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Researchers say new agriculture methods and crops could halve food price inflation

Tiffany Stecker, E&E reporter
Published: Thursday, June 7, 2012

Resource conservation technologies in agriculture could potentially halve the staggering increases in food prices in the face of climate change, the International Food Policy Research Institute has found.

IFPRI will release key findings on agriculture and soil degradation at this month's Rio+20 conference on sustainable development in Rio de Janeiro. The institute, one of the many centers affiliated with the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, will hold a side event at the conference to unveil preliminary results in scientific and economic research work from food policy experts.

"We've been pretty excited about these results," said Mark Rosegrant, director of environment and production and project leader for IFPRI's "How to Achieve Food Security in a World of Growing Scarcity" program. "We're finding they're higher than I would expect them to be, and I think that we're at a point where it will be very good to see how these resource-conserving technologies can perform to help solve food insecurity issues."

Looking at wheat, rice and maize yields around the world, IFPRI researchers have found that drought tolerance technologies for rain-fed agriculture would increase maize output by 27 percent, wheat output by 30 percent and rice output by 10 percent by 2050, assuming farmers fully adopt the technology over a
30-year period.

Integrated soil fertility management -- a term for a variety of nonchemical practices that raise the nutrient levels of soils -- could raise maize output by up to 50 percent, rice output by 30 percent and wheat output by 20 percent. Nitrogen-use efficiency introduced through breeding or high technology could improve maize yields by 22 percent, rice yields by 12 percent and wheat yields by 19 percent.

Climate change could send prices soaring

Under climate change scenarios up to 2050, maize prices could shoot up 90 percent, rice by 65 percent and wheat by 70 percent, Rosegrant said. But full adoption of these improvements could cut food price inflation almost in half, he said. The program will continue to evaluate yield changes, focusing on combined scenarios.

IFPRI researchers will also discuss finds on the economic impacts of land degradation. Degradation rates are higher in rural areas than in more densely populated areas, said Ephraim Nkonya, a senior research fellow in the environment and production technology division of IFPRI. Degradation was lower in areas with strong government institutions.

Going against the notion that infrastructure development accelerates the rate of land disturbance, IFPRI researchers found areas with highly dense roads also had a lower rate of land degradation and deforestation.

"There was one central reason behind that," Nkonya said. "The institutions that are regulating the forests and natural resources were very strong, and in such areas, the roads were not affecting deforestation as we would expect."

Degradation of forests and land contributes to about one-fifth of global annual greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification has submitted a proposal for the United Nations to adopt a Sustainable Development Goal of zero net land degradation by 2030.

Reprinted from ClimateWire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC. 202-628-6500


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