Southern Africa, India and Southeast Asia will be plagued with both high susceptibility and a lack of coping mechanisms as climate change takes its toll, according to models published in a new study.

The Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research's (CGIAR) Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security identified world regions that will bear the brunt of climate change's consequences on food availability. The project's researchers measured current food security indicators and climate-sensitive zones in 2050, and the overlap between the two.

Other high-risk hot spots include Mexico, northeast Brazil, southern Africa and West Africa, assessed by indicators like future water availability, number of days above 30 degrees Celsius, length of the growing period, reliable growing days and high or low rainfall.

"In all of these areas, food security is always an issue," said Philip Thornton, one of the study's authors and a senior scientist at the International Livestock Research Institute. In addition to climate and economy, "these are areas where population increases are projected to carry on, adding more potential problems."

How productivity flips
The researchers mapped vulnerability to nine thresholds -- the points at which a region can "flip" from normal productivity to subpar yields. One example of a threshold is the 120-day growing period, the minimum length needed for a crop like corn to survive. If climate change causes growing periods to shrink to less than 120 days, it will take a significant toll on food sustainability.

Southern Africa -- encompassing Namibia, Angola, Zambia, Botswana, Mozambique and South Africa -- showed to be highly exposed to several of the eight thresholds. Spots in northeastern Brazil, Mexico, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan were also very vulnerable, concluded the study.

Food security indicators, a combination of economic, health, logistic and population statistics, assessed which areas are currently at greatest risk for hunger and malnutrition.

"Africa and South Africa are clearly much more chronically food insecure regions than Latin America or China," states the study. "In terms of resource pressure, again Africa is highlighted for population growth rates."

Market access, economy also key
North Africa, a region that will not be especially vulnerable to climate change according to the study's findings, ranked high in the number of hours needed to access a market. As seen in food riots earlier this year, the region is also sensitive to price volatility in international markets.

"One of the key areas in helping to provide food security is not simply an idea of more productivity, but also access and affordability of food to those who need it," said Thornton, in regard to North Africa.

But for the regions that are faced with increasingly stressful weather patterns, "there's a great deal that could be done to offset the impacts of climate change through adaptation, farming with new technology and government policies that are conducive to promoting small-holder agriculture," he said.

Crop substitution for a drier and warmer climate, converting cropland to livestock grazing land, and making better use of rainfall are proven methods.

"It's not particularly rocket science," he said.

Thornton's words reflect the conclusions of another report released this week. The nonprofit aid organization Oxfam released a food security report recommending government investment in small-scale farming and instituting concrete plans to deal with climate change. Continuing to follow the current system may drive food prices up 70 to 90 percent in the next 18 years, warns Oxfam.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500