Researchers from the University of Maryland, Cornell University and Stanford University have developed a joint study in which they conclude that global agricultural productivity has been reduced by 21% from 1961 to today, due to the consequences of change climate caused by the impact of human activity on the environment. The magnitude of the decline can be equated to a hypothetical total loss of global production over the last 7 years.
Taking into account that by 2050 there will be almost 10 billion people on the planet to feed, the researchers believe that it is urgent to stabilize production and enable more dynamic growth. The most affected areas are the warmest and poorest: Africa, in particular, and also Latin America and the Caribbean.
According to a Press release, the study finds that anthropogenic or man-made climate change is already having a disproportionate impact on the poorest countries that depend mainly on agriculture, indicating that technological progress has not yet translated into greater climate resilience.
One of the points to highlight in this research is that it has managed to quantify the impact of climate change on agricultural production in a rigorous and reliable way. For this, new calculations of productivity in agriculture have been used that allow including meteorological data in a way that had not been addressed in previous studies, providing greater precision to this type of climate models.
Although in economics, total factor productivity is an indicator that is commonly used to measure the growth of an industry, in the case of agriculture there are aspects that make it a special case. It is that in this industrial activity all the economic decisions that can be taken are particularly affected by aspects beyond the control of the farmer, mainly weather variables.
As the researchers point out in the conclusions of their research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, the measurement of agricultural productivity has not historically incorporated meteorological data. This means that the impact of random events such as the weather on production has been underestimated, which in this case take on greater significance in the face of the consequences of climate change.
Taking meteorological data as an integral part of their model, the specialists were able to quantify the decline in agricultural productivity that has caused climate change in the last 60 years. The numbers are alarming globally, but they sound even more problematic when we consider regional asymmetries.
While in the United States the decline reached a maximum of 15%, in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean the reduction in production rose to 34%. To arrive at the results obtained and achieve consistent figures, the scientists used more than 200 systematic variations of the econometric model.
The conclusions should be taken into account if we consider that in the coming decades the global population will continue to increase and, at the same time, more food will be required. The impact is greater in the poorest areas of the planet, since agriculture is the backbone of their economy and the main source of food.
A current problem
In addition, the specialists highlighted that while the elimination of all non-climatic limitations in agricultural production has improved, the absence of an integrative approach that considers climate change has contributed to the decrease in agricultural production on a global scale.
According to Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, lead author of the study, “Humans have already altered the climate system. Experts indicate that the world is about 1 degree Celsius warmer than without atmospheric greenhouse gases. However, most people still perceive the climate change as a distant problem and of future generations. In this research we show that the effects have already been felt on the planet for decades: it is essential to tackle climate change now to avoid further damage, “he concluded.
Anthropogenic climate change has slowed global agricultural productivity growth. Ariel Ortiz-Bobea, Toby R. Ault, Carlos M. Carrillo, Robert G. Chambers and David B. Lobell. Nature Climate Change (2021).DOI:https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-021-01000-1
Photo: Markus Spiske and Unsplash.
Video: Cornell University.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.