Over the last few months, heat waves and wildfires have plagued countries across the globe. Extreme weather events and droughts linked to climate change have damaged harvests and arable land. However, climate change’s negative impact on agriculture also takes place on a less visible scale: scientists have discovered that the rising carbon dioxide levels in the air have made plants grow faster, but have also made them less nutritious.
What does this mean?
The increase of carbon dioxide levels means that for some time already, many of the crops that are key to our global diet have been becoming less nutritious, containing fewer minerals, vitamins or proteins, and more sugar. This impact, that some call the nutrient collapse, is still widely going unnoticed and poses a big challenge for the future. It endangers the health of the world’s poorest, as the scientists concluded. By 2050, millions of people in India, Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia could risk deficiencies linked to climate change in their diet. Results of this decrease of micronutrients in food are widespread public health problems; iron deficiency, for example, leads to anemia.
Increasing yield has been the paradigm since the Green Revolution. A study found that choosing and breeding crops with higher yield rather than crops with higher levels of nutrients has led to a decline in a range of nutrients in crops such as fruits and vegetables. As we are becoming more aware of the effects of climate change on our food and of the fact that increasing yield is not the same as producing nutritious foods, new approaches to food production could gain traction by focusing on producing nutrients instead of volume. For example, by increasing the nutritious value of crops in precision farming settings or by reintroducing nutritious local crops to the food chain instead of relying on a few types of crops that dominate the modern global diet.