How Climate Change is Affecting Agriculture and Food Supply

November 27, 2023 | Agribusiness

Around the world, climate change has led to changing weather patterns, altered growing seasons, the spread of pests and diseases, and water scarcity that affects agriculture and food supply.

As a desert region with limited freshwater sources, water scarcity presents a major threat in the UAE and the broader Middle East. The region’s extremely high temperatures worsen the risks of climate change during the summer months.

Understanding these situations and implementing strategies is essential to managing the agricultural and food supply challenges. As regional expert farm consultants and agricultural advisors, we have strategy and consultancy experience.

Top climate impacts on agriculture and food supply

Agriculture and food supply are sensitive to climate change, and the following changes are already evident around the world.

Changes in agricultural productivity

Shifts in temperature and rainfall, as well as changes in extreme weather events, impact the growing season for agricultural lands, either positively or negatively. Adapting to these yields is essential, with a need to better understand the threat of wildfires in farmlands and crop pollination. In heat-intensive regions, agricultural productivity is expected to lower yield and quality due to drought, heat waves, and flooding.

In turn, agricultural productivity threatens food security, especially in water-constrained areas, such as the broader Middle East. Climate change in the Middle East will heighten pre-existing vulnerabilities, especially in areas experiencing conflict, displacement, marginalization, and corruption.

Impacts on soil and water resources

Climate change impacts water sources in various ways, from increasing the frequency of heavy precipitation, which erodes soil and depletes soil nutrients, to droughts, which deplete moisture, reduce nutrients, and lead to cracking. Although scarce, groundwater remains a major source of freshwater in the UAE for domestic and agricultural demands.

These limited sources are under further threat due to climate change. For example, across the Middle East and North Africa, 83 percent of the population is exposed to extremely high water stress.

In the MENA region, rising sea levels are another side effect of climate change, especially in Egypt and Iraq, which have deltaic areas. Rising sea levels intrude into coastal aquifers and wells, salinizing the water and causing damage to agricultural communities. In some cases, salinization can render the soil unsuitable for crops.

Health challenges to agricultural workers and livestock

While global warming temperatures are expected to cap at 2℃, it’s projected that the MENA region will experience extreme heat beyond this estimation due to the desert warming amplification phenomenon. In heat-intensive regions, extreme weather exposes agricultural workers and livestock to heat and dehydration, with an estimated 7 percent drop in labor productivity in the Middle East.

Livestock are also at risk of exposure to pest presence, including disease-carrying pests such as mosquitos and ticks. In addition, reduced food intake is a growing concern, leading to declining growth rates and production.

Impacts on crops

Higher CO2 levels affect crop yields and nutrition, extreme temperatures and precipitation prevent crops from growing, drought becomes challenging, and weeds and pests thrive under warmer temperatures.

Crop yields will be affected differently depending on the specific area and could even be boosted in certain areas. For example, wheat yields could rise by 7.97 percent in the Middle East.

Impacts on livestock

While the MENA region mainly farms sheep and goats, over half of the beef consumed in Saudi Arabia, UAE, Israel, Jordan, and Egypt is imported from other countries. With this in mind, the impact of climate change on livestock extends beyond domestic farming to include export and import practices.

Water shortage in the Middle East drives demand for live animal imports as the increasingly dry region relies on imports to feed the rapidly growing population. Climate changes impact livestock in various ways, from heat waves increasing vulnerability to disease, reduced fertility, and lowered production to drought affecting the availability of feeding pastures.

Impacts on fisheries

Globally, fisheries have been affected in various ways by climate change. For example, rising ocean temperatures are disrupting marine aquatic ecosystems, the water flow and temperature of freshwater ecosystems are impacted, and ocean acidification and deoxygenation are legitimate concerns.

Not only do these disruptive factors influence the timing of reproduction and migration, but they also play an important role in food security in coastal regions. Some countries proactively attempt to manage the pressure on fisheries by investing in aquaculture, such as the MENA region, where aquaculture is growing at 7 percent annually, expecting to witness a production volume of 2.9 million tons by 2030.

International impact

While each region is affected by climate change uniquely, food security should be prioritized at a global, regional, and local level. With the globalized nature of the world’s economy, the import-export dynamic of crops, livestock, and fisheries demands that countries look beyond their own jurisdiction.

In broad strokes, climate change introduces stressors of extreme heat, water scarcity, floods, and increased health risks from pests and diseases. Each of these challenges impacts agriculture, food distribution, transport, and the safety of products.

Agriculture and the economy

As climate change can make conditions better or worse for growing crops in various regions, the entire agricultural production process should be considered, as well as how it impacts the economy.

For example, agriculture contributes only a small portion of the GDP in MENA countries. Yet, it is a strategic focus for sustainable development as agriculture is key to achieving food and water security. 

Environmental justice and equity

Another key consideration when tackling agriculture and food security in the face of climate change is the fair treatment of all people, regardless of their race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or other characteristics, when developing, implementing, and enforcing environmental policies and practices related to climate change.

Climate change has a disproportionate impact on vulnerable communities, and these should be considered to manage the impact of climate change best.

What we can do

Over and above policy and legal protections, businesses and organizations involved in agriculture can reduce the impact of climate change in several ways.

For example, incorporating climate-smart farming methods helps farmers manage climate-related production threats. For example, UAE’s Aranya Farms transitioned their vertical farms to organic production, enabling them to grow a wider range of crops while also exploring technology in water management to improve water absorption.

Reducing runoff is another strategic approach to improving food security, as well as reducing pesticide use and making an effort to improve pollination.

In regions where food security is a serious threat, preventing food wastage is another essential step. The UAE has announced a guide for food waste reduction, helping business sectors and individuals meet the 2030 goal to reduce food loss and waste by 50 percent. Other groups are also working on the task, with startups such as TeKeya emerging to tackle food waste in the MENA region.

A strategic approach to climate change and food security

Strategic guidance from consultants plays a pivotal role in effectively managing agriculture and food security amidst the challenges of climate change. Consultants with expertise in agriculture, such as Ollen Group, can provide valuable insights and recommendations to governments, organizations, and farmers.

With experience in the UAE and broader MENA region, our team of experts has experience in delivering high-impact global consultancy services.

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