Category: Agriculture

Falling harvests could soon follow growing deserts

Falling harvests could soon follow growing deserts

By Tim Radford

A hotter world will mean more deserts and falling harvests − bad news for food producers and for all of us.

LONDON, 18 May, 2021 − By the end of the century falling harvests could jeopardise as much as a third of present levels if greenhouse gas emissions continue uncontrolled.

That is because climatic regions that right now and for most of human history have been home to reliable crops of grains, pulses, fruits and vegetables, and safe grazing for cattle, sheep, goats and so on, could become too hot, too dry, or too wet.

And these things could happen too quickly for farmers either to adapt, or crops to evolve. Land that had for generations been considered “safe climatic space” for food production could be shifted into new regimes by runaway global heating, according to a new study in the journal One Earth.

“Our research shows that rapid, out-of-control growth of greenhouse emissions may, by the end of the century, lead to more than a third of current global food production falling into conditions in which no food is produced today − that is, out of safe climatic space,” said Matti Kummu, of Aalto University in Finland.

“The good news is that only a fraction of food production would face as-of-yet unseen conditions if we collectively reduce emissions, so that warming would be limited to 1.5° to 2°Celsius.”

Very big If

In 2015, almost all the world’s nations met in Paris and agreed to act to contain global heating to “well below” 2°C above the average for most of human history by 2100.

Six years on, that promise now looks increasingly ambitious: despite declarations of good intent, the planet is heading for a temperature rise of 3°C or more by 2100. The Paris target of 1.5°C could be surpassed in the next two decades.

The One Earth study is yet another in a chain of findings that confirm that much of the worst possible consequences of global heating could be contained if − and only if − there is concerted and determined global co-operation to abandon fossil fuel use and to restore natural ecosystems.

Professor Kummu and his colleagues report that they examined ways of considering the complex problem of climate and food. Geographers have identified 38 zones marked by varying conditions of rainfall, temperature, frost, groundwater and other factors important in growing food or rearing livestock.

The researchers devised a standard of what they called “safe climatic space” and then considered the likely change in conditions for 27 plant crops and seven kinds of livestock by the years 2081to 2100, under two scenarios. In one of these, the world kept its promise and controlled warming to the Paris targets. In the other, it did not.

“The increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation”

And they found − an increasingly common finding − that climate change is likely to hit the poorest nations hardest: that is, those people who have contributed the least to global heating could once again become its first casualties.

Under the more ominous scenario, the areas of northern or boreal forests of Russia and North America would shrink, while the tropical dry forest zone would grow, along with the tropical and temperate desert zones. The Arctic tundra could all but disappear.

The areas hardest hit would be the Sahel in North Africa, and the Middle East, along with some of south and south-east Asia. Already-poor states such as Benin, Ghana and Guinea-Bissau in West Africa, Cambodia in Asia and Guyana and Suriname in South America would be worst hit if warming is not contained: up to 95% of food production would lose its “safe climatic space.”

In 52 of the 177 countries under study − and that includes Finland and most of Europe − food production would continue. Altogether 31% of crops and 34% of livestock could be affected worldwide. And one fifth of the world’s crop production and 18% of its livestock would be most under threat in those nations with the lowest resilience and fewest resources to absorb such shock.

“If we let emissions grow, the increase in desert areas is especially troubling because in these conditions barely anything can grow without irrigation,” said Professor Kummu. “By the end of this century, we could see more than 4 million square kilometres [1.5m sq miles] of new desert around the globe.” − Climate News Network


Cover image by Clément Bardot, via Wikimedia Commons
Global farming feels the impacts of global heating

Global farming feels the impacts of global heating

By Tim Radford

Global heating has already set back farming around the world, and wiped out seven years of steady advance.

LONDON, 12 April, 2021 − Climate change has begun to harm the world’s farmers. Compared with a notional world in which global heating is not being driven ever higher by fossil fuel use, a new study finds that the riches to be gleaned from the soil have fallen by 21%.

This, the researchers say, is as if the steady advance in agricultural productivity worldwide − in crop breeding, in farming technologies and in fertiliser use − has been eroded everywhere by more extreme temperatures, more prolonged droughts and more intense rainfall.

“We find that climate change has basically wiped out about seven years of improvements in agricultural productivity over the past 60 years,” said Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, an economist at Cornell University in the US.

“It is equivalent to pressing the pause button on productivity growth back in 2013, and experiencing no improvements since then. Anthropogenic climate change is already slowing us down.”

He and colleagues from Maryland and California report in the journal Nature Climate Change that they developed new ways of looking at farm costs and yields that could account for climate- and weather-related factors. The findings are potentially alarming.

