Worlds supply of vegetables plummets because of climate change
Vegetables could be in short supply by 2050 as a result of climate change, water shortage and loss of biodiversity, a study suggests.
Global average yields of vegetables is predicted to be reduced to 35% and legumes such as soy beans and lentils to 9%.
There could be a knock-on effect on public health as key ingredients of a healthy diet become more limited, scientists warn.
Lead scientist Dr Pauline Scheelbeek said: Our study shows that environmental changes such as increased temperature and water scarcity may pose a real threat to global agricultural production, with likely further impacts on food security and population health.
Vegetables and legumes are vital components of a healthy, balanced and sustainable diet and nutritional guidelines consistently advise people to incorporate more vegetables and legumes into their diet.
Our new analysis suggests, however, that this advice conflicts with the potential impacts of environmental changes that will decrease the availability of these important crops unless action is taken, Dr Scheelbeek, from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) added,
Previous research has indicated that raised levels of carbon dioxide greenhouse gas in the atmosphere might increase crop yields.
But the new study, based on a systematic review of evidence dating back to 1975, shows this benefit is likely to be cancelled out by other environmental effects.
The researchers reviewed experimental work in 40 countries looking at the effects of altered environmental conditions on the yield and quality of vegetables.
They then estimated the future impact of key factors influencing crop production, including increased levels of greenhouse gases, reduced availability of water for irrigation, and rising temperatures.
The study was funded by the Wellcome Trust as part of its Our Planet, Our Health programme, whose head Dr Howie Frumkin, said: This research is a wake-up call, underlining the urgency of tackling climate change and of improving agricultural practices.
New crop varieties and improvements in agriculture and mechanisation are urgently needed to protect vegetable supplies, said the team writing in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
Co-author Professor Alan Dangour, also from LSHTM, said: We have brought together all the available evidence on the impact of environmental change on yields and quality of vegetables and legumes for the first time.
Our analysis suggests that if we take a business as usual approach, environmental changes will substantially reduce the global availability of these important foods.
Urgent action needs to be taken, including working to support the agriculture sector to increase its resilience to environmental changes and this must be a priority for governments across the world.