Category: Agriculture

Feeling the effects of climate change in rural Afghanistan

Feeling the effects of climate change in rural Afghanistan

By Gracie Pearsall

Millions of farmers and pastoralists in Afghanistan are experiencing the harsh effects of climate change. The Afghanistan Government, the World Food Programme, and the UN Environmental Programme, recently published a report detailing how climate-related drought and flooding have impacted the livelihood and food security of Afghan agriculturalists during the past 30 years. This report looks at the intersection of climate, livelihood, and demographic data to examine the impact of that climate change.

Livelihoods in Afghanistan are primarily agriculture-based, with more than 60% of the population listing agriculture as a source of household income. Thus, the most pressing climate threats that rural Afghanistan citizens face are drought and flooding, which alter the flow of water. The report breaks down drought and flooding into four distinct categories: Rainfall-related drought, snowfall-related drought, rainfall-related flooding, and snowfall-related flooding. Surprisingly, rainfall and snowfall can cause both flooding and drought, because climate change disrupts precipitation patterns.


Spring rainfall in Northern and Central Afghanistan has significantly decreased over the past 30 years, causing more frequent droughts. The regions where rainfall has decreased overlap with regions that depend on agriculture and pastoralism for income and food. The increased drought inhibits farmers’ ability to grow crops and raise livestock, thus increasing food and livelihood insecurity. Central Afghanistan is responsible for growing surplus grain and providing labour opportunities to surrounding communities, but decreased productivity due to drought has decreased food security in the area and throughout the country. In northern Afghanistan, where food security is chronic, many male family members go to Pakistan in the winter to find off-farm employment. Because drought has amplified food and income insecurity caused by drought, labour migration rates have increased over the past 30 years.

One distinct feature of Afghanistan’s agricultural system is its reliance on snow and glacier melt for irrigation flow. Snow-fed river flow is highest in the spring and summer when snow cover melts. However, because of changes in precipitation patterns, the Hindu Kush and Pamir mountains, are receiving significantly less snowfall than usual, which reduces spring river flow. The area most vulnerable to this change is the Eastern Basin area surrounding Kabul, which depends on snow-fed rivers for irrigation. Despite this area’s ability to grow cash crops, the area is chronically food insecure, and snowfall related drought further reducing arability and food availability.


While some regions have experienced decreased Spring rainfall, others have witnessed increased heavy rainfall, along with the devastating effects of the subsequent flooding. The mountainous Northeast, the hilly Southeast, and the arid Southwest experience the most flooding. These regions face the greatest risk because they are intensely irrigated by river flow and are sensitive to the effects of flooding that occurs when increased rainfall causes rivers to surge. Flooding has destroyed crops, caused displacement, and destroyed roads, which limits agriculturalists’ access to market.

Excess snowfall in the mountains causes increased flooding in the Spring and Summer when the snow cover melts. Rising temperatures amplify this flooding by causing the snow cover to melt quicker. The excess snowmelt flows into rivers and threatens the communities along rivers and those that use snow-fed rivers for irrigation. The intensively irrigated Southeast region in the Helmand River Basin is most at risk for snow-based flooding. This region primarily grows grains and vegetables, and is chronically food insecure. Communities and farms clustered around rivers in this area have faced growing destruction and displacement as the snow-fed rivers flood in the spring. The flooding is particularly volatile for pastoralists in this area, because the flooding changes the vegetation and grazing patterns of the livestock, thus forcing the livestock into new areas.

Future climate risks

Although this report focuses on how climate change has already impacted rural Afghanistan, the report also briefly touches on the future risks. In general, projections show increased instances of flooding and drought, which will further increase food insecurity, increase rates of seasonal labour migrations, and threaten the livelihood of millions of Afghanistan agriculturalists. However, in the Highlands the future is not so dire because the rising temperatures and increased rainfall could actually extend the growing season. This extension would increase agricultural productivity, but only if agriculturists engage in proper water management and invest in infrastructure.

You can download the full report by clicking here.
Cover photo from Pixabay (public domain): Rural Afghanistan.
The immense challenge of desertification in sub-Saharan Africa

The immense challenge of desertification in sub-Saharan Africa

By Nabil Ben Khatra, Institut national agronomique de Tunisie (INAT) and Maud Loireau, Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD)

Today, dry areas represent more than 41% of land on the globe and they are home to more than two billion people.