Productivity drops

In the last century, the planet has warmed by at least 1°C above the long term average for most of human history, and is heading for 3°C or more by the end of this century.

By 2050, the total global population could have risen to 10bn: more than two billion extra mouths to be fed. But during the last 60 years, growth in agricultural productivity in the US has been slowed by somewhere between 5 and 15%. In Africa, in Latin America and the Caribbean, growth has slowed by between 26 and 34%.

A study of this kind − comparing the present world with one that might have been − is always open to challenge, and farmers have always had to gamble on good weather and cope with bad harvests.

But over the last seven years, researchers have repeatedly confirmed that a hotter world promises to be a hungrier one. Studies have found that yields of wheatmaize and rice are all vulnerable to climate change.

They have warned that higher temperatures and more atmospheric greenhouse gases could actually affect the nutritional values of legumes, fruit and vegetables, and that changes in weather patterns − in droughts, rainfall and heat waves − will hit harvests.

“Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect”

And since the higher temperatures that global heating brings  inevitably threaten more intense, more prolonged and more extensive heat extremes and droughts, the chances of calamitous harvest failure in more than one continent at the same time will be much greater: global famine could follow.

So the latest study simply provides another way of confirming anxieties already expressed. This time there is a new perspective: the attrition of climate change began decades ago. In the constant race to keep up with demand and compensate for possible loss, the farmers may be falling behind. Technological progress has yet to deliver climate resilience.

“It is not what we can do, but where we are headed,” said Robert Chambers, of the University of Maryland, a co-author. “This gives us an idea of trends to help see what to do in the future with new changes in the climate that are beyond what we’ve previously seen.

“We are projected to have almost 10 billion people to feed by 2050, so making sure our productivity is stable but growing faster than ever before is a serious concern.”

And Dr Otiz-Bobea said: “Most people perceive climate change as a distant problem. But this is something that is already having an effect. We have to address climate change now so that we can avoid further damage for future generations.” − Climate News Network


This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
Cover image by Bob Jones, via Wikimedia Commons
India farmers’ protests: will the new farm laws address climate vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector?

India farmers’ protests: will the new farm laws address climate vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector?

By Uma Pal

In November 2020, more than 200 farm unions from 22 states across India organised a nationwide protest against the new farm laws introduced by the Indian government. Over the past few months, thousands of farmers have taken to the streets, battling the cold, water cannons and tear gas to demand amendments in the new laws for better income security, market regulation and protection from being exploited by large corporations. The protest, which started in the northern, agricultural states of Punjab and Haryana, has ever since become heavily political, with massive push back by the current government and support from some opposition parties, and gaining traction in the international community. As a result, the Supreme Court of India has put the three new farm laws on hold and asked for a committee to be constituted to resolve the impasse.

The focus of the protests surrounds three farm laws enacted by the Government of India in September 2020, which collectively intend to facilitate barrier-free trade of agricultural produce outside notified markets under the state-controlled Agriculture Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) laws. They also introduce a framework for contract farming and regulate supply mechanisms for certain crops such as cereals, pulses, potatoes, and onions only under extraordinary circumstances such as famine, price rise and war[1].

Explainer: Why are the farmers protesting? Prior to the introduction of the farm laws, APMCs were controlled under state laws, with states levying taxes and fees from buyers. While the new Act proposes that anyone can buy produce directly from farmers, based on certain conditions, farmers fear that by doing away with APMC, regulated market prices might subject them to market exploitation. The new laws have not envisioned an alternative market system that can set price signals. The other main concern that farmers have is regarding the laws doing away with the federally fixed Minimum Support Price (MSP), a safety net that guarantees farmers prices and assured markets. While the government has made provisions for MSP for 23 crops, only wheat and rice are bought by the government in large quantities under the Public Distribution System (PDS), mainly due to lack of procurement capacity[2]. This has raised concerns regarding MSP limiting crop diversification. MSPs are also variable across states, causing wide variations in price levels across the country[3]. Alongside, less than 10% of farmers sell their produce at the MSP set by governments[4]. However, despite many challenges within the MSP system, a robust MSP mechanism in the predominantly wheat and rice-growing states of Punjab and Haryana is the principal reason why the protest is the strongest in these states[5].  

