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Will Climate Change Alter What the World Eats?

Updated on July 22, 2018
Deepa damodaran profile image

Deepa is a freelance researcher and journalist. She has worked in various print and television media.

Food For Thought

There are certain food crops that have already shown signs of getting affected by climate change. If their production declines, we may have to abandon even some of our very mundane food habits. More importantly, the ensuing high prices of these food items would reduce our access to them and affect our daily intake of nutrition. It should also be mentioned certain food items will become less expensive as warmer climates will favor their production. Here are some examples of what the changes might be.

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Specific Case Studies: Impact on Individual Food Choices

Oysters: Oyster shell formation is getting affected by global warming. The problem oyster farming faces now is the ocean acidification caused by global warming and the oyster farmers around the world have observed that their oyster larvae metamorphosis process (of growing protective shell encasement) is considerably slowing down.[1] To avert this problem, farmers are now keeping sea water in a buffer zone in order to cool it down, and only then they can introduce it to the oyster hatcheries.[2] Obviously, this is just a temporary solution and what will happen to the oysters when the sea water gets warmer in future is what worries the farmers.

Fish: Food and Agriculture Organization predicts the harvest of world’s all important fish species will come down by 40% owing to global warming.[3] It is alarming to think about how the price of fish will escalate in such a situation and whether this food item will still be on our platter.

Wheat: In 2016, The Washington Post cited a new study suggesting that if global temperature increases just by one degree, wheat production will go down by 4.1-6.4 percent.[4] A reduction of 5 percent in terms of quantity is equivalent to 35 million tons of wheat per year.[5] Wheat is consumed by 2.5 billion people around the world.[6] How will the world cope with such a drastic dip in the production of one of it's staple diet crop is the big question.

Arabica Coffee: Arabica is the coffee variety that contributes to 80% of world’s coffee production output.[7] A study carried out by Tavares et al (2018) undertaken in Brazil, the largest producer of Arabica coffee in the world, indicated that in the next 80 years or so, Brazil’s coffee production area will get reduced by 60% owing to dry seasons induced by global warming.[8] In such a scenario, what will be the price of Arabica coffee and how many on earth could afford it is anyone’s guess.

Avocado: Production of avocado is anticipated to go down by 40% owing to global warming and ensuing drought.[9] We may see this happen in the next 30 years [10] Avocado-flavored summer salads, pies, Guacamole and Fettuccine could become history in the menu of the common man.

[1] Volin, L. (Dec 15, 2017), Underwater farms: The East Coast oyster industry fortifies itself against a changing environment, Thepolitic.org, Retrieved from http://thepolitic.org/underwater-farms-the-east-coast-oyster-industry-fortifies-itself-against-a-changing-environment/

[2] Volin, L. (Dec 15, 2017), Underwater farms: The East Coast oyster industry fortifies itself against a changing environment, Thepolitic.org, Retrieved from http://thepolitic.org/underwater-farms-the-east-coast-oyster-industry-fortifies-itself-against-a-changing-environment/

[3] Climate change and your food: 10 facts, (n.d.), Food and Agriculture Organization, Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/news/story/en/item/356770/icode/

[4] Harvey, C. (September 12, 2016), Wheat, one of the world’s most important crops, is being threatened by climate change, The Washington Post, Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/09/12/climate-change-is-really-bad-for-wheat-which-is-really-bad-for-us/?utm_term=.fc0827dc346a

[5] Harvey, C. (September 12, 2016), Wheat, one of the world’s most important crops, is being threatened by climate change, The Washington Post, Retrieved from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/energy-environment/wp/2016/09/12/climate-change-is-really-bad-for-wheat-which-is-really-bad-for-us/?utm_term=.fc0827dc346a

[6] Wheat in the world, (n.d.), The CGIAR Research Program on Wheat, Retrieved from http://wheat.org/wheat-in-the-world/

[7] How will climate change affect what we eat?, (March 24, 2014), OXFAM, Retrieved from https://www.oxfamamerica.org/explore/stories/how-will-climate-change-affect-what-we-eat/

[8] Tavares et al., (March 2018), Climate change impact on the potential yield of Arabica coffee in southeast Brazil, Regional Environmental Change, 18 (3), pp.873-883.

[9] Zabata, F. (March 5, 2014), Climate change could affect avocado production, kesq.com, Retrieved from https://www.kesq.com/news/climate-change-could-affect-avocado-production/62534225

[10] Zabata, F. (March 5, 2014), Climate change could affect avocado production, kesq.com, Retrieved from https://www.kesq.com/news/climate-change-could-affect-avocado-production/62534225

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Season of Change

The crops that are easily affected by climate change also include items belonging to the world's staple food. Rice, fruits and potato are examples.

Fruits and nuts growing in temperate regions: Fruits like apple and nuts like cashew need a natural winter dip in temperature to induce fruit setting.[11] Global warming is affecting this winter chill.[12] The result is a diminished yield which will escalate the prices, obviously.

