The food crisis – climate change could reduce India’s food crop by as much as 30% in the next 25 years

by Dave

Global Warming and Agriculture (

Welcome to the future. The combination of population growth, richer diets and the erosion of arable land means that there will be pressure on food supplies for decades to come.

Wheat prices touched $300 a ton last month, almost double their price in April. Beef prices in the United States are back to their 2008 peak of 90 cents a pound, after a bumpy but steady rise from 60 cents a decade ago. Prices for lamb have tripled in the course of this decade.

But there are two wild cards lurking in the future that could turn crisis into catastrophe. The first is climate change. It matters not whether one assumes this is caused by human action or is simply one of those centuries-long trends of warming and cooling that has marked the Earth’s history. Temperatures are rising, weather and rainfall patterns are shifting and these changes will have major impact on crops and yields.

The most serious study yet produced on the likely impact of climate change on food, by William Cline of the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, claims that the most serious change could come in India.

His model suggests that the overall food crop in India could fall by as much as 30 percent over the next 25 years. Since India’s population is expected to grow from 1.1 billion to 1.5 billion over the same period, this spells disaster.

The second wild card is a form of wheat rust called Ug99, so named because it first emerged in Uganda in 1999. At first it was thought to have been controlled within a limited area but it seems to be spreading inexorably. First it hit crops in Kenya, then Ethiopia. Then it jumped across the Red Sea to Yemen and has now been found in Iran. This year it was found in South Africa.

Worse still, it isn’t a single fungus. It has developed four variants so far, which means it can overcome most of the cocktails of wheat breeds that scientists have developed over recent decades.

The fear is that the virus spreads from Iran eastward into the Punjab, the breadbasket of the Indian subcontinent, with dire implications for India and Pakistan. Or it could move north into the Caucasus and central Asia and then attack Russia and the Ukraine and Europe.

Worst of all, just one of those spores attached to a tourist’s clothes could hop aboard a long commercial flight to the United States or to Brazil and spread the disease to the Western Hemisphere.

Even without the wild cards of climate change and Ug99, the long-term outlook is deeply worrying. The global population, now 6.8 billion, is expected to top 9 billion by 2050, which means a lot more mouths to feed. Arable land is under intense pressure from urbanization, particularly in China. Most of the countries where population growth will be highest, which means Africa and the Indian subcontinent, are already facing severe stress on water supplies.

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