By John Simmons
As briefly referred to in my last post, climate change has a significant impact on global food production. There are actually some benefits to certain areas of the world, as the higher temperatures result in a longer growing season and lead to increased food production, but overall climate change negatively effects food production worldwide.
The accelerated climate change of the last few decades has resulted in increasingly sporadic rainfall patterns around the world, which affects not only the supply of fresh water but also the amount of water crops receive. Areas that normally receive an adequate amount of rain now receive less rain less often, resulting in poor harvests and an overall decrease in the amount of food produced. In extreme cases, water scarcity leads to drought and famine. For example, the 2011 drought in the Horn of Africa led to mass starvation and increased violence in the area. The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that by the 2090s, climate change will likely greatly increase the toll of droughts, widening the area affected by drought, doubling the frequency of extreme droughts, and increasing their average duration six-fold.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, too much water may also cause serious problems. Floods are increasing in frequency and intensity, contaminating water supplies and heightening the risk of waterborne diseases. These health effects impact the people tending and harvesting crops, lowering their efficiency and potentially preventing them from being able to gather all of their crops. In addition, floods directly damage farmlands, causing soil erosion, root rot, and otherwise destroying crops. In 2011, flooding in Australia led to increased food prices, creating additional hardships for affected peoples.
According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCG), rising temperatures and variable precipitation (both droughts and floods) will likely greatly effect food production in many of the poorest regions of the world. The IPCG estimates that in some African countries, food production will be reduced by as much as 50% by 2020. This will inevitably increase occurrences of malnutrition and under-nutrition, which currently cause 3.5 million deaths each year. The impact that climate change has on the production of staple foods is significant, and by educating ourselves and others about the real consequences of climate change, we can begin to create change for the better.
For a more in-depth look at the affects of climate change on global food production, I recommend reading "Potential Impact of Climate Change on World Food Supply," published by Nature Publishing Group.