A series of recently published investigations highlight the accelerated progress and the multiple implications that climate change may have on global and local food production.
The effects of climate change are not gradual, but come in qualitative leaps which cause a whole series of chaotic events (the domino effect). For this reason, climate-based phenomena have a multidimensional and multifaceted character, causing a permanent reproduction of the diverse social and environmental tensions.
Social and environmental tensions due to climate change. (Miguel Angel Núñez)
In order to advance towards new planning and production processes, we must take into account all of the numerous elements and components which complicate crop production, including population growth, resource and energy scarcity, soil deterioration, biodiversity reduction and water stress (1). These factors permanently interact with different degrees of interdependence.
Using these factors and 1,700 models of climate change, a group of researchers from the UK’s University of Leeds have pointed out that in the upcoming decade we face the greatest risk of drought, potentially causing a global food crisis after 2030. 12 of these models have this emerging risk occurring within just three years.
Another report by [climate change risk assessment firm] Four Twenty Seven, which explores the social consequences of the impact of past carbon dioxide emissions, suggests that certain levels of global warming are now inevitable. The report is designed to alert financial investors to the inevitable impact of climate change due to past greenhouse gas emissions, as well as the likely dangers of continued emissions.
The report also quotes an analysis of the global impact of water stress developed by the Aqueduct Food Company, funded and commissioned by the agro-food transnational Cargill. The analysis reveals that by the year 2040, up to 40 percent of all irrigated crops will suffer from severe water stress. By that date, rice, wheat and corn will suffer “extremely high water stress” of around 72, 70 and 80 percent respectively.
Given intermittent and reduced rainfall, as well as depleted underground water levels due to extractive productive activity, there is no doubt that access to food will be weakened. As a direct result of climate change, global food systems could experience price increases and shortages, firstly affecting farmers and later eventually the job market and social insecurity.
In Venezuela, other types of threats are also emerging.
Existing changes in agricultural activity combined with distinct and unpredictable short- and long-term fluctuations in climate patterns are dramatically reducing crop yields. Repeated empirical evidence shows that this reduction correlates with the expected impact of climate change.
In several sectors of Venezuela’s western plains [Guárico, Cojedes, Barinas and Portuguesa states], short-cycle crops such as corn, beans, melon and watermelon have undergone shortened vegetation cycles due to an increase in the average temperature [in the region]. This has affected production by bringing about faster crop development and smaller growth.
The increase in the frequency of temperatures peaks has also been harmful to production as they are thought to produce an effect known as thermal stress in plants. This effect causes them to grow less and produce less quantity. In some cases, plants produce nothing at all because excessively high temperatures cause pollen sterility (decreasing their reproductive capacity).
Cocoa producers in the Sur del Lago region [covering parts of Zulia and Merida states] and on the coastline of Sucre state have similarly seen reduced harvests in recent years, with delays being observed in the flowering and fruiting of the crop.
Likewise, a similar impact has been observed in coffee production across several areas during the last four years, with irregular flowering considerably reducing yields.
In scattered sectors of the country, mango production has also been irregular, with the harvest coming five months early in Cojedes state. In Barinas state, the same has happened with avocado, soursop and various citrus fruits, where the changes in the ripening times of the fruits can be observed. Something similar has also happened in Sur de Lago region.
In the Andes [Mérida, Táchira, Lara and Trujillo states], broccoli and some leafy vegetables have seen faster flowering, while in the mountainous highlands, several crops have suffered from the Guatemalan tuber moth which is more common at lower latitudes.
Similarly, other plagues such as cockroaches have started appearing in Andean households. The migration of insects to higher altitudes aggravates the risk for crops, as well as bringing subsequent environmental and health problems.
Approximately 35-39 percent of greenhouse gases produced in the atmosphere come from agricultural and livestock activities. Therefore we must move forward in a whole series of initiatives in order to reverse this trend.
A number of specific investigations have shown that agroecological management of productive processes would not only help level out and reduce carbon emissions, but also improve the soil’s ability to retain water and nutrients, as well as resist disease and drought.
We must make an effort to develop holistic proposals and initiatives. With this methodology, different areas of knowledge, lines of research and thematic centres have emerged which will give form to agro-food sovereignty policies and respond to climate change effects to come.
In conclusion, climate models and their projections towards global warming that will take place progressively over the next 10-30 years will have significant effects on the planet’s agriculture. Not only will this warming affect biology (positively or negatively in reference to its reproduction), but it will change the socio-economic and ecological components of the regions that form the backbone of global agricultural activities.
We are convinced that with forecasting, planning, mitigation, adaptation and co-responsibility, it is possible to make the necessary changes!!! Not only can we build resilience by minimising the multiple effects of climate change and protecting vulnerable populations, but we can also pave the way for a sustainable food production system that works as a solution to the coming climate crisis.
(1) Water stress is based on the ratio of freshwater withdrawals to renewable freshwater resources. Water stress does not insinuate that a country has water shortages, but does give an indication of how close it may be to exceeding a water basin’s renewable resources. If withdrawals are less than 10 percent of resources then a country has low water stress; 10-20 percent is low-to-medium stress; 20-40 percent medium-to-high; 40-80 percent high stress; and greater than 80 percent is extremely high stress.
Miguel Angel Núñez is a Venezuelan environmental activist and director of the Paulo Freire Latin American University Institute of Agro-Ecology with a Masters in Food Science. He is also a founding member of the Institute for the Production and Investigation of Tropical Agriculture and is also a published author and a regular columnist in progressive websites.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Venezuelanalysis editorial staff.
Translation by Paul Dobson for Venezuelanalysis.