Climate change could make leafy greens, veggies less available
With both global temperatures and demand for food set to to increase in the coming years, while water resources grow more strained, the impacts on agriculture and crops could cause catastrophic food scarcity.
A new study led by researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine reveals how climate change will affect the production and nutritional quality of vegetables and legumes.
Leafy greens, vegetables like tomatoes, and legumes are a crucial part of a healthy diet, however, these crops have been largely left out of climate change and agriculture studies.
Instead, the majority of research on crops show that increases in temperature and water scarcity will significantly change staple yields of rice and wheat.
The study, which was the first of its kind to address this gap in climate change and agriculture research, was published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
The researchers reviewed studies published since 1975 that investigated the impacts of environmental changes on vegetable and legume crop yields.
After examining all the past experiments and studies, the researchers then estimated how increases in greenhouse gases and water scarcity would impact future yields and nutritional quality.
The results show that if nothing is done to mitigate climate change and reduce emissions, vegetable crop yields could be reduced by 35 percent, and legumes by nine percent towards to the end of the century.
“Our study shows that environmental changes such as increased temperature and water scarcity may pose a real threat to global agricultural production, with likely further impacts on food security and population health,” said Pauline Scheelbeek, the study’s lead author.
Vegetables are an essential part of a healthy diet, and many health experts and climate studies urge people to increase their consumption of leafy greens and reduce red meat in their diets to lower their environmental impact.
However, this research shows that vegetable and legumes may soon be less readily available which could impact population health worldwide.
“Our analysis suggests that if we take a ‘business as usual’ approach, environmental changes will substantially reduce the global availability of these important foods,” said Alan Dangour, the study’s senior author. “Urgent action needs to be taken, including working to support the agriculture sector to increase its resilience to environmental changes and this must be a priority for governments across the world.”
The researchers emphasize the importance of improving agricultural innovations as well as reducing emissions and mitigating the impacts of climate change.
“This excellent review highlights that some of the most important foods, and some of the world’s most vulnerable people, are at highest risk. This research is a wake-up call, underlining the urgency of tackling climate change and of improving agricultural practices,” said Howie Frumkin, head of Our Planet, Our Health Program part of the Wellcome Trust, which funded the study.