El Niño and Its Effects on Food Supply & Health

Sunday, June 25th, 2023

El Niño is back. This can impact food supply and health not only in the Asia Pacific region, but all over the globe.


Every few years, the world experiences the effects of El Niño, a naturally occurring climate pattern in the Pacific Ocean that can affect weather worldwide. El Niño, which is Spanish for ‘Little Boy’, causes warmer-than-average sea surface temperatures in the central and eastern Pacific Ocean near the equator.


During El Niño, easterly trade winds weaken and warm water from the western Pacific moves toward the western coast of the Americas. This often brings cooler, wetter conditions to the US Southwest and drought (warmer and drier weather) to countries in the western Pacific, which includes the Asia Pacific region. It increases overall global temperature, affecting rainfall and agriculture.


Shortage of Cacao Beans Due to El Niño

The warmer weather as a result of El Niño can cause droughts in West Africa, the source of most of the world’s cacao crops. This will undoubtedly drive up the price of chocolate. Time Magazine reports quoted Fuad Mohammed Abubakar, head of Ghana Cocoa Marketing Company: Production of cocoa beans in West Africa may fall in the next season by as much as 8% on adverse weather.


According to consumer intelligence database NielsenIQ, chocolate prices have risen by 14% in the past year. Sugar, a key ingredient of chocolate, is also seeing price hikes. Additionally, CNBC reported that dark chocolate prices will be more expensive as compared to other varieties of chocolates.


By the end of the first week of June, the price of chocolate had shot up to $3,160 per metric tonne — the highest since May 5, 2016. The commodity was last trading at $3,171 per metric tonne.


El Niño Could Make Your Next Cup of Coffee More Expensive

The approaching El Niño season can bring extreme weather conditions. This fuels concerns that robusta beans in major coffee-producing countries could be hit. This could result in soaring prices.


Since last year, Vietnam, the largest robusta beans producer, has been reporting dwindling supply of robusta beans. The forecast for output in other major robusta producers is hardly optimistic. In Brazil, production is expected to fall by 5%. Meanwhile in Indonesia, the world’s second-biggest robusta exporter, output is projected to drop by 20%. That means the cost of instant coffee and espressos, which are often made with robusta beans, could come under pressure amid supply shortages.


El Niño’s Overall Impact on Agriculture Globally

Even if the weather pattern ends up boosting crop output in the Americas, the impact in Asia could reverberate across global food markets.

The World Economic Forum


Hot, dry weather caused by El Niño threatens food producers across Asia. In America, food producers are counting on heavier rains to alleviate the impact of severe drought.


Wheat output in Australia is expected to drop. Yields for palm oil, rice, cereal and oilseeds will also see lower productions from the second half of 2023 to 2024.


In America and Argentina, rains forecast in the second half of the year are expected to be good for crops, although overall output will depend on the timing of El Niño.


Meteorologists generally cannot agree on how fast the climate will transition to El Niño from the current La Niña, a pattern that has opposite effects from El Niño. However, it is agreed that the shift to El Niño should be complete during the key development stage for corn and soybeans.


China will likely be unaffected in terms of their corn, soybean and rice production. In Europe, El Niño is not typically linked to stark changes in weather patterns. In general, Europe’s major crops are in good shape after plenty of spring rain.


The Health Impact of El Niño

The World Health Organization (WHO) reported that extreme events caused by El Niño, such as cyclones and droughts, can severely affect health. Climate-sensitive diseases such as zika, malaria, dengue, and chickungunya could inflict health hazards on vulnerable populations. The food industry should also be on alert as food- and water-borne diseases could become more prevalent. This will naturally lead to increased expectations for food safety, and intensify the focus on health and nutrition.


Read more:

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