Global Food Production May Be Hurt as Climate Shifts, UN Forecaster Says

Global food output may be hurt as climate change brings more extreme weather over the next decade, with China likely set for harsher droughts and North America getting heavier rain, said the World Meteorological Organization.

“Extreme events will become more intense in the future, especially the heat waves and extreme precipitations,” Omar Baddour, a division chief at the United Nations’ agency, said in a phone interview from Geneva. “That, combined with less rainfall in some regions like the Mediterranean region and China, will affect crop production and agriculture.”

The more extreme weather -- including in the U.S., the world’s largest agricultural exporter -- may disrupt harvests, possibly cutting production of grains, livestock and cooking oils and boosting prices. Global food costs reached a record in February, stoking inflation and pushing millions into poverty.

“We foresee with high confidence in climate projections that intense precipitation in some parts of the world will be more intense, and drought will be more intense,” said Baddour, who’s tracked the subject for more than two decades. Extreme heat waves “will also be more intense and more frequent.”

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization’s World Food Price Index, which tracks 55 food-commodity items, rose nine times in the past 10 months, with the gauge peaking at 237.24 in February. The index climbed to 232.07 last month.

‘Massive Disruptions’

Baddour’s comments add to projections that more extreme weather may affect farm production. Sunny Verghese, chief executive officer at Olam International Ltd. (OLAM), among the world’s three biggest suppliers of rice, forecast in February that food- supply chains face “massive disruptions” from climate change.

Drought in China has affected 6.5 million hectares of farmland, the Office of State Flood Control and Drought Relief Headquarters said on its website on May 20. China has ordered the operator of the Three Gorges Dam, the world’s biggest, to release water to replenish the Yangtze River and counter the local region’s lowest rainfall in half a century.

The drought in China may cut early-season rice output if there’s no adequate rain over the next two weeks, according to industry researcher Cngrain.com. “If the drought doesn’t end in two weeks, the impact on the region’s rice will no doubt be significant,” Zhang Lu, an analyst at the group, said yesterday.

In the U.S., floods along the Mississippi River and its tributaries have affected almost 3.6 million acres of cropland, causing the most damage in Arkansas, the American Farm Bureau Federation said on May 23. Floods in Canada’s Frenchman River Basin may be the largest since 1952, and the waters slowed the nation’s sowing, the Canadian Wheat Board said on April 20.

Intense Pressure

“Climate change, high-and-volatile food and energy prices, population and income growth” will put intense pressure on land and water and challenge global food security as never before, according to Mark Rosegrant, director of environment and production technology at the International Food Policy Research Institute. Rosegrant also cited changing diets and increased urbanization in a May 24 e-mailed statement.

Corn will average $7.75 per bushel this quarter and $8 in the third quarter on “growing concerns about crop weather in the U.S., Europe and now parts of Russia,” said Abah Ofon, a Singapore-based analyst at Standard Chartered Plc. Corn traded at $7.4625 per bushel at 7:29 p.m. in Singapore today, more than double the price a year ago.

Food costs are at “dangerous levels” after pushing 44 million people into poverty since June, World Bank President Robert Zoellick said Feb. 15. That adds to the more than 900 million people around the world who go hungry each day, he said.

Agricultural research is needed to adapt farming to climate change, Olivier de Schutter, the UN’s special adviser on the right to food, said at a conference on May 23. “The improvement of plants is absolutely important given the challenges we are facing, particularly the threat posed by climate change,” de Schutter said in Brussels.

To contact the reporter on this story: Luzi Ann Javier in Singapore at ljavier@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: James Poole at jpoole4@bloomberg.net

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