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    October 04, 2011 | 11:34 AM

    Coffee, cassava, and climate change: A new recipe for Brazil's farmers

    © 2004 Fernando Rebêlo cc by sa 3.0

    Could you switch to growing bananas if you had spent your entire life growing apples? Would you be able to pack up your farm and move hundreds of miles away if your region was no longer able to support your crop? These are some of the life-altering scenarios that farmers in Brazil may have to consider, according to recent statements by Eduardo Assad, Secretary of Climate Change at Brazil's Environment Ministry.

    Studies by the government indicate that climate change could redraw the country's agricultural map. These studies suggest that apple cultivation in Brazil's Santa Catarina region could be replaced by bananas; cassava, which is a staple food and a key component of local culinary tradition in Brazil's Northeast, could see a significant decline in yields in that area; and land used for growing soy, one of Brazil's three biggest crops, could shrink by 40 percent by 2070. By one estimate, losses in Brazil's grain harvest could total $4.6 billion by 2020. And if you're a coffee lover, brace yourself: in the Southeast, areas growing Arabica coffee will shrink, and the crop could possibly be replaced with Robusta coffee, ironically regarded as less robust and aromatic.

    The good news is that Brazil is conscious of the many climatic risks its agricultural system faces, including rising temperature, floods and droughts, and is working with its farmers to prepare them for multiple scenarios. For instance, the government is mapping agricultural zones according to the level of climate risk each crop faces.

    These strategies could help inform many other countries that are likely to face potential threats to their food systems. As we saw during our 24 Hours of Reality event climate change could exacerbate extreme weather worldwide. We've seen, for example, that staple crops in the Solomon Islands like taro and tannia are threatened by saltwater intrusion, and that India could experience a fall in wheat yields.

    New crops don't just mean new ingredients for dinner; they mean a recipe for a whole new lifestyle. What we eat is closely tied to our identity, culture, traditions and our communities' values. We all need to ask ourselves: Are we willing to let climate change alter such a significant part of who we are?

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