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Will Technology Feed a Warming World?

A recent blog noted that climate change will negatively affect African agriculture, particularly production of the most important staple crops– millet, cassava, rice (West Africa), maize, bananas and plantains. More than 70 percent of the world’s cocoa is also threatened. As the earth warms, weather patterns shift, causing droughts and floods that threaten agriculture. Scientists and farmers alike are looking for ways to ensure that food production keeps pace with need under these circumstances. 

About 70 percent of the people of Africa derive their livelihoods from agriculture.

While many pin their hopes on technology, others suggest there are limits to how much agricultural technology—drought-tolerant seeds, for instance—will help. Mark Hertsgaard of examined this question and found that “better seeds alone” are not the answer.  Instead, feeding the world under climate change will require a broader strategy.

Sara Scherr, president of Aid for Africa member EcoAgricuture Partners, agrees that using the model of developing a few seeds that can be grown on a massive scale will not work.  “We absolutely have to develop seeds for improved and climate-adapted varieties, but we also need to increase the diversity of seeds.” A broader approach is necessary, she says.

EcoAgriculture Partners, which helps develop landscapes that produce food and support family livelihoods while protecting environmental diversity, brought together some of the world’s leading experts in agriculture and the environment to address these issues last month in Nairobi.  Representatives from the world’s leading agriculture and environmental organizations, farmer organizations, policymaking and scientific communities, and consumer groups discussed new approaches that integrate food production, biodiversity and ecosystem conservation, and rural livelihoods and are supported by institutions and policymakers. Practices that raise crop yields, and boost water supplies and soil fertility are likely to be important parts of the solution.

Our goal, said Scherr, is “to catalyze a shift towards integrated agricultural and rural land use strategies [from the] the farmer level to the national policy level.” Learn more about the initiative Landscapes for People, Food and Nature here.