Bananas, cassava cited as major crops due to climate change

Two popular foods grown and consumed in the Caribbean, bananas and cassava, have been cited to fill the gap left as a result of the diminishing sources of calories caused by climate change.

A new report Recalibrating Food Production in the Developing World: Global Warming will change more than just the climate by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) says with the dominant status of the world’s three major food crops, wheat, rice and maize, potentially imperiled by climate change, agricultural experts see an urgent need to identify new sources of calories for the human diet.

“One of the crops that can be used to fill this calorie gap is cassava, which is both a cash crop and a food staple in Africa and Asia. More importantly, cassava tolerates numerous stresses, ranging from infertile soils to heat and drought. Certainly, cassava could help to meet food needs in South Asia, where higher temperatures and prolonged dry periods will reduce the viability of wheat and rice.”

It adds that “as climate change continues to take hold, the effects on food production will require reexamining what’s in the cooking pot, especially in regions where people already do not get
enough to eat.”

The report states that bananas could become the new potatoes as rising temperatures in some places could boost the productivity of bananas. However, it adds that climate change could be bad news for potatoes in many areas, because they prosper in cooler climates.

“Warmer winters, especially, may provide an opening for bananas in places that currently grow potatoes,” the report says. “Warmer weather can also reduce the time between planting and harvest for bananas, further increasing production.”

Plantains and cooking bananas provide some 70 million Africans with more than a quarter of their calorie requirements, the report notes.

Even though the report did not highlight much on the Caribbean, many people in the region already plant and consume cassava and bananas as their staples.

“Climate change may affect banana cultivation in certain areas, but its range is expected to adjust, not shrink. In the near future, it may be possible to cultivate bananas at higher altitudes with a
shorter time between planting and harvesting (although bunch size may decrease). The effect of climate change on banana pests and diseases is less certain. Though biotic stresses will probably also expand in range, it is not clear whether the pests and diseases will thrive at higher altitude,” it states.

Already, almost one billion people around the world—one in seven—do not eat enough food to meet their energy requirements. “…, this problem will rapidly intensify as an additional two billion people populate the planet during the next 40 years. The dramatic increases
in food production that are needed must also account for the impact of climate change on farming regions and crop varieties,” the CGIAR report states.

The report further states “The important point is: agriculture has to adapt beyond maintaining the viability of wheat, maize and rice in the face of climate change and finding replacement crops. And given the thicket of technical, environmental, cultural and political issues involved in shifting dietary staples, this adaptation work needs to rapidly accelerate to keep pace with climate change.