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Improving lives by solving problems in agriculture and the environment

CABI responds to high-level segment of UN Climate Change Conference

CABI responds to high-level segment of UN Climate Change Conference

22 November 2013 - Dennis Rangi, CABI's Executive Director, International Development, today delivered a statement to the high-level segment of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Warsaw, Poland. Talking about the implications of climate change on agriculture and food security, Mr Rangi's full statement is detailed below.

CABI (www.cabi.org) is an inter-governmental, not-for-profit organization established under an international treaty registered with the United Nations. Our mission and direction are influenced by our 48 member countries. CABI's mission is to improve people's lives worldwide by providing information and applying scientific expertise to solve problems in agriculture and the environment. Plantwise (www.plantwise.org) is a major global programme, led by CABI, to improve food security and improve rural livelihoods by reducing crop losses.

Agriculture is the primary source of livelihood for the majority in many parts of the developing world, particularly Africa and South Asia. Reflecting growing awareness amongst our member countries and the international community, CABI is acutely concerned regarding the implications of climate change to the areas where it focuses.  This is alongside other major drivers including globalisation of trade and the rising expectations of large sections of global society. CABI has prepared and disseminated analyses assessing how climate change will affect commodity crops, invasive species and the beneficial contribution that invertebrates make to agriculture. As a publisher in the field of agriculture and the environment, CABI actively solicits important contributions to document, synthesise, analyse, model and predict the impact of climate change on agriculture and pests of agriculture, and the options to adapt to this.

CABI anticipates that climate change will lead to crops being grown in different ways and in different areas. Crop pests and other invasive species will change their distribution in response to changes in climate, often spreading to new areas where they are likely to become more damaging in the absence of their natural enemies, and where farmers and national agricultural extension and research services will be unfamiliar with them and options for their management. There seems little doubt that smallholder farmers in developing countries are amongst the most vulnerable to the impact of global change, including climate change. CABI subscribes to the view that building capacity and resilience into farming systems and farmer support systems to develop and disseminate solutions to existing and future problems in agriculture and pest management is a very important contribution that it can make. Sharing agronomy and pest management experiences between different parts of the world will be an important part of this. Flexible support from extension services will help farmers grow more, lose less to pests, and adopt and adapt changes required in response to climate change.

The Plantwise programme which CABI leads is helping countries establish community-based plant clinics which deliver practical advice to farmers when their crops have a problem. Plantwise is helping to join up the research community and the farmers, by translating the researchers’ knowledge into practical, accessible advice and feeding back information from farmers into a central knowledge bank. This brings together the best knowledge in the plant health field, including local pest distribution data, and makes it available as a public good, openly accessible from a central global resource, free of charge to all parties. This Plantwise approach will develop national extension services that are more resilient and responsive; it will facilitate transfer of new knowledge to farmers, appropriate to the new conditions, and detect and monitor new pest species changing their distribution in response to new climate patterns.

Complementary to the Plantwise programme, CABI has been supporting ways to strengthen seed systems that deliver improved seed varieties adapted to local conditions into the hands of farmers through its Good Seed Initiative.  Adaptation to climate change is only one of several drivers for this programme, but in the years ahead will be an increasingly important one.  Large private sector interests are very efficient and effective in distributing hybrid crops such as maize to large scale growers.  For smallholder farmers to ensure they are resilient to climate change, they need to use varieties adapted to local climate and to manage diverse crops to spread risk. This often means use of non-hybrid, locally adapted crops that are more suited to informal seed delivery systems.

As climate changes, most species will inevitably change their distribution in response, spreading to areas where they are better adapted to the climate, and often becoming invasive in these new habitats. CABI’s focus on invasive species supports national activities to prevent and slow the spread of alien species, detect them when newly established, and implement the most appropriate control and management options once they are established. CABI has a particular strength in the use of natural enemies to control non-indigenous species, which will be increasingly needed in the face of the growing dispersal of invasive species in response to climate change.

Overall, CABI’s contribution can be presented as developing and promoting climate-smart agriculture, building resilience and the capacity to adapt into national extension systems, and ensuring relevant information, knowledge and expertise is made available to those who need it to grow food. Ensuring that agricultural support systems, particularly in developing countries, work well is the first critical step to adapt to the needs arising from on-going and future changes in climate.  The ability of farming systems to grow more and lose less to pests will be a major contribution to adaptation to global change, including climate change.