Human civilization began with the growing of wheat in the fertile crescent. Fifteen thousand years ago in the Middle East, people started to select and later to cultivate strains of wheat and began farming, and the rest is, as they say, history.
Warmth and sun is needed. But not too much. With the onset of climate change, temperature rises are actually beginning to cut into wheat yields. Although Egypt was one of the original lands of the fertile crescent, it has now become the world’s biggest importer.
The middle Eastern countries of Algeria, Tunisia, Cypress and Egypt were still exporters of wheat as late as the nineteenth century. But as temperatures have risen in the Middle East, that has changed.
Egypt no longer can grow enough to export any surplus.
Increasingly, the first wheat farming region now relies on wheat supplies from places that only warmed up enough to able to support wheat farming in recent centuries.
Russia and Ukraine were insignificant wheat growers until the end of the 20th century. But as the world has warmed, the conditions have improved for farming wheat at higher latitudes. The region now provides 30% of the world’s wheat.
But, temperatures are not going to simply conveniently stop at the perfect temperature for wheat farming. This year, in got too hot for wheat, even in Russia, with temperature records that were broken worldwide. And with too much heat, yields drop. Russia lost a third of the wheat crop this year. It stopped exporting.
Egypt, as well as Tunisia, Algeria and Jordan, all reacted to the Russian ban by buying extra wheat on the spot market. Worldwide, wheat prices have nearly doubled in just four months from $4.26 a bushel.
Scientists estimate that even the small amount of wheat that Egypt can now produce for its own market could fall by another 15% by 2050 if temperatures increase by two degrees Celsius, and by more than a third if temperatures rise by four degrees.
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Image: Diana Buja