In essence, the farmers’ protest signifies the vicious cycle of poverty and vulnerability that plagues farmers and the agriculture sector and the dire need for agricultural reforms and social and economic protection structures that take into account farmers’ voices. Close to 43% of the country’s total employed population was engaged in agriculture and allied services as of 2019[6]. However, the sector faces multiple challenges such as fragmented and small landholdings, subsistence farming, fragmented markets with several intermediaries, high costs and margins, low-value addition and low-income share of farmers, and limited access of farmers to institutional finance technology, inputs, and storage.[7] These structural issues are exacerbated by challenges associated with the energy-water-agriculture nexus: Heavy dependence on rainfed agriculture, poor access to and inefficient use of irrigation, water contamination and degradation due to indiscriminate fertiliser and pesticide use, water scarcity, and poor soil health.

Socio-economic vulnerabilities in the agriculture sector exacerbated by the climate challenge

Climate change-induced temperature rise, shifts in rainfall patterns and increased intensity of extreme events further exacerbate existing socio-economic vulnerabilities. The Global Climate Risk Index 2020[8] ranked India the fifth most vulnerable to the impacts of climate. Estimations indicate that climate change is responsible for annual economic losses in the agriculture sector up to 9%[9]. According to India’s Economic Survey 2017-18, climate change could reduce annual agricultural incomes by 15-18% and up to 20- 25% for rainfed agriculture[10]. The survey also indicates that repeated monsoon failures and prolonged drought have been a significant cause for stagnation in the country’s agriculture GDP. Climate projections suggest that rice and wheat yield in India may decline by 6-10% by 2030, while crops like potatoes, soybean, chickpea and mustard may be neutrally or positively impacted in the short term[11]. While there are uncertainties around how climate change affects different regions and crops, it is well established that crop seasons are shifting, and yields of some crops are adversely impacted. These shifts point to an urgent need to incorporate climate considerations into all facets of the agricultural sector. An effective response will require access to climate information, climate-smart practices, new crops better suited for different micro-climates, and interventions for addressing existing socio-economic vulnerabilities. Importantly, climate change needs to be fully integrated into large scale agricultural reforms instead of being seen as a standalone issue.

The Green Revolution in India is the most dramatic example of large-scale agricultural reforms that failed to adequately consider the long-term social, environmental, and climate impacts. The revolution was characterised by short-termism. Initially, the policies increased agricultural production and played a vital role in making the country self-sufficient in food grains. However, in recent years farmers have been dealing with contaminated soil, air and water, and chronic health problems amongst communities; fallout from the heavy use of fertilisers, pesticides and irrigation over many years. These challenges have rendered farming systems in the region highly vulnerable to climate change impacts such as erratic rainfall, droughts, and higher intensity floods, indicating the urgent need to diversify seed varieties and resources used based on regional vulnerabilities[12].

The Indian government has made a concerted effort to tackle the impacts of climate change on agriculture, for example, by researching abiotic stress-tolerant seed varieties, demonstrating climate tolerant technological activities, and encouraging shifts to dryland agricultural practices under the National Mission for Sustainable Agriculture. However, domestic agriculture policy considerations continue to fall short of considering long term impacts of climate change while designing reforms and development activities. The new farm laws are a case in point. They do not consider how climate change impacts production causing price volatility and demand-supply gaps, with knock-on effects across agricultural value chains.

The new laws also fail to recognise the economic importance of APMC markets in enabling price discovery and regulating price fluctuations and the need to address existing limitations of the MSP system to incorporate broader climate challenges, diversify the government’s procurement system and scale it up for better access for farmers. In this context, the question remains whether limiting APMC’s influence or not addressing existing challenges within the MSP system is the best way forward.  The farmers do not seem to think so.

The underlying dynamics of the famers’ protest Enhancing growth in the agriculture sector and enabling rural development continues to be a key policy concern for India. The government maintains that the new farm laws are designed to improve farmers’ access to markets and their bargaining power and that the MSP system will continue functioning, and so will the APMC mandi systems, albeit with a more limited scope. However, one of the most extensive critiques of the new Farm Laws is that they were formulated in silos without considering pre-existing diverse contexts, policies, regulations, and interventions in various agricultural states[13]. For example, the new farm laws fail to recognise that multiple states have introduced different localised agricultural market ecosystems and that farmers’ groups play an active role in asserting their market demands and navigating market spaces. Concerns over the government doing away with MSP and existing regulated market systems collapsing are underpinned by a sense that the new farm laws do not consider farmers’ voices, existing localised market dynamics and interactions and context-specific vulnerabilities.

Valuable lessons for climate practitioners from the farmers’ protests

The protests against the farm laws show that when designing policies, regulations and interventions for addressing various bottlenecks within the sector, it is imperative to foster a deeper understanding of on-ground complexities. Socio-economic and climate vulnerabilities, power relations, market dynamics and perceptions of farmers and local players in the sector are crucial considerations for effective policy design and implementation. The farm laws’ inability to take such complexities into account exemplifies how top-down policies and regulatory mechanisms run the risk of not addressing root causes of vulnerabilities and bottlenecks and fail to get buy-in from the community they intend to benefit.

