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Climate Change: Alleviating Poverty Helps Developing Countries Adapt

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Joe DeCapua

Addressing poverty is the “single best way” to help developing countries adapt to climate change, according to a new report from IFPRI, the International Food policy Research Institute.

The study - Food Security, Farming and Climate Change to 2050 – was released Thursday at the U.N. Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Mexico.

IFPRI senior research fellow Jerry Nelson, lead author of the study, says, “If you have higher income, you’re able to deal with whatever shocks come your way.  You’re able to finance shortfalls in your food production, for example.  Or you’re able to invest in some productivity improvements, like small-scale irrigation…new seed technology or management techniques.”

While there would be a bit of uncertainty in those investments, he says, “If you have the resources you can afford to do some experimentation.  So, that’s why for small farmers, and large farmers for that matter, having more income…is a way to deal with uncertainties that we expect coming out of the climate change future.”

Poverty first

Some studies say to alleviate poverty, climate change should be addressed first.  The IFPRI report takes a different approach.

“I would not want to say that we should not look at climate change.  In fact, I think looking at climate change is a critical activity for governments and for the private sector.”

However, he adds, “We have uncertainties about the specific nature of the climate change at any particular location.  So, a small farmer in Madagascar, for example, may experience in 20 years more precipitation in a particular time of the year or less precipitation.  And so, any particular investment that’s targeted just for climate change runs the risk of being the wrong investment.”

The report says by increasing farmer incomes, there’s greater flexibility to deal with whatever happens.

Finding ways to produce more food

The IFPRI report finds “improving crop productivity can counteract the negative effects of climate change on food production, prices and access.”

Nelson says there’s a variety of ways to do that, besides boosting crops per unit of land.

“We have to have products that can respond to a likely increase in variability of climate changes and temperature fluctuations and changes in precipitation,” he says.

IFPRI makes similar recommendations for livestock, breeding hardy animals better able to deal with climate change.

“But we can’t stop there,” Nelson says, “because a higher production by a farmer is no good unless he or she can get it to the marketplace.  So governments need to invest in the physical infrastructure.”

This includes roads and railroads.

“And they also need to invest in the institutional infrastructure,” he says, “That’s everything from marketing institutions that provide support to farmers and to the marketing system within a country to providing the human capital and the physical capital to take the research output from the international research centers and transform them to activities and products that are useful for small farmers.”

Nelson says action on IFPRI’s recommendation should begin now because there is a “time lag” between the when you start and “when you’re actually able to put something in the hands of farmers.”

Jerry nelson is also a team leader at the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security Research Program at CGIAR, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research.  CGIAR is a global network linking development researchers and funders.

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