21 November 2016
Keynote speakers at ICCCWAFS (L-R): Dr Andrew Borrell (UQ), Mr Jeremy Bird (DG, International Water Management Institute), and Dr Nils Vagstad (DG, Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research).
Keynote speakers at ICCCWAFS (L-R): Dr Andrew Borrell (UQ), Mr Jeremy Bird (DG, International Water Management Institute), and Dr Nils Vagstad (DG, Norwegian Institute of Bioeconomy Research).

A senior University of Queensland crop physiologist has told an international climate change conference in India that government policy and farm profitability must be considered if we are to expect farmers to adopt climate-smart technologies.

UQ’s Associate Professor Andrew Borrell was addressing the International Conference on Climate Change, Water, Agriculture and Food Security (ICCCWAFS) in Hyderabad this month, where he said maintaining food security in the face of heightened climate variability was a major challenge for the global community.

Dr Borrell, a research fellow at UQ’s Queensland Alliance for Agriculture and Food Innovation with links to UQ’s Global Change Institute, said the conference explored the nexus between climate change, water, agriculture and food security.

"Discussions were not limited to science, but also included the biophysical, technological, institutional, social, economic and political drivers of climate change," he said.

"It’s all about maintaining food security in the face of heightened climate variability."

He presented case studies highlighting genetic and management solutions to this challenge, including genetic solutions for sorghum drought adaptation in Australia, India and Africa, and management solutions for rice-based cropping systems in Asia.

"Both the impact of climate change on food production, and the cost of extreme climate events on the global economy are significant," Dr Borrell said.

For example, results of simulations from eight global climate models were presented, showing there would be a significant reduction in yield of both rice and wheat in West Bengal, with yield reductions in some areas expected to be up to 52 per cent and 59 per ecnt for rice and wheat, respectively.

"Data were also presented at the conference showing that the cost of natural disasters exacerbated by climate change is already substantial ($US 165 billion a year), and predicted to increase threefold to $US 450 billion by 2030, primarily from floods," Dr Borrell said.

The conference was timely since, by chance, the Paris Agreement went into effect the day after the conference finished. The Paris Agreement is an agreement within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) dealing with greenhouse gases emissions mitigation, adaptation and finance.

Conference organiser, Dr Udaya Sekhar Nagothu said at the outset that two of the greatest challenges we are facing today were climate change and food security. "Achieving global food security while reconciling demands on the environment is a daunting task for humanity," he said.

In his closinig remarks, Dr Borrell argued that the impact of climate change on food production and the cost of extreme climate events on the global economy were both significant.

For example, results of simulations from eight global climate models were presented at the conference, showing that there will be a significant reduction in yield of both rice and wheat in West Bengal, with yield reductions in some areas expected to be up to 52% and 59% for rice and wheat, respectively.

But it is not all doom and gloom.

According to Dr Borrell, there were some innovative ways to deal with the considerable challenges we face.

"Remote-sensing technologies to understand the supply and demand for water at the catchment scale were suggested as one solution for managing extreme events," he said.

"Solar irrigation pumps, slow-release fertilisers, novel water-saving technologies, and enhanced canal engineering were all discussed."

Some of the ideas were very simple, yet revolutionary. For example, an innovative participatory approach developed by Digital Green to train agriculture extension agents and farmers in India and Africa to produce short videos featuring local farmers demonstrating improved agricultural practices using low-cost pocket video cameras, microphones and tripods, was presented.

"And don’t forget the importance of sound policies and good economics," Dr Borrell said.

"Farmers won’t adopt climate-smart technologies if they are not profitable.

"Above all, sound policies and political will are required to drive change."


 

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