Chilli peppers, coffee, wine: how the climate crisis is causing food shortages

Extreme heat, stronger storms, droughts, floods, and wildfires threaten food production.

Fans of Sriracha are a passionate group. On Halloween, they have been known to get tattoos of the popular hot sauce and dress up as the red plastic squeeze bottle.

Consequently, it is not surprising that an unprecedented shortage of the beloved condiment would cause loyalists to scramble to avoid a seasonless summer.

In recent years, Huy Fong Foods, the southern California company that produces 20 million bottles of sriracha per year, has experienced a shortage of red jalapeo chili peppers, which was exacerbated by the spring crop failure.

The reason? Conditions of severe weather and drought in Mexico.

It’s not just chilli peppers. Extreme weather in France and Canada reduced mustard seed production by 50 percent last year, resulting in a shortage of the condiment on grocery store shelves. Wheat, corn, coffee, apples, chocolate, and wine are among the staples whose price and availability are being impacted by sweltering heat, stronger storms, droughts, floods, fires, and changes in rainfall patterns. The climate crisis is intensifying and increasing the frequency of extreme weather events, thereby endangering food production.

According to Carolyn Dimitri, professor of nutrition and food studies at New York University, nearly everything grown and raised in the United States is subject to climatic stress.

Wheat and other grain crops are especially at risk. In the Great Plains, where the majority of the nation’s wheat is harvested, the winter crop was diminished by drought. Winter wheat abandonment rates in the United States, particularly in Texas and Oklahoma, are the highest since 2002. Meanwhile, flooding in Montana threatens grain crops.

Dimitri stated, “This is significant because the United States does not have a large surplus and cannot fill the global wheat supply gap right now due to the Ukraine crisis.”

The effects of the climate crisis on grain crops are not limited to the United States. In India, a severe heatwave caused damage to the wheat crop due to spring and summer temperatures that set records. In May, when the temperature in Delhi reached 50C (120F), the government imposed a ban on wheat exports, driving up prices even more than the invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

According to a Nasa study from 2021, climate change could have a significant impact on the global production of maize and wheat as early as 2030, with maize crop yields predicted to decrease by 24 percent.

Apples are another already endangered food source. The apple harvest in Michigan and Wisconsin was hampered by heavy spring frosts a year ago. According to the USDA, climate changes, such as warming, can result in smaller yields, slower growth, and alterations in the quality of fruit.

Ricky Robertson, a senior researcher at the International Food Policy Research Institute, stated, “Humans are resilient little creatures, so we’re still growing food and yields are generally increasing, but as the temperature rises, the difficulty increases.”

Extreme weather has an impact on the price of coffee. After droughts and frost destroyed crops in Brazil, the world’s largest coffee-producing country, coffee prices increased 70 percent between April 2020 and December 2021. As many as 120 million of the world’s poorest are estimated to depend on coffee production for their survival, the repercussions on the economy could be significant.

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