A Hypothesis of Hope for the Developing World

About 99 per cent of climate change casualties take place in the developing world. While economic
growth and development are priorities in all countries, the needs in developing and least developed countries are on a different scale altogether. Developing countries are constrained by their particular vulnerability to the impacts of fickle weather and climate. The poor in these countries are at a higher risk to future climate change, given their heavy dependence on agriculture, strong reliance on ecosystem services, rapid growth and concentration of population and relatively poor health services. Add to this gloomy scenario insufficient capacity to adapt to climate change impacts, inadequate infrastructure, meagre household income and savings and limited support from public services and you have a veritable time bomb ticking away.

Climate change, if left unchecked, will worsen food insecurity. Millions of people in countries that suffer from food insecurity will have to give up traditional crops and agricultural methods as they experience changes in the seasons that they have taken for granted. The vicious circle of reduced crop yield, resulting in lower income and fewer resources for the following year's planting season, leads to the poor becoming poorer. So what does that imply for about 1.5 billion people, nearly 60 per cent of the workforce in developing nations, who are engaged in agriculture? Since agriculture constitutes a much larger fraction of the Gross Domestic Product in developing countries, even a small percentage of loss in agricultural productivity could snowball into a larger proportionate income loss in a developing country than in an industrial one. And of all the potential damages which could occur from climate change, the damage to agriculture could be among the most devastating.

Climate change also threatens poverty reduction because poor people depend directly on endangered ecosystems and their services for their well-being. They also lack the resources to adequately defend themselves or to adapt rapidly to changing circumstances. And more importantly, their voices are not sufficiently heard in international discussions, particularly in climate change negotiations.

As a result of global warming, the type, frequency and intensity of extreme weather, such as tropical cyclones, floods, droughts and heavy precipitation, are expected to rise even with relatively small increases in average temperatures. New climate studies show that extreme heat waves are likely to become common in the tropics and subtropics by the end of the twenty-first century. Given the fact that 2 billion people already live in the driest parts of the world where climate change is projected to reduce yields even further, the challenge of putting enough food in 9 billion mouths by 2050 is daunting!

Unhindered climate change has the potential to negatively impact any prospects for sustainable development in developing countries. As rural communities across the developing world feel the pressures of climate change, high food prices and environmental and energy crises, never have new knowledge, technologies and policy insights been more critical.

A conducive and comprehensive policy environment that enhances opportunities for smallholders, given the climate change scenario, needs to encompass all levels: farm, regional, national and global. It must include adaptation strategies, more investment in agricultural research and extension, rural infrastructure, and access to markets for small farmers.

Adaptation to climate change needs to be integrated into developmental activities. Policies on adaptation should include changes in land use and timing of farming operations, adaptive breeding and technologies, irrigation infrastructure, water storage, and water management. In addition, long-term weather forecasting, dissemination of technology, creating drought and flood-resistant crop varieties, will require national and international planning and investment.

Climate change worsens water quality and availability in regions that are already water-stressed. Almost 95 per cent of water in developing countries is used to irrigate farmlands. Therefore, improving water management for drinking and agriculture by understanding water flows and water quality, improving rainwater harvesting, water storage and the diversification of irrigation techniques is critical. Greener practices, better erosion control and soil conservation measures, agro-forestry and forestry techniques, forest fire management and finding alternative clean energy sources as well as better town planning are some other steps that can be initiated to blunt the impacts of climate change. Agriculture's contribution to greenhouse gas emissions may be reduced by new crop planting and livestock breeding technologies. In addition, the emerging market for carbon emissions trading offers new opportunities for farmers to benefit from land management that sequesters carbon.

There is an urgent need for climate change adaptation and mitigation strategies to be integrated into national and regional development programmes. Developing countries also need to participate in a globally integrated approach to this problem. The crucial role of weather and climate services and products in developing adaptation solutions must be emphasized. Available climate information in developing countries must be taken stock of in order to ascertain where the systematic observation needs are most pressing. Collaboration between national and international providers of climate information and users in all sectors, and generating awareness among different user communities of the usefulness of such information, is crucial. Climate change assessment tools are needed that are more geographically precise and are more useful for agricultural policy, programme review and scenario assessment. These tools will more explicitly incorporate the biophysical constraints that affect agricultural productivity. Packaging this data for its effective use and rescuing historical meteorological data are equally important.

Among other important elements that should feature in any national and international approach to address climate change is to engage the private sector, lower costs through the inclusion of market mechanisms, and focus on development and dissemination of new technologies. A progressive policy environment should ideally include more investment in infrastructure and education; a renewed agenda for agricultural research and increased investment in agricultural research and development; sustainable agricultural and natural resource management practices; and advanced technologies that can generate climate-resilient crop varieties and better-adapted livestock breeds. Research that improves understanding and predictions of the interactions between climate change and agriculture should be funded. Collective action to build the livelihood options and risk management capacity of vulnerable groups would be another critical step. Capacity-building to integrate climate change into sectoral development plans, involving local communities in education on climate change and raising public awareness are unavoidable if we have to overcome the serious threats posed by climate change.

Unless steps are taken to initiate and strengthen cooperation among academic and research institutions, regional and international organizations and non-governmental organizations to provide opportunities for strengthening institutions and capacity building, dealing with climate change impacts may be unmanageable. Economic diversification to reduce dependence on climate-sensitive resources is an important adaptation strategy that must be promoted. Improved food security through crop diversification, developing local food banks for people and livestock and improving local food preservation needs to be encouraged.

