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The future of breakfast is not guaranteed

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A cup of coffee, a glass of orange juice, toast with Nutella, and a banana: the elements of a spread that may be found at any number of breakfast tables. A WWF report, The Calm Before the Storm, is urging us to reconsider the complacency with which we treat the daily staples of our diets. Such a breakfast may become an expensive, and occasional, luxury in the face of a changing climate.

Many of us walk into a supermarket assuming that we will be able to collect the items on our shopping lists, without a second thought. However, the abundant shelves obscure the complex commodity chains and agricultural processes that deliver food to our tables.

Few of us look at a jar of Nutella and contemplates the fate of a Turkish hazelnut farmer. Or considers the plight of a Vietnamese coffee grower while waiting for their morning brew.

Farming is a risky activity, and always has been. Weather events are unpredictable and an unseasonable frost, a flood or a storm can quickly lay a crop to waste. While crop failure is devastating for farmers, WWF is alerting consumers that they too may start seeing the impact of greater climatic changes.

“Higher temperatures intensify evaporation in many regions, often this comes along with increased droughts. In addition, we expect more extreme heavy rainfall with flooding.”

“This may favour the spread of plant diseases and pests. Already, today this leads to crop failure in many agricultural commodities and will happen much more frequently in the future,” says Thilo Pommerening, climate expert at WWF Germany.

“The current droughts in Brazil and California give us a foretaste of the future, when the consequences of climate change will be more noticeable.”

Let’s take a look at our breakfast and how it will fare in an uncertain future.

  • By mid-century, 2050, up to half of the world’s current coffee cultivation areas could become unusable. The majority of the world’s beans are grown in Brazil and Vietnam where water scarcity has already led to dramatic crop losses.
  • Oranges aren’t doing much better with citrus growing regions drying out and orange farmers switching to intensive irrigation at great financial and environmental cost.
  • The global banana crop is threatened by a lack of biodiversity, and as such is sensitive to disease outbreaks. Warmer and wetter conditions facilitate the spread of bacteria and fungi with devastating impacts.
  • 70 per cent of the world’s hazelnuts are grown in Turkey. In 2014, an unexpected frost followed by hail wiped out half the country’s crop and doubled the global commodity price.

Currently, big food corporations shore up their supply chains by shifting to different suppliers when one market fails to deliver. However, this is an exhaustible strategy and more needs to be done to support farmers and build resilience in agricultural communities.

Pommerening is not just asking Western consumers to fret about the future of their morning coffee. But, instead to also be mindful of the livelihoods of smallholder farmers who bear the most risk in food production. Corporations and consumers alike can work towards supporting producers to develop socially and ecologically sustainable farming practices.

The WWF report calls on the international community to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit warming to 1.5°C and to support rapid sustainable agricultural development, particularly in the global south.

The full report is available here.

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