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Drought Damage Cuts World Cereal Production

January 8, 2016

A new study published in the journal Nature, has found that worldwide cereal production has reduced by 10% on average in the last half century. The impact of severe droughts and extreme heat waves are thought to be two of the major factors influencing global production.

Researchers looked at 16 different cereal crops in 177 countries, adding data on 2,800 severe weather events between 1964 and 2007. The study showed that weather related events had a greater effect in more technically advanced countries such as North America, Europe and Australia where production dropped by nearly 20%.

The difference is likely to be explained by the contrast between large and small scale farming. Harvests of wheat, maize, and rice have all suffered greater losses due to drought and extreme heat since the 1980’s compared to previous decades. Cereal production losses averaged 13.7% in drought years from 1985, compared with 6.7% during earlier droughts.

“The frequency and severity of these extreme weather events is expected to increase in the future. If we do not adapt our agricultural systems to become more resilient to these shocks we can anticipate even larger losses in the future,” said Pedram Rowhani of Sussex University and a co-author of the study.

While the damage to cereal production from droughts and extreme heat is considerable, scientists noted that the effect was short lived, as agricultural output rebounded and continued to grow after severe weather events.