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How will climate change affect agriculture?

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(Read caption) Rural Zimbabweans learn to use minimum-tillage farming methods to feed themselves. A new study estimates that global climate change will be especially hard on African agriculture.

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"Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate changes," notes a new study from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) that looks at how climate change will affect food production around the world by 2050.

“Developing countries are likely to be hardest hit by climate change and will suffer bigger declines in crop yields,” said Gerald Nelson, lead author of the study and an IFPRI research fellow, in a conference call with journalists on Tuesday.

Temperatures will rise to "intolerable levels" for some plants, he noted, while higher temperatures will encourage proliferation of weeds, insects, and crop diseases.

And those negatives won't necessarily be offset by an increase in carbon dioxide concentrations. In the laboratory, plants generally respond favorably to higher levels of CO2, but the story is different in farm fields. There, higher concentrations can cause more insect damage.

Overall, says the study, "Climate Change: Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation," the effects of climate change on agriculture and the world's food supply are likely to be negative.

South Asia will see large declines in crop yields, the study predicts through "detailed modeling of crop growth under climate change with insights from an extremely detailed global agriculture model, using two climate scenarios to simulate future climate." Sub-Saharan Africa will also fare poorly.

China, northern Russia, and Canada should see some improvement in their ability to grow more crops, but that won't be enough to offset what happens in the rest of the world.

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