09 July 2019

New data: Climate change already affects food production worldwide

This article is redirected and translated by SCIENCE from SCIENCE News. Researchers from University of Copenhagen, University of Minnesota and University of Oxford show crops worldwide already are affected by climate change. The effects of climate change leads to a reduction in the yield in almost half of the countries already suffering from food insecurity.

Drought in Ethiopia. Source: Wikimedia Commons

The world’s 10 most important crops; barley, cassava, corn, palm oil, rapeseed, rice, sorghum, soybeans, sugarcanes and wheat compromise 83 percent of the crops produced on a global level. Researchers have anticipated for a long time that the yield will be reduced in the future due to climate change but new numbers show the future is already here and climate change already affects the production of these important energy sources.

Earlier research has combined climate scenarios and crop-models to project the yield of a limited amount of crops. But the area is very complex, which is why researchers in the new study among other things have used statistic- and data models along with satellite data in order to estimate the consequences of climate change.

Political efforts should address how we can adapt cultivation practices in the various countries, making them better prepared to withstand climate change..

Alexander Prishchepov, Lector at the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management

The recently published data elaborates on statistic data from 1974 to 2008. Within this timeframe, the global surface-temperature increased with 0.16 – 0.18 degrees per decade. According to the study, some crops e.g. soybeans benefit from the climate change while other crops e.g. palm oil suffers severely due to the changed climate.

The results show that climate change has the most negative effect in Europe, South Africa and Australia, a generally more positive effect in Latin America, while the effect in Asia, North- and Middle America is more mixed.

The results are alarming
27 out of 53 countries with a ”Hunger index” on the levels “serious”, “alarming” or “extremely alarming” are experiencing a reduction in their food dividend due to climate change. Africa south of Sahara has e.g. experienced a 0.14 tons per ha/ year reduction in their corn yield. This is equivalent to 2.3 million tons corn a year for the whole region leading to a 4 percent/a year average reduction in the available amounts of kilocalories from this crop within the period 1974 to 2008.

Also in Europe, we experience that our crops are affected negatively by climate change. Crops like wheat, barley, corn and rapeseed are affected. In Denmark, there has nevertheless been a small increase of 0.26 tons per ha/ per year in the wheat yield. Nonetheless, Europe struggles with negative consequences due to climate change within the agricultural area. Already, these struggles have resulted in an 8.7 percent reduction in the wheat production in Western Europe and a 2.1 percent reduction in the wheat production in Northern Europe.

Alexander Prishchepov, Lector at the Department of Geosciences and Natural Resource Management at University of Copenhagen, has contributed to the research with data supply, expert assistance for the analysis and interpretation of the results. He says:

“The results are relevant to large food companies, international food trade and the countries within which these actors operate as well as to citizens worldwide. The results are also relevant for those working professionally with the UN sustainable development goals in order to eliminate hunger and fight climate change. Political efforts should address how we can adapt cultivation practices in the various countries, making them better prepared to withstand climate change. We as researchers must become better at understanding the connection between temperatures, precipitation change and the effects on crops.”

World map of the average changes in wheat yield a year. The units measures per ton per ha per year.

Read the article in PLOS|ONE here. https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0217148

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