Production of wheat – one of the world’s most important staple crops – is set to fall by 6% for every 1C rise in temperature, say scientists
A fall of 6% in yield may not sound dramatic, but as the world’s population grows the pressure on staple crops will increase.
Food price riots have been seen in several developing countries following sudden rises of less than 10% in food prices in recent years, demonstrating the vulnerability of the poor to grain prices. The global population is currently over 7bn and is forecast to rise to at least 9bn, and potentially up to 12bn, by 2050, which will put more pressure on agricultural land and water sources.
The research also counters the optimistic projections of some climate change sceptics, who argue that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase plant growth, as they take up carbon from the air for photosynthesis. But that hypothesis has been widely questioned, as the boost to growing is likely to be outweighed by other effects, such as higher temperatures affecting germination and water availability.
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in a warmer Planet, Water is the burning ISSUE!!!
In Bill Clinton's successful 1992 presidential campaign against George H.W. Bush, the phrase «It's the economy, stupid» was coined by Clinton campaign strategist James Carville. It referred to the notion that Clinton was a better choice because Bush had not adequately addressed the economy, which had recently undergone a recession. In 2009, world economies are facing yet again a huge crisis.
But, despite the enormity of the current global economic crisis, it is not the most crucial crisis facing us today, neither is it the food shortage crisis but is infact the shortage of clean water. Food at affordable prices is not enough for all the people on Earth but in order to produce food, we need water. According to the chairman of Nestlé, Peter Brabeck-Letmathe, “the water shortage is an even more urgent problem than climate change” (The Economist, “The world in 2009”).
How you ever wondered what is the price of 1 m3 (or 1 tonne) of water? Have a look at your invoice of the water authorities in Athens (EYDAP), 1 m3 costs about €0.45. But, people sunbathing in Saint Tropez and using bottled water of Evian, have to pay several hundred euros for 1 m3 of water. In Palestine, the water is even more expensive, people have to cross the Egypt-Palestine borders to carry water back to their homes. So, water can in fact be priceless! We could thus coin the Carville’s phrase to «it’s the water, stupid».
Water availability has been a “casus belli” for many years. Six years ago, Israel warned of war over water. Lebanon had opened a pumping-station on the River Hasbani in the spring of 2001 to irrigate a drought-stricken village but denied that it planned to dam the river. Israel controlled the Hasbani during its occupation of southern Lebanon in 1978-2000. Today, the water of this river is completely controlled by Israel.
The problem of good water management is of pivotal importance in both food and agriculture industries and world geopolitics. According to the bank JP Morgan, five big food and beverage giants—Nestlé, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Anheuser-Busch and Danone—consume almost 575 billion litres of water a year, enough to satisfy the daily water needs of every person on the planet!
Not surprisingly leading environmental agencies are now using the concept of the “water footprint” to describe the direct and indirect water use. The water footprint is defined as the total volume of freshwater that is used to produce the goods and services.
It is thus not only the amount of water that people and industry are consuming in a country that matters, but also the amount of water that is used for all food that is imported to this country from all over the world! Intriguingly, the production of one kilogram of beef requires 16.000 litres of water whereas we need 140 litres of water to produce one cup of coffee! Japan with a footprint of 1150 cubic meter per capita per year, has about 65% of its total water footprint outside the borders of the country and the US water footprint is 2500 cubic meter per capita per year.
In Greece, the concept of water management is simply non existent: the number of illegal wells is unknown, estimates of boreholes in Greece range from 190,000 to 270,000. The best example that highlights this lack of water management is the lake Plastira in central Greece: while the water level of this lake, is dangerously low, wasteful irrigation techniques in the plain of Thessaly and elsewhere continue unmonitored. We would not exaggerate if we suggested that the fight for water between the farmers of Karditsa area and the farmers of Larissa valley is worryingly similar to the war for the River Hasbani between Israel and Lebanon!
But it is not only this part of the world, where water management is poor. In Cyprus, all the water reservoirs of the island were full in 2004 but completely empty at the end of 2008. Cyprus had to import water from Greece last summer. Half of households in England and Wales are in areas where demand for fresh drinking water could soon outstrip supply. The crisis is greatest in the South East where at least 10million people have less water available per head than those living in Egypt and Morocco.
