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Tortillas on the roaster - climate change threatens maize and beans

Climate change could cut bean production by 25% in large parts of Central America (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Climate change could cut bean production by 25% in large parts of Central America
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

A new report - Tortillas on the roaster - published by CIAT and CIMMYT offers a stark warning to maize and bean farmers in four Central American countries - Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Using existing global and regional models, the researchers have, for the first time, projected climate change impacts on a local scale, mapping how different geographical areas will be affected.

For maize, an expected one degree Celsius temperature rise by 2020 will exacerbate water shortages and increase heat stress, making large areas unsuitable for the crop. In parts of Honduras and El Salvador already suffering severe soil degradation, the change could be particularly damaging, cutting production by a third in the next ten years.

For beans, reduced rains during the September planting season, combined with high temperatures that would affect flowering and seed production, could reduce yields in all four countries by up to 25 per cent. Heavier rainstorms in the normally wet months of October and November are also predicted, threatening additional losses of crops and infrastructure through flash floods. Overall, around 1 million maize and bean farmers across the four countries could be affected.

Despite the gloomy predictions, the scientists suggest that with decisive action from policymakers, the worst can be averted. "Extension services across the region need to be invigorated to train small farmers in soil and water management," says Paul Hicks of Catholic Relief Services, which commissioned the report. Governments need to support 'climate-smart' approaches, including rainwater harvesting and crop diversification, he urged.

Funded by the Howard G Buffett Foundation, the report is to be presented at a meeting of key Central American donors, policy makers and development organisations in San Salvador in mid October 2012.

Date published: October 2012

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