Pests on the march as climate change fans spread crop destroyers
By Nita Bhalla
NAIROBI (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Ravenous pests are on their way to colder regions as climate change draws crop eaters to new territories, threatening jobs and exacerbating hunger around the world, the United Nations said on Wednesday .
From fall armyworms to desert locusts, the pests mainly threaten crops in hot countries, but rising global temperatures are now accelerating their expansion, the UN said, with all the risks this poses to farmers and their families. .
âThe impact of climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the plant health community,â said Qu Dongyu, director-general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, after issuing an study of 15 invasive pests and diseases.
With up to 40 percent of global agricultural production already lost to pests, according to FAO estimates, any migration to new land could see the scale of this destruction increase.
“Some pests, such as the fall armyworm (which feeds on a growing number of crops, including corn, sorghum, millet) and Tephritid fruit flies (which damage fruits and other crops), have already spread due to global warming, “the FAO statement said.
âOthers, like the desert locust (the world’s most destructive migratory pest), are expected to change their migration routes and geographic distribution due to climate change.
There was an increased risk of the pests spreading in agricultural and forest ecosystems, especially in the cooler arctic, boreal, temperate and subtropical regions, he said.
A single unusually warm winter, for example, may be enough to promote the establishment of invasive pests, he added.
Each year, plant diseases – ranging from coffee leaf rust to banana fusarium wilt – cost the global economy more than $ 220 billion, and invasive insects such as locusts and red weevils of the palm tree at least 70 billion dollars.
The UN FAO says global yield losses of major staple crops such as wheat, rice and maize are expected to increase by 10 to 25 percent per degree of warming of the global average surface.
Not only will this have major economic consequences for developing countries, where crops such as tea, coffee and fruits are the main sources of exports, but it will also affect small farmers who will not be able to produce. enough to eat or sell.
Over the past year, massive swarms of Desert Locusts – some the size of towns – swept across Somalia, Ethiopia and Kenya, feasting on hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops and pastures.
Climatologists say erratic weather patterns linked to global warming have created ideal conditions for insects to perform an increase in numbers not seen in a quarter of a century.
Warmer seas have brought more cyclones to the Indian Ocean, causing heavy rainfall along the Arabian Peninsula and the Horn of Africa – the perfect environment for breeding, they said.
Governments, backed by UN agencies and international charities, have been forced to respond with large-scale aerial and ground spraying of pesticides to destroy the swarms.
âThe main findings of this review should alert us all to how climate change may affect how infectious, distributed and severe pests may become around the world,â FAO’s Dongyu said.
(Reporting by Nita Bhalla @nitabhalla, edited by Lyndsay Griffiths. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, which covers the lives of people around the world who are struggling to live freely or fairly. Visit http: // news .trust.org)