Billions could face starvation as climate change threatens rice production

Rice production - a food considered vital for cutting poverty - will be ruined as temperatures rise in growing areas through climate change, according to a new study by an international team of scientists.

New research, claiming to be the first study to assess the impact of both daily maximum and minimum temperatures on irrigated rice production in tropical and subtropical regions of Asia, reveals billions of people could face starvation.

Published yesterday (August 9) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) — a peer-reviewed, scientific journal from the United States — the report analyzed six years of data from 227 irrigated rice farms in six major rice-growing countries in Asia, which produces more than 90% of the world’s rice.

The research team found evidence the impact of projected temperature increases will be to slow the growth of rice production in Asia.

Rising temperatures during the past 25 years have already cut the yield growth rate by 10 to 20% in several locations.

“We found that as the daily minimum temperature increases, or as nights get hotter, rice yields drop,” said lead author of the report and graduate student of economics at the University of California at San Diego (UCSD), Jarrod Welch.

“Our study is unique because it uses data collected in farmers’ fields, under real-world conditions.

“This is an important addition to what we already know from controlled experiments. Farmers can be expected to adapt to changing conditions, so real-world circumstances, and therefore outcomes, might differ from those in controlled experimental settings.

Around three billion people eat rice every day, and more than 60% of the world’s one billion poorest and undernourished people who live in Asia depend on rice as their staple food.

A decline in rice production will mean more people will slip into poverty and hunger, the researchers said.

Luke Walsh

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