Newspaper article International New York Times

Weather Disasters Hit Crops Hard ; Heat Waves and Droughts Cut Some Cereal Output Nearly 10%, Study Finds

Newspaper article International New York Times

Weather Disasters Hit Crops Hard ; Heat Waves and Droughts Cut Some Cereal Output Nearly 10%, Study Finds

Article excerpt

Droughts and heat waves wiped out nearly a tenth of some cereal crops in countries hit by extreme weather from 1964 to 2007, researchers say.

Droughts and heat waves wiped out nearly a tenth of the rice, wheat, corn and other cereal crops in countries hit by extreme weather disasters between 1964 and 2007, according to a new study.

The paper, published Wednesday in Nature, examined data on the effects of extreme temperatures, floods and droughts on national crop harvests.

"People already knew that these extreme weather events had impacts on crop production," said Navin Ramankutty, a geographer from the University of British Columbia and an author of the report. "But we didn't know by how much, and we didn't have a basis for how that might change in the future."

Dr. Ramankutty and his team combined data from a disaster database with food production information from the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization. They looked at about 2,800 weather disasters, such as the 1983-84 drought in Ethiopia and the 2003 European heat wave, along with data on 16 different cereals, including oats, barley, rye and maize, or corn, grown in 177 countries.

They found that droughts cut a country's crop output 10 percent, and heat waves 9 percent, but that floods and cold spells had no effects on agricultural production levels. Dr. Ramankutty's team estimated a loss of over three billion tons of cereal production from 1964 to 2007 as a result of droughts and heat waves.

"We don't think about it much, but rice, wheat and maize alone provide more than 50 percent of global calories," he said. "When these grain baskets are hit, it results in food price shocks, which leads to increasing hunger."

As the global population soars, food production will need to increase to feed the extra mouths. But if the world is to meet those demands, it must do so efficiently and sustainably, said Pedram Rowhani, a land-change scientist from the University of Sussex in Brighton, England, another of the study's authors. …

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