Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A dire prediction: Climate change effects on food security

One of the top advisers to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is warning of famines in 30 years. Nina Fedoroff says that a billion people will face famine in this mid-century. Fedoroff says the effects of climate change and rising temperatures will hurt food production and cause a real challenge for us in years ahead.

From the Times Online reporter Lewis Smith interviewed Fedoroff, who pointed at a heatwave from 2003 as evidence.

During the 2003 European heatwave, she said, crop yields fell by 20 to 25 per cent in France and this is a pattern likely to be repeated on a much wider scale in the future.

Some years will see worldwide heatwaves which will put a great strain on food supplies and, if they take place two years in a row, they could damage crop yields so drastically that they leave a billion people in danger of starvation.

Even wealthy countries like Britain and the United States, said Dr Fedoroff, will struggle to feed many of their citizens, with the poorest in society likely to suffer the most. “I think that’s what we are facing,” she told The Times on a brief visit to London before heading to a OECD conference in Paris later this week, where she will call on governments to do more to guard against food shortages in the coming decades.

“Everybody knows the summer 2003 heatwave killed 30,000 to 50,000 people but do you know it decreased crop productions by 20 to 25 per cent? That’s huge. That summer was an anomoly but the projections are that’s going to be a typical summer. It could be by the mid century, it could be by the end of the century.”

Crop production has already been affected by an increase in drought frequency in parts of Africa but temperature rises forecast as a result of climate change mean that large areas of Europe, the US and central America, Australia and Asia are likely to be similarly affected in the future.

Like Professor Beddington and Bob Watson, the chief scientist at the Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, Dr Fedoroff believes genetic engineering must be expanded if the world is going to be able to feed itself.

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