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Climate change threatens food production

The Hindu, 4th September, 2014


We’ve all heard about the dangers of climate change on world food security, but by 2050 our ability to produce food may be lowered by up to 10 per cent due to rising air pollution, according to new research published by Nature Climate Change. “Human activities have increased the concentration of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere by over 30 per cent during the past 200 years and this figure is expected to double by the end of the century,” says lead author Arnold Bloom. “Our report found this change in air pollution inhibits the growth of field-grown wheat by 10 per cent.” According to Mr. Bloom, air pollution will affect both urban and rural farming alike. Field-grown wheat is a staple crop for most developing countries, so if not addressed these findings show food security will suffer more than previously predicted.


Adding to the crisis, worldwide food demand is set to rise by 50 per cent in 2050. “Climate change is already making people hungry,” says Robin Willoughby, Oxfam U.K.’s policy adviser on food. “Rising temperatures and increasingly extreme and erratic weather patterns are making it harder to grow enough food to eat. Unfortunately, the situation is likely to get worse, placing an additional burden for our humanitarian work as droughts and flooding become more frequent. Climate change threatens to put the fight to eradicate hunger back by decades.” So, what will rising air pollution mean for aid workers delivering food in developing countries? “As air pollution begins to effect food supply, NGOs need to promote farming techniques that conserve water and soil, especially in dry or desert areas,” says Paul Cook, advocacy director for Tearfund, an international NGO.


“NGOs also need to work to give farmers in developing countries access to up-to-date information on weather, climate, disaster early warning, and markets, so they can make well-informed plans and responses. Farmers need to experiment with agricultural approaches, so they are equipped to find solutions in an ever-shifting climate.” Mr. Cook says the development sector needs to focus on getting wealthy countries to eat less. However, some people in the sector dismiss these findings, and believe food security depends more on socio-economic factors than climate change and resulting air pollution.