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NSFC - UNEP Project Launched to Boost Food and Water Security in Zambezi Basin
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NSFC - UNEP Project Launched to Boost Food and Water Security in Zambezi Basin

Zambezi Basin, the largest river basin in southern Africa is a risk zone facing water and food shortages largely due to climate change. To address this problem, a joint project supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (NSFC) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) was launched in Beijing on 20 January to explore the impact of agricultural development on food security and water vulnerability under climate change in the Basin.

With an area of 1.3 million km2, Zambezi Basin is a potential zone of soybean production. However, the countries in this Basin including Zambia, Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi are suffering serious food shortages. The Basin has abundant arable land resources, among which cropped land only accounts for 10%. Less rainfall caused by warm-dry climate change, more evapotranspiration (ET) generated by hydraulic power plants, coupled with poor irrigation systems, impact greatly on the food production in this region.

To clarify the competitive relationship of “food, water and hydropower” under climate change in the basin, the project has built an international research team that covers remote sensing monitoring, crop modeling, climate change, and hydrology fields. The involved partners are the Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth (RADI) under the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) International Ecosystem Management Partnership (UNEP-IEMP), several local universities and meteorological agencies.

The project is co-led by Prof. Wu Bingfang from RADI and Dr. Liu Jian from UNEP-IEMP. Prof. Wu’s team has long been engaging in agricultural and water resources remote sensing monitoring. His team has developed a CropWatch system and ETWatch system to monitor various indicators related to crop production at regional, national and global scales. They also release CropWatch Bulletins quarterly to assess worldwide crop production, providing valuable references for governments and related organizations to predict food prices and food security.

A network collaborative platform will be built to facilitate the research. The web-based platform will integrate the CropWatch and ETWatch from RADI, a crop modelling system, and weather and hydro database from local metrological agencies, capable of data analysis, crop monitoring, water consumption estimation, modeling and forecasting the crop production, soybean production and export potential under different climate scenarios.

If the research outcomes can facilitate climate compatible agriculture and hydropower planning in this region, the land will unlock great potential for soybean production, which can ensure food security in the Basin, and, in the long run, meet rising demands of China for soybean importation.