Equally, climate resilience planning and action need to delve into existing nuances and locally-driven processes and partner with on-field experts and players to identify effective entry points and design flexible solutions. Regulations or technological interventions aimed at enabling adaptation, without considering how they will be perceived and how they might impact existing complex ecosystems, runs the risk of exacerbating the very vulnerabilities they wish to address. The farmers’ protest against the new farm laws provides valuable insights into the need to develop participatory and context-specific interventions while also integrating climate change in macro policy considerations. Resilience to climate change can only be effectively enhanced if considered in tandem with the existing array of social, economic and ecological challenges across scales.


[1] https://www.prsindia.org/theprsblog/comparison-2020-central-farm-laws-amendments-proposed-states

[2] https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/whats-msp-and-how-is-it-determined-the-issue-at-the-heart-of-farm-protests/562172/

[3] https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/whats-msp-and-how-is-it-determined-the-issue-at-the-heart-of-farm-protests/562172/

[4] https://theprint.in/theprint-essential/whats-msp-and-how-is-it-determined-the-issue-at-the-heart-of-farm-protests/562172/

[5] https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/here-s-why-farm-protests-have-been-loudest-in-punjab-haryana/story-G18qzwYWo7UuvrFmb06xuK.html

[6] https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.AGR.EMPL.ZS?locations=IN

[7] Financing agriculture value chains in India: challenges and opportunities. Indian study in business and economics. https://www.ifpri.org/publication/financing-agriculture-value-chains-india-challenges-and-opportunities

[8] https://germanwatch.org/sites/germanwatch.org/files/20-2-01e%20Global%20Climate%20Risk%20Index%202020_10.pdf

[9] http://www.acclimatise.uk.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/OPM_Agriculture_Pr2Final_WEB.pdf

[10] http://mofapp.nic.in:8080/economicsurvey/pdf/082-101_Chapter_06_ENGLISH_Vol_01_2017-18.pdf

[11] https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/agriculture/climate-change-causes-about-1-5-per-cent-loss-in-india-s-gdp-57883

[12] https://www.gaiafoundation.org/un-climate-experts-green-revolution-leaves-food-systems-vulnerable-to-climate-change/

[13] https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/op-ed/will-the-farm-bills-benefit-farmers/article32690170.ece


Cover photo by Randeep Maddoke, Wikimedia Commons.
India protests: farmers could switch to more climate-resilient crops – but they have been given no incentive

India protests: farmers could switch to more climate-resilient crops – but they have been given no incentive

By Shruti Bhogal and Shreya Sinha

India is witnessing a historic mass mobilisation of farmers against three new farm laws. The country’s government maintains that these laws are the cure for a longstanding agrarian crisis. While this claim has been analysed from several angles, the environmental angle has often been overlooked. This is no small oversight since the agrarian crisis in India is underpinned by strong environmental vulnerabilities, including those associated with climate change.

The three laws at the centre of the current storm are focused primarily on prices of agricultural produce, marketing channels, and the role of middlemen. Unfortunately, environmental aspects – cropping patterns, irrigation and other agricultural practices – that are fundamental to the sustainability of agricultural systems are not being addressed. Agriculture is highly susceptible to fluctuations in temperature, excessive and untimely rains, floods, droughts, pests, diseases and so on. In recent years, such extreme weather events have been aggravated by climate change.

All this is exacerbating water security. Much of India’s agriculture continues to be fed by rainfall rather than canals, wells and tube wells, which means a short growing season of only 2.5 to 6 months. Even the well-irrigated regions in the north west and south east where the 1960s green revolution massively increased yields, are now experiencing groundwater depletion. For example, Punjab’s vast fields of wheat and rice are rapidly developing desert-like conditions.

Map of India showing large and small scale irrigation.
Large scale irrigation (blue) is concentrated in the north west of India and along its east coast. Much of the country relies on rain rather than irrigation. Thenkabail et alCC BY-SA

On top of this, agro-biodiversity is in decline as only a handful of strains of a few crops have come to dominate. And the country’s soil is becoming less and less healthy. India now loses 15 tonnes of soil per hectare each year, eroded away by wind or water.

As a result, crop yields are largely either stagnating or declining. To improve yields, farmers have been intensifying the use of chemical fertilisers, pesticides and fuel, adding yet another dimension to the environmental challenge before us and making cultivation more expensive. Meanwhile prices of inputs such as seeds, fertilisers and labour have been rising steadily and prices at which farmers can sell the crops are either stagnant or increasingly unstable.

