Climate change could cut global vegetable supply by more than a third

The global supply of vegetables could be cut by more than a third over the next few decades as a result of climate change, drastically impacting food security and human health.

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That is according to a new study by scientists at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM), which finds that changes in water availability and ozone concentrations could reduce average vegetable yields by 35% by 2050.

This may cause a global spike in demand and fall in consumption, as millions of people are priced out of buying common crops like tomatoes, leafy vegetables and pulses.

“Vegetables are vital components of a healthy, balanced and sustainable diet, and nutritional guidelines consistently advise people to incorporate more vegetables and into their diet,” study lead author, Dr Pauline Scheelbeek, said

“Our new analysis suggests, however, that this advice conflicts with the potential impacts of environmental changes that will decrease the availability of these important crops unless action is taken."

Published yesterday in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences, the study is the first to systemically examine the extent to which climate change could affect the production and nutritional quality of common crops.

The researchers conducted a review of all the available evidence from studies published since 1975 on the impact of environmental changes on vegetables and legumes, carrying out experiments in 40 countries.

They estimate that in hot settings such as Southern Europe and large parts of Africa and South Asia, increased air temperatures would reduce average vegetable yields by an estimated 31%.

To mitigate the risks, the researchers say improvements in production must be a priority, such as the development of new crop varieties, as well as enhanced agricultural management and mechanisation.

“Our analysis suggests that if we take a ‘business as usual’ approach, environmental changes will substantially reduce the global availability of these important foods,” study lead author, professor Alan Dangour, said.

“Urgent action needs to be taken, including working to support the agriculture sector to increase its resilience to environmental changes and this must be a priority for governments across the world.”

 

Image credit: iStock

Author: 

Chris Seekings is a reporter for TRANSFORM

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