NUSA DUA (JP): Governments of developing countries need to find “creative solutions” and “alternative approaches” to deal with major threats from climate change that could badly affect their agriculture sectors, experts said at a side meeting to the climate change conference.

The discussion, which was jointly organized by Food Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the Stockholm Environment Institute, focused on ways to help the worlds’ poor deal with food resources and extreme weather-prone agricultural sectors.

FAO climate change expert, Peter Kenmore, warned the agricultural sector is the most at risk from climate change. This places developing countries at especially high risk, because they are highly dependent on agriculture, with fewer resources and options to combat damage from climate change.

“Ways must be found immediately to build up people’s resilience as well as that of food production systems,” Kenmore said.

Citing Indonesia as an example, he said the country has been implementing unsustainable agricultural policies to achieve food efficiency in rice.

“The economic and environmental costs of achieving self sufficiency in rice were extremely high,” Kenmore said.  

Indonesia achieved self sufficiency in rice through extensive government investment and through the implementation of subsidy programs for fertilizer, pesticides and irrigation, at a cost of billions of dollars.

“The Indonesian government should review its agricultural policy and apply a bottom-up approach involving farmers in forming the policy,” he said.

Agriculture is both culprit and victim of climate change. It is estimated that the livestock sector alone accounts for 18 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, while deforestation is responsible for 18 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, he said.

According to an FAO study, in the past expansion and intensification of agriculture have frequently damaged the very resources essential to farming, such as soil, water and the genetic diversity of crops – as well as the wider environment.

The study revealed that soil erosion, and other forms of land degradation, rob the world of five million to seven million hectares of farming land every year. Clearing forests, growing crops on steep slopes or as broad acre farming without wind breaks can lead to erosion.

Water logging and salinity, caused by poor drainage, have sapped the productivity of nearly half the world’s irrigated lands. Some 30 million hectares have been severely damaged and an additional 1.5 million hectares are lost each year, the study stated.

During the 1980s, deforestation across the world accelerated to frightening levels with more than 15 million hectares of tropical forests cleared annually for new agricultural lands.

Kenmore revealed agriculture also contributes significantly to the greenhouse gases blamed for global warming and subsequent climate change. He said that around 30 percent of carbon dioxide emissions result from deforestation and other land use practices, such as rangeland burning, and agriculture may account for as much as 90 percent of nitrous oxide emissions.

Introducing improved livestock management and crop practices, coupled with adaptive management of forests, could have a very significant and positive impact, he said.

Adopting land use practices, such as conservation in agriculture, would also help to maintain significant amounts of carbon in the soil.

He said rice production is another major source of greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for some 50 to 100 million metric tons of anthropogenic methane per year.

On the other hand, extreme weather conditions caused by climate change could reduce rice crop production, which today feeds more than half the world’s population

Meanwhile, members of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) reported Friday in Beijing,  it has established a US$140 million fund to help develop climate-friendly agricultural and forestry systems in developing countries.

The research agenda will also assess climate change impacts on poor nations’ agriculture and natural resources. Without commitments like this farmers in poor nations could face a global disaster of unprecedented proportions the group said.

“We are increasingly alarmed that if we don’t move quickly to give farmers in the developing world the tools they need to deal with climate change, we could see food production in places like sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia collapse before the end of the century,” said Katherine Sierra, World Bank Vice President for Sustainable Development and the CGIAR Chair.

“I urge donors and research centers around the world to join us in investing in solutions to climate change.”

Sierra’s call for ramping up research that will help developing countries adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change was made in Bali, Indonesia where world leaders have gathered for the conference.

“This is an auspicious moment in the history of agriculture research because farmers already are under considerable pressure to increase production just to meet the food demands of a growing population,” continued Sierra. “If there ever was a time for scientists to step up and innovate, it is now.” (Rita A.Widiadana)