Together, these issues have pushed farmers into debt and distress. Many have abandoned their farms, moved to cities or even been driven to suicide. This is particularly true of small-scale landholders who, alongside the landless labourers, have been the worst affected.

Man holds sign saying 'No farmer food. Shame on Modi'
Protests in Haryana state, December 2020. PradeepGaurs / shutterstock

In the northwest breadbasket states of Punjab and Haryana, this stagnation is exemplified by the continuous cultivation of wheat and rice as the winter and summer crop respectively, for many decades now. The practice is widely recognised as environmentally unsustainable, but farmers have persisted because these are the only crops where they receive an assured minimum support price (MSP) through public procurement systems. So even though crop diversification has long been recommended as a response to the environmental challenges, farmers are still sticking with wheat and rice.

There are more climate-resilient and less water-intensive crops that would be better suited to particular regions, but farmers won’t start growing them until they get the kind of state support currently extended to wheat and rice in northwest India. Far from doing this, the new farm laws are in fact likely to undermine the procurement systems and regulated market yards through which such a change could be achieved. In the absence of an assured minimum support price that covers actual farm costs, farmers have no incentive or means to shift to relatively more desirable agricultural crops and practices.

Many farmers are also concerned that the new laws will leave them vulnerable to exploitation by corporate agribusiness and at risk of losing their land. Only time can tell how these concerns play out if the laws are implemented. However, if the spectre of corporate-led industrial farming – envisaged in the new laws – becomes a reality, it could further amplify the environmental crisis in India’s countryside. Empirical evidence shows that widespread monocultures and intensive cultivation practices, which are promoted by industrial farming, have intensified ecological fragilities in various regions of the world.

There is no denying that India must respond to the agricultural crisis by moving towards a more inclusive, equitable and sustainable system. The protesting farmers are demanding that at the very least the status quo be maintained. Even this is not without its environmental and social contradictions, but the new laws, if anything, might make conditions worse.


This article was originally posted on The Conversation.
Cover photo: Fallow farms in rainfed south India. Toby Smith (@tobysmithphoto) for TIGR2ESS
Mixed farming beats intensive agriculture methods

Mixed farming beats intensive agriculture methods

By Tim Radford

Once again, researchers have shown that it should be possible to feed the human race and leave enough space for the rest of creation, simply by going back to centuries-old mixed farming practices.

That would mean an end to highly intensively-farmed landscapes composed of vast fields that were home to just one crop, and a return to a number of once-traditional husbandry methods. It sounds counter-intuitive, but European researchers are convinced that it could be good value.

They report in the journal Science Advances that they looked at more than 5,000 studies that made more than 40,000 comparisons between what they term diversified and simplified agriculture.

And they found that crop yield in general either kept to the same level or even increased when farmers adopted what they called diversified practices of the kind that sustained subsistence farmers for many centuries.

These include intercropping − different crops side by side − and multiple crops in rotation, strips of flowers to encourage pollinating insects, lower levels of disturbance of the soil and hedges, and forested shelter belts to encourage wildlife alongside farmland.

“Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields”

The payoff? Better ecosystem services such as pollination, the regulation of crop pests by natural enemies, a more efficient turnover of nutrients, higher water quality, and in many cases better storage of carbon in ways that could mitigate climate change.

This, of course, is not how big agribusiness delivers much of the world’s food.

“The trend is that we are simplifying major cropping systems worldwide,” said Giovanni Tamburini, an ecologist at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences in Uppsala, who led the study.

“We grow monoculture on enlarged fields in homogenised landscapes. According to our study, diversification can reverse the negative impacts that we observe in simplified forms of cropping on the environment and on production itself.”

It’s an old argument. Is it better for a farmer to invest all in one vast crop of maize or wheat or soy, regularly nourished by commercial fertilisers, routinely sprayed to suppress pests, moulds and mildews, with the land ploughed and harrowed after harvest for the next crop, and always at risk of frost or flood, locust swarms, drought or blight?

All-round winners

Or would it be better in the long run for the farmer to spread the risk by changing and multiplying the crops, and to rely more on undisturbed soils and local habitats for birds and insects that would demolish some of the pests (and of course take some of the crop)?

Researchers have repeatedly argued that both to contain climate change and to preserve the natural world from which all human nourishment and almost all human wealth ultimately derive, farming practices must change, and so must human appetite. The argument remains: what is the best way to set about change down on the farm itself?

