How famine early warning can highlight priorities for climate change adaptation

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Tuesday, 19 January 2010: 11:15 AM
B211 (GWCC)
James Verdin, USGS, Boulder, CO; and C. C. Funk

Famine early warning systems provide a unique lens for understanding the near-term implications of climate change on food security, allowing an immediate focus on the locations and seasons where millions of food insecure people are dependent upon local rainfall. The Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWS NET) is a decision support system sponsored by the Office of Food for Peace of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID). FEWS NET identifies the times and places when food aid is required by the most food insecure populations of the developing world. The livelihood systems of these populations are predominantly based on subsistence rainfed agriculture and pastoralism, and as such are highly climate sensitive. Consequently, FEWS NET has developed its own climate services, implemented by USGS, NOAA, NASA, and USDA, to support its decision making processes. The foundation of this climate service is the monitoring of current growing conditions and putting them in historical context, in order to identify drought anomalies that might impact food security. Since station networks are sparse in the countries monitored, FEWS NET has a tradition (dating to 1985) of reliance on satellite remote sensing of vegetation and rainfall. In the last decade, climate forecasts have become an additional tool for food security assessment, extending the early warning perspective to include expected agricultural outcomes in the season ahead. Most recently, attention has shifted to include 21st century climate change scenarios. Rather than adopting ‘raw' 21st century precipitation simulations, diagnostic ocean-atmosphere analyses are employed to develop interpretations of GCM scenarios in a defensible and critical manner. In this way, future patterns of precipitation and temperature can be used in crop water balance calculations to reveal shifts in seasonality and the relative frequency of drought. In some regions, like Eastern Africa, such changes seem to be already occurring. Shifts in seasonality, an increased frequency of drought, and growing populations are leading to increased food insecurity. Adaptation through improved seeds and fertilizer use, enhanced agricultural extension and management practices, micro-credit, land tenure policies, weather monitoring and climate forecasting could lead to substantial improvements in yields, offsetting anthropogenic declines in rainfall.