They are the stage for the ongoing process of land degradation that is aggravated by climate fluctuations – particularly drought – and pressure exerted by human activities (including demographic growth and inappropriate management of natural resources). All of these factors strongly undermine the capacity of populations to adapt to an increasingly difficult environment.

In Africa in the 1970s, droughts had terrifying consequences in an already fragile context. The images of their effects still mark collective memory today. They were a determining factor in the holding of the United Nations Conference on Desertification in Nairobi in 1977.

Beyond recognition by the international community (since the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, with the adoption of the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification), we also face the question of our understanding and evaluation of the desertification process, and of sustainable solutions to fight it. The recent inclusion of the concept of “neutrality” in terms of land degradation in the United Nations’Sustainable Development Goals makes the battle against desertification a major issue for development, (re)connecting societies and environments, and human well-being.

Millions of hectares are disappearing

The situation is particularly sensitive in sub-Saharan countries, where over 80% of the economy is based on subsistence farming. According to Monique Barbut, UNCCD Executive Secretary, emphasised that almost 12 million hectares of arable land are being lost each year globally, to desertification and drought, when 20 million tonnes of cereals could have been cultivated on this area.

Despite the diversity and intensity of efforts to combat desertification, the challenge of land degradation in a time of climate change in Africa’s arid areas remains unresolved. The environmental and societal stakes are massive, including food security, climate change, health, law and social equity.

However, the progressive growth of knowledge about the causes, mechanisms and consequences of desertification now allows us to devise new solutions, particularly when it comes to combating land and soil degradation.

Good practices to adopt

The success of such projects and programmes combating land and soil degradation depends on an understanding and evaluation of the situation in the territory concerned. This assessment prior to action should allow us to determine the type of degradation anywhere, its severity, its temporal dynamics, its spatial distribution according to the degradation factors, and the types and intensity of consequences both locally and at regional and international levels. This approach is indispensable for effective action.

Sustainable land and water management practices over recent decades have improved our ability to combat desertification and preserving natural resources. However, efforts still need to be made, particularly to create a favourable socio-economic environment to support, promote and deploy such practices over larger regions.

To assess the state of knowledge on these issues, the Sahara and Sahel Observatory (OSS) and the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) recently produced a report, “Desertification and Earth System: From Knowledge into Action”, that offers an unprecedented situational analysis. It can be consulted online or downloaded free of charge.

Achieving neutrality

The fight against desertification and land degradation requires the consideration of several temporal and spatial scales (from the agricultural plot and the basin, to farming, to village, communal, local, national or regional land), and levels of decision-making (from the family unit and local or regional government, to the State and international convention). It also must take into account various level of action and management, whether it be in understanding the mechanisms of land degradation, in the action itself or in its scientific, technical, administrative or political management.

Given recent technological innovations and human ingenuity, desertification is not an inevitability. However, nothing significant will happen if scientific, political and citizen mobilisation is not sustainably coordinated.

The ConversationBy starting work today on sustainably managing land and restoring degraded land, it is nevertheless possible to reach land-degradation neutrality by 2030. On this subject, it is worth consulting the report presented on 14 September during the UNCCD Conference of Parties in Ordos (China), devoted to sustainable land management for humans and the climate.

Nabil Ben Khatra, Ingénieur agronome, Coordinateur du programme « Environnement » pour l’Observatoire du Sahara et du Sahel, Institut national agronomique de Tunisie (INAT) and Maud Loireau, Ingénieur de recherche en agronomie et géographie, Institut de recherche pour le développement (IRD)

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.
Cover photo by Anderson Sady (CC BY 3.0): Anti desertification sand fences south of the town of Erfoud, Morocco.
World hunger on the rise compounded by conflicts and climate change

World hunger on the rise compounded by conflicts and climate change

By Caroline Fouvet

The share of undernourished people in the world has risen to 815 million in 2016, up from 777 million in 2015, according to the latest report of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Several interrelated factors account for this disturbing situation, which reverses a 15-year decline of global hunger. The study points at the increased number of conflicts, often aggravated by climate change impacts, to explain the rise of undernourishment and food insecurity in sub-Saharan Africa, South-Eastern and Western Asia mainly. In Latin America and the Caribbean, 42 million people do not have access to sufficient food and food insecurity rose from 4.7% in 2014 to 6.4% in 2016.  A complex nexus of factors provides an explanation of the current state of affairs. According to the FAO, the drivers behind these trends are the rise in protracted conflicts and weather-related events, such as floods and droughts.