There have already been a large number of studies of this question. There have also been meta-analyses, or studies of collected studies. Dr Tamburini and his colleagues identified 41,946 comparisons embedded in 5,160 original studies. They also found 98 meta-analyses. And they took a fresh look at the whole lot to identify what could be win-win, trade-off and lose-lose outcomes.

They found that diversification is better for biodiversity, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, soil fertility and water regulation at least 63% of the time. “Most often, diversification practices resulted in win-win support of services and crop yields,” they report.

“Widespread adoption of diversification practices shows promise to contribute to biodiversity conservation and food security from local to global scales.” − Climate News Network


This article was originally posted on The Climate News Network.
Cover photo by Eirian Evans, via Wikimedia Commons
Risk Management in Brazilian Agriculture: Instruments, Public Policy, and Perspectives

Risk Management in Brazilian Agriculture: Instruments, Public Policy, and Perspectives

By Priscila Z. Souza and Juliano J. Assunção

Rural producers face a wide range of adverse events that expose them to potentially heavy losses. In agriculture, both natural risks – such as droughts, floods, pests, diseases, and fires – and market risks – such as price variation – are frequent. While the modernization of the agricultural sector leads to commodity specialization and the adoption of technologies with higher expected returns, it may also result in a larger production variance, creating more uncertainty and increasing producers’ exposure to risk (See Dercon and Christiaensen, 2011). Modernization has accelerated in Brazil in recent years, raising the importance of risk management instruments. 

Brazil has a large potential for improving risk mitigation opportunities for its producers, which will be even more essential in the face of climate change. Improving risk management practices and public policies could accelerate the process of modernization and sustainability in Brazilian agricultural production. Government incentives require a design crafted to meet producers’ needs. In this report, Climate Policy Initiative/Pontifical Catholic University of Rio de Janeiro (CPI/PUC-Rio) researchers analyze the current risk management instruments and public policies and discuss pathways for improving their impact on Brazilian agriculture.

This report discusses the strengths and shortcomings of the main public policies regarding agricultural risk management, highlights the potential for rural insurance growth, and outlines steps for the future. It brings together data from SUSEP, the Ministry of Agriculture (Ministério da Agricultura, Pecuária e Abastecimento – MAPA), the Central Bank of Brazil, and other relevant sources. The empirical analysis aims to provide a better understanding of the current state and recent trends of agricultural risk management in Brazil and to identify how to better tailor public policies.

In Brazil, the modernization of agriculture in the past decades has led to the conversion of pasture to cropland, reducing deforestation pressure associated with the expansion of agricultural land. The continuation of this process requires additional investments in intensification and productivity, particularly in pastureland, so that increases in livestock production do not require area expansion. Simultaneously, the conversion of pastures to cropland significantly alters a business’ risk profile, since crops are more susceptible to climate variations. Livestock farming is generally more resilient in the face of the unforeseen events that often impact rural activities. Specialization of cultures, adoption of new technologies, and sustainable production methods lead to higher expected returns but may cause greater uncertainty in results. Thus, to encourage producers to adopt such practices, their exposure to risk needs to be addressed. That is why the modernization of the agricultural sector enhances the importance of better opportunities for producers to manage their risks.

Market failures in rural insurance have broad consequences leading to underinvestment, less efficient agricultural production, and adverse land use impacts. Producers with inadequate risk management tools often make poor production decisions, such as avoiding crop specialization or the adoption of new technologies that can subsequently increase their exposure to risk. That is, producers will often avoid engaging in activities that have higher expected profits but more uncertainty in returns as a way to self-insure against both natural and price risks. This behavior has negative effects on agricultural productivity and land use, with important consequences for forests and the environment. 

In Brazil, rural insurance and other tools for agriculture risk management is scarce and difficult to access in many regions (see Box 1 for an overview of Brazil’s risk management instruments). In 2018, almost 60% of the country’s municipalities had no rural insurance contracts (for crop, livestock, or forest), according to the Superintendence for Private Insurance (Superintendência de Seguros Privados – SUSEP). Moreover, few crops in Brazil are insured, and soy is most frequently covered (32% of crop insurance contracts in SUSEP). Nevertheless, the Brazilian rural insurance market recently experienced significant growth. The rural insurance premium increased from R$88.2 million in 2006 to R$2 billion in 2018, corresponding (adjusted for inflation) to a twelve-fold increase (SUSEP). Life insurance for rural producers makes up 20% percent of all rural insurance premiums, though this type of insurance does not have a direct impact on production choices.

Only a few companies dominate Brazil’ rural insurance market. In the 2019/20 agricultural year, one company represented 52.3% percent of the market and only 14 insurers total were present during that year, according to data from SUSEP. Public policy should provide incentives to reduce market concentration, increase competition among firms, and, consequently, increase the variety of risk management instruments available to rural producers.

