drier conditions nearer the equator may reduce crop production while
moderate warming may, at least for a short-term, benefit yields further
away, the book says (Credit: Vikas Choudhary)
Global warming will have a profound impact on food production
worldwide, leading to a reduction in the nutritional properties of some
major crops, according to a new book.
The book, Climate Change and Food Systems,
contains the findings of researchers, who have studied the impact of
climate change on agriculture at both regional as well as global levels.
Threat to nutrition, health and water
The book underlines the potential impact climate change can have on
health and nutrition. A higher concentration of carbon dioxide—the
primary greenhouse gas emitted through human activities—lowers the
amount of zinc, iron and protein and raises the starch and sugar content
in wheat and rice.
The nutrition and health implications of this can be great, the book
says. In India, where up to a third of the rural population is at risk
of not meeting protein requirements, the higher protein deficit from
non-legume food crops can have serious health consequences.
“As temperatures rise and water becomes scarce, wheat yields in
developing countries are expected to fall by 13 per cent and rice by 15
per cent by 2050. The Consultative Group on International Agricultural
Research (CGIAR) estimates that production of potato, banana and other
cash crops will slump. Several studies points to a bleak scenario in the
years ahead. However, other studies show that yields should be able to
increase with more carbon dioxide available in the atmosphere (as it)
would help to make more carbohydrates,” Devinder Sharma, food and
agriculture policy analyst at FAO India, said.
Though this may be true, the combined effect of falling water tables
and acute weather aberrations will surely lead to a decline in
production, he added.
“In a country which is largely vegetarian, much of the protein intake
is through pulses (and) non-legume crops. Any reduction in the
nutritional levels in these crops is sure to hit the nutritional intake
of the Indian population. Given the fact that India already has the
largest population affected by malnutrition and under-nutrition, climate
change will pose a much serious problem in the years to come,” Sharma
The book also shows how in several regions across the world, water
scarcity due to climate change will reduce the capacity to produce food.
It cites recent research that has assessed the global impact of diet
change on both irrigated and rain-fed water consumption patterns. Some
results suggest that reducing animal products in diet offers the
potential to save water resources to a large extent.
Pressure on agriculture
According to the authors, the global demand for agricultural
commodities is increasing with the rise in population and income levels.
Agriculture depends on local weather conditions and is expected to be sensitive to climate change in the future, the book says.
Warmer, drier conditions near the equator are likely to reduce crop
production while moderate warming may, at least for a short-term,
benefit yields further away.
“Climate change is likely to exacerbate growing global inequality as
the brunt of the negative climate effects is expected to fall on those
countries that are least developed and most vulnerable,” said editor
Aziz Elbehri of FAO’s Trade and Markets Division.
However, Sharma begs to differ here. “Although it is being projected
that developing countries would be the worst hit, I think the worst
impact would be on rich and developed countries. Several studies have
shown that developed countries, especially in North America and parts of
Europe, will become inhospitable. With the kind of epic drought being
faced by California and Texas for the past three years, it is clearly
being seen as a pointer to the disaster that awaits ahead,” he told Down
The book cites studies that indicate that trade would probably expand
under climate change—with flows increasing from mid to high latitudes
towards low-latitude regions, where production and export potential
would be reduced.
At the same time, more frequent extreme weather events, such as
droughts and cyclones, can adversely impact trade by disrupting
transportation, supply and logistics.
According to Sharma not enough is being done to lessen the harmful
impact of climate change. “The G-20 Heads of State meeting in Brisbane
in December 2014 ended with the usual rhetoric of boosting food and
nutritional requirement and called for increased investments. The G-20
Food Security and Nutritional Framework does not look beyond helping
small holders to mitigate the impact of climate change. What is required
is to bring about systemic changes that move away from farming systems
that led modern agriculture to become a villain of the story. According
to CGIAR, agriculture is responsible for 41 per cent green house gas
emissions,” he added.
The entire effort, so far, seems to be industry-driven with hardly
any space for reinventing sustainable agro-ecological methods of
farming. The G-20 needs to adopt the recommendations of the
International Assessment of Agriculture Knowledge, Science and
Technology for Development which calls for a radical change in the
‘business as usual’ approach, Sharma told Down To Earth.