Extreme Weather and the Decline of Agriculture

Source: Al Jazeera

Climate change induced extreme weather events and shifting weather patterns are challenging farmer’s ability to feed us.

Wendy Johnston with Oakwyn Farms in Athens, West Virginia, is deeply concerned about how shifting weather patterns are impacting farmers’ ability to feed the global population.

“This year we’re off to a slow start,” Johnston, who farms 40 hectares, told Al Jazeera. “Last year in April we were able to plant, but this year we even had rain, cold and snow a few days in April. The weather has become very unpredictable, and that’s the real problem.”

Climate change is making farming more difficult for her, and she wonders how much worse things will become.

On March 31, The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) warned of “potentially catastrophic” impacts on food production from slow-onset climate changes that are expected to increasingly hit the developing world.

The report filed with the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, warned that food production systems and the ecosystems they depend on are highly sensitive to climate variability and change.

Changes in temperature, precipitation, and related outbreaks of pest and diseases could reduce production, the report said. Those particularly vulnerable are poor people in countries that rely on food imports, although climate change events are already driving up food costs around the globe, including in developed countries.

April broke many weather-related monthly records in the US, including 292 tornadoes and 5,400 extreme weather events, which combined to cause 337 deaths.

The US National Climatic Data Center announced in June that April’s weather extremes were “unprecedented” and “never before” seen in a single month. The center also noted drought across the southern plains, wildfires in the southwest, and record floods along the Mississippi River.

“Severe weather events around the world will increase, even parts of the globe that don’t normally see extreme weather events,” said Steff Gaulter, Al Jazeera’s senior weather presenter. “Those parts of the world that already struggle with water shortages will find matters worsening, including Australia, Mexico, the southwest United States, and parts of Africa.”

Gaulter agrees with the FAO that poorer countries are likely to be the worst affected because they have less resources to cope with disasters.

“With worsening water-shortages, there will be more crop-failures, which means an increase in malnutrition,” she added. “There is also likely to be an increase in disease as people drink water that is unsuitable for consumption. All of this is an added expense that will be particularly punishing for poorer regions to endure, particularly Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Approximately 300 million people in Sub-Saharan Africa currently lack access to clean drinking water.

“It is also estimated that by 2020, an additional 75 to 250 million people there will also face water shortages,” said Gaulter. “That’s in less than ten years.”

Continue reading