Climate

Drought, Flooding And ‘Multiple, Combined Outbreaks’ Of Pests Threaten To Reduce Asian Agricultural Output 50%

Two of Southeast Asia’s most valuable crops — rice and cassava — are under pressure from multiple, simultaneous threats fueled by climate change.

In the last week, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security issued two pieces of research highlighting the devastating impacts that warming-fueled extreme weather is having on Asia’s agriculture.

The first piece of research looks at the impact of floods and droughts on Southeast Asia’s rice crops. According to researchers, severe flooding and drought throughout the region could reduce agricultural yields by up to 50% in the next three decades.

So-called “weather whiplash” — back-to-back extreme weather events — is already hitting rice crops hard. In 2010, Thailand experienced $450 million in crop damages due to a severe drought. The following year, flooding again decimated rice crops, causing $40 billion in damages throughout the country’s economy.

With Southeast Asia now the “rice bowl” of the world, acceleration of warming-fueled extreme weather would make the local and global economic impact of these disasters enormous:

South and Southeast Asia are home to more than one-third of the world’s population and half of the world’s poor and malnourished. Absent new approaches to food production, climate change in this region is expected to reduce agriculture productivity by as much as 50 percent in the next three decades. And with agriculture serving as the backbone of most economies in the region, such plunging yields would shake countries to the core.

Now, the growing variability between seasons has increased pressures on water supplies, while at the same time rising sea levels are tainting freshwater supplies with high levels of salinity. This troublesome combination is putting Asia’s tremendous rice production at risk. Rice in Asia is grown in vast low-lying deltas and coastal areas such as the Mekong River delta, which produces more than half of Vietnam’s rice; the rise in sea level from climate change will change the hydrology and salinity of these fields. Moreover, some of the major river basins—including the Chao Phraya in Thailand and the Red in Vietnam—are considered “closed” because all of the water flow has been claimed.

Warming temperatures and changing weather patterns are also spawning new outbreaks of pests in the region, threatening the multi-billion dollar cassava industry.

Cassava is a root used for a variety of food products, animal feed and biofuels. Last year, Thailand exported about $1.4 billion worth of cassava — or roughly 60% of the country’s exports. Cassava farmers in the region already deal with multiple types of pests. But Researchers at CGIAR and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture say new types of non-native pests are emerging:

For cassava in Southeast Asia, mealybugs and whiteflies are already endemic in the region. But new threats, such as the tiny green mite (Mononychellus mcgregori), are already emerging, says the research, published recently in the scientific journal Tropical Plant Biology.

“The cassava pest situation in Asia is pretty serious as it is,” said Tony Bellotti, a cassava entomologist at CIAT. “But according to our studies, rising temperatures could make things a whole lot worse.”

“One outbreak of an invasive species is bad enough, but our results show that climate change could trigger multiple, combined outbreaks across Southeast Asia, Southern China and the cassava-growing areas of Southern India,” added Belloti. “It’s a serious threat to the hundreds of thousands of smallholder farmers for whom cassava is a lifeline, and their main source of income.”

The combined impact of extreme weather and pest outbreaks could be catastrophic for the region’s agricultural sector.

With more than half a billion people, Southeast Asia is one of the fastest growing regions in the world. According to the United Nations, the economic impact of a “business-as-usual” increase in emissions could cause a roughly 6.7% decline in the region’s GDP by 2100.

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14 Responses to Drought, Flooding And ‘Multiple, Combined Outbreaks’ Of Pests Threaten To Reduce Asian Agricultural Output 50%

  1. Mike Roddy says:

    This is devastating, all right, and will “shake these countries to the core”, but maybe we need to go ahead with more specific descriptors: Starvation, emigration, and violence.

    It’s alarming language, but accurate, and may be needed to wake up our political leadership.

  2. John Tucker says:

    ‘Multiple, Combined Outbreaks’ – I have not seen a word that describes the kind of event we seem to be seeing – invasive species – climate stress – pathogens – enhanced genetic mixing/recombination, all combining into a kind of destructive tidal wave.

    BTW a chemical herbicide may be involved in a skin disease currently circulating in Vietnam – regardless increased use of herbicides and pesticides does seem to be polluting water resources throughout the region.

  3. John Tucker says:

    Add contemporary horticulture to agriculture practice as a masking entity and I think that gets even closer to truth.

  4. Tom King says:

    It won’t just shake those countries. The food deficit must filled from elsewhere. That means increased world grain prices and an even bigger jump in meat prices. Welcome to a new world of reluctant vegetarians.

  5. Raul M. says:

    By 2050 they might want to do night cropping instead.
    Cause without eye protection by the time they learned farming they could suffer irreparable harm to their eyes from UV rays. Should start training children to wear contact lenses that block UV rays well before they start learning the farming trade.

  6. Raymond Welch says:

    Way before we have to worry about sea level rise, the atmosphere is going to experience total systemic failure from the point of view of agriculture. The added energy in the atmosphere alluded to in this article is scary enough, but the trigger for system failure may be the disappearance of the Arctic ice cap. That will send the jet stream and the seasonal highs and lows that drive predictable rainfall into fibrillation.

  7. Lou Grinzo says:

    “Starvation, emigration, and violence.”

    Precisely. This is the kind of accurate and blunt dot connecting that I’ve been arguing we need more of for a long time. The problem is that many people on “our side” are terrified of being called “alarmist” or “hysterical” or scaring away newcomers, so we shrink from the moment and resort to euphemism.

    All it takes is a very simple reading of our situation — how many people live in various places, where their food and water comes from, etc. — and the indisputable facts about already seen impacts, and some harrowing conclusions are inescapable. But even the people who know what’s going on far too often “soften” the message and wind up becoming the best allies the fossil fuel companies and the deniers could have hoped for.

  8. Mark E says:

    John, for technical terms, “ecological reorganization” comes to mind. But it sounds sort of sterile, like its out in the nature preserve someplace. Doesn’t evoke the human suffering that will reach into our homes and uproot many of us. How about “slow-mo apocalypse”, where ‘slow’ refers to a decadal time scale.

  9. Joan Savage says:

    Add epidemic to the list of confounding interactions, as it emerges in countries disorganized by other catastrophes, e.g. cholera in Haiti.

  10. John Tucker says:

    Oooo thanks I like that too. I don’t think the outcome is going to be so nice for native species though.

    I think you will get a replacement ecosystem unlike a “collapse” but an unstable one.

  11. John Tucker says:

    Although this focuses more on the loss of apex consumers I think it touches on a few important points:

    Trophic Downgrading of Planet Earth ( http://people.biology.ufl.edu/rdholt/holtpublications/255.pdf )

  12. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    More likely, I would surmise, is the effects of the massive ecocidal chemical weapons war that the US waged against the very biospheres of Indochina. We know that has had hideous effects through three generations already, and then there will be the epigenetic effects. A monstrous war crime, for which, naturally, no-one has faced justice.

  13. jean says:

    The 6.7% decrease in GDP in the region sounds too low by 2100 does not sound right???