The countries of Latin America and the Caribbean have made great progress in terms of food security since they set out to meet the first of the Millennium Development Goals, expiring this year. Yet as we look another 15 years into the future and think about how we might meet the new Sustainable Development Goals, it is clear that ending hunger and achieving food security (goal #2) cannot be achieved without also taking urgent action to combat climate change (goal #13).
We hope that while observing World Food Day (on October 16), or at any other time while discussing achieving food security, people and institutions around the globe also remember to take climate change and its impacts into account. To help feed this discussion we’ve listed below just three of the ways that climate change could affect not only what crops we will be able to plant and where we will be able to plant them, but also if they will be nutritious enough:
1 Higher temperatures mean less farmable land
For some crops, like coffee, it is expected that climate change will shift the optimum production sites to increasingly higher altitudes, so that the crop can continue growing within the same temperature levels as in the past. One estimate foresees that whereas 80 to 90 percent of land in Central America is today considered suitable for coffee production, the figure will shrink to 30-40 percent by 2050. Of the world’s 10 largest coffee producing countries, 5 are in Latin America: Brazil, Honduras, Peru, Guatemala and Mexico. How will this affect these countries’ food security and their farmers’ incomes?
A 2014 study published in Nature reveals that high CO2 levels significantly reduce essential nutrients in wheat, rice, maize and soybeans. It is worth noting that the study’s “high CO2 level” (545-585 ppm) is expected by 2050; even substantial curbs on emissions are put in place by the world’s governments. And while we are considering how to double global food production by 2050 to meet the demand of rising populations, we now have to consider whether these same crops will have enough essential nutrients like zinc, iron and protein.
3 Changes in weather patterns will affect what crop varieties we can plant.
In order to boost production, today’s crops have been selectively adapted from the plants best suited to the current climate– a process that takes, on average, 7 to 10 years. This adaptation may have worked a little too well — today’s current lack of crop diversity, in face of climate change, now threatens food security. In light of how long it takes for plants to adapt to different conditions, if we wait to develop new crop varieties until after the weather has changed, it will be too late.
We at the IDB are always thinking of climate change and working on improving lives. Read more about how we have decoded the coffee genome, improved nutrition and helped countries like Colombia access information on future climate impacts.
Did you know about these three ways climate change affects food? Do you know of others?