How elements interact and contribute to an increase in world hunger

The report dedicates an entire section to conflicts that intensify during prolonged periods of time, linking their occurrence to aggravated hunger situations. It appears indeed that 6 out of 10 food-deprived people live in conflict-stricken countries. Since 2010, internal conflicts have spiked by 60%, leading to the destruction of rural livelihoods, assets, and infrastructure that normally acts as a bulwark against malnutrition, such as health care and sanitation. In South Sudan for instance, where large-scale violence has surged following its independence, a famine was declared earlier this year. Other countries such as Lebanon, where over 1.5 million Syrian refugees flocked into fleeing the civil war, are overwhelmed since their public services are strained by the heightened demand. Adverse impacts on food security and nutrition on the poorest households are highly likely, in particular for refugees.

How climate change relates to conflict situations

Extreme weather events such as large-scale floods and intensified drought periods compound food insecurity. The report looks at 10 countries, including Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Yemen, where flooding, landslides and drought have led over 53 million people to simultaneously face food crises and conflict-related situations. What is more, climate change locks those countries into vicious circles as food insecurity can lead to further conflict, instability and vulnerability.

Increased world hunger directly undermines overall international development efforts and the ability to achieve specific Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) such as “ending hunger” and “ending all forms of malnutrition”. As 56% of the population in conflict-hit countries live in rural areas and depend on subsistence agriculture, they are extremely vulnerable to the compounding effects of climate change on their livelihoods. In addition, resulting situations of hopelessness can fuel further violence, extending conflicts’ duration and impacts.

Resilience measures are necessary in climate-impacted areas to help populations cope with weather-related impacts and secure development gains against global hunger. The report advises to mainstream climate adaptation as part of conflict prevention to secure livelihoods in rural regions in particular. However, it should be noted that, although extreme weather can intensify conflict situations, the link between climate change and conflicts, especially wars, is a complicated one.

Cover photo by FMSC (CC by 2.0).
UNDP & FAO webinar series: Climate Information Services in Adaptation Planning for Agriculture

UNDP & FAO webinar series: Climate Information Services in Adaptation Planning for Agriculture

By UNDP Climate Change Adaptation

Developing and least developed countries are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Many of the world’s poor rely on agriculture and natural resources for food security and income, but climate change puts as many as 75% of them at grave risk. Making agricultural practices climate resilient and sustainable is therefor a high priority in many regions of the world. In 2010, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) established the National Adapation Plan (NAP) process to help identify adaptation needs for different time horizons and encourage the development of strategies to address those needs. Given the high climate sensitivity of the agricultural sector, it features prominently in most NAPs.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) coordinate the Integrating Agriculture into National Adaptation Plans (NAP-Ag) programme which aims to “integrate climate change adaptation concerns related to agriculture-based livelihoods into the existing national planning and budgeting processes of eleven developing countries and LDCs“. It also contributes to achieving partner countries’ Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDC) and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).

The NAP-Ag webinar on The Role of Climate Information Services in Adaptation Planning for Agriculture provided insights into the role of Climate Information Services (CIS) in planning for adaptation in agricultural sectors. Country case studies and extended exploration of best practices created a strong learning environment for country-to-country exchange on institutional arrangements, and gaps in Climate Information Services for the implementation and formulation of National Adaptation Plans. This webinar is a follow up to the March 2017 peer-to-peer exchange on “Effective Climate Information Services for Agriculture in ASEAN.”

Presentations and Session Recordings

Learn More: Webinar Series Overview

Cover photo by Asantha Abeysooriya on Unsplash: Woman in Sri Lanka harvesting tea leaves.
Climate change takes the ice cream cake

Climate change takes the ice cream cake

By Caroline Fouvet

You might take ice cream for granted when it comes to cooling down during a scorching summer. However, as climate change has far-reaching impacts on global agriculture, it actually affects essential ice cream ingredients such as cocoa, sugar, coffee or vanilla. World-famous ice cream manufacturers such as Ben and Jerry’s raise the alarm and point at concrete examples that illustrate the potential shortage of ingredients.

