Mon, Apr 15, 2013 - Page 5 News List

Scientists warn of potential dangers of food insecurity

The OBSERVER, LONDON

Millions of people could become destitute in Africa and Asia as staple foods more than double in price by 2050 as a result of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts that will transform the way the world farms.

As food experts gather this week at two major conferences to discuss how to feed the 9 billion people expected to be alive in 2050, leading scientists have said that food insecurity risks turning parts of Africa into permanent disaster areas. Rising temperatures could also have a drastic effect on access to basic foodstuffs, with potentially dire consequences for the poor.

Frank Rijsberman, head of the world’s 15 international Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CGIAR) crop research centers, which study food insecurity, said: “Food production will have to rise 60 percent by 2050 just to keep pace with expected global population increase and changing demand. Climate change comes on top of that. The annual production gains we have come to expect ... will be taken away by climate change. We are not so worried about the total amount of food produced so much as the vulnerability of the 1 billion people who are without food already and who will be hit hardest by climate change. They have no capacity to adapt.”

The US’ agricultural economy is set to undergo dramatic changes over the next three decades, as warmer temperatures devastate crops, according to a US government report. The draft US National Climate Assessment report predicts that a gradually warming climate and unpredictable severe weather, such as the drought that last year spread across two-thirds of the continental US, is to have serious consequences for farmers.

The research by 60 scientists predicts that all crops would be affected by the temperature shift as well as livestock and fruit harvests. The changing climate, it said, is likely to lead to more pests and less effective herbicides. The US$50 billion Californian wine industry could shrink as much as 70 percent by 2050.

The report lays bare the stark consequences for the US$300 billion US farm industry, stating: “Many regions will experience declines in crop and livestock production. The rising incidence of weather extremes will have increasingly negative impacts on crop and livestock production. Climate disruptions have increased in the recent past and are projected to increase further over the next 25 years.”

Lead author Jerry Hatfield, director of the US government’s National Laboratory for Agriculture and the environment, said that climate change was already causing weather extremes to worsen.

Very hot nights, fewer cool days, and more heatwaves, storms and floods have already devastated crops and would have “increasingly negative” impacts, he said.

The report follows recent disastrous harvests in Russia, Ukraine, Australia and the US. In 2010, climate-driven factors led to a 33 percent drop in wheat production in Russia and a 19 percent drop in Ukraine.

A separate US government-funded study of the fertile Lower Mekong basin, which includes Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos, states that temperatures there could rise twice as high as previously expected, devastating food supplies for the 100 million people expected to live there by 2050.

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