Thu, Apr 18, 2013 - Page 9 News List

A warming world threatens our food supplies

Global warming is exacerbating political instability as tensions brought on by food insecurity rise, and new research suggests the issue can only get worse

By John Vidal  /  The Guardian, LONDON

Other studies suggest Brazil’s massive soya crop, which provides animal feed for much of the world, could slump by more than 25 percent over the next 20 years. The knock-on effects would mean higher meat prices in Europe.

Two major crops should do well. Quinoa and potatoes, which have hundreds of varieties and can be cultivated from sea level up to 4,000m have been developed over hundreds of years to adapt to extreme conditions.


China is relatively resilient to climate change. Its population is expected to decline by up to 400 million people this century, easing demand on resources, and it has the capacity to buy in vast quantities of food. However, because more and more Chinese are changing to a richer, more meat-based diet, the challenges will be to access more land and cattle feed. Climate change will affect regions differently, but many crops are expected to migrate north.

Crop losses are increasingly being caused by extreme weather events, insect attacks and diseases. The 2011 drought lifted food prices worldwide. Wheat is becoming increasingly difficult to grow in some northern areas of China as the land gets drier and warmer. In southern China, droughts in recent years have replaced rainy seasons. China’s National Academy of Agricultural Sciences expects basic food supplies to become insufficient around 2030.

A new study for USAID expects most of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos and Thailand to see 4°C to 6°C temperature rises by 2050. The Lower Mekong region of 100 million people, which is prone to weather extremes, could also see rainfall increase 20 percent or more in some areas, reducing the growth of rice and other staple crops. Many provinces will see food production decline significantly. The number of malnourished children in the region may increase by 9 million to 11 million by 2050.

Extreme events will increasingly affect agriculture in Australia. Key food-growing regions in the south are likely to experience more droughts in the future, with part of western Australia having already experienced a 15 percent drop in rainfall since the mid-1970s. The number of record-breaking hot days in Australia has doubled since the 1960s, also affecting food output.


Climate change affects agricultural production through its effects on the timing, intensity and variability of rainfall and shifts in temperatures and carbon dioxide concentrations.

Crops normally seen growing in the south of Europe will be able to be grown further north. This would allow more sweetcorn, grapes sunflowers, soya and maize to be grown in Britain. In Scotland, livestock farming could become more suitable. At the higher latitudes warmer temperatures are predicted to lengthen and increase the intensity of the growing season. However, the combined effect of extra carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which can stimulate plant growth, and a major temperature rise, could mean a decrease in yields of around 10 percent later in the century.

Latest EU projections suggest the most severe consequences of climate change will not be felt until 2050. However, significant adverse impacts are expected earlier from extreme weather events, such as more frequent and prolonged heat waves, droughts and floods. Many crops now grown in southern Europe, such as olives, may not survive high temperature increases. Southern Europe will have to change the way it irrigates crops.

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