Take chocolate for instance: As 70% of the world’s cocoa supply comes from only four African countries, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Nigeria and Cameroon, the increase of extreme weather events in the region directly threatens most of the production. The “chocolate tree”, Theobroma cacao, is extremely sensitive to pests and fungal infections and instances of both are exacerbated by climate-induced events. Moreover, floods and droughts directly disrupt the tree’s growth and water supply. In general, farming in the tropics, the cradle of cocoa trees, is becoming increasingly difficult. Nut trees and sugarcane fields also are affected by warmer winters, lack of rain or severe tropical cyclones.

Ice cream ingredients are vital economic outputs for farmers in developing countries and their shortage would lead to heavy losses of income. Cocoa production alone provides work to almost six million farmers in the world. In Ivory Coast, cocoa farming alone accounts for 15% of the country’s GDP, which highlights the disruptive economic impact of climate change. In Ethiopia, where 15% of the population depends on the coffee industry, studies estimate that 60% of the coffee-growing areas could not be suitable for agriculture by the end of the century. This shows, as highlighted in one of our recent articles, that climate change impacts, in particular on agriculture, directly undermine development progress and require adaptation efforts. It is for example likely that many crops will have to be moved at higher altitudes to cope with rising temperatures, when possible.

The other side of the coin is that ice cream production, if not managed in sustainably, also contributes to climate change through the destruction of forests to produce palm oil. Therefore, ice cream is not just a summer staple but should be handled carefully as an important produce for the world’ economy.

Cover photo by Ilona/Pixabay (public domain).
Vietnam’s 3 billion dollar coffee industry threatened by climate change

Vietnam’s 3 billion dollar coffee industry threatened by climate change

By Gracie Pearsall

In recent years, Vietnam has emerged as a giant in the coffee industry, exporting 1.8 million tonnes of coffee every year. But this US$ 3 billion industry faces an uncertain future. While Vietnam ranks as the second-largest producer of coffee in the world, it also ranks as one of the top 10 countries for climate-related damages since the 1990s. Rising temperatures and increased instances of severe weather threaten the coffee plantations that cover more than 640,000 hectares of Vietnam. In the face of this looming threat, coffee farmers and stakeholders are coming together to find ways to adapt to the changing climate and build a more resilient coffee industry.

The threat

In Vietnam, the main climate-related concern are increased instances of extreme weather, especially droughts. Experts predict that rainfall will decrease by as much as 20 mm annually and that the dry season will be up to 3 months longer than usual by 2050. These disruptions to weather patterns are particularly dangerous to the coffee industry, as farmers rely on precise timing to maximise yield and quality. For example, coffee farmers must plan so the coffee plant flowers at the height of the wet season.

Furthermore, rising temperatures are predicted to reduce the area suitable for growing coffee by 50 percent by 2050. The warmer climate could shift the Coffee Belt north and leave much of Vietnam outside the belt. The changing climate and uncharacteristic weather patterns will also make pest control much more difficult. Farmers are already witnessing the Coffee Bean Borer, a pest previously confined to the Congo, damage crops as it spreads throughout the Coffee Belt because these pests thrive in the warmer and wetter conditions. Any further warming will lead to an explosion of pests and pesticides, which farmers would need to combat.

Proposed adaptation measures

In March of 2017, stakeholders, farmers, and government officials convened at a workshop in the Central Highlands of Vietnam, the main coffee growing area, to discuss possible adaptation measures to minimise climate-related damages to Vietnam’s coffee industry.

One proposed adaptation measure was to diversify the types of coffee grown in Vietnam. The industry currently specialises in one species of coffee: Robusta. This homogeneity puts the coffee plants at risk of damage if a pest or disease were to attack the plants. All participants agreed that the industry needed new varieties of coffee plants. Introducing new types of coffee could make the industry more resilient to pests, which is crucial since pests proliferate in the new, warmer climate.

Diversification would also be beneficial to the soil. The current homogeneity means that the same nutrients are being stripped from the soil season after season, leading to bare and arid soil and dangerous run-off. Because their soil is depleted, many farmers are over-fertilising their fields, causing even more run-off and pollution. A more diverse coffee crop could change the nutrients that the plant consumes, giving the soil a chance to replenish the nutrients.

