Crops, like any plants, adapt to their surroundings and, depending on conditions, can offer more or less yield. In the biggest study of its kind,  the results from 1,700 published simulations that evaluate yield impacts of climate change were compiled and analyzed together. The team of researchers involved in this massive aggregation found that even a 2 degrees Celsius warming of temperature can have dramatic effects on crop yields in some regions of the world, particularly Asia. The results suggest that climate change may have a detrimental effect on crop yields, consequently threatening global food security, much sooner than expected in the mid-century.

Increased carbon dioxide levels may accelerate the growth of some crops. Source: USDA (2009)

Increased carbon dioxide levels may accelerate the growth of some crops. Source: USDA (2009)

The study was led by Andy Challinor, University of Leeds professor , who along colleagues sought to find how crops like rice, maize and wheat fair with climate change, with or without adaption.  The study found that Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia showed significant yield reductions for the second half of the century, while egions of the world with temperate climates, such as Europe and most of North America, could withstand a couple of degrees of warming without a noticeable effect on harvests, or possibly even benefit from a bumper crop.

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The temperature shift will affects crops in varying degrees, function of the type of crop and region where it is harvested. One of the most important findings of this study is that adaptation may not be as effective for rice and maize as it is for wheat.

“Our research shows that crop yields will be negatively affected by climate change much earlier than expected,” said   Challinor . “Furthermore, the impact of climate change on crops will vary both from year to year and from place to place – with the variability becoming greater as the weather becomes increasingly erratic.”

The researchers conclude that from 2030 onwards, the world’s crop yields will be more and more impacted by climate change. As such, new preemptive measures need to be engaged in order to safe guard global food security.

“Climate change means a less predictable harvest, with different countries winning and losing in different years. The overall picture remains negative, and we are now starting to see how research can support adaptation by avoiding the worse impacts,” Challinor said.

Findings appeared in a paper published in Nature Climate Change.