Extreme Weather Putting Food Production at Greater Risk

The risk of global food production shocks and price spikes is rising due to increasingly intense storms and more frequent flood and drought events associated with warmer temperatures, U.S. and British researchers said Friday.

By 2040, the danger of a 1-in-100-year food production crisis is likely to rise to a 1-in-30-year probability, the U.K.-U.S. Taskforce on Extreme Weather and Global Food System Resilience said in a report for the British government. Concentration of production of maize, soybean, rice and wheat in a few major producers may amplify the shocks, showing the need to boost resilience of the world’s food system, they said.

“It is likely that the effects of climate change will be felt most strongly through the increasing frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts, heatwaves and floods and their impact on the production and distribution of food -- something we almost take for granted,” said Tim Benton, a professor of ecology at the University of Leeds in northern England.

United Nations scientists warned last year that the world is ill-prepared for the effects of climate change and that global wheat and maize production are already adversely affected by warming temperatures. Wheat yields have declined by about 2 percent per decade and maize by 1 percent, with soy and rice largely unchanged, they said.

With demand for food projected to increase by 60 percent from now to 2050, there’s a growing need to reverse the yield declines while increasing production and reducing the environmental impacts of crop production, the researchers said. They recommended countries work to make markets more transparent, build up strategic crop storages and understand better the risks they face.

“Action is urgently needed to understand risks better, improve the resilience of the global food system to weather-related shocks and to mitigate their impact on people,” Benton said.

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