Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events: Implications for Food Production, Plant Diseases, and Pests
Current and future energy use from burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests for cultivation can have profound effects on the global environment, agriculture, and the availability of low-cost, high-quality food for humans. Individual farmers and consumers are expected to be affected by changes in global and regional climate. The agricultural sector in both developing and developed areas needs to understand what is at stake and to prepare for the potential for change wisely.
Despite tremendous improvements in technology and crop yield potential, food production remains highly dependent on climate, because solar radiation, temperature, and precipitation are the main drivers of crop growth. Plant diseases and pest infestations, as well as the supply of and demand for irrigation water are influenced by climate. For example, in recent decades, the persistent drought in the Sahelian region of Africa has caused continuing deterioration of food production[1,2]; the 1988 Mid-west drought led to a 30% reduction in U.S. corn production and cost taxpayers $3 billion in direct relief payments to farmers and, weather anomalies associated with the 1997-98 El Niño affected agriculture adversely in Nordeste, Brazil and Indonesia. Earlier in the century, the 1930s U.S. Southern Great Plains drought caused some 200,000 farm bankruptcies in the Dust Bowl; yields of wheat and corn were reduced by as much as 50%.
The aim of this article is to discuss the effects of climate variability and change on food production, risk of malnutrition, and incidence of weeds, insects, and diseases. It focuses on the effects of extreme weather events on agriculture, looking at examples from the recent past and to future projections. Major incidents of climate variability are contrasted, including the effects of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation. Finally, projected scenarios of future climate change impacts on crop production and risk of hunger in major agricultural regions are presented.
Altered weather patterns can increase crop vulnerability to infection, pest infestations, and choking weeds. Ranges of crop weeds, insects, and diseases are projected to expand to higher latitudes[6,7]. Shifts in climate in different world regions may have different and contrasting effects. Some parts of the world may benefit from global climate change (at least in the short term), but large regions of the developing world may experience reduced food supplies and potential increase in malnutrition[2,3]. Changes in food supply could lead to permanent or semi-permanent displacement of populations in developing countries, consequent overcrowding and associated diseases, such as tuberculosis.