale, traditional or subsistence farmers can be developed and implemented in a viable and sustainable manner. In addition, micro-insurance provides one of the few alternatives to the rural populations and the poor as a means of social protection (CERUDEB, 2002).

As mentioned before, there exist many lists of possible adaptation measures, initiatives or strategies that have a potential to moderate impacts, if they were implemented. Such possible adaptations are based on experience, observation and speculation about alternatives that might be created and they cover a wide range of types and can take numerous forms (UNEP, 1998). It is important to make a distinction between the different players as to who can do what. In addition to these different players, the location within a basin is also equally important for defining the most adequate adaptation strategy.

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