National Aeronautics and Space Administration


Date of this Version



Published in Global Change & Human Health Volume 2, Number 2 (2001)


Current and future energy use from burning of fossil fuels and clearing of forests for cultivation can have profound effects on the global environment, agriculture, and the availability of low-cost, high-quality food for humans. Individual farmers and consumers are expected to be affected by changes in global and regional climate. The agricultural sector in both developing and developed areas needs to understand what is at stake and to prepare for the potential for change wisely.
Despite tremendous improvements in technology and crop yield potential, food production remains highly dependent on climate, because solar radiation, temperature, and precipitation are the main drivers of crop growth. Plant diseases and pest infestations, as well as the supply of and demand for irrigation water are influenced by climate. For example, in recent decades, the persistent drought in the Sahelian region of Africa has caused continuing deterioration of food production; the 1988 Midwest drought led to a 30% reduction in U.S. corn production and cost taxpayers $3 billion in direct relief payments to farmers and, weather anomalies associated with the 1997-98 El Niño affected agriculture adversely in Nordeste, Brazil and Indonesia. Earlier in the century, the 1930s U.S. Southern Great Plains drought caused some 200,000 farm bankruptcies in the Dust Bowl; yields of wheat and corn were reduced by as much as 50%.