Climate Change Worse for the South
By Marcela Valente*
yields will decline, temperate zones will disappear and the number
of people suffering hunger will increase, according to the United
Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The developing
South will bear the brunt of the impacts of climate change, expert
Prabhu Pingali told Tierramérica.
BUENOS AIRES - The forecast of a United Nations
agency about the effects that climate change will have on Latin
American and Caribbean agriculture by 2080 seems to be taken straight
from the story of the Apocalypse.
Crop production will suffer, temperate zones of some countries will
disappear completely, food prices will increase, and there will
be more and more people suffering hunger, Prabhu Pingali, director
of the agricultural and development economics division of the U.N.
Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told Tierramérica.
FAO worked with the International Institute for Applied Systems
Analysis (IIASA), based in Austria, to develop a methodology for
predicting the impact on global agriculture of the gradual increase
in average temperatures caused by the emissions of greenhouse gases
like carbon dioxide.
IIASA is an international non-governmental organization made up
of research teams on environment, technology and global economy.
Its 160-page study ''Climate change and agricultural vulnerability'',
released in 2002, is one of the bases of the predictions Pingali
has made for what the world will be facing in 2080.
The analysis indicates, according to Pingali, that industrialized
countries, on average, are going to see substantial benefits in
potential farm production, because many areas of North America,
Europe and Russia will become suitable for grain farming due to
In contrast, the developing world is going to lose out, he warns.
For Latin America and the Caribbean, as well as Africa and Asia,
the forecast climate changes to take place in this century vary
from region to region, but in all cases are discouraging.
''Climate change impacts on agriculture will be seen mainly in terms
of a rise in temperature and changes in rainfall patterns,'' with
extremes of drought and flooding, said the FAO official. ''The temperate
zones of Argentina and Chile are expected to disappear completely.''
''Rain-fed crop production, in general, is expected to face water
stress or drought conditions,'' and in South America the land not
receiving sufficient rainfall is expected to rise from 170 million
hectares today to 320 million hectares by 2080, Pingali said.
The increased frequency of droughts could ''dramatically reduce
crop yields and livestock numbers in rain-fed production systems.''
In Central America and the Caribbean, the increase in land with
precipitation shortages will be less than in South America, but
still significant: from 75 million to 100 million hectares in 2080.
''The length of crop growing period is also expected to become much
shorter in the sub-tropical and tropical zones, this change would
be most visible in northeast Brazil and the Amazon region,'' said
In Brazil, northeast Argentina, and Uruguay, ''it is not just average
rainfall levels that will be affected, but also year-to-year variability
of rainfall, which will be particularly high.''
According to IIASA and FAO, the arid land in northeast Brazil will
become even more so, and less suitable for growing grains.
Argentine climatologist Osvaldo Canziani, member of the Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change, an advisory group to the United Nations
Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), told Tierramérica
that some of the predicted changes are beginning to be seen in Argentina's
most productive farming region.
Canziani conducted a study on precipitation in the past 200 years
in Argentina's Pampas, located in the central region and the most
fertile for farming and ranching.
That study showed that huge storms, with precipitation of more than
100 mm, occurred every three years on average. Today, the inverse
is true: every year there are three huge rainstorms.
Wheat and maize crops will be most affected by the increase in temperature,
and are expected to disappear from more and more parts of Paraguay
and Brazil, said Pingali.
''Maize in Central America and sugar in the Caribbean would also
be expected to face negative consequences to yields arising from
climate change-related water stress,'' he said.
In the Caribbean states, food insecurity will be exacerbated due
to the loss of farmland and cultivated land and nursery areas for
fisheries caused by inundation and coastal erosion resulting from
more frequent extreme weather events, such as tropical cyclones.
The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) reports that in the
1970-2001 period natural disasters in Latin America had a death
toll of 246,569 people and affected 144.9 million more, with economic
consequences estimated at 68.6 billion dollars. The majority of
the natural disasters were climate related.
But above all, climate change impacts on agriculture will have direct
implications for humans. Pingali predicts ''an increase in the number
of people at risk of hunger,'' and that food insecurity ''will be
higher in countries with low economic growth potential that currently
have high malnourishment levels.''
In Latin America and the Caribbean, there are currently 53 million
malnourished people, according to FAO. Around 30 percent are in
Central America and the Caribbean, and another 30 percent in Brazil.
Food prices will increase in some areas, and ''subsistence producers
could be at the greatest risk, both from a potential drop in productivity
as well as from the danger of losing crop genetic diversity that
has been preserved over generations,'' said Pingali.
''Production losses due to climate change may drastically increase
the number of undernourished, severely hindering progress against
poverty and food insecurity,'' said the FAO official.
* Marcela Valente is an IPS correspondent.