The remainder of this report proceeds as follows. Following this Executive Summary, Box 1 gives a brief description of Brazil’s risk management instruments. The main recommendations for improving Brazil,s agricultural risk management policies are highlighted next. Section 1 starts the analysis of risk management instruments in Brazil, exploring the data from SUSEP. Section 2 discusses the four main public policies for Brazilian producers: PSR, PROAGRO, Garantia-Safra, and PGPM. Section 3 describes the Agricultural Climate Risk Zoning (Zoneamento Agrícola de Risco Climático – ZARC). Section 4 presents the Brazilian reinsurance market and the Rural Insurance Stability Fund (FESR). Section 5 reviews the economic literature on how risk management instruments impact agricultural activity and land use in Brazil and other developing countries. Section 6 makes an international comparison of insurance coverage and policies. Finally, Section 7 discusses the pathways ahead and suggestions to improve Brazil’s risk management instruments and public policies.


This article was posted on Climate Policy Initiative.
Cover photo from Pikist.
Video: The global coffee crisis is coming

Video: The global coffee crisis is coming

Coffee is one of the most popular commodities on Earth. It’s grown by nearly 125 million farmers, from Latin America to Africa to Asia. But as man-made climate change warms the atmosphere, the notoriously particular coffee plant is struggling. Places like Colombia, which once had the perfect climate to grow Arabica coffee, are changing. Now, experts estimate the amount of land that can sustain coffee will fall 50 percent by 2050. It’s not just a crisis for consumers but for the millions who have made a livelihood out of growing coffee.


Cover photo by Hans Ripa on Unsplash.

Rely on local food to ensure supply chains resilience

Rely on local food to ensure supply chains resilience

By Sonia Fernandez

The COVID-19 pandemic exposes weaknesses in the supply chain when countries go into lockdown. Some are small, such as the toilet paper shortages early on, that, while annoying, were eventually resolved. But what happens when the effects of the pandemic reach the food systems of countries highly reliant on food imports and income from abroad, and commerce slows to a halt?

UC Santa Barbara marine conservationist Jacob Eurich and collaborators watched this very situation unfold in the Pacific Island Countries and Territories (PICTs) — the island nations scattered in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, from New Zealand to French Polynesia, and including the Marshall Islands to Papua New Guinea. While infection with SARS-CoV-2 has been slow there relative to other parts of the world, the global lockdown can have outsized effects on their food systems.

“One of the key messages from the research is to rely less on global food supply chains,” said Eurich, a co-author on a paper that appears in the journal Food Security. While this study was specific to the PICT region, areas with few domestic alternatives to global supply chains, he noted, are vulnerable to similar threats to food security when shocks to the system occur.

With their remote locations, lack of arable land and economies dependent on tourism and need for food imports, the PICTs have become reliant on movement in and out of the region for much of the food they consume and also for the money to purchase that food.

But even with commerce slowing down, these countries and territories need not suffer food scarcity and malnutrition, the researchers said. The PICTs are home to large networks of coral reefs that host a diverse array of fish and other seafood.

“Coral reefs should operate as biodiverse, living refrigerators for coastal communities, sourcing replenishable, nutritious food,” Eurich said. “Coastal communities can and should be able to depend on traditionally-sourced diets if the resource is healthy.”

In fact, the time is ripe to reconsider the role of local production in the region’s food systems, according to the researchers. For instance, some areas with farmland could benefit by reinvigorating their production of root crops, which would not only decrease reliance on the global supply chain, but also provide healthy alternatives to imported processed foods.

“Bolstering local production and intraregional trade strengthens the food system,” he said. “Consuming more locally produced fresh foods and less non-perishable shelf-stable foods is a step in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, a shortening of the supply chain via strong intraregional trade could strengthen the regional economy while also protecting against food insecurity. Significant local processing and storage challenges must be overcome, according to the paper, and intra-island transport and food distribution strengthened. Particularly in the PICT region, where large scale local fish storage is currently inadequate, it helps to prioritize production of less perishable foods (like root crops) over fish, Eurich said.

It’s not just about pandemic planning. The same principles for resilient food systems in the face of climate change and natural disaster — both of which the PICTs have been facing — could serve as a basis for response to other COVID-19-type scenarios, according to the researchers.

“Climate change and natural disasters can be considered shocks to the system,” Eurich said. “The pandemic, while there was time to prepare, was still a shock. We have learned that enhancing storage, production and distribution through coordination and increasing regional transparency are keys of a resilient supply chain when these unexpected changes occur.”

