ECONOMY

How climate change is steering the future of food

This is an audio transcript of the FT News Briefing podcast episode: How climate change is steering the future of food

Marc Filippino
Good morning from the Financial Times, today is Monday, August 2nd, and this is your FT News Briefing. House prices around the world have been soaring lately, and the Tokyo Olympics have pumped life into Japan’s skateboarding scene. Plus, climate change is affecting what crops farmers grow. And some countries will have a hard time adapting.

Emiko Terazono
People are talking about aid in the shape of things like irrigation or agricultural technology transfers providing drought and heat resistant seeds, for example. It’s a very difficult question and we see the impacts already happening.

Marc Filippino
We’ll take a look at the future of food in the age of climate change. I’m Marc Filippino and here’s the news you need to start your day. From Australia to the United States and a lot of places in between house prices have been going up. A review by the FT found that of the 40 countries covered by OECD data, just three countries experienced real terms house price falls in the first three months of 2021. Annual house price growth across the OECD group of rich nations hit nearly 9.5 per cent in the first quarter of 2021. That’s the fastest pace for 30 years. Analysts say that three main things are driving the price increases, historically low interest rates. So it’s easier to borrow savings that people accumulated during lockdowns and a desire for more space as people work from home. So there’s a lot of demand and at the same time, not a ton of supply. Now, one economist says some short term house price growth is a good thing for the economy. People who already own homes go out, buy new homes and can spend more due to the rising value of their assets. But if it goes on for a while, it could turn into an unsustainable boom that could eventually push activity into reverse.

Marc Filippino
Climate change is shifting the frontiers of where food is grown. Farmers and agricultural businesses are adapting to warmer temperatures around the world and more extreme weather events. Just take north Africa and the southern Mediterranean region. It’s a huge climate change hotspot. Emiko Terazono is our commodities correspondent. She joins me now to discuss what’s going on in climate change and agriculture. Hi Emiko.

Emiko Terazono
Hi, Marc.

Marc Filippino
Emiko, can you describe some of the most dramatic changes in agricultural practices you came across when researching your recent article on food and climate.

Emiko Terazono
Yeah Marc, so a lot of stories I’ve written in the past have been about climate change, making existing crops very difficult to grow. Coffee is a good example. Nuts like almonds in California due to water shortages, lower yields in other crops. So I wanted to look at whether there were any positive outcomes from climate change at all and found production of tropical fruits like avocados was increasing in Sicily and other parts of the Mediterranean, and the frontiers of grains grown in Russia and Canada was going north.

Marc Filippino
Yeah, I think one of the most striking things about your story that I read was mangoes were increasingly being grown in Sicily, just the place that you never would think about mangoes being grown. You also mentioned grapes and you say that grapes are like the canary in the coal mine for climate change. What did you mean by that?

Emiko Terazono
I didn’t really know about how sensitive grapes growing for wine were, but apparently they are among the crops most sensitive to the change in temperatures. So you have this clear shift. You can see in areas where certain varieties are grown in Canada, you’re now seeing more pinot noir grown up further north. And the UK has become a big producer of sparkling wine.

Marc Filippino
So you mentioned a few regions, but where are the biggest shifts in agricultural production? Wheat in Russia seemed like a pretty standout one.

Emiko Terazono
Yeah. And these are the type of crops that are going to impact people around the world the most. So wheat, rice, corn and soybeans, you know, these are the staples. They’re now being grown further north. And I cover, you know, grains and oilseeds on a regular basis. But I hadn’t quite realised that for Ukraine, for instance, you know, the Black Sea region, which comprises of Ukraine, Russia and Kazakhstan, they’re known for their fertile soil and wheat. But Ukraine has become a big corn producer and you need heat to produce corn, corn and soybean production in China is also moving north. So the shift is quite striking.

Marc Filippino
You mentioned in your article the risk of a climate bomb. What exactly is that?

Emiko Terazono
It’s quite scary, the phrase climate bomb. Untouched soil, which is sort of basically been under ice and, you know, very cold temperatures are now opening up to agriculture. And often these peaty soils are a reservoir of carbon which has been trapped for thousands and thousands of years. If that’s cultivated and broken, you’re going to release a lot of carbon.

Marc Filippino
So is there any way to avoid that kind of carbon release Emiko?

Emiko Terazono
So I think there’s a feeling that it will be inevitable and it’s already happening. The cultivation of crops will move north to these areas. What researchers and environmental campaigners are calling for is a planned development program with carbon release and emissions in mind.

