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Adapting to climate change despite uncertainty

Climate change will hit Nicaragua's coffee industry hard, but farmers can adapt by moving down the mountain or switching crops (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Climate change will hit Nicaragua's coffee industry hard, but farmers can adapt by moving down the mountain or switching crops
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

A new report from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) urges farmers, governments and donors to embrace adaptation strategies despite a lack of certainty in climate predictions. "Climate projections will always have a degree of uncertainty, but we need to stop using uncertainty as a rationale for inaction," explains Sonja Vermeulen, head of research at CCAFS.

Taking the example of Nicaragua, the report - Addressing uncertainty in adaptation planning for agriculture - explains that while future climate scenarios differ, they all show that by 2050 the zones suitable for Arabica coffee growing will have moved to higher elevations. However, rather than shift coffee production to higher areas, farmers have been encouraged to introduce new shade-grown coffee varieties or switch to cocoa, which has similar cash values and is suitable for future growing conditions.

"Getting farmers, communities, governments, donors and other stakeholders to embrace various adaptation strategies can end up being equally or more important than seeking higher levels of scientific certainty from a climate model," says Andy Challinor, a professor at the University of Leeds and an author of the study. "There is no question that climate science is constantly improving," he adds, "but scientists also need to understand the broader processes involved in agriculture adaptation and consider how we can better communicate what we do know in ways that are relevant to a diverse audience."

"Some farmers and countries are going to need to make big transitions in what food they produce," Vermeulen concludes. "Science is now reaching a point where it will be able to provide advice on when - not just whether - major climatic shifts relevant to agriculture will happen. Helping governments and farmers plan ahead will make all the difference in avoiding the food insecurity and suffering that climate change threatens."

Date published: June 2013

 

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