Scientific researchers at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences conducted a study to determine the potential effects of the shifts in future climate conditions on global crop production. The researchers gave particular attention to rice production, since rice, being the world’s largest staple crop is consumed by more than half of the global population.
Scientists are hopeful that the results of their studies and experiments will help producers seek for possible solutions to problems that can critically affect future rice production.
The experiments conducted by the university scientists showed that under stressful climate conditions, global rice production is likely to drop at around 40 percent by the year 2100 — such an effect has potentially devastating impact in parts of the world that are heavily dependent on rice as a basic source of food.
Increased Arsenic Uptake – The Main Takeaway of the Researchers’ Studies
Simulations of various future climate conditions show that endemic soil arsenic will be the major cause of the critical loss in rice production. The results of their experiments led them to the conclusion that because of the changes to soil processes, and increased temperatures, future rice yields will contain twice the amount of toxic arsenic currently found in today’s rice.
Under normal conditions, arsenic naturally occurs as a semi-metallic chemical in typical soils and sediments, and is not usually taken up by plants. However, future and frequent flooding will loosen greater amounts of arsenic from the soil. When combined with higher temperatures, the condition will result to higher levels of arsenic that would subsequently be absorbed by arsenic-susceptible plants like rice crops.
The problem will be exacerbated by the fact that rice fields use irrigation water, in which high levels of arsenic naturally occurs. Although such factors is not likely to create similar adverse impact in all global crops, it is possible to happen in other flood-grown produce like taro and lotus.
Research Co-Author’s Views and Insights about Increased Arsenic Uptake in Rice Crops
The foreseen critical effects of shifts in climate to rice-growing regions across the globe, will therefore significantly jeopardize food supply in the coming decades.
Scott Fendorf, the Terry Huffington Professor at Stanford University’s School of Earth, Energy & Environmental Sciences emphasized that awareness of potential challenges that can impact food production, will enable us to adapt. Come 2100, they foresee that such challenges will affect 5 billion of approximately 10 billion inhabitants, who would remain dependent on rice, plus two (2) billion who will not be able to get the calories they normally need.
Professor Fendorf who is also a senior fellow at the Stanford Woods Institute for the Environment and a member of the Maternal & Child Health Research Institute (MCHRI) explained that soil biogeochemistry reacts to increased temperature by likely amplifying arsenic. Combined with temperature stress, increased arsenic would have a great impact on plants.
He added that
“We do not usually think the soil is alive, but it is full of bacteria and a host of various microorganisms,” ..”Those very organisms determine whether the arsenic comes off the minerals and become part of the soil, or stays partitioned onto the minerals, away from the plants.”
Professor Fendorf said that they did not expect to observe such magnitude in the effects of future climate changes, and how it will impact rice yields, as demonstrated by their experiments.