by Jordan Aronowitz
The movie Interstellar introduces the idea of food scarcity due to climate change as a valid fear. A modern dust bowl prevents farmers from cultivating essential, staple crops. Famine has become more common around the world in recent years, but areas with advanced infrastructure are more adept at handling tough conditions. In Sub-Saharan Africa, one of the least developed areas of the world, changes in aggregate production will put residents in danger. A recent paper by Wolfram Schlenker (2010) looked to see if the current state of African agriculture is as deprived as predicted. The researchers discovered that the environment in Sub-Saharan Africa is becoming worse every year. Without the proper care, it will become harder to produce copious crops, if any.
Maize, sorghum, millet, groundnuts, and cassava were the five crops analyzed since they are important sources of calories, protein, and fat compared to other crops in Sub-Saharan Africa. In addition, these crops are rarely irrigated, making them quintessential indicators for how the climate affects crop production. The researchers collected the data by comparing country-level yields to four different temperature and precipitation statistics over the course of four decades, and used these data to predict crop yields in 2065. All crops will experience severe decreases in yields, with the largest decrease seen in maize. When investigating Sub-Saharan countries individually, of course they will all see decreases in production, but the most severe damages will be seen in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
With a top ten lowest life expectancy, Zimbabwe can’t afford decreases in domestic crop yields, and it is hard to negotiate trade between Sub-Saharan countries due to the constant conflicts found in this region. In order for these countries to prosper one of two things must happen: either the world must work to maintain the fragile environment here to ensure that crop production will be able to support human life, or the countries must band together to maximize distribution of the few resources available. The future is grim, but avoiding a complete shutdown of agriculture, leading to the catastrophic events in Interstellar, is possible with proper support.
Schlenker, W., & Lobell, D. B. (2010). Robust negative impacts of climate change on African agriculture. Environmental Research Letters, 5, 1-8.