An iceberg floats in the bay in Kulusuk, Greenland near the arctic circle, in this file photo
A new study by researchers at Stanford University, US, has determined that global warming may have an adverse impact on food prices and hunger in poor populations of the world, while others would be helped out of poverty because of it.
Researchers say that higher temperatures could significantly reduce yields of wheat, rice and maize – dietary staples for tens of millions of poor people who subsist on less than 1 dollar a day. The resulting crop shortages would likely cause food prices to rise and drive many into poverty.
“But even as some people are hurt, others would be helped out of poverty,” said Stanford agricultural scientist David Lobell. Lobell and his colleagues recently conducted the first in-depth study showing how different climate change scenarios could affect incomes of farmers and labourers in developing countries. In the study, Lobell, former FSE researcher Marshall Burke and Purdue University agricultural economist Thomas Hertel focused on 15 developing countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America. Hertel has developed a global trade model that closely tracks the consumption and production of rice, wheat and maize on a country-by-country basis. The model was used to project the effects of climate change on agriculture within 20 years and the resulting impact on prices and poverty. The study revealed a surprising mix of winners and losers depending on the projected global temperature. The “most likely” scenario projected by the International Panel on Climate Change is that global temperatures will rise 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) by 2030. In that scenario, the trade model projected relatively little change in crop yields, food prices and poverty rates.
But under the “low-yield” scenario, in which temperatures increase by 2.7 F (1.5 C), the model projects a 10 to 20 percent drop in agricultural productivity, which results in a 10 to 60 percent rise in the price of rice, wheat and maize. Because of these higher prices, the overall poverty rate in the 15 countries surveyed was expected to rise by 3 percent.
However, an analysis of individual countries revealed a far more complicated picture. In 11 of the 15 countries, poor people who owned their own land and raised their own crops actually benefited from higher food prices, according to the model. In Thailand, for example, the poverty rate for people in the non-agricultural sector was projected to rise 5 percent, while the rate for self-employed farmers dropped more than 30 percent – in part because, as food supplies dwindled, the global demand for higher-priced crops increased.
“If prices go up and you’re tied to international markets, you could be lifted out of poverty quite considerably,” Lobell explained.