Flood and drought and food security

Floods and durre and food security

Core of a coarse hailstone with clearly visible accumulation layers. Image: ERZ/CC BY-SA 3.0

While in Germany the fields are flooded by water and crops are rendered unfit for harvest, in other countries drought and hunger are rampant. At the same time, tons of food are lost through food waste

The flood disaster in Rhineland-Palatinate has not only claimed numerous lives and swept away houses. It also caused considerable damage to agriculture. In addition to North Rhine-Westphalia, heavy rain and thunderstorms also flooded pastures, meadows and fields in Bavaria, Hesse and Saxony. In many places, fields, meadows, vegetable gardens and orchards were flooded.

Stables filled with water. Grain that was to be harvested at this time of year was rolled over by the floods. Other fields were soaked with water that they could no longer be driven over with the heavy combine harvesters. The damage could amount to billions of dollars.

Meanwhile, politicians are promising emergency aid totaling 400 million euros for reconstruction efforts. And Agriculture Minister Julia Klockner wants to address farmers’ concerns.

With climate change, the risk of hail increases and with it the destruction of crops. According to the German Weather Service, hail damage has increased significantly over the last 20 years. The maximum hail damage worldwide was more than five billion euros in 2013. According to DWD climate models, storms and hail events are expected to increase by around 25 percent by 2040 compared with the average over the last 25 years, and then by as much as around 60 percent by 2100.

As early as June, storms damaged harvests in many areas. Thus, from 18. to 25. June more than 66.000 hectares of agricultural crops were reported to Vereinigte Hagelversicherung as damaged. For the end of June, insurance companies reported damage of 20 to 23 million euros. The Lower Bavarian municipality of Bad Birnbach had to clear the hailstones from the road with heavy equipment.

In Austria, too, hailstones of the size of a hen’s egg destroyed arable, fruit and vegetable crops and grassland on an area of 40 hectares.000 hectares. The insurance company Schweizer Hagel, which covers around 30.The Iraqi government, which oversees more than 000 farms, reported losses of 18 million Swiss francs in mid-June. 16.5 million euros). In addition, there was flooding in the cantons of Bern and Zug.

Average harvests expected

At the beginning of July 2021, at the start of the harvest in Nauen, Brandenburg, Joachim Rukwied spoke of an expected harvest of 45.4 million tons – around five percent more than the previous year – albeit with regional differences. However, the harvest of winter barley, which had already begun in the early threshing areas at the end of June, had to be interrupted again due to the onset of rain. Also, the heat on the fields in some northern German region already caused significant damage at the beginning of the summer.

Despite all the storm disasters, the president of the German Farmers’ Association (DBV) hopes for a quantitatively better harvest after the difficult durre years since 2018. For example, the DBV expects yields of between 60 dt (decitonne) per hectare and 80 dt per hectare for winter barley, which was already harvested in Saxony-Anhalt at the end of June. In winter canola, farmers expect an average of 37 dt per hectare and in winter wheat 72 dt per hectare.

While there has been little change in the extent of cereal cultivation, there has been a significant shift in the proportion of crops grown. Compared to previous years, the area planted with spring wheat was reduced by 36 percent and that planted with spring barley by 17 percent. The cultivation of oats, on the other hand, has increased by almost 17 percent. According to Rukwied, this is due to increased sales of oat drinks and other oat products.

Reliable forecasts have become increasingly difficult due to advancing climate change, laments Friedrich Ostendorff. Farmers struggle against increasingly extreme conditions. In view of the weather caprices, the Grunen agricultural spokesman calls for adapted cultivation systems with diverse crop rotations and resistant crops.

Plant breeders should focus their breeding objectives more on drought and stress tolerance. There are already calls for sustainable farming methods. Those who, for example, reforest peatlands and obtain grassland should receive more agricultural aid.

Otherwise, it will become increasingly difficult to maintain a certain yield stability.

Madagascar in a famine catastrophe

While food security is largely guaranteed in Central Europe despite flooding, people in other parts of the world are suffering from hunger – as is currently the case in Madagascar.

The former French colony is about as rough as Germany and Poland together. Rich in mineral resources, the country has been considered a paradise of biodiversity. In addition to vanilla, other spice plants are also cultivated, mainly for export.

For about two years, the 28 million inhabitants of the tropical island nation have been suffering from persistent drought and sandstorms. Cyclones regularly hit the country, claiming lives and causing immense damage. With the El Nino weather phenomenon, droughts are becoming more frequent.

As a result, the fields can no longer be tilled. More than three quarters of the population live in extreme poverty. Almost half of all children under the age of five are malnourished. According to the World Food Programme, at the end of June 2021, there were about 400.000 people at risk of starvation. After years of prolonged political crisis, the economy is in the doldrums. In addition, only about ten percent of the 53 million hectares of forest that once existed are still standing

Yemen: Hunger one of many problems

Another hunger crisis in Yemen, which has been going on for a long time and has increasingly slipped into the media background, is primarily due to political conflicts: Six years of war have plunged entire regions into misery. There is a shortage of medical personnel in the rural areas.

Health facilities had to remain closed unless they were bombed during ongoing fighting between Huthi rebels on one side and Yemeni government troops and Saudi fighter jets on the other side. Against this backdrop, diseases long thought to have been vanquished broke out again: Cholera, diphtheria, measles, plus the Corona virus.

To alleviate the most severe hardship, a donor conference earlier this year pledged a total of $1.7 billion to a community of nations; Germany plans to donate 200 million euros. A considerable sum of money, which, however, falls well short of the UN’s demands of around 3.85 billion.

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