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Symposium 2011

Proposal - Developing climate-resilient crops in Africa

The Challenge

In policy discussions of climate change, mitigation has been the main focus to date but adaptation to climate change is moving up the policy agenda. Simulation models suggest that the negative effects ...

In policy discussions of climate change, mitigation has been the main focus to date but adaptation to climate change is moving up the policy agenda. Simulation models suggest that the negative effects of climate change disproportionately fall on the developing world. Some argue that such effects have already started to become visible in the form of agricultural damage, displacement of people by floods, etc.

Agriculture is currently a major source of income for most African countries, and is expected to remain so for the foreseeable future. However, global warming poses a threat to many African crops---especially grains such as maize, sorghum and millet----not just because higher temperatures make these crops harder to grow, but because warming is expected to cause arid regions to become still drier, and wet regions to become still rainier. Developing crops that are resilient to higher temperatures and to either increased aridity or rainfall is therefore important to Africa’s long-run economic growth and security.

Of course, many other parts of the world will be affected qualitatively in similar ways by climate change, implying a large demand for climate-resilient crops. At the world level, therefore, one can expect market forces to work reasonably well to spur the development of such crops. However, Africa will experience extremes of climate----both of temperature and dryness/wetness----not seen in most other regions. Thus, its crops will have to be considerably more resilient than those elsewhere. But the demand for such super-resilient crops will probably not be sufficient to induce their development through the market alone---African agriculture is too small and too poor for that.

I therefore propose the creation----perhaps through an institution like the World Bank-----of prize funds for the creation of climate-resilient crops. These funds would be awarded to companies who succeeded in developing new cultivars of maize, etc. that met specified resilience criteria. Prizes as spurs to innovation, in general, face the shortcoming that defining a winning invention in advance is hard. But in this case it should be relatively easy to specify criteria of temperature-resistance, etc. that would make these monetary awards effective as incentives.

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