Research on this paper was conducted also by Penny Farrell (lead author), Anne Marie Thow, Helen Trevena and Georgina Mulcahy at The University of Sydney; Jillian Tuto Wate at Worldfish; Nichol Nonga, Penina Vatucawaqa and Itziar Gonzalez at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); Tom Brewer, Michael K. Sharp, Anna Farmery, Hampus Eriksson and Neil L. Andrew at the University of Wollongong; and Erica Reeve at Deakin University.

Download the pdf here.


This article was posted on PreventionWeb.
Cover photo by CIAT on ClimateVisuals.
National Adaptation Plans – An entrypoint for ecosystem-based adaptation

National Adaptation Plans – An entrypoint for ecosystem-based adaptation

This briefing note provides practical information on the planning and implementation of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) approaches in the agriculture sector as part of national adaptation planning processes. It presents entry points for mainstreaming EbA throughout the four elements of the National Adaptation Plans (NAP) formulation process, as defined by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Least Developed Countries Group.

The brief describes how planning and implementing EbA in the agriculture sectors as part of the NAPs process can make key linkages between increasing resilience of sustainable agricultural livelihoods and ecosystem management and conservation. This brief is intended for national planners and decision-makers working on climate change adaptation and NAP formulation and implementation, including UNFCCC focal points, national designated authorities of the Green Climate Fund (GCF), and climate financing agencies, donor agencies, and other development practitioners.

The key messages of this brief are:

  1. Climate change poses medium- to long-term risks to both ecosystems and ecosystem-dependent livelihoods, and calls for the adoption of adaptation actions that can address both aspects in an integrated manner;
  2. One of the ways that EbA can contribute to increasing resilience of agricultural livelihoods and ensuring food security in a more coherent way is by integrating related practices throughout the NAP process;
  3. EbA can be part of NAP planning objectives as well as a means for implementation;
  4. Integrating EbA in NAPs, focusing on agriculture sectors, should build on and use approaches that are already tested in the fields of climate-smart agriculture, agroecology, sustainable natural resource management, […];
  5. The barriers to mainstreaming EbA into NAPs include lack of evidence-based knowledge on EbA, including evidence-based on robust monitoring system, […];
  6. These barriers can be addressed by improving cross-sectoral coordination; strengthening capacities and knowledge on the social and economic benefits and trade-offs of EbA, […].

Read the full briefing note here.


This article was published on Prevention Web.
Cover photo by Naseem Bura on Unsplash.

Ribena hunts for climate-resistant blackcurrants that can cope with Britain’s mild winters

Ribena hunts for climate-resistant blackcurrants that can cope with Britain’s mild winters

By Madeleine Cuff

Cordial maker Ribena is attempting to head off the threat climate change poses to its business by developing a new variety of blackcurrant that can cope with Britain’s increasingly mild winters.

Ribena, which is owned by Lucozade Ribena Suntory, buys up 90 per cent of Britain’s £10m blackcurrant crop each year. But milder winters fuelled by climate change threatens poorer quality, less reliable fruits for its drinks business.

That is why Ribena is investing £500,000 in a five-year project with the James Hutton Institute to develop a new variety of blackcurrant that doesn’t need a cold winter to deliver good summer fruits.

“We are seeing big shifts in our climate. We’ve had an incredibly mild winter, followed by the sunniest May ever, and the driest May in 124 years,” Ribena’s blackcurrant agronomist Harriet Prosser said. “That puts us in a really difficult position.”

Warm winters

Standard blackcurrant varieties need around 2,000 “cold hours” – when the temperature drops below 7C – before they start to bud in the Spring, Ms Prosser explained. The cold spell reduces the risk of frost damage to new buds, and ensures blackcurrant shrubs flower at the right point in the season for peak pollination.

But this year, blackcurrant growers in the UK’s South East saw just 1,300 “cold hours”, raising the risk of lower yields and an unevenly ripened crop.

Long-term threat

Ribena is trying to manage Britain’s unpredictable weather patterns by sourcing blackcurrants from across the country, from Kent to Scotland. Its growers also use a range of varieties, including some better adapted to warmer climates.

But each year growing a bumper crop of blackcurrants in Britain becomes more of a challenge. This year Ribena resorted to using a specially developed nutrient-rich “energy drink” on the plants to encourage fruiting, Ms Prosser said.

Finding a blackcurrant that thrives in Britain’s warming winter conditions is crucial to the sector’s long-term prospects. “I think we would always work to keep British blackcurrants going,” Ms Prosser said. “It would get harder without this breeding programme.”


This article was originally posted on inews.co.uk.
Cover photo by Needpix.