Given the diversity of agro-ecological zones and their inherent problems, it is also essential to assemble, document and disseminate a comprehensive and action-oriented database of adaptation options of different farming and livelihood systems and agro-ecological zones, including measures and policies, to serve the needs of smallholder farmers.

Since farmers are often constrained by access to credit, facilitating better access to credit and agricultural inputs in order to intensify integrated production systems is a related area that needs attention. Catastrophic or weather-risk insurance and index insurance (insurance linked to a particular index such as rainfall, humidity, or crop yields rather than actual loss) can be used as new climate risk management tools in developing countries. The multilateral funds that have been pledged for climate change adaptation across developing countries currently amount to about $400 million -- a sharp contrast to the $4 to $86 billion needed annually, as estimated by experts and aid agencies. There is also a great need to mobilize resources to strengthen research on the impact of climate change on agriculture in different agro-ecological zones where empirical evidence and research results remain insufficient.

One area that has been neglected is gender diversity, which needs to be tackled to bring wider perspectives into decision making, since climate change and natural disasters have gender-differentiated impacts. Women can contribute significantly to this process.

Dealing with climate change is not just a matter of reducing carbon emissions of developed nations. Developing countries have themselves begun to increase their energy demand, but they do not have the same access to -- or resources for -- clean energy technology. However, the very countries that are most vulnerable are those that have contributed least to the current atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gasses. Climate justice will be done if there is a responsibility among the historically largest contributors to assist them in achieving development goals in ways that contribute to adaptation and mitigation goals.

The recent L'Aquila Food Security Initiative linked the need for effective actions on global food security to that concerning climate change, sustainable management of water, land, soil and other natural resources, including the protection of biodiversity. Fundamental climate change mitigation and adaptation goals will be effectively met if agriculture is included in international climate negotiations such as the UN Climate Change Conference to be held in Copenhagen, in December 2009.

The International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT) addresses climate change concerns with programmes supportive of dryland agriculture. It does this by developing and using sophisticated techniques of predicting and forecasting the monsoons in the context of climate change; enabling collective action and rural institutions for agriculture and natural resource management; upscaling and outscaling its community watershed management model; rehabilitating degraded lands and diversifying livelihood systems for landless and vulnerable groups; and initiating government support for water saving options.

Recognizing that managing climatic uncertainty and adapting to change cannot be an end in itself, ICRISAT has integrated climate risk management across its research agenda. Its Integrated Genetic and Natural Resource Management (IGNRM) approach to climate proofing involves better drought and heat-tolerant crop varieties grown in farming as well as land-use systems that conserve water both in the crop's root zone and in the wells and reservoirs of villagers. ICRISAT believes that in order to adapt to climate change, agricultural communities and stakeholders need to first enhance their ability to cope better with the rainfall variability associated with current climates. The Institute is currently partnering with meteorological services, Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) centres and climate science specialists in several projects pertaining to climate risk management in Asia and Africa. We are helping farmers devise ways to manage landscapes, soils and crops so that more of the water and nutrient resources are stored and used more efficiently and over a longer time period.

ICRISAT already possesses crops that are tolerant of heat and high soil temperatures, a knowledge and understanding of flowering maturities, information on genetic variation for water-use efficiency, short duration crops that escape terminal drought, as well as high yielding and disease-resistant crops. For instance, we have developed short-duration chickpea cultivars ICCV 2 (Shweta), ICCC 37 (Kranti) and KAK 2 and short-duration groundnut cultivar ICCV 91114 that escapes terminal drought. We recently developed a super-early pigeonpea that flowers in 32 days and matures in about 65-70 days We have integrated trees into traditional annual cropping systems to help reduce the impacts of winds and protect soils from erosion. ICRISAT has developed plants that resist pests and pathogens, such as downy mildew-resistant improved pearl millet hybrid HHB 67 in India; wilt-resistant high-yielding pigeonpea ICEAP 00040 in Malawi, Mozambique and Tanzania and rosette-resistant groundnuts in Uganda, to name a few. Guiding our crop adaptation work are crop growth simulation models that examine the disaggregated impact of a range of climate change scenarios on our mandate crops across the semi-arid tropics of the world.

ICRISAT has an evolutionary advantage since its mandate crops are already more adapted to heat and high soil temperatures. Our breeding strategy factors in these harsh and dry conditions. What we need to better understand are the physiological mechanism underlying heat tolerance; identify wider gene pools to develop crops of wider adaptability; and develop more effective screening techniques of germplasm for desired traits. ICRISAT is also responding to challenges by exploiting the potential of 'pro-poor' opportunities for biofuel production. Its BioPower initiative argues for more investments in bio-energy crops and systems to provide a major impetus for sustainable development; and for empowering the dryland poor to benefit, rather than marginalize, so that farmers can better cope with climate change or other stresses. The current activities include developing higher-yielding sweet sorghum varieties for food, fuel, feed and fodder; pilot-scaling pro-poor commercial startup partnerships in sweet sorghum bioethanol; and research-to-development alliances for pro-poor Jatropha plantation development for biodiesel.

ICRISAT studies have generated a "hypothesis of hope" which states that the impact of climate change on yields under low input agriculture is likely to be minimal, as other factors will continue to provide the overriding constraints to crop growth and yield. Secondly, the adoption of recommended improved crop, soil and water management practices, even under climate change, will result in substantially higher yields than farmers are currently obtaining in their low input systems. Thirdly, the adaptation of better "temperature-adapted" varieties could result in the almost complete mitigation of climate change effects that result from temperature increases.

In conclusion, if developing countries are to contribute meaningfully to efforts toward adaptation and mitigation of climate change impacts, they will need the strengthened capacity that comes with development.