Read full article by By Hannah Seo @ GreenBiz Photo Credit: GreenBiz
With storms to the east and wildfires to the west, the climate crisis is at the forefront of public consciousness. But aside from dramatic disasters, another pernicious threat comes with a warming climate: diminishing global crop yields.
In a new study published in Nature Food, researchers assessed global yields for 18 of the most farmed crops — wheat, maize, soybeans, rice, barley, sugar beet, cassava, cotton, groundnuts, millet, oats, potatoes, pulses, rapeseed, rye, sorghum, sunflower and sweet potatoes — crops that, all together, represent 70 percent of global crop area and around 65 percent of global caloric intake.
The authors found that climate change will not only hamper farmers’ abilities to maintain current harvests, but that countries already facing food insecurity will be disproportionately affected. The researchers investigated temperature variations, but didn’t examine climate impacts to precipitation patterns or other weather phenomena such as flood or drought.
The most negatively affected countries across most crops, their models found, were those in sub-Saharan Africa and certain countries in South America and South Asia such as India, Brazil, Indonesia and Venezuela, among others.
Climate change will not only hamper farmers’ abilities to maintain current harvests, but that countries already facing food insecurity will be disproportionately affected.
“Generally the countries with low existing productivity also expected a high negative impact of climate change … these happen to be mostly non-developed countries,” Paolo Agnolucci, an environmental economist at University College London and a co-author of the study, told EHN.
Agnolucci and his team used data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on global crop yields, and used statistical models to predict how current croplands across the globe will react to a warming climate. The researchers made sure to control for such factors as fertilizer and pesticide use, and differing irrigation techniques.
Their statistical models yielded oddly symmetrical results: They predicted that countries with already high yield for a crop will, on average, benefit from a 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature while countries that struggle with that same crop will struggle even more with their yield. Agnolucci and his team found the same trend with caloric consumption: Countries with higher average calorie intake per person per day were more likely to benefit from that 1 degree Celsius rise in global temperature than countries where average caloric intake is lower.
The data show that the issue of climate change is also one of food security, said Agnolucci, where the beneficiaries of a warming climate are the ones who don’t necessarily need more arable land or more available calories — “on average, the losers are those countries who are already losing.”
Counting calories vs. healthy foods
The unequal burden poorer countries will face is no surprise, Ephraim Nkonya, an agricultural economist with the International Food Policy Research Institute who was not involved in the study, told EHN. It is well known that climate change disproportionately affects poorer nations; it also disproportionately affects poorer communities within nations. Climate change, by exacerbating income and wealth inequalities, will of course widen food security disparities, he said.
But Nkonya questions whether caloric intake should be used as an indication of food security. “The current thinking is that we really need to look at a healthy diet.” He said the FAO has pivoted their focus in recent years from raising caloric intake in food insecure areas to fostering systems that yield accessible, healthy diets.
Simply raising a nation’s average caloric intake does not translate necessarily to a more food secure nation, he said, and relying on a measure such as caloric intake obscures population well-being.
For example, Nkonya quotes the FAO’s “The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2020” report and said that around 60 percent of the population in sub-Saharan Africa cannot afford a healthy diet. That information is lost if you only look at average caloric production and consumption, which have been on the rise.