ADVANCE FOR USE TUESDAY, SEPT. 24, 2019 AND THEREAFTER- In this Feb. 19, 2019 photo, a farmer uses a plow in Merida, Venezuela, as scientists start a mission to study how temperatures and plant life are changing in the Andean ecosystem known as the paramos _ a mist-covered mountain grassland that lies between the top of the treeline and the bottom of the Humboldt glacier. (AP Photo/Rodrigo Abd)
INTERNATIONAL - A doubling of international funding for agricultural science is needed to help half a billion small farmers cope with climate change or the world risks mass migration and widespread instability, said the head of a major farm research network.

Investment is “woefully short” of the amounts required for farmers to adapt to more extreme weather and cut planet-warming emissions from their activities, said Elwyn Grainger-Jones, executive director of CGIAR, a global group of agriculture research centres.

“If people are preoccupied with issues such as security, then they'd better take a closer look at what's going to happen if a significant share of those 500 million smallholder farmers loses their livelihoods,” Grainger-Jones warned.

Worsening droughts and floods have already slashed yields of staple crops as the planet warms, he added.

If farmers abandon their land and migrate to cities without proper planning and compete for limited natural resources there, “that will create a spiralling security situation around Europe and globally”, Grainger-Jones told the Thomson Reuters Foundation during an interview.

“I think we are barely looking around the corner of what that means for us,” he said ahead of a UN summit this past week, where a push was due to be made for more agricultural funding as governments promise to bolster action to tackle climate change.

The CGIAR head said that he hoped they would pledge to raise funding for his network to $2billion (R29.8bn) a year from the current level of nearly $1bn.

The Global Commission on Adaptation, chaired by billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates, World Bank chief executive Kristalina Georgieva and former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon, also urged a cash injection for CGIAR in a flagship report published last week.

The network’s 15 non-profit research centres have provided poor farmers with varieties of high-yielding maize and potatoes, and disease-resistant rice and wheat for nearly half a century.

However, to feed a growing population nutritiously without clearing more forests or losing species will require more backing for innovation and research, Grainger-Jones said.

A doubling of funding would help speed up the network's new 10-year strategy, which includes developing farming systems that can adapt to drier and hotter weather, sea-level rise and flooding, while emitting less greenhouse gases, he said.

Small farmers in poor countries also need access to new technologies, especially smartphones, he added.

The UN said in a recent report that land must be used more wisely to curb global warming as agriculture, forestry and other land activities accounted for nearly a quarter of man-made greenhouse gas emissions from 2007/16.

“Agriculture is victim and villain in all of this.

"It's got to change urgently,” said Grainger-Jones.

Reuters