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Agriculture and climate

Farmers harvesting potatoes in the Bolivian Andes

Agriculture and climate change are connected in two important ways. Firstly, rural areas are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change: when water becomes more scarce, torrential rainfall becomes more frequent or crops fail to flourish under changed climatic conditions, this has major repercussions on harvests and yields.

Secondly, agriculture contributes to greenhouse gas emissions – for example, when forests are cleared to create additional farmland. Agriculture is in fact by far the largest driver of deforestation. Cattle farming and certain production methods, such as paddy cultivation of rice, release the greenhouse gas methane. Excessive use of mineral fertilisers, heavy tillage and the conversion of grassland into cropland are other practices that are detrimental to the climate. Agriculture is thus influenced by climate change but also a significant contributor to it.

The problems are being exacerbated by the growth in world population: according to a recent United Nations estimate the number of people is expected to increase from 7.3 billion in 2015 to 9.7 billion in 2050. Most of this growth will occur in developing and newly industrialising countries, which at the end of the century will be home to an estimated 87 per cent of the global population.

Even today about 795 million people go hungry. Another two billion people are malnourished. They suffer from ‘hidden hunger’: in other words, their diet contains sufficient calories but insufficient nutrients. To enable the planet to provide adequate food for nearly ten billion people by the middle of the century, global food production will have to be increased by about 60 per cent.

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