Cover crops and canopy trees

Another suggestion was to train farmers to use cover crops in coffee’s off-season. Cover crops would hold the soil in place, prevent run-off, and put essential nutrients back into the soil. The farmers could also harvest and sell the cover crops, thus getting an extra source of income.

Participants also encouraged farmers to plant canopy trees in their coffee plantations. These trees would provide crucial shade to coffee plants, as drought and heat become more severe. The canopy trees would also play a similar role to cover crops and prevent run-off and keep nutrients in the soil. Many farmers in Vietnam already employ this technique and use fruit-bearing trees, such as the Durian Tree, to provide shade for their coffee trees, and as a second source of income by selling the durians.

Stakeholders and policymakers are pushing to train and educate smallholder farmers with more workshops like the one hosted in March. Smallholder farms produce 95% of Vietnam’s coffee, however, these small-scale operations often lack the credit to invest in new farming methods. To address this, many large firms and corporations are partnering with NGO’s to invest in smallholders and create a smallholder assistance program. With these efforts and more, the coffee sector is bracing for climate change and building a more climate-resilient system of production.

Cover photo by Paul Arps/Flickr (CC BY 2.0): Preparing coffee Vietnamese style.
Climate change compounds unsustainable fishing production

Climate change compounds unsustainable fishing production

By Caroline Fouvet

The global fish trade has seen unprecedented growth over the past 40 years, rising by 515% and amounting to US$148 billion in exports in 2014. Expanding fishery production and globalised markets combined with a higher demand have led to the overexploitation of the planet’s fish resources. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), 90% of fish stocks are now fully or overfished and some species such as tuna are particularly affected.  Now, in addition to unsustainable fishing practices, climate change is exacerbating an already dire problem through impacts like ocean acidification and rising sea temperatures.

A threat to marine life

Climate change compounds an already worrisome situation by threatening fish populations in their natural habitat. The combination of increased sea temperatures and more acidic waters – triggered by the absorption of substantial amounts of carbon dioxide into oceans – is leading to new distribution patterns and shifting some species from their usual environment. This can already be observed in the UK where Scottish fishermen are now finding squid, a Mediterranean species, in the North Sea. More acidic waters also mean that coral reefs, which protect thousands of fish, are destroyed and marine creatures, such as crabs or scallops, might struggle to form their shells.

Socioeconomic effects

This situation has important socioeconomic consequences at the global level. First, food security is endangered in a world that will count approximately 9 billion people by 2050. Developing countries where diets predominantly include fish, as in Bangladesh for example, are at risk of losing an essential component of their daily diet. The fact that 22 of the 30 principal fish consuming-nations fall under the UN’s “low-income, food deficit category” category clearly illustrates this concern.

Moreover, the exacerbating effects of climate change are threatening the fishing industry. According to the World Bank, coastal areas within 100 km of the ocean account for an estimated 61% of the world’s total Gross Domestic Product, while 10-12% of the world’s population works in fisheries and aquaculture. New migration patterns along with the difficulty for fish to genetically adapt to warmer waters can lead to the disappearance of commonly fished species, destroying an essential source of income.

Adapting fishing practices

Is it then possible for societies to adapt to these new trends? The answer is yes, so long as we develop sustainable management practices. Aquaculture is a rising sector that has grown substantially over the last few years, and has gone from producing over 25 tons of seafood in 1995 to more than 73 in 2014. Sea farming has the potential to minimise climate change consequences on seafood production although it remains a challenge, as would-be farmers must face high investment costs and slow returns. What is more, aquaculture can have significant environmental footprints, as shrimp farming for instance is believed to have led to a three-million-hectare loss of coastal wetlands worldwide. Eco-friendly sea farms that are also climate-resilient should then become mainstreamed.

Furthermore, to avoid conflicts that may arise due to fish migration to new territorial waters, countries should closely monitor fishing practices and ensure the enforcement of fishing quotas. The FAO recommends that fishery management plans are implemented to secure long-term conservation and management objectives.

The future of seas and oceans lies in our ability to both modify our consumption patterns and practices related to sea products as well as to sustainably adapt to climate change impacts on the sector. Recent fish migrations show that warmer waters already have an effect on animals and ecosystems. Acting now is essential to avoid major food disruptions and serious economic consequences.

