The threat to corn and bean farmers posed by climate change

Catholic Relief Services has released the results of a study which focuses on the impact of climate change on the production of two of El Salvador's basic foods: corn (maize) and beans. The study, titled Tortillas on the Roaster, identifies real threats to production of these crops by small farmers in Central America and calls for policies to address the risk.

From the executive summary of the report:
There is an urgent need for maize/bean smallholder farmers to deal with the impacts of climate change. The study finds that the impacts of climate change on maize/bean production systems are significant, and they could be felt as soon as the next decade.

The TOR model projects that mean temperatures will rise by 1°C by the period 2010 to 2039 (2020s), and by 2°C by the period 2040 to 2069 (2050s). Minimum and maximum daily temperatures will rise, and water deficits will increase due to less precipitation and higher evapotranspiration rates.

The modeling shows that maize production will decline severely in the long term, primarily because of the compounding effect of widespread soil degradation. Smallholder farmers located on poor soils will see greater losses than those on good soils. For example, in El Salvador, where land degradation is most severe, losses in maize production could be as high as 32% in areas with poor soils and as low as 1% in areas with good soils by the 2020s. Bean production will also decline because higher nighttime temperatures will impede flowering. Projected reductions in bean production are as high as 25% in all four countries.

Maps produced by TOR identify three classes of climate impact areas: areas where it will be impossible to continue growing maize/beans (Hot Spots); areas where it is possible to continue with maize/bean cultivation if adaptation strategies are implemented and action is taken now (Adaptation Areas); and areas that are not currently cultivated but which become attractive to smallholder farmers due to changing climate conditions (Pressure Areas), many of which are high-elevation forests, wetlands, and other sensitive ecosystems.

The results of the study fill a critical gap in our knowledge of the impacts of
climate change on maize/bean production in Central America. With this new
information, stakeholders can now shift from a position of uncertainty to a
position of risk management. The study shows there is reason for optimism: if
action is taken now, the most severe impacts can be managed.

The technical strategies for adaptation are well known. TOR provides recommendations about which adaptation strategies are most appropriate for specific areas. Among the critical areas for investment are soil and water management; education and training to build agronomy, soil management and water management skills; protection of forests, wetlands, and other sensitive ecosystems and understanding the appropriate role for plant genetics. The key is to strategically focus investments for smallholder maize/bean farmers, and to tailor the investments to unique conditions.

What is needed now is political commitment and long-term investment in agricultural production in Central America. Governments urgently need to invest in education and training to build institutional and human capacity, and to rebuild extension services that re-emphasize basic agronomy, soil, and water management. Because more than 80% of Central America’s maize and beans are grown on rainfed land, agriculture investments should be targeted to smallholder farmers in these areas. Production, which is low now, could be increased—even in the face of climate change—through improved agronomic practices and water management. National and local governments, together with communities and civil society, will need to work to protect forests, wetlands, and other sensitive ecosystems from encroachment and unsustainable agricultural practices. Research priorities should include breeding new varieties for heat and drought stress, as a critical part of an integrated adaptation strategy, although we need to be wary of over-relying on this strategy.
You can read a summary version of the report here.


Interesting article, we've been trying to circulate this around the SHARE network. Has there been any good commentary on this?
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