Asia ‘will be hit hard by drought in 2020s’

Drought severely affects soil moisture, leading to reductions in crop yields Copyright: Flickr/CGIAR Climate

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[NEW DELHI] Asia’s wheat and maize production will be severely affected by climate change as early as the 2020s — with potentially devastating impacts on food security, a report warns.

Previous climate change projections have covered long periods: for example, the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change focuses on predicting changes for the period 2050–2100. The new report — ‘Food Security: Near future projections of the impact of drought in Asia’ — focuses on the 2020s, and highlights the areas policymakers need to address immediately.

Published in draft form in July, by the UK-based Centre for Low Carbon Futures, the report averaged the projections from 12 global ‘state-of-the-science’ climate models. It found that, compared with the 1990–2005 period, the 2020s will witness increasingly severe droughts across much of Asia, primarily due to the decreasing availability of freshwater from seasonal rains.

This is already a concern in many parts of South Asia, where poor monsoon rains have caused consternation for farmers this year.   

"China and India have the world’s largest populations and are Asia’s largest food producers," lead researcher Piers Forster, professor of physical science at the University of Leeds’s Institute for Climate and Atmospheric Science, wrote in a foreword to the report.

"We predict that their wheat and maize harvests will be strongly affected by droughts […] unless states and communities can quickly adapt their agricultural practices."

China, Indonesia and Pakistan were relatively well-placed to adapt to climate change, the report found. Meanwhile, India was found to have one of the lowest capacities to adapt its wheat production, and central and northern India to adapt its maize production.

The report recommends a series of policy measures to implement over the coming decade, including: immediate action to improve water resource management; the adaptation of farming practices, such as alternating planting dates; and more efficient use of fertilisers and pesticides.

Wang Baotong, a crop expert from the Northwest Agricultural and Forestry Univeristy in Yangling, China agreed with the report’s findings.  He said that in such a large country experiencing increasing population, urbanization and cultivated area, food production in the face of climate change will be a big challenge.

But Xiao-Ping Hu, a crop expert at the same university, said that the drought in China is not as serious as the report portrays it. He added that China is researching ways to enhance its crop production and quality.

Link to full draft report (free registration required)