Asia’s crops threatened by climate change, El Niño
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Asia’s crops threatened by climate change, El Niño

Asia’s farmers are getting it on all sides. Who would have thought that Antarctic ice melt could flood crop fields in the Middle East and Asia? That’s what a new report by the Chicago Council on World Affairs claims could happen if nothing is done to prevent runaway climate change. Unfortunately, the collapse of the Western Antarctic ice sheet is already afoot and it’s resulting in sea levels that are rising faster than previously predicted. Two recent studies estimate that the sea could increase by as much as four meters in the next few hundred years.

Wave goodbye to Vietnam’s rice paddies and half of Bangladesh. And it’s not just farmers who have to fear — it’s everyone who eats food and especially those who live in low-lying hot areas of Asia. Even a three-meter rise would devastate parts of China, India, Burma (also known as Myanmar), Vietnam and Bangladesh, and that could happen within the next 100 years.

Mind you, all this stress on food supplies will be happening after the global population has increased by the billions.

From National Geographic:

That’s a problem, because we will need more harvests of the major grain crops—rice, wheat, and corn—in the decades ahead. Those crops are the basis of nearly all the food we eat—even meat, because we feed grains such as corn, wheat, and soy to meat animals.

Another more urgent, if not more serious, worry is the resurgence of El Niño in the Pacific. The Australian Bureau of Meteorology is predicting an El Niño event this summer (northern hemisphere) and China’s National Marine Environmental Forecasting Centre is warning that it might come even sooner. El Niño could destroy cash crops throughout Asia, particularly grain yields in China and India. Crop failures in Asia would increase demand in world markets and could cause prices to skyrocket.

From the South China Morning Post:

Withering drought would blight countries such as Indonesia and Australia, floods would plague China and Peru, while the annual monsoon upon which Indian farmers depend so heavily could stall and sputter.

This is not good news for the producers of Southeast Asia’s biggest cash crop: palm oil. Already suffering from the worst drought in 17 years, palm oil producers in Indonesia and Malaysia fear El Niño will strain supplies of the product, pushing up prices for top importers India and China and perhaps push prices so high that they opt for competing oils such as soybean oil from Brazil and canola oil from the United States.

Of course palm oil isn’t the most sustainable or environmentally friendly product out there anyway, and regardless of El Niño, is likely contributing to more extreme weather events through deforestation and slash and burn agriculture.

Someone want to tell me again how the free market solves everything?


Deforestation in West Kalimantan, Indonesia. Pic: David Gilbert/RAN