Climate Change Threatens Brazil’s Food Crops

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Even moderate rises in temperatures would cause significant damage to food production

By Jonathan Wheatley

Financial Times August 10, 2008

Brazil’s soya exports could slump by more than a quarter over the next 12 years as a result of climate change, according to a study to be presented at an agribusiness conference opening in São Paulo today.

The study will add to concern over worsening food shortages around the world. It shows that even moderate rises in temperatures would cause significant damage to a range of agricultural produce in Brazil, which has emerged over the past decade as one of the world’s biggest suppliers of food crops.

By 2020, the study says, the value of six of Brazil’s food crops – rice, coffee, beans, manioc, maize and soya – could fall by between 6.5 billion reals ($4 billion, €2.7 billion, £2 billion) and 7.1 billion reals if average temperatures rose by between 1ºC and 2ºC.

“The result will be a significant drop in Brazil’s farm exports,” Hilton Silveira Pinto, one of the report’s authors, told the Financial Times.

The study is based on models of climate change developed at the UK Met Office’s Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research and applied at local level to all of Brazil 5,562 municipalities by researchers at Unicamp, a university at Campinas in São Paulo state, and Embrapa, a Brazilian­ government agricultural research institute.

It takes account of different rates of temperature change in different parts of Brazil under best and worst-case scenarios that would result in average temperature rises by 2020 of between 1ºC and 2ºC from a baseline of average temperatures between 1961 and 1990. In parts of Brazil, such as in the rich agricultural hinterland of São Paulo state, temperatures have already risen by about 1ºC since then, said Prof Pinto.

The most serious damage would be to soya, he said. The amount of land suitable for soya cultivation would fall by more than 21 per cent under the best-case scenario, which assumes that action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and by almost 24 per cent if emissions continue at present rates.

This would result in a loss of 11.3m tons of soya from current production of 52.4m tons under the best-case scenario. Brazil last year exported about 38.5m tons of soya beans, meal and oil. Assuming that the Brazilian government maintains its policy of exporting only what is excess to domestic consumption, the study implies a drop in exports by 2020 of at least 29 per cent.

In contrast, the amount of sugar cane could increase dramatically, as it thrives in high temperatures and in atmospheres rich in carbon dioxide, one of the main greenhouse gases.

Prof Pinto stressed that the report was based on the most advanced crop varieties planted in Brazil and said damage could be mitigated by the development of new strains resistant to higher temperatures. However, he warned that few crops would withstand average temperature rises of more than 2ºC.

The study considered the impact of climate change up to 2050 and 2070, showing a fall in the value of the six crops of 9.3 billion reals and 11 billion reals, respectively, under the best-case scenario. However, Prof Pinto said predictions beyond 2050 were unreliable.

1 Comment

  • I aggree, the main problem is the limited time left to human race to convince the ordinary people, who are hypnotized by difficulties in their daily life, or advertisements, new technological toys, football, magazine, religious thoughts and practices etc. I have no optimistic view at all.