An Uncertain Harvest

Increasingly volatile weather patterns around the world are already causing supermarket prices to rise. But when it comes to global warming and the food supply, the real losers will be those in developing countries. A look at how one corner of Africa is coping.

By Jocelyn Craugh Zuckerman

Indeed, by now we’ve all heard about the rising sea levels, the melting ice caps, and the increasing incidences of hurricanes, droughts, heat waves, and floods. Every other day, it seems, some bizarre new detail—whether it be azaleas blooming mid-January in New York’s Central Park, or Russian bears emerging from hibernation weeks ahead of schedule—turns up in the news. But less has been said about the impact that climate change is likely to have on the world’s supply of food. According to the review published last October by Sir Nicholas Stern, the former chief economist of the World Bank, a rise of 2 to 3 degrees Celsius in average global temperatures (equivalent to about 5 degrees Fahrenheit, the increase predicted by many climate models) would put up to 200 million people at risk of hunger. Essentially, says Stern, the entire African continent will become scorched, and famines and disease caused by flooding and water shortages will increase in intensity by 60 percent.

England’s Hadley Centre for Climate Change recently reported that, because of Africa’s particular location and topography, temperature increases over many areas of the continent will likely be double the global average. And given its heavy dependence on agriculture—70 percent of Africans make their living from the land—the resultant changes in weather patterns have the potential to massively compound the continent’s other woes. “Global warming is set to make many of the problems which Africa already deals with much, much worse,” said Andrew Simms, policy director of the London-based New Economics Foundation. As dry areas get drier and wet areas get wetter, he explained, Africans “are going to be caught between the devil of drought and the deep blue seas of flood.”

For Anyango and her family, the abstraction that is global warming has already manifested itself in the form of an empty stomach. And they are not alone. This past November, 1.8 million people were driven from their homes by heavy flooding in northeastern Kenya, Ethiopia, and central and southern Somalia. Coming on the heels of an extended dry period that left the ground unable to soak up the rainfall, the downpours—which were the worst the region has experienced in half a century—proved the death knell to crops already on their last legs. And just a year earlier, severe drought in the same region had left eight million people without food; so many animals were lost that herdsmen aren’t expected to recover their livelihoods for several years.

While it’s true that a warmer earth will mean longer growing seasons for agricultural zones in the northern hemisphere and other regions, the overall result of a world heating up is a food supply wearing down. A series of experiments conducted by the London-based Royal Society in 2005 showed devastating impacts from warming on such international staple crops as maize, rice, soybeans, and wheat. Estimates suggest that climate change will likely reduce crop yields by 10 percent over the whole of Africa, and even more in specific regions.

 1  |  2  |  3  |  4  |  5  |  6  |  7 

See more articles from In Depth

TrackBack URL for this entry:


There are of course alternative views to the one you have propounded above.
One of these is that of a specifically Christian/Biblical world view - you are therefore welcome to read (via Word document, or as a published booklet)
"Global Warming & Climate Change - A Christian Perspective"
Do contact me on e mail address above for details.

Post a comment

Hot Town »
« Carbon Cemetery

Issue 25

Sign up for Plenty's Weekly Newsletter