Marc Filippino
Just out of curiosity, are there any real world effects of the shift in agriculture? Like does it matter for me as a consumer if I’m buying my mangoes from Sicily rather than, you know, wherever mangoes are usually grown?

Emiko Terazono
Well, growing local is not a bad thing. So if I’m in London and I’m eating avocado grown in Italy, it’s gonna be cheaper just because the transportation, my avocados that I usually buy tend to come from Peru or Mexico. So it’s not a bad thing. But just because you can grow it doesn’t mean that it’s good to grow. And in the case of Sicily, some of it’s tropical and the grower I interviewed his area was a microclimate and it was a very tropical area. But a lot of the island is very dry and you need irrigation, which isn’t necessarily a good thing.

Marc Filippino
Emiko what’s the downside for countries and producers that can’t adapt? Can they make their situation better at all?

Emiko Terazono
The people are talking about aid in the shape of things like irrigation or agricultural technology transfers, providing drought- and heat-resistant seeds, for example. But it’s a very difficult question and you see the impacts already happening. We’ve written about caravans of migrants moving from Central America up north. That’s been caused partly by drought, which has made agriculture especially coffee growing very difficult and they’ve abandoned their farms. The lack of food can cause unrest and wars and and the destabilising impact leads to migration. So it’s a very sobering thought and it will impact rich countries like us.

Marc Filippino
Emiko Terazono is our commodities correspondent.

Skateboarding made its Olympic debut in Tokyo this year, and the host country, Japan, brought in three medals in the sport, including a gold by 13-year-old Momiji Nishiya. Japan’s success might be a bit surprising to some though, since Japan has a pretty complex relationship with skateboarding. A lot of people in the country view it as a public nuisance. But the success in the Olympics might change the cultural winds. The FT’s Asia business editor Leo Lewis explains the complicated background of skateboarding in Japan and what the Olympics might do to change it.

Leo Lewis
Well, Japanese public spaces have quite tight rules, and one of them has traditionally been that skateboarding is pretty strongly discouraged. And so there’s always been an element in which, I mean, in every country where skateboarding has had a sort of kind of subculture image. But I think in Japan, it’s really been seen as a public nuisance. It sort of damages bits of public furniture and skateboarders who are looking for places to skate often find themselves being chased away from one place to another, or they have to go late at night and so on. And it’s not been easy. And it’s also not a sport that has a great kind of official existence in Japan, which is why so many of its greatest talents end up as professionals in the United States, there’s a rather different attitude towards it. And it’s been a more established sport for a while. Back in Japan, a number of people love skateboarding, but end up having to kind of pursue it in a bit of a cat-and-mouse game with the authorities sometimes.

Marc Filippino
Sounds difficult for the athletes, Leo, but then Tokyo host the Olympics this year. Skateboarding becomes the official sport and some of Japan’s own athletes do very well. What does that do to the relationship Japan has with skateboarding.

Leo Lewis
It’s an interesting choice that these Olympics have introduced a few new sports. But skateboarding is possibly the one that might be most surprising for Japan. And it’s part of a kind of big push by the International Olympic Committee to introduce sports a little bit more urban and maybe generate a little bit more interest among younger audiences. So I think it’s going to be certainly successful in that regard. And by the way, as somebody who’s been covering a number of these different sports at the Games, the hottest tickets for the journalists to get have been the skateboarding. And what a lot of these skateboarders have been saying as they come off the park and they’re doing their interviews is what a kind of pleasure it is, what it’s a dream it’s been to have the sport that they love legitimised, as it were, by the Olympics and now kind of brought into the mainstream in this way. Lots of different athletes from different countries were saying that it was a really heartwarming thing to see this long battle for legitimacy finally won. And Japan, it must be said, has really risen to the occasion. It’s built an absolutely fabulous skate park. It’s a kind of shifting attitude, particularly because, you know, in the first couple of days of this new sport being introduced, here we go. Japanese win gold in the men’s and the women’s streetscape discipline, which is just the sort of dream start for Japan.

Marc Filippino
Leo Lewis is the FT’s Asia business editor. You can read more on all of these stories at FT.com. This has been your daily FT news briefing. Make sure you check back tomorrow for the latest business news.

This transcript has been automatically generated. If by any chance there is an error please send the details for a correction to: [email protected]. We will do our best to make the amendment as soon as possible.

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