Article by: Hari Yellina (Orchard Tech)
The climate crisis is already eating into the output of the world’s agricultural systems, with productivity much lower than it would have been if humans hadn’t rapidly heated the planet, new research has found. Advances in technology, fertilizer use and global trade have allowed food production to keep pace with a booming global population since the 1960s, albeit with gross inequities that still leave millions of people suffering from malnutrition.
However, rising temperatures in this time have acted as a handbrake to farming productivity of crops and livestock, according to the new research, published in Nature Climate Change. Productivity has actually slumped by 21% since 1961, compared to if the world hadn’t been subjected to human-induced heating. With the global population set to rise to more than 9 billion by 2050, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization has estimated that food production will have to increase by about 70%, with annual crop production increasing by almost one 1bn tonnes and meat production soaring by more than 200m tonnes a year by this point.
The research measured productivity by inputs – such as labour, fertilizer and equipment – and the output in the food they produce, using a model to determine how climate change has influenced this relationship. While farming has generally become far more efficient in recent decades, it is increasingly menaced by heatwaves that exhaust farmworkers and wither certain crops. Extreme weather events and drought can also affect the output of a farm, particularly smaller operations in poorer countries.
In 2019, scientists who analyzed the top 10 global crops that provide the majority of our food calories found that climate change is reducing the worldwide production of staples such as rice and wheat. Again, less affluent countries are suffering worst from this situation. Weston Anderson, a researcher of food security and climate at Columbia University who was not involved in the study, said the new research provides fresh insight into the magnitude of the impact upon agriculture.