MSU researchers study planet's climate, rapid changes foreseen
Decades from now, the plants sprouting from East African farmers’ plots might look far different as the global climate changes, making it critical for farmers to start planning for the future.
But factors such as the region’s temperature and pests make predicting the future murky for farmers, said Nathan Moore, an assistant professor in the Department of Geography.
A pair of MSU researchers, including Moore, plan to begin creating climate models for the area and train East African farmers how to develop climate and land-use models.
“We’re getting to the point where agencies are having to make decisions about 20- or 30-year plans and people need concrete predictions,” Moore said. “Should we focus on drought tolerance or pest tolerance?”
The two researchers received a three-year, $430,000 grant from The Rockefeller Foundation and will discuss the implications of the predicted data with local farmers, said Jennifer Olson, an associate professor in the Department of Communication, Arts and Sciences and the project’s lead researcher.
“It’s really important because what we’re producing with our modeling is the best available information on how the climate change will impact their agricultural production,” Olson said.
Past projects studied the effects of climate change worldwide or in Africa, but Olson said this will be the first to focus on East Africa and use specific data about several factors, such as the region’s topography.
Climate modeling is critical for East African farmers because they need to be able to adapt to the planet’s changing temperature, but the technology is not widely available in the region, Moore said.
He said the project will serve as a way to help train African scientists to create and use climate and land-use models on their own.
“We can’t actually give them an in-depth course that you would expect in a university, but we hope to use this as a springboard to get to that point,” Moore said.
As part of The Rockefeller Foundation’s 5-year, $70 million Developing Climate Change Resilience Initiative, MSU’s project will try to better prepare farmers for the impacts of climate change, said Cristina Rumbaitis del Rio, an associate director at The Rockefeller Foundation.
“Even if we were to flip a switch to reduce carbon emissions tomorrow, we would still be in store for 30 to 40 decades of effects,” Rumbaitis del Rio said. “We need to identify the efforts and investment that we need to make today to make sure that global warming isn’t a catastrophic, life-taking event,”
Russ Freed, a professor in the Department of Crop and Soil Sciences and who is not involved in the project, said it is important for East Africans to have access to climate and land-use models for their region. Currently, most models do not address concerns unique to East African farmers.
“Most of the models are coming out from other countries,” Freed said. “I think most farmers are used to slow changes, but what they’re probably looking at here is that the changes will be faster than usual.”