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Climate Change Is Altering the Nutrient Profiles of the World’s Crops

May. 28, 2021
Ephantus Mukundi

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A new report from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says some of the causes of cli­mate change may also be alter­ing the nutri­tional com­po­si­tion of food.

Climate affects a range of bio­log­i­cal processes, includ­ing the meta­bolic rate in plants and ectother­mic ani­mals,” the IPCC report said.

Changing these processes can change growth rates, and there­fore yields, but can also cause organ­isms to change rel­a­tive invest­ments in growth ver­sus repro­duc­tion, and there­fore change the nutri­ents assim­i­lated,” the report added. This may decrease pro­tein and min­eral nutri­ent con­cen­tra­tions, as well as alter lipid com­po­si­tion.”

See Also:Applying Crushed Rock to Croplands Reduces Atmospheric CO2, Study Finds

The grad­u­ally increas­ing annual aver­age tem­per­a­tures is one of the ways in which Earth’s cli­mate is chang­ing that has sci­en­tists the most wor­ried.

While the warm­ing of the Earth’s ambi­ent tem­per­a­ture may ben­e­fit some agri­cul­tural sec­tors and enable farm­ers to grow new crops that only do well in warm regions, it also car­ries the poten­tial of inter­fer­ing with the growth and devel­op­ment of other crops.

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When tem­per­a­tures rise above spe­cific ranges opti­mal for growth and repro­duc­tion, heat stress is likely to dis­rupt a plant’s flow­er­ing, pol­li­na­tion and devel­op­ment process. This not only neg­a­tively affects crop pro­duc­tion but also its nutri­tional value.

Drastic tem­per­a­ture changes make live­stock vul­ner­a­ble to dis­eases and par­a­sites too. This is because par­a­sites and dis­eases that usu­ally tar­get live­stock pre­fer warm and moist con­di­tions, which enable them to mul­ti­ply.

As a result, farm­ers are increas­ingly likely to spend more time and money treat­ing their ani­mals using vet­eri­nary drugs and reme­dies to ward off these threats. Some of these chem­i­cals are likely to enter the food chain affect­ing the nutri­tional value of ani­mal prod­ucts.

Human activ­i­ties, such as burn­ing fos­sil fuels, increase the level of car­bon diox­ide (CO2), nitro­gen oxide, methane, and other green­house gases in the atmos­phere.

See Also:Climate Change News

Studies show that since the advent of the Industrial Revolution, the con­cen­tra­tion of CO2 has increased by 40 per­cent glob­ally.

CO2 reg­u­lates humid­ity, which deter­mines the size of the green­house effect. High con­cen­tra­tions of CO2 in the atmos­phere results in high tem­per­a­tures around the world.

While high con­cen­tra­tions of CO2 usu­ally stim­u­late plant growth and enhance the level of car­bo­hy­drates in the plant, all these come at a cost as the plant pro­duces fewer vit­a­mins, pro­teins and min­er­als.

Studies have found that plant pro­teins decrease sig­nif­i­cantly when CO2 lev­els sur­pass 540 to 960 parts per mil­lion.

At the moment, CO2 lev­els are at 409 parts per mil­lion and are pro­jected to hit the dan­ger zone by 2100.

When foods such as wheat, soy­bean, rice or pota­toes are grown in such con­di­tions, they tend to have a six to 15-per­cent lower con­cen­tra­tion of pro­tein than the same plants grown under lower con­cen­tra­tions of CO2.

Additionally, the lev­els of crit­i­cal ele­ments such as zinc, cop­per, nitro­gen, mag­ne­sium, cal­cium, and mag­ne­sium are expected to decrease as CO2 lev­els rise.

According to a study pub­lished in the Environmental Health Perspectives jour­nal in 2017, if CO2 con­cen­tra­tion reaches 500 parts per mil­lion, more than 18 coun­tries will lose six to 14-per­cent of their dietary pro­tein by 2050.

This hap­pens when crops such as wheat, rice, pota­toes, and bar­ley can­not absorb nitrate and change it into organic com­pounds, includ­ing pro­tein.

Currently, 76 per­cent of the world’s pop­u­la­tion relies on plant-based pro­tein. Top of the list is sig­nif­i­cant food crops such as soya beans, rice, maize, wheat, mil­let and pota­toes.

This means that if their source of pro­tein and crit­i­cal nutri­ents are affected, bil­lions of peo­ple will, in turn, be affected and mil­lions of women and chil­dren will likely face mal­nour­ish­ment.



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