Agriculture become normal, reducing people’s ability to meet their own needs and forcing many into poverty,’ they continued. ‘Their animals and ish are dying. People are moving away from their homes to ind work – sometimes never to return.’
One such farmer is 53-year-old Silas Ndayisaba from Rwanda. He has been farming since he was 16 and says that he has seen a lot of change in that time. Notably, the seasons and the weather are becoming increasingly unpredictable. ‘When the weather is good, I have produce to sell,’ he said. ‘But this year, the harvest wasn’t good because of the lash loods.
‘The weather is less predictable and the drought means that we have a lot less food,’ he continued. ‘Things have changed in the past 20 years. Thirty years ago, we had good harvests and could predict the weather patterns. In those days, beans cost 40 Rwandan francs (4p) but now they cost RWF450.
‘Twenty years ago, we could plan,’ he concluded. ‘Today we can’t. Prices have gone up. I buy less and I only eat twice a day.’
And then there’s Martín, who lives on the edge of a river, close to the coast, in Honduras. ‘I’ve seen the climate here change in the last 15 20 years,’ he said. ‘The dry season has got hotter and burns up the crops that I plant. When the rains come, now the loods are heavier than before, more frequent, and the waters rise higher. We have more problems with insects and rats because the weather’s changed and that also aﬀects my crops.’
SPREADING PESTS This anecdotal evidence of an increase in crop pests is beginning to be borne out by research. Currently, some ten to 16 per cent of global crop production is lost to pests and pathogens, and new strains are constantly evolving. But more worryingly, they’re also on the move.
A study published last September in Nature Climate Change revealed a strong relationship between climate change and the expansion of crop pest and pathogen distributions. Carried out by researchers at the universities of Oxford and Exeter, the study showed that since 1960, increasing global temperatures have allowed crop pests and pathogens to spread towards the poles at an average rate of nearly three kilometres per year. ‘If crop pests continue to march polewards as the Earth warms, the combined eﬀects of a growing world population and the increased loss of crops to pests will pose a serious threat to global food security,’ says the study’s lead author, Dr Dan Bebber of the University of Exeter.
Farmers in Europe and the UK are also experiencing the eﬀects of unpredictable and dramatic weather. Last year’s IPCC report showed that in 2003, a 6°C temperature rise in Europe led to a record drop in crop yields of 36 per cent in Italy, where fruit harvests were also down by a quarter.
Even subsequent winter crops were aﬀected, with a 21 per cent drop in yields seen in France.
In Britain in 2010, the dry summer led to a dramatically reduced hay harvest, resulting in a rise in prices of 40 per cent. This, in turn, saw a rise in the number of horses being abandoned and taken into animal refuges.
The loods of 2007 also hit the farming industry, costing farmers some £66million. This was then compounded by the droughts and then loods of 2010 and 2011, according to Ceris Jones, climate change advisor for the National Farmers’ Union. ‘The dry winters we had in 2010 and 2011 left part of the industry close to bankruptcy because even those who were well prepared were running out of water,’ she says. ‘But the grotty summer of 2011 meant that there was a risk of not being able to harvest crops. That has long-term consequences, a knock-on eﬀect for farmers for two or three years.’
The 2010 11 seasons cost the industry some £1.3billion, she says, knocking 14 per cent oﬀ the bottom line of the farming sector. For those farming marginal land, it could spell the diﬀerence between survival or not.
DISEASE THREAT And, Jones says, the arrival in the UK of blue tongue, a disease that was irst found in South Africa, is a ‘clear example of how climate change is having an impact on British farmers’. Historically, the disease made only brief, sporadic incursions into Europe’s fringes, but since 1998, six strains of the virus have spread across at least 12 European countries and at least 800 kilometres further north than had previously been reported.
It’s carried by a midge and its spread was limited by the fact that the insect vector was killed oﬀ during winter. There was speculation that higher temperatures were allowing
BELOW: a veterinarian holds a syringe as he prepares to vaccinate sheep against blue tongue disease on a farm in Pegoes, Portugal. Rising temperatures are allowing the disease to spread across Europe
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