Hop: What add the distinct flavor to beer are the flowers of the hop plant. The bad news is that climate change induced drought in the growing areas is affecting the quantity and quality of the hop produced.[13]

Rice: Rice, the staple diet of half of the world’s population, is also affected by global warming.[14] Reduction in general availability of water will be the factor causing a fall in rice yield and productivity.[15]The water logged rice fields are found to emit methane gas into the atmosphere which contributes to global warming. Hence there will be more pressure from the international community upon the rice producing countries, which are mostly developing nations, to put a limit on their area of rice cultivation. This also will have a negative impact on production output.

Chocolate: The major cocoa-growers of the world, Ghana and Ivory Coast, are facing drought in cocoa cultivation areas.[16] By 2050, it is predicted, cocoa cultivation will have to be shifted to higher altitudes as the temperature in lower altitude regions increase.[17]

Potato: Potato is threatened by climate change because many wild relatives of potato plant will perish under higher temperatures and as a result, the pests that go attacking wild potato plants will come in search of cultivated plants.[18] It is the wild varieties of any crop that are used in the research of developing pest, disease and drought resistant new varieties.[19] When wild varieties are gone, such research will bear a huge set back.

11] Luedeling et al., (2011) Climate change affects winter chill for temperate fruit and nut trees, Plos.org, Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0020155

[12] Luedeling et al., (2011) Climate change affects winter chill for temperate fruit and nut trees, Plos.org, Retrieved from http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0020155

[13] Brewers work to secure hop supplies against climate change, dw.com, Retrieved from https://www.dw.com/en/brewers-work-to-secure-hop-supplies-against-climate-change/a-19202644

[14] Nguyen, N.V. (n.d.), Global climate changes and rice food security, Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/forestry/15526-03ecb62366f779d1ed45287e698a44d2e.pdf

[15] Nguyen, N.V. (n.d.), Global climate changes and rice food security, Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/forestry/15526-03ecb62366f779d1ed45287e698a44d2e.pdf

[16] Laderach et al., (September 2011), Predicting the impact of climate change on the cocoa-growing regions in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, Retrieved from https://www.eenews.net/assets/2011/10/03/document_cw_01.pdf

[17] Laderach et al., (September 2011), Predicting the impact of climate change on the cocoa-growing regions in Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, Retrieved from https://www.eenews.net/assets/2011/10/03/document_cw_01.pdf

[18] David, A. (May 23, 2007), Study: Climate change could harm crops, USA Today, Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/science/2007-05-23-3701159992_x.htm

[19] David, A. (May 23, 2007), Study: Climate change could harm crops, USA Today, Retrieved from http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/tech/science/2007-05-23-3701159992_x.htm


Drying of Rice In Africa

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Food That We May Find on Our Plates

Thyme: In response to warmer climate, the thyme variety generating more phenolic compounds in its plant body is becoming prevalent than it used to be.[1] It seems thyme will survive climate change.

Salmon: Pink salmon and Sockeye salmon seemed to have decided they will migrate earlier than usual for breeding so that they can survive warmer waters in their natural habitat.[2]

Halophytes: Halophytes are plants that can grow in salt water. It is a known fact sea levels will rise as earth warms up. The result will be many fresh water bodies turning saline. In this context, humanity will require to focus attention towards edible halophytes to meet the food requirements. Salt-tolerant varieties of different vegetables are also being developed[3]. Edible salt water plants like sea beans, sea aster, agretti, and sea kale could become a part of our daily menu once earth warms a bit more.[4]

Quinoa: Quinoa is a grain of South America that is adaptable to a wide variety of climates and soils. The United Nations-Food and Agriculture Organization have recognized quinoa as a staple crop substitute.[5]


[1] Thompson, H., (2014), Ten species that are evolving due to the changing climate, Smithsonian.com, retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-species-are-evolving-due-changing-climate-180953133/

[2] Thompson, H., (2014), Ten species that are evolving due to the changing climate, Smithsonian.com, retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/ten-species-are-evolving-due-changing-climate-180953133/

[3] Ventura et al., (2015), The development of halophyte-based agriculture: Past and present, Oxford Academic, retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/aob/article/115/3/529/303789

[4] Ventura et al., (2015), The development of halophyte-based agriculture: Past and present, Oxford Academic, retrieved from https://academic.oup.com/aob/article/115/3/529/303789

[5] Quinoa, (n.d.), Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Retrieved from http://www.fao.org/quinoa/en/

Thyme

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Quinoa Harvest in South America

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Food of The Future

It looks like we are going to fall back on the long-neglected indigenous crops once the world heats up. Of course they do not lack in nutrition but their mass production to meet the food needs of the planet will be a challenge for the farmers as well as agricultural scientists. Imagine a breakfast or dinner with no apples, coffee or wheat products but with quinoa and sea vegetables! Sure we are on to some incredible palate adjustment.

© 2018 Deepa

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