Research Reveals that Climate Change will Reduce the Nutritional Quality of Diets from our Staple Crops

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Drought-tolerant beans at a climate-smart village site in Wote, Makueni Kenya. Photo: C. Schubert, The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.
Drought-tolerant beans at a climate-smart village site in Wote, Makueni Kenya. Photo: C. Schubert, The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Research conducted by scientists at NUI Galway in collaboration with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has revealed that climate change will reduce the nutritional quality of one of the world’s major staple crops, the common bean.

The research, published today in the international journal Nature Scientific Reports, indicates that both the nutritional quality and the yields of the common bean will be reduced under drought stresses arising in southeastern Africa by 2050 as a result of climate change.

The scientists conducted crop simulation modelling, combined with field trials and molecular laboratory experiments to analyse the yields and the nutritional quality of the crop. The crop modelling analysis revealed that the majority of current common bean growing in areas in southeastern Africa will become unsuitable for bean cultivation by the year 2050. They also demonstrated reductions in yields of common bean varieties in field trial experiments at a research site that was representative of future predicted drought conditions.  

The nutritional analysis of the different common bean varieties, grown under the level of drought stress that will occur due to climate, revealed that important micronutrients for human health, such as iron, were reduced in all of the bean varieties, while anti-nutritional compounds such as phytic acid and lead were increased.

The NUI Galway research, funded by Irish Aid, Science Foundation Ireland and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), indicates that under climate change induced drought scenarios, future bean servings by 2050 will have lower nutritional quality, posing challenges for ongoing climate-proofing of bean production for yields, nutritional quality, human health, and food security.

Lead scientist of the study, Professor Charles Spillane, Director of the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, said: “Our research, and recent research by other groups, is generating an emerging body of evidence that climate change will reduce the nutritional quality of many of the world’s staple crops due to the effects of rising temperatures, reduced rainfall and rising CO2 levels on the nutritional composition of the crop-derived foods that underpin global food security and human health.

“As it takes decades to develop and disseminate new crop varieties, major investment is needed now to climate-proof our crops and cropping systems so that both their yields and nutritional quality can be resilient to future climate change stresses. Our results highlight the need for accelerated development and seed-system distribution of heat-tolerant and drought-tolerant common bean varieties that can maintain yields while also improving nutritional quality, for example, through genetic ‘biofortification’ breeding under future climate change scenarios.”

Dr Andy Jarvis, from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, indicated: “Given that diets in Africa rely significantly on plants, there is major cause for concern if climate change leads to lower levels of essential nutrients such as protein, iron and zinc in our diets by 2050. Such loss of dietary nutrients in foods will further aggravate the nutritional deficiency experienced by hundreds of millions of people, particularly the poorest in developing countries in Asia and Africa.”

NUI Galway PhD students, Marijke Hummel and Brendan Hallahan, further added: “Dietary deficiencies of micronutrients such as iron constitute major public health problems globally, particularly amongst women and children in sub-Saharan Africa. The Food and Agriculture Organisation’s 2018 State of Food Security and Nutrition in the world has indicated that for the third year in a row there has been a rise in world hunger, where climate variability and extremes are now a key force behind the recent rise in global hunger. In addition to negative impacts on crop yields, our group’s research reveals that the nutritional quality of our crop-derived foods will decline under climate change stresses, which will most heavily impact on the poorest and most nutritionally insecure in our societies.”

The research was conducted between Malawi and Ireland as a collaboration between NUI Galway, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). NUI  Galway is one of the 13 strategic research partners globally for the CCAFS program.

To read the full study in Nature Scientific Reports, visit: http://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-018-33952-4

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Keywords: Press.

Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway
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