Land’s Bounty

Authored by: Vikram M. Mehta

Natural Decadal Climate Variability

Print publication date:  April  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781466554528
eBook ISBN: 9781315374482
Adobe ISBN:


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In February 2004 CE, China’s government announced a 25% increase in its agriculture budget to subsidize wheat and rice prices and improve irrigation infrastructure. For the largest producer of wheat and rice in the world, this unprecedented measure was made necessary because of a massive decline in the country’s grain production-mainly, wheat, rice, and corn-since 1998–1999 CE, requiring wheat and rice imports and subsidies on such a large scale to ensure food security to its citizens. World prices of these two staple foods climbed sharply, because the Chinese imports were almost as large as the entire world’s exports of these two staple foods. Loss of irrigation water and expansion of deserts were cited as two of the major causes of these massive declines in grain production, along with other causes such as changes in land use and shifting to higher-value crops (Brown 2004). In the Missouri River Basin—the largest river basin in the United States and a major “bread basket” of the world—in the late 1980s CE, Basin-aggregated corn yields decreased by 30% in some years. Crop production declined to the extent of causing a financial crisis that lead to an increase in farm consolidations. Wheat production in the United States declined by 20 million tonnes compared with peak production in the early 1980s CE, as did several other major crops such as barley and corn (Mehta et al. 2013). Severe droughts, and consequent food and fodder shortages, in Ethiopia and some of the neighboring countries in 2011–2012 CE affected over 10 million people and killed 50,000–260,000 people, as mentioned in Chapter 4. There are numerous such instances of multiyear to decadal droughts causing major adverse impacts on agricultural production and socioeconomic–political stability, not only in these three regions of the world but also in many other regions. In the previous three chapters, we saw impacts of decadal climate variability (DCV) phenomena on decadal hydrologic cycles and water supply. Now, in this chapter, we will extend these impacts to agriculture.

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