Farmers Need More Support in the Light of New Warnings on Climate Change and Food Prices

By Alison Withers

Two alarm bells have been sounded this week about rising carbon emissions and rising food prices, both of which ought to encourage urgent change in government policy priorities.

The first was that despite the global recession carbon emissions had risen to record levels in 2010 to a level 5% higher than the previous record in 2008. This has called into question the likelihood of a 2% global reduction in emissions being achieved by 2020, a target set at the global climate change conference in Cancun, Mexico last year.

The charity Oxfam issued the second warning, predicting a doubling of food prices within 20 years unless governments globally act to reform the global food system in several key. They identify these as creating increased transparency in commodities markets, regulating futures markets, scaling up food reserves, ending policies promoting biofuels and investing in smallholder farmers, especially women.

Where the two warnings meet is on the problem of climate change, which is already resulting in increasingly unstable and extreme weather patterns. All this makes farming an even more uncertain profession than ever.

According to Oxfam's calculations by 2030, the average cost of key crops will increase by between 120% and 180% and half of that increase will be caused by climate change.

This year in the UK an exceptionally dry, near-drought spring has already led farmers to warn that wheat yields are expected to be down by 14-18% this harvest particularly in those areas most affected, such as East Anglia.

This all comes at a time when farmers are being urged to increase the yield from their land to match the projected increasing demand for food from population growth.

Already because of rising prices of basic commodities like wheat, rice and maize one in seven people go hungry every day and that rising food prices are pushing millions of people into extreme poverty despite the fact that the world is at the moment capable of feeding everyone.

Oxfam has argued that along with much more decisive action on climate change much more investment needs to be made in farming, which is the livelihood of more large numbers of small farmers in the developing world.

Many more types of the new breed of low-chem, environmentally friendly agricultural products being invented by the biopesticides developers are becoming available, that could help. But small farmers' access to biopesticides, biofungicides and yield enhancers is dependent on their having the money to invest and the training in their use as well as on getting such products, that tend to be location-specific properly tested and licensed for use.

These people need to be given affordable access to many more modern agricultural products to protect their crops and improve yield as well as the training in how best to use them. In addition much more work needs to be done to create a reliable Infrastructure to store, preserve and transport their produce and will need central investment from governments.

These issues really should be considered a priority, but what chance is there of this happening while those governments most severely hit by the consequences of the global recession are imposing austerity cuts to get their economies back to some semblance of health while the growth of emerging economies in India, China, Russia and Brazil continues to put pressure on demand for food and on the climate?

Alison Withers
Article by Alison Withers
A major effort is needed from governments following the starkest warnings yet on carbon emissions and rising food prices before it is too late. This should include more investment in farming, including helping small developing world farmers gain access to the new low-chem biopesticides coming onto the market. By Ali Withers.

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