What the climate crisis will do to your diet

Have you noticed that every time you do your monthly shopping, it seems like your cart is getting more expensive? With rising prices everywhere, South Africans are feeling the pinch. But did you know that climate change is also part of the problem and contributes to inflation?

On May 6, 2022, IPES-Food (International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems) published a special report on the state of the global food crisis and world hunger. The scientists explained that as climate change puts pressure on local farmers, South African food prices could rise and more money will also need to be spent on importing food.

It’s been happening for years. the World Bank reports that “over the past few decades, Africa’s food import bill has more than tripled”, reaching around 559 billion rand ($35 billion) a year.

Here are basket items that are likely to become more expensive and elusive due to climate change.

Decline in the nutritional qualities of crops

The IPES-Food report says the effects of climate change are “already afflicting agriculture regularly enough to create persistent vulnerability, while injecting a permanent layer of uncertainty into global markets”.

The report also found that climate change “increases competition for land and resources and pushes people into poverty” because extreme weather events (such as droughts and floods, as well as climate change that introduces new pests and changing growing conditions) are displacing millions of people and forcing them to migrate. In fact, the report also refers to a Conclusion of the IPCC which estimates that climate change has reduced agricultural productivity growth in Africa by 34% since 1961.

Rising levels of carbon dioxide and greenhouse gases are one of the main drivers of climate change. This, combined with higher temperatures, affects plant metabolism and their growth rates, yields and nutritional qualities.

Studies have shown that higher concentrations of CO2 decrease protein, zinc and iron in wheat grains and decrease the protein and vitamin content of rice grains. This means that finding healthier cereals will not only be more difficult or more expensive for buyers, but could also affect “the nutritional status of around 600 million people”, warns the IPCC.

Change in composition of fruits and vegetables

Fruits and vegetables, many of which are essential resources in South Africa, are also at risk from climate change.

The IPCC Special Report on Climate Change and Land found that higher temperatures due to global warming, especially in tropical and semi-tropical regions, are reducing the amounts of these items.

Heat stress reduces the amount of fruit produced by each tree and accelerates the development of annual vegetables, resulting in lower yields and impaired quality.

In apples, for example, heat stress can make the fruit more acidic taste and may affect texture. In other fruits, heat can change the composition of sugar thus, affecting the taste, aroma and color of the fruit.

And with fruits and vegetables needing periods of colder temperatures as part of the plant’s life cycle, warmer winters could interfere with production.

As fruit trees and vegetable crops produce less and their products are increasingly of inferior quality, the “healthy option” may see its prices rise in the face of demand.

More fish?

The ocean absorbs more than 90% of excess heat from the climate system, according to a IPCC Report on Oceans and Cryospherecausing changes in ocean chemistry and disrupting the supply of oxygen and nutrients for marine life.

The ocean also absorbs up to 30% of man-made carbon dioxide emissions, causing ocean acidification. pH decrease levels can have far-reaching effects on marine life, such as dissolve shells shellfish and causing acidosis in fish, making it difficult for them to detect predators and locate suitable habitats. Acidic oceans also damage coral reefs and other ocean plants that marine life feeds on.

Overall, ocean warming and acidification, oxygen loss and changes in nutrient inputs “are already affecting the distribution and abundance of marine life in coastal areas, on the high seas and on the seabed,” according to the IPCC, reducing the potential for fish capture. that would have ended up on your plate.

Extreme stress on livestock

Meat consumption has long been a contentious topic in climate change discussions; cattle contribute 57% of global greenhouse gas emissions of food production and 35% of total global emissions.

Not only is meat a driver of climate change, it is also affected by it.

the The IPCC has found that heat stress caused by climate change will continue to increase and will affect both farmers and their animals, “reducing work capacity, animal health and milk and meat production”. The IPCC also estimates that by the end of the century, cattle, sheep, goats, pigs and poultry will experience up to 136 additional days of extreme stress from high temperature and humidity.

these high temperatures have a direct impact on animals and their biology, affecting growth rates, resulting in decreased protein and mineral nutrient concentrations. In poultry, rising temperatures can also affect meat quality, eggshell quality and the immune system.

These factors can lead to lower productivity, quality and production of meat and milk, and as the industry cannot meet demand and standards from before, prices are likely to rise.

This is not just a future problem – South Africa is already suffering from the effects of climate change on food, and this is set to continue. In April, devastating floods in the eastern cape killed livestock, flooded fields, destroyed crops and damaged agricultural equipment and infrastructure. This is just one example, and it has cost the province millions, proving that as extreme weather events become more frequent, food prices will continue to rise and healthier options may be available. harder to find. DM/ML

This article first appeared on Daily Maverick and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.

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