Climate change threatens to increase the number of the world's hungry by reducing the area of land available for farming in developing countries, FAO said this week in a report presented to the Committee on World Food Security at a special side event.
"In some 40 poor, developing countries, with a combined population of two billion, including 450 million undernourished people, production losses due to climate change may drastically increase the number of undernourished people, severely hindering progress in combating poverty and food insecurity," the FAO report said.
The severest impact was likely to be in sub-Saharan African countries, which are the least able to adapt to climate change or to compensate for it through increased food imports. In contrast, industrialized countries on average stand to make gains in production potential as a result of climate change, the report said.
In developing countries, climate change may lead to an increase in lands that are arid and suffering moisture stress. In Africa, for example, there are 1.1 billion hectares of land with growing period of less than 120 days. Climate change could, by 2080, result in an expansion of this area by 5 - 8 percent, or by about 50 - 90 million hectares, FAO said.
Sixty-five developing countries, home to more than half the developing world's total population in 1995, risk losing about 280 million tonnes of potential cereal production as a result of climate change. This loss would have a value of $56 billion, equivalent to 16 percent of the agricultural gross domestic product of these countries in 1995.
In the case of Asia, the impact of climate change is mixed: India stands to lose 125 million tonnes, equivalent to 18 percent, of its rainfed cereal production; however China's rainfed cereal production potential of 360 million tonnes is expected to increase by 15 percent.
Impact on animal diseases and plant pests
"Climate change not only has an impact on food security, but is also likely to influence the development and intensification of animal diseases and plant pests," said Wulf Killmann, Chairperson of FAO's Interdepartmental Working Group on Climate Change.
Most pests and diseases act locally but have global implications, in particular because of modern trade patterns and human mobility. In a globalizing world, agriculture will have to adapt to an accelerating stream of new pests and diseases caused by changing ecological conditions resulting from climate change, and strongly intensified by increased international trade and mobility.
"Temperature changes, as well as increased air pollution, can enhance human disease patterns, as does the spread of trans-boundary animal diseases with their relationship to pathogens potentially dangerous to humans. Avian flu is the most recent example," the report warned.