Cover photo by Monique Stokman/Pixabay (Public Domain)
Weird weather puts the breaks on English wine industry

Weird weather puts the breaks on English wine industry

By Will Bugler

The budding English wine industry has taken a hit as warm winter weather gave way to sharp frosts in early spring. Winemakers have reported severe damage to the buds on their vines, and expect a very poor harvest. Climate change is making soft fruit growing more difficult in the UK and in other northern European countries as the weather becomes increasingly unpredictable.

The English wine industry has grown considerably in recent years, increasing production by 25% from 2010 to 2015, when the country’s 133 wineries producing over five million bottles. But the English weather is still not reliable enough to guarantee a good crop.

Winemakers have taken steps to protect their crops in early spring, by using frost fans and even candles placed beneath the vines. However, as temperatures plunged to -6˚C in parts of the country, these steps were insufficient to protect the fragile buds. Some winemakers expect yields to be down as much as 50%, with many other countries in Europe likely to have also been affected to some extent.

A risk to agriculture

Farmers of all stripes have been battling inclement weather for many decades, acknowledging that bumper crops are sometimes punctuated by lean years. Here  on the Acclimatise Network we have reported how inclement weather has affected apple farmers in the UK, and vegetable growers throughout Europe.

The difficulty that the agriculture sector faces is not in taking measures to adapt to specific risks, but in managing the considerable uncertainty that has accompanied climate change. This makes planning extremely difficult as crops all react differently to different weather conditions and farmers must plan next year’s harvest long before they have any certainty over the likely weather conditions.

Research from the John Innes Centre, a leading institute for plant science and microbiology, has suggested that there are four main categories of risk that climate change presents for agriculture:

  1. Increased rainfall: which leads to waterlogging and flooding damaging crops and increasing costs for livestock farmers.
  2. Warm winters: cold weather over the winter is essential for soft and orchard fruit yields as the plants require a dormant period in preparation for new growth in the spring.
  3. Disease: new pests and increased levels of increasing pests and diseases can blight crops.
  4. Drought and water scarcity: can increase input costs from irrigation and, if severe can affect yields.

Building resilience

With such a range of possible climate impacts affecting agricultural production, targeted adaptation measures are not always the most cost effective investments for farmers. Instead minimising risk often means diversifying their portfolios, growing a broader range of varieties or species, and having other non-weather dependent income streams.

A resilient approach also means being flexible and responsive to opportunities to grow new crops that may previously have been unsuitable for cultivation, such as peach trees. Longer growing seasons may also allow for new vegetables to be grown in Northern European countries.

New technologies and developments in seed varieties also offer opportunities for farmers to increase their resilience, however without sufficient diversification there is a limit to what can be achieved relying on this approach in isolation.

A year’s bad harvest hardly spells disaster for the English wine industry, however unpredictable weather conditions will make planning more difficult for everyone connected with agriculture in Northern Europe. Managing climate risks and capitalizing on emerging opportunities will depend to a large extent on the sector’s ability to diversify and increase its resilience.

Cover photo by Ewan Munro (CC BY-SA-2.0)
How will climate change affect an English country garden?

How will climate change affect an English country garden?

By Caroline Fouvet

Grape vines and olive trees stretching on acres of sun-kissed land and Mediterranean shrubs bordering front gardens may sound like a reminder of your favourite holiday destination. However, this scene could equally be a description of the Britain of the future. Such changes to the British landscape are forecast in a 2017 report of the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). RHS research says that climate change impacts on weather patterns are very likely to modify plants’ growth and distribution, and could demand new cultivating practices from the green-fingered.

Global warming is already affecting growing seasons in the UK and around the world. Today average temperatures are 0.9°C warmer than they were between 1961-1990. In England, the southern regions are expected to become hotter, and dryer overall and experience short episodes of heavy rainfall. The north of England, on the other hand will be milder, with wetter summers and winters.

Whether you have green fingers or tend to a few pot plants at the weekend, climate change will not go unnoticed. One of the most visible impacts of climate change, according to the report, will be its affect grass. Currently, warmer springs and autumns combined with regular rain episodes result in an increase in lawn-mowing, which usually does not take place all year round. Should average temperatures rise by 3°C then many grassland areas in south-western England would start to become woodland. In eastern England, households may have to replace lawns with artificial grass, like Californians did during recent droughts.

