, Volume 70, Issue 1-2, pp 31-72

Impacts of Present and Future Climate Variability and Change on Agriculture and Forestry in the Arid and Semi-Arid Tropics

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Abstract

The arid and semi-arid regions account for approximately 30% of the world total area and are inhabited by approximately 20% of the total world population. Issues of present and future climate variability and change on agriculture and forestry in the arid and semi-arid tropics of the world were examined and discussion under each of these issues had been presented separately for Asia, Africa and Latin America.

Several countries in tropical Asia have reported increasing surface temperature trends in recent decades. Although, there is no definite trend discernible in the long-term mean for precipitation for the tropical Asian region, many countries have shown a decreasing trend in rainfall in the past three decades. African rainfall has changed substantially over the last 60 yr and a number of theoretical, modelling and empirical analyses have suggested that noticeable changes in the frequency and intensity of extreme events, including floods may occur when there are only small changes in climate. Climate in Latin America is affected by the El Niño-southern oscillation (ENSO) phases and there is a close relationship between the increase and decrease of rainfall depending upon the warm or cold phases of the phenomenon.

Over land regions of Asia, the projected area-averaged annual mean warming is likely to be 1.6 ± 0.2 C in the 2020s, 3.1 ± 0.3 C in the 2050s, and 4.6 ± 0.4 C in the 2080s and the models show high uncertainty in projections of future winter and summer precipitation. Future annual warming across Africa is projected to range from 0.2 C per decade to more than 0.5 C per decade, while future changes in mean seasonal rainfall in Africa are less well defined. In Latin America, projections indicate a slight increase in temperature and changes in precipitation.

Impacts of climate variability and changes are discussed with suitable examples. Agricultural productivity in tropical Asia is sensitive not only to temperature increases, but also to changes in the nature and characteristics of monsoon. Simulations of the impacts of climate change using crop simulation models show that crop yield decreases due to climate change could have serious impacts on food security in tropical Asia. Climate change is likely to cause environmental and social stress in many of Asia’s rangelands and drylands. In the arid and semi-arid tropics of Africa, which are already having difficulty coping with environmental stress, climate change resulting in increased frequencies of drought poses the greatest risk to agriculture. Impacts were described as those related to projected temperature increases, the possible consequences to water balance of the combination of enhanced temperatures and changes in precipitation and sensitivity of different crops/cropping systems to projected changes. In Latin America, agriculture and water resources are most affected through the impact of extreme temperatures (excessive heat, frost) and the changes in rainfall (droughts, flooding). Adaptation potential in the arid and semi-arid tropics of Asia, Africa and Latin America was described using suitable examples. It is emphasized that approaches need to be prescriptive and dynamic, rather than descriptive and static.