Climate Change and Crops: The Devastating Drought Connection

Climate Change and Crops: The Devastating Drought Connection

While much of the country is under a blanket of frozen water, droughts continue to plague some of the world’s top-grain producing regions showing a very real connection between climate change and crops.

According to a recent study published in the journal Nature, droughts contributed to a ten percent loss of major cereal crops over the last five decades. In developing nations, droughts caused as much as a 20 percent decrease in production.

“People already knew that these extreme weather events had impacts on crop production,” Navin Ramankutty, a geographer from the University of British Columbia and an author of the report told the New York Times. “But we didn’t know by how much, and we didn’t have a basis for how that might change in the future.”

The researchers looked at data in a disaster database maintained by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

According to the researchers, prolonged drought episodes reduced the grain production of a region by approximately ten percent. Heat waves saw a nine percent decrease. Conversely, regions hit by flooding or cold spells did not see a decrease in production yields.

Droughts have also become more severe since 1985, the researchers noted, with losses amounting to about 14 percent, compared to seven percent in years prior–data which points to climate change as the leading factor in the changing weather and crop loss.

“We don’t think about it much, but rice, wheat and maize alone provide more than 50 percent of global calories,” Dr. Ramankutty said. “When these grain baskets are hit, it results in food price shocks, which leads to increasing hunger.”

The problem, says the researchers, is that not only are drought conditions expected to increase, particularly due to the changing climate, but the global population is also on the rise, which means food production also needs to rise to meet that demand. Or at least, become more efficient.

“By losing 10 percent of our production, we’re emitting greenhouse gases and using water, oil, energy and land for nothing and not feeding anybody with it,” he said. “We need to reduce that so we can feed more people and become more sustainable.”

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Dry farm image via Shutterstock