Vegetation will have to adapt to rapidly changing conditions and native species may give way to exotic species such as the holm oak – a tree coming from the eastern Mediterranean that has become established in southern and eastern areas of England. Smaller trees, less vulnerable to powerful winds, will progressively replace larger ones, that will suffer in strong gales. More robust plants like buddleia and clematis are also expected to thrive while more fragile ones may disappear due to frost or water logging.

Moreover, trees and plants will probably be exposed to a growing number of pests and diseases. According to the report, new garden blights constitute the principal threat to plant survival “after drought and waterlogging”. New climatic conditions indeed worsen the impact of pathogens by weakening plants’ defences and ability to cope with changes.

Finally, gardeners will have to adapt to both water surpluses and droughts. Draining heavy rainfalls will be a major concern. To avoid soil erosion, garden slopes will have to be cut with terraces. During summer periods with little rain, downpipes would be useful to channel water to underground tanks.

Beyond gardeners, such changes in British vegetation will also affect farmers whose work is strongly dependent on weather impacts, and who will also have to adapt their activity to new conditions. Currently, 40% of British farmers are affected by climate change and 60% expect to feel its impact within 10 years. As the climate changes, growing seasons will change and crop yields will almost certainly be affected. Farmers must anticipate new trends and adapt their cultivating practices if they want to preserve their edge in the global food market. Improving land management to reduce soil erosion, maintaining groundwater levels during dryer seasons and reducing flood risks are among the measures that should be implemented at the earliest opportunity. Some crops will no longer be suitable to be grown in parts of the UK, and new varieties and species may become viable.

UK gardens, vegetation and agriculture are already affected by climate change. In Europe, the impact of extreme weather events a few months ago cut British vegetables imports from Spain, clearly demonstrating climatic impacts all along the supply chain.


Download the full report here.

Cover photo by Tony Hisgett (CC by 2.0).
Fried eggs: Will Easter chocolates melt away as climate change threatens cocoa production?

Fried eggs: Will Easter chocolates melt away as climate change threatens cocoa production?

By Charlotte Strawson

Each year in Britain the average person eats around 9.5kg of chocolate, and overall spending on Easter eggs tops £80 million. However, the nation’s chocolate addiction could be stymied by climate change, as rising temperatures threaten cocoa cultivation in countries like Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, which currently account for over half of the world’s supply.

Rising temperatures have already been shown to decrease cocoa crop yields, with plants becoming increasingly prone to higher seed mortality and young tree mortality due to the prevalence of pests like cocoa pod borers. Intense rainfall has also led to more landslides and the depletion of top soil which directly affects crop yields. The drying process has also been affected, with higher humidity levels in some areas leading to higher mould growth.

The impacts of climate change will be especially detrimental to small, single crop farmers in the developing world as they rely upon cocoa cultivation as their primary source of income. The cost of pesticides used to keep the cocoa pod borer population to acceptable levels is unaffordable for  many such farmers, especially as cocoa prices have fallen on the world market. The combined affect of these climate impacts could also deal significant damage to the economies of cocoa producing countries. In Ghana, for example, 30% of total export earnings are from cocoa and the industry accounts for 8.2% of the country’s GDP.

Adaptation imperative

In Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire, the optimum temperature for cocoa is found between 100-250m above sea level. However, under climate change this could change to 400-500m. Moving cultivation to higher altitudes is one measure to adapt, however moving cultivation uphill can be problematic. Established cocoa farmers, may not own higher altitude land; the land is frequently more difficult to cultivate due to steeper slopes, and such land use change may also come at the expense of forest and other valuable natural habitats. Other adaptation strategies for small farmers include the introduction of new varieties of seeds, planting more trees to offer shade for the crops, and crop diversification.

Large companies such as Mars are taking climate change risks seriously, and are supporting farmers to adapt to emerging climate risks. Increasing awareness and access to alternative agricultural methods is important, not just for environmental and social concerns, but also as it makes business sense. The cocoa industry is at risk of the impacts of climate change as temperatures rise and the severity of weather events worsen, this may lead to low crop yields and the exposure and emergence of diseases. The global chocolate addiction is unlikely to end any time soon, but we can all expect to pay a little more for our Easter eggs in the decades ahead.

Cover photo by Flashfranky/Pixabay (Public Domain)