El Nino: How this year's Pacific weather event could screw up global food prices

The cost of rice, coffee, sugar and cocoa could rise this year due to the warming of the Pacific Ocean

Zachary Davies Boren
Thursday 21 May 2015 15:31

There's an El Nino event brewing in the tropical Pacific that could impact global food prices, experts have warned.

The price of rice, coffee, sugar and cocoa may be driven up by the El Nino effect, which may trigger droughts and floods that could disrupt equatorial food production.

El Ninos, a warming of the Pacific Ocean that occurs as part of a years-long cycle between the atmosphere and ocean, are thought to likely to become more frequent due to climate change.

Scientists say it's too early to predict how severe this El Nino will be, but the beginnings of it may be felt in India and West Africa next month with rainfall expected to decline.

Whether the El Nino will have an affect on British weather isn't clear, though it's possible that it may lead to a dry and snowy winter.

Professor Adam Scaife from the Met Office told the BBC: "It's likely there will be at least a moderate El Nino this year.

"I think there is very good agreement across the different forecasting centres that this is coming."

A 'moderate El Nino - the odds of which occurring Scaife said is 70 per cent - the extreme weather would likely cause crop failures.

The US's NOAA said its indicators suggested El Nino had arrived in early March - but then claimed it would only be 'weak'

Dr Klingaman of the University of Reading claimed a 'strong' El Nino could "disrupt global food markets".

Coffee plantations in Brazil are "already on the brink of failure" and could be pushed over the edge by El Nino, whilst Australia's banana and sugarcane crops, not mention their cattle, could be impacted by a dearth of rainfall.

"Most El Ninos historically have had a global impact on food prices," he said.

"We tend to see an increase in price of 5 to 10% on average for things like coffee, soybeans and cocoa."

Back in 2002, an El Nino was thought to have brought about a drier monsoon than normal in India, affected the crop yields of groundnut and rice.

The El Nino in 2010 has been blamed for the poor monsoons in Southeast Asia that year, the droughts in southern Australia, the Philippines and Ecuador, the blizzards in the US, the heatwaves in Brazil and the extreme flooding in Mexico.

Global temperatures are rising as a result of the El Nino, with Professor Scaife saying they "are very high and this is partly attributable to the El Nino evolving now".

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