A new vision for agriculture
momagri, movement for a world agricultural organization, is a think tank chaired by Christian Pèes.
It brings together, managers from the agricultural world and important people from external perspectives,
such as health, development, strategy and defense. Its objective is to promote regulation
of agricultural markets by creating new evaluation tools, such as economic models and indicators,
and by drawing up proposals for an agricultural and international food policy.
Focus on issues

  Focus on issues  

Climate change:
The challenge of the century for global agriculture

Arnaud Carpon, Terre-net Média

Article published in Terre-net Média

The ten-day World Climate Change Conference (COP21) will begin on Monday, November 30, 2015 in Le Bourget near Paris. As both a responsible party and a source of solutions, worldwide agriculture must rapidly conform to more or less identified constraints to control global climate.

For several years now, the experts have been convinced that the increasingly frequent extreme climate events will negatively impact agricultural yields. Criticized for its weak commitment to reducing greenhouse gases (GHG), Australia for instance––the world’s fourth largest grain exporter––might be heavily penalized.

Based on the reasonable assumption of a 3oC warming trend between now and the end of this century, the Australian Climate Institute is considering a 90 percent drop in irrigation resources in the Murray-Darling Basin––the country’s granary.

As we are nearing the final time to commit to control rising temperatures, the El Niño phenomenon is back after an absence of several years. Justifiably, it escalates concerns regarding the Australian agricultural potential. “The drought has already caused higher prices for rice, wheat and corn,” notes Corey Watts, the Australian Climate Institute Representative for the Melbourne area. “If nothing is done, Australia could become a wheat importer by 2050.”

While the impact of global warming is already felt in a country such as Australia, it will be probably more acute in poorer regions, especially in Africa. Sixty percent of the African population relies on agriculture for its livelihood. The increasing droughts and lowered availability of water will unavoidably undermine the continent’s ability to feed its population.

For the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), “the upcoming climate change will surely negatively impact the yields of most grains grown in Africa, with a very significant regional variability.” “Experts are often mentioning an eight percent cut in average grain yields in 2050,” adds the Fondation Farm.

In Western Africa, yields could decline by 25 percent for corn and millet, and up to 50 percent for sorghum! In addition, these lower yields could generate similar livestock declines. Given the vigorous population growth expected by 2050, the continent’s food dependence is bound to increase strongly. As a result, higher yields are a priority to lessen such consequences.

The Fondation Farm also points out that advances of over two percent are a possibility, just as it was the case in Western Europe and Southeast Asia between the 1960s and the 1980s. How? Thanks to huge progresses at all levels: Intensification of soil fertility, use of improved seeds or implementation of more intensive farming methods.

Acting on soil fertility

The access to inputs undoubtedly remains the most effective option for Africa’s current emergency situation. Stakeholders in agriculture must also partly address the backlog in irrigation infrastructures to increase soil productivity.

Yet, greater farmland productivity is not the only solution. If fighting food waste is, in France and in developed countries, one of the answers to climate change, it is all the more compelling in Africa!

The continent alone accounts for 23 percent of global food calories from plants, while it only represents 13 percent of their consumption. Cutting by half post-harvest losses would increase by 24 percent the daily availability of calories for Africans.

In the northern hemisphere, in the United States, agriculture might also noticeably suffer from runaway temperatures. By 2050, “we could very well have 52 additional days of ‘extreme heat’, that is to say over 35oC,” explain various US studies. “That is between two and three times the average recorded in the past 30 years.” This would indeed penalize yields in the Corn Belt.

These repeated droughts got the authorities involved. In order to adjust the agricultural sector–– among other activities––to climate change, Barack Obama launched a $1 billion program in 2015. The USDA will rely on regional climate centers “to convert science and research into information for farmers and forestry operators, so that they can adjust their operations.” The objective: Empowering eight areas for concrete actions. The chosen paths are identical to those implemented in France, especially developing the methanization of wastes in livestock farming and “improving soil health.”

The USDA also calls for expanding non-tillage for 40 million hectares (over 98 million acres) by 2025 to sequester more carbon. In fact, more efficient carbon sequestration seems to be the key solution so that agriculture contributes to the fight against global warming.

Encouraging all types of plant covers

There is 2.6 times less carbon in soils than in the atmosphere worldwide. By 2030, the potential carbon sequestration in farmland is assessed at 2.9 gigatonnes of CO2 yearly, or a 10 percent benefit from our current emissions.

For several months now and in the framework of the COP21 and the “Action Agenda”, Stéphane Le Foll has been doggedly defending the “4 for 1,000” INRA project: With an annual additional four out of 1,000 grams of CO2 in soils, we could offset all annual global greenhouse gas emissions. “The more we cover the soil, the richer in organic matter––and thus carbon––they will become. Apart from woodlands, we must encourage all types of plant covers,” emphasizes the Minister.

Providing an international importance to this project is one of the Minister’s key objectives during and after the Global Conference on the Climate.

The COP21 Objectives

Is Europe more catholic than the pope compared to its agricultural competitors?

Setting itself as an example in the fight against global warming, the EU has determined a challenging target that is far superior to that outlined by key agricultural producers and exporters: Reducing GHG emissions by 40 percent by 2030 compared to 1990.

The United States is committed to cut its emissions by 26 to 28 percent by 2025, but is taking 2005 as a point of reference. Together with 2007, 2005 is one of the two years during which Americans released the most CO2. They increased their emissions by 22 percent between 1990 and 2005, while Europe cut its own emissions by eight percent during the same period.

Australia is also criticized for its commitment, i.e. a 26 to 28 percent cut by 2030. A goal that can be compared to the US pledge but includes five additional years to achieve it. The experts were expecting more from a major agricultural power that ranks high among emitters when compared to the size of its population.

Russia expects to limit its CO2 emission by 25 to 30 percent by 2030 compared to 1990, a relatively high prospect that the country will reach thanks to is huge woodlands. As far as China is concerned, it will see its emission peak by 2030. Yet the country, which alone accounts for over 23 percent of worldwide releases, expects to lower their level by 60 to 65 percent per GDP percentage point to address its upcoming population growth.

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Paris, 14 December 2018