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FAO Warns Climate Change Could be Major Threat to Food Security

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization says climate change could become a “major threat to world food security.” It calls climate change one of the “main challenges humankind will have to face for many years to come.”

About 140 international experts are meeting in Rome this week to discuss the issue. One of them is Jeff Tschirley, chief of the FAO’s Environment, Climate Change and Bio-Energy Division. From Rome, he told VOA English to Africa Service reporter Joe De Capua that a fourth assessment report on climate change is about to be released.

“It’s the fourth time that scientific experts have come together to assess the data related to climate change. What we have now between this fourth report and the third report is …a validation that the climate change impacts we’re now starting to see already. And we know quite surely that the countries that are at risk from climate change, at more risk, are the developing countries rather than the developed countries. And when you look at that in the context of food security and institutional capacity it really does face, at least the agricultural sector, with a significant new set of challenges over the short and long term,” he says.

Why are developing countries more at risk? Tschirley says, “If you look at a map, you’ll see that the greatest part of the land mass is above the equator. And you’ll see also that most of the developing countries are on the equator or just slightly above and a lot of them below. The fact that you have less of a buffering action against changes in climate by having more land mass simply means that (in) the northern latitudes, there will be negative impacts there, but not to the extent of the southern latitudes, where we expect to see more drought; we expect to see more floods, more intense flooding. We are already seeing more fires…the developing countries by virtue of their location on the planet are really feeling the impact more directly than many of the developed countries will over the short term, “ he says.

When it comes to climate change, the FAO says agriculture is “both a culprit and victim.” Tschirley says, “It’s very much true because for almost the last decade there’s been a very strong focus on in the climate change community on emissions, on mitigation on emissions.” The FAO estimates the livestock sector alone “accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while deforestation is responsible for 18 percent of carbon dioxide emissions.