Food security at risk as climate change drives spread of crop pests

• September 9, 2013
crop pests

The Colorado Potato Beetle was one of the pests examined by researchers. Creative Commons: Dwight Sipler, 2011

Global food security could face further threats from climate change, as rising temperatures help pest and diseases that attack crops spread around the world, according to a new research.

The study, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that pests were heading towards the north and south poles, moving at an average of 2 miles (3 km) a year, and establishing in areas that had once been too cold for them to live in.

The researchers examined 612 crop pests from around the world collected over the last 50 years, including fungi, such as wheat rust that is devastating harvest in Africa, the Middle East and Asia.

Other samples included insects like the Colorado potato beetle, as well as bacteria and viruses. They found that each organism’s distribution was different, but that the general shift was from the equator to the poles.

It is currently estimated that between 10% and 16% of the world’s crops are lost to disease outbreaks.

While the global trade of crops is mainly responsible for the movement of these pests from country to country, the researchers warn that rising global temperatures will make the problem worse.

Dr Dan Bebber, lead author of the study from the University of Exeter told the BBC:

Global food security is one of the major challenges we are going to face over the next few decades. We really don’t want to be losing any more of our crops than is absolutely necessary to pests and pathogens.

Food security is already a major challenge in many countries, particularly those most vulnerable to changes in the global climate.

In Zimbabwe, the UN World Food Programme, has warned that 2.2 million people could be suffering from hunger as the country experiences its worst food shortages in four years.

This follows a major drought and poor harvest experienced in the country.

In a statement the organisation warned:

 Hunger is on the rise in Zimbabwe, with an estimated 2.2 million people – one in four of the rural population – expected to need food assistance during the pre-harvest period early next year.

This is the highest number of Zimbabweans requiring food assistance since early 2009 when more than half of the population relied on aid.


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TckTckTck is the online hub for the Global Call for Climate Action. The GCCA represents an unprecedented alliance of more than 400 nonprofit organizations from around the world. Our shared mission is to mobilize civil society and galvanize public support to ensure a safe climate future for people and nature, to promote the low-carbon transition of our economies, and to accelerate the adaptation efforts in communities already affected by climate change.

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