A multinational study, led by the UK’s Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, quantifies the negative impact of ozone pollution on crop yields and identifies practical short- and medium-term action that could make crