Farm chiefs have a narrowing chance to diversify vital crops at rising threat from drought, flood and pests brought by climate change, food researchers warned on Monday.
The world’s nearly 7 billion people are massively dependent on a dozen or so crops that, thanks to modern agriculture, are intensively cultivated in a tiny number of strains, they said.
When climate change gets into higher gear, many of these strains could be crippled by hotter and drier – or conversely wetter – weather and exposed to insects and microbial pests that advance into new habitats.
“Farmers have always adapted, but the pace of change under climate change is going to be much greater than in the past. There’s going to be a real need to move fast,” said Bruce Campbell, head of a research programme called Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) estimates Earth’s surface will probably warm by between 1.8 and 4.0 degrees Celsius over the 21st century.
Campbell said many scientists suspect that climate change is already well on the march, as evidenced by shifts in rainfall patterns and growing seasons in many observed locations.
He cautioned against “waiting 10 years” before the world moves to diversify plant strains.
“There are two sorts of changes that are going to happen. One is a gradual temperature increase, the other is the extremes, extremes of heat and floods, and I think they are already here. In the meteorological records, there are so many extremes that are being beaten, although it’s very difficult to pin them to climate change.”
The adaptation strategies are being published in a compendium book, Crop Adaptation to Climate Change.