In Age of Extreme Weather, Industrial Farming Threatens Us All

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In Age of Extreme Weather, Industrial Farming Threatens Us All

New study reveals even developed nations are on the front lines of food insecurity

A sign on the side of a truck in Buttonwillow, California reads, "Food grows where water flows." (Photo: Getty)

Extreme weather is damaging to crop production and threatens food safety worldwide, according to a new study published in Nature on Wednesday.

And the most developed nations like the U.S., which rely heavily on industrial monocultures for food production, are particularly vulnerable.

The study, which evaluated cereal production losses due to extreme weather in 177 countries from 1964-2007, found that "droughts and extreme heat significantly reduced national cereal production by 9–10%....Furthermore, the results highlight ~7% greater production damage from more recent droughts and 8–11% more damage in developed countries than in developing ones."

"That was a surprise to us," Navin Ramankutty, an agricultural geographer at the University of British Columbia and co-author of the study, told Mother Jones on Wednesday.

As Ramankutty explained to CBC News,

the differences may be due to the type of agriculture commonly practised in developed nations — large, intensively cultivated fields sown exclusively to one crop.

Western farmers may need to start thinking differently as climate becomes less and less predictable, Ramankutty said.

"That model works really well when the climate is stable, but it may not work so well when there is an extreme weather event."

The study is the latest evidence of the impacts of climate change, coming just a month after global leaders gathered in Paris to finalize an agreement aimed at curbing greenhouse gases.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration continues to push for maligned deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which critics have called a "giveaway to big agribusiness and food companies that want to use trade deals to attack sensible food safety rules, weaken the inspection of imported food and block efforts to strengthen U.S. food safety standards."

Over the past 50 years, 75 percent of the world's biodiversity, soil, and water have been destroyed through the proliferation of mass food production and agrochemicals like pesticides and other synthetics, among other measures.

As MoJo's Tim McDonnell wrote on Wednesday, the latest findings don't mean that "developing countries are out of harm's way. They still face major challenges from climate change, since comparatively small yield losses can have an outsized impact on local economies and food security. But Ramankutty says the new research shows that even in the developed world, farmers may be more at risk from climate change than anyone previously realized."

Indeed, as environmental and anti-globalization activist Vandana Shiva explained in a piece published last May, small-scale farmers are indispensable to the future of food security. "Small farmers grow 70 per cent of the world’s food on 25 per cent of the world’s land," she wrote. "Our farmers must be liberated from seed slavery and dependence on high cost, unreliable and ill-adapted corporate seeds."

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