Climate change is likely to undermine food production in the
developing world, while industrialized countries could gain in
production potential, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf said
this week in a speech at the M.S. Swaminathan Foundation Conference
in Chennai, India.
"Crop yield potential is likely to increase at higher latitudes
for global average temperature increases of up to 1 to 3°C
depending on the crop, and then decrease beyond that," he
said. "On the contrary, at lower latitudes, especially in
the seasonally dry tropics, crop yield potential is likely to decline
for even small global temperature rises, which would increase the
risk of hunger."
Greater frequency of droughts and floods would affect local production
negatively, especially in subsistence sectors at low latitudes,
Dr. Diouf added.
"Rainfed agriculture in marginal areas in semi-arid and sub-humid
regions is mostly at risk," he explained. "India could
lose 125 million tons of its rainfed cereal production -- equivalent
to 18 percent of its total production."
The impacts of climate change on forests and on forest dependent
people are already evident in increased incidences of forest fires
and outbreaks of forest pests and diseases. Climate change adaptation
will be needed in a variety of ecosystems, including agro-ecosystems
(crops, livestock and grasslands) forests and woodlands, inland
waters and coastal and marine ecosystems, according to Diouf.
Using new biotechnologies
Science and technology must spearhead agricultural production
in the next 30 years at a pace faster than the Green Revolution
did during the past three decades, Dr. Diouf asserted.
"Exploiting the new biotechnologies, including in particular
in vitro culture, embryo transfer and the use of DNA markers, can
supplement conventional breeding approaches, thus enhancing yield
levels, increasing input use efficiency, reducing risk, and enhancing
nutritional quality," he said.
But, he cautioned, most genetically modified (GM) crops being
cultivated today were developed to be herbicide tolerant and resistant
to pests. Development of GM crops with traits valuable for poor
farmers, especially within the context of climate change -- such
as resistance to drought, extreme temperatures, soil acidity and
salinity -- is not yet a reality.
"I cannot sufficiently underline the need to also address
the needs of resource poor farmers in rainfed areas and on marginal
lands," said Diouf. "Ensuring that new biotechnologies
help achieve this goal, in full awareness of biosafety, socio economic
and ethical concerns associated with the use of some of these technologies
remains a challenge for the entire scientific community."
In India, successes and shortfalls
Noting that the theme of this year's World Food Day (15 October)
is "The Right to Food," Diouf praised India for playing
a pioneering and model role in implementing this right with contributions
from all parts of society.
In particular, he highlighted the country's Integrated Child Development
Services (ICDS) programme, which provides millions of mothers and
children with health, nutrition and hygiene education, preschool
education, supplementary feeding, growth monitoring and promotion,
and also links to primary healthcare services like immunization
and vitamin A supplements.
FAO's chief executive also lauded India for its national Midday
Meal programme, which provides lunch free of cost to school children,
and for tackling issues of rural poverty via its National Rural
Employment Guarantee Act.
Yet despite these successes, Diouf also noted that challenges
"The genuinely impressive success story of Indian economic
growth and its emergence as a global powerhouse is also confronted
with a more pessimistic picture as a large proportion of the Indian
population has yet to benefit from the dynamic changes underway
in the country," he noted, citing statistics from India's
National Family Health Survey which show that 40 percent of the
country's adults are underweight and that 79 percent of Indian
children between three months and three years suffer from some
type of anaemia.
“No state in India is free from iodine deficiency disorders,
and Vitamin A deficiency continues to be a public health problem
among pre-school children. In a country with 348 million people
aged under 14, these are alarming levels of child malnutrition,” Dr
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