SOURCE: Reuters

DATE: March 20, 2020

SNIP: Catastrophic crop failures caused by extreme weather in just one country could disrupt global food supplies and drive price spikes in an interconnected world, exposing how climate change threatens global stability, researchers said on Friday.

They examined how the global trade and supplies of wheat, a crop used for food staples like bread and pasta, would be affected by four years of severe drought in the United States, one of the world’s top exporters of the grain.

Based on two models of how countries could try to meet their needs, an international research team found the United States would deplete nearly all its wheat reserves after four years in both scenarios, while global stocks could drop by 31%.

The 174 countries to which America exports wheat would see their reserves decrease, even though they did not themselves suffer failed harvests, according to a study published in the journal Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems.

“It affects almost every country in the world because the U.S. has so many trade links,” said lead author Alison Heslin, a researcher at Columbia University’s Center for Climate Systems Research and NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies.

Those links mean there is a cascading effect, either directly from the United States or via one of its trading partners, which could reduce the amount of wheat available and increase prices, she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

As reserves are depleted, changes in production would have a bigger impact on the price of food, Heslin added.

Reduced global reserves would also mean a smaller buffer against future shocks such as a drought in other wheat-producing nations like Russia or France, she said.

Scientists have warned hotter temperatures and more erratic rainfall could increase the frequency and intensity of droughts, with multi-year droughts already wreaking havoc in many nations.