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A campaign to drive agriculture to the forefront of climate change negotiations took a step forward yesterday with the launch of a document by food policy experts.

Agriculture will be "dramatically" affected by climate change, says the paper, published by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). It could also become a potent brake on climate change if the right research and policies are implemented.

But its role has yet to be championed in the build-up to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations to take place in Copenhagen in December, says the paper 'Agriculture and Climate Change: An Agenda for Negotiation in Copenhagen'.

Speaking at the launch of the document in Washington, United States, yesterday (31 March), IFPRI leaders said that agriculture had not featured prominently in the Kyoto Protocol — the current international climate change agreement — because of the "sparse" knowledge at the time about its relationship with climate change.

"We are at the point where the negotiations are going to put in place new mechanisms for the next five to 15 years and it's critical that agriculture be included this time around," said Gerald Nelson, senior research fellow at IFPRI.

Mark Rosegrant, director of the Environment and Production Technology Division of IFPRI, said that the effect of climate change on agriculture was "uncertain and variable around the world. But one thing is very clear: that the poor and developing countries are more vulnerable."

Developing countries have less rainfall, are more dependent on agriculture and face greater obstacles to adaptation, he said.

IFPRI has made provisional estimates that the global yield of rain-fed maize will decline by 17 per cent and the yield of irrigated rice will drop by a fifth by 2050 as a result of climate change. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia will be the worst hit, according to the new data.

But the way agriculture will suffer as a result of climate change is only half of the story, the report argues. Its role in influencing climate change is also being ignored, despite the "huge potential to cost-effectively mitigate greenhouse gases through changes in agricultural technologies and management practices".

Agriculture contributes about 14 per cent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. But by changing the types of crops grown, reducing land tillage and switching from annual to perennial crops — as well as changing crop genetics and improving the management of irrigation and fertiliser use — greenhouse gas emissions could be cut.

The document calls for more research on the interactions between climate change and agriculture.

Link to the full report