“Water is the oil of the 21st century,” declares Andrew Liveris, the chief executive of Dow, a chemical company. Like oil, water is a critical lubricant of the global economy. And as with oil, supplies of water—at least, the clean, easily accessible sort—are coming under enormous strain. Goldman Sachs, an investment bank, estimates that global water consumption is doubling every 20 years, which it calls an “unsustainable” rate of growth. Water, unlike oil, has no substitute! Untrammelled industrialisation, particularly in poor countries, is contaminating rivers and aquifers. America’s generous subsidies for biofuel have increased the harvest of water-intensive crops that are now used for energy as well as food. And heavy subsidies for water in most parts of the world mean it is often grossly underpriced—and hence squandered.
The link between food and water
It takes about one litre of water to produce one calorie from food crops. But the biggest variable is our diet. Europeans and Americans have for years had high proportions of meat in their diets, but now this trend is catching on in emerging markets as incomes rise. Meat requires ten times the water withdrawn per calorie by plants. So the average daily diet in California requires some 6,000 litres of water in agriculture, compared with 3,000 litres in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt. Compare these figures to the 3 or 4 litres we drink or the 300-600 litres of water needed for other purposes, such as hygiene and manufacturing. Unfortunately, politicians have added another drain—biofuels. It takes up to 9,100 litres of water to grow the soy for one litre of biodiesel, and up to 4,000 litres for the corn to be transformed into bioethanol. What is meant to alleviate a serious environmental problem (climate change) is making another, even more serious problem (water shortage) worse.
Urgent solutions are needed
Scientists do have solutions: better irrigation practices in farming may reduce freshwater withdrawals almost by half. Some crops are better grown in water-rich countries, others grow well with relatively little water. If water had a price, and if farm products could be traded freely and without subsidies across borders, a water-efficient allocation of production would follow. The political subsidies for biofuels must stop immediatelly until more water-efficient crops are established (i.e. the so called second and third generation plants). Leading food industries must start using water more efficiently: soft drink giants are using about 3 litres of water for every litre of soft drink it produces but one greek branch is using double this (i.e. six litres of water per litre of soft drink). All in all, politicians and industry people must construct a “water new deal” as soon as possible. The climate change should stop being the first environmental priority. In fact, with some hundreds of thousands of people not having access to drinkable water, it is quite obvious why
water management should be our first political and scientific priority.
Water and waste management
Giorgos Seferis, a poetry Nobel Laureate of Greece has written “wherever I travel Greece wounds me”. In the case of water and waste management this line may be transformed to “whichever river I think of, Hinkley comes to mind”. Rivers, where apart from hexavalent chromium (as in the case of river Asopos in Greece), domestic or industrial waste, cocktails of heavy metals, fertilisers or pesticides are dumped illegally under the blind eye of local authorities. The judges need to start applying the EU principle “the Polluter Pays the Cost”, in brief PPC. In Italy, Mr Felice Casson, now a member of the Italian Senate, became famous because of the high fines he imposed as the principal prosecutor in the trial of major directors of Enichem and Montedison regarding an environmental disaster and the death of 157 workers due to PVC production in Marghera, an industrial district of Venice, in 2005. The fines, following the PPC principle, were €500 million! In Asopos (where cancer as cause of death is now 38% in the town of Oinofita as opposed to less than 10% 20 years ago!), with fines of a few thousands euros, polluters will never pay the real cost, they will just pay the fine and continue to pollute the environment and food chain. In Asopos area, our team has found that carrots, potatoes and onions grown in the plain of the polluted Asopos River contain high levels of nickel and chromium. Those data have confirmed that the polluted Asopos River, which flows through the prefecture of Viotia and enters the sea in northern Attica, does not only affect residents of the farming region but, through the sale of vegetables, the wider society as well.
Thus, what we need today as a society are some more Judges who will follow the example of Felice Casson. And also to educate our children on how closely related are waste and water management. Water has an amazing “memory” in terms of toxic pollutants and this memory may cross-contaminate irreversibly our food chain and our future…
*Feature Photo Copyright of camknows