UN report identifies where global harvests will rise and fall by 2050

  • A UN study has identified which farmers will win or lose as the planet warms.
  • West Africa and India are highlighted as likely to see agricultural production fall.
  • Canada, Russia and the United States are likely to grow their exports and output by 2050.
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The United Nations (UN) released a report Monday identifying future winners and losers in agriculture as the planet warms from the effects of climate change.

The report titled "The State of Agricultural Commodity Markets 2018" has attempted to study the relationship between agricultural trade, climate change and food security. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN launched the report from Rome on Monday.

Under a section focused on the long-term impact of climate change on agricultural production and trade, the agency concluded that farmers in different parts of the world can expect yields to either rise or fall over the next three decades.

Using the year 2050 as an end point, the report stated that declines are forecast to be most obvious in West Africa and India where farming yield could fall by as much as 2.9 and 2.6 percent respectively.

Changes in agricultural production by the year 2050.
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Changes in agricultural production by the year 2050.

Conversely, the UN researchers forecast that higher temperatures in higher latitude regions will increase harvest. Winners in this model include Canada (2.5 percent) and Russia (0.9 percent) and suggested that even parts of Finland could soon be warm enough to produce cereal.

"Whereas most tropical regions are likely to experience production losses due to rising temperatures, production in temperate regions is expected to benefit from warmer climate and longer growing seasons," the report said.

South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa are identified as at highest risk economically as much of the present employment and national income in those areas are derived from small-scale agriculture.

The increasing importance of emerging economies has been a big development in global agricultural markets since 2000. The UN report said over the period China had become the fourth most important exporter, increasing its share of total export value from 3 percent in 2000 to 4.2 percent by 2016.

The same data set estimated that the United States had 11 percent share of global agricultural exports in 2016 while the European Union accounted for 41.1 percent.

The change in imports by emerging market economies over the same 16-year period was identified as even more pronounced, as growing income per capita and reduced poverty boosted food consumption.

The report has concluded that uneven climate change effects risks reversing decades of progress in reducing the divide between developed and developing countries and could lead to significant falls in the gross domestic product (GDP) of areas worst affected.

On average, global food prices are predicted to remain comparatively stable, but areas where harvest has fallen could suffer the uppermost increase in prices.

Trade chokepoints

To overcome risks to food security the UN wants agricultural trade to adopt policies that will ensure smooth movement of produce from surplus to deficit regions.

But one risk to that trade is the narrow number of global transportation routes that ferry transfers from one continent to another.

The UN, citing a 2017 Chatham House report, has suggested that most international food trade relies on routes that have a small number of "chokepoints", with 14 of them identified as critical to food security.

The most important areas include waterways such as the Panama Canal, the Strait of Malacca, and the Turkish Straits which allows passage for around 20 percent of global wheat exports.

Inland and coastal chokepoints include the United States, Brazil, and the Black Sea which together account for more than half of the world's transfer of rice, maize and soybean.