Food shock: Crop-battering disasters highlight climate threat


PARIS: Rolling crises linked to war, weather disasters and the pandemic have shaken global food systems and tipped millions into hunger and poverty.

Climate change is already playing a role, as floods, droughts and heatwaves batter harvests from Europe to Asia and threaten famine in the Horn of Africa.

And experts warn this could be just the beginning.

“If we don’t act now, this is just a sample of what may happen in the coming years,” said Mamadou Goita, an expert with sustainability group IPES-Food, which works with farmers’ organisations in Africa and around the world.

This issue will be in focus as never before at high-stakes UN climate negotiations, to be held in Egypt next month.

Food production is both a key source of planet-warming emissions and highly exposed to the effects of climate change.

Some risks are slow-burning – falling yields, warming oceans, seasonal mismatches between pollinators and plants, and heat threats to farm workers.

Others, like floods, can cause sudden “devastation of livelihoods and infrastructure”, said Rachel Bezner Kerr, professor at Cornell University and a lead author of the UN’s landmark IPCC report on climate impacts.

These can reverberate through interwoven global supply chains, intersecting with other crises.

Climate extremes and COVID-19 had already pushed food costs close to record highs early this year, when Russia invaded Ukraine – a key grain and sunflower oil exporter.

Since then, record temperatures withered crops across South Asia, the worst drought in 500 years savaged Europe’s maize and olive crops, heat scorched cabbages in South Korea sparking a “kimchi crisis”, and floods swamped Nigeria’s rice fields.

In China, as a punishing dry spell parched the Yangtze river basin where a third of its crops are grown, authorities sent up cloud-seeding drones to try and coax rain.


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