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New South Asia network to tackle 'massive' climate adaptation challenge

April 24, 2012

Today, recognizing the knowledge gap between the existing evidence of climate change and adaptation on the ground, researchers in Asia launched a novel learning platform to improve agricultural resilience to changing weather patterns, and to reduce emissions footprint.

The Climate Smart Agriculture Learning Platform for South Asia, established by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), will improve communication between scientists, government officials, civil society and farmers on best "climate smart" farming policies and practices in a region that is home to one-third of the world's poor and malnourished.

"South Asian countries, which heavily depend on agriculture, are most vulnerable to the adverse impact of climate change-increased drought, unprecedented flooding, heat waves and decreasing farm yields," said Rt. Hon. Ram Baran Yadav, president of Nepal. "This learning platform provides a space for farmers to discuss the issues they face in the fields, for research scientists to share their findings on these issues, and for policy makers to respond and steer the agriculture sector from a more ground-based perspective."

"There is an increasing amount of data and scientific analysis available on projected changes in climate, observed and expected impacts on agriculture, and best practices for adaptation," said Pramod Aggarwal, CCAFS regional program leader for South Asia. "But this intelligence is often so scattered that farmers, researchers, policy makers and other stakeholders cannot access it to make informed decisions. South Asia's climate adaptation challenge is too immense for this knowledge gap to persist."

Agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, particularly in Asia, where climate models project higher temperatures, rising sea levels and an increase in the intensity of severe weather events.

In South Asia, escalating populations and incomes are increasing food demand, placing enormous pressure on agricultural systems to produce more food from the same or less land and resources. According to experts from CCAFS and other institutions, the region needs to sustainably increase crop productivity and climate resilience while also reducing or removing greenhouse gas emissions.

The announcement follows a mid-April meeting in Bangkok on Climate Smart Agriculture in Asia, where researchers, economists and development experts from 14 countries in the region agreed that they could not meet the challenges of climate change and food security without helping and empowering farmers. Many of the countries have already moved forward with initiatives that address these challenges.

At the Climate Smart Conference, India's Agromet Advisory Service was held up as one of the information success stories. The service provides detailed weather forecasts to three million farmers through their mobile phones, and its economic impact has been valued at more than $10 billion. In addition, the service also broadcasts market data, pricing information and advisory services to farmers via mobile phone.

Nepal is well-known for its efforts in community-based management of agricultural resources. In the village of Rupandehi, farmers are provided crop diversification strategies that include stress tolerant crop and fodder varieties, resource conservation technologies, and other tactics that integrate crop and livestock systems. Farmers and communities have been evaluating these interventions and the feedback is incorporated into the next growing season's efforts.

Bangladesh has established a number of projects that look at diversifying aquaculture (fish farms) by integrating them with other forms of agriculture-digging channels in rice paddies, for example, to recreate "fish roads." Other efforts are looking at options for improved water management and rainwater harvesting to better account for the increasingly uneven availability of water for irrigation in India's Punjab.

"In 15 years, South Asia will become a major hotspot for both climate change impact and population growth," said Bruce Campbell of CCAFS "This will present major challenges for the farmers working the land, the governments responsible for feeding their people, and the global community that seeks to ensure the health and well-being of vulnerable people. But South Asia is also a region of innovation and opportunity. The Learning Platform can make sure that new developments in meeting this dual challenge can be accessed throughout the region and the world."

Agriculture accounts for roughly one-third of total greenhouse gas emissions, including those from deforestation that are related to agricultural expansion. This is more than emissions from the entire transportation sector.

"An international climate agreement that does not include agriculture could not pretend to be comprehensive or effective," said Campbell.

"Smallholder farmers will suffer the most from climate change as their uninsured crops face increasingly extreme weather," added Campbell. "They also contribute the majority of agriculture-related emissions. By simply closing the yield gap and increasing crop productivity, we can greatly reduce the food systems impact on greenhouse gas emissions that to some extent are driving climate change. A global climate change agreement that includes agriculture is critical to removing barriers for widespread adoption of climate smart agriculture across South Asia and in other regions dominated by poor, smallholder farmers."

The next meeting of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change will take place in Bonn in May, where policy makers will discuss technical options for including agriculture in a new climate deal.

Burness Communications

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