By Lin Taylor
LONDON, June 11 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — Keeping healthy could become more costly as climate change and water scarcity cause a huge drop in the global production of vegetables and legumes, scientists said on Monday.
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The amount of vegetables produced could fall by more than a third, especially in hot regions like southern Europe and swaths of Africa and South Asia, said researchers from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
By analysing studies across 40 countries, with some dating as far back as 1975, they found that hikes in greenhouses gases, water scarcity, and global temperatures lowered the amount of vegetables and legumes produced.
Such drastic changes could drive up the prices of vegetables, which would affect poorer communities the most, according to the study, which was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
"If we take a 'business as usual' approach, environmental changes will substantially reduce the global availability of these important foods," said Alan Dangour, a co-author of the paper, which is the first of its kind, in a statement.
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Scientists have warned that world temperatures are likely to rise by 2 degrees to 4.9 degrees Celsius this century compared with pre-industrial times.
This could lead to dangerous weather patterns — including more frequent and powerful droughts, floods, and storms — increasing the pressure on agriculture.
Food production itself is a major contributor to climate change.
Agriculture, forestry, and changes in land use together produce nearly a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions, making them the second-largest emitter after the energy sector, said the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation.
The volume of food transported around the world also is exacerbating global warming.
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The global demand for food is expected to soar as the world's population is projected to grow to 9.8 billion people by 2050, up from 7.6 billion today, according to the UN.
Crops now take up 11% of the world's land surface, and livestock grazing covers 26% of ice-free land, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Farming accounts for about 70% of all water used globally, said the OECD.
Water scarcity already affects more than 40% of the world's population, according to the UN.
That number is expected to rise due to global warming, with 1 in 4 people projected to face chronic or recurring shortages by 2050, the UN said.
"Urgent action needs to be taken, including working to support the agriculture sector to increase its resilience to environmental changes," said Dangour. "And this must be a priority for governments across the world."
(Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by Jared Ferrie. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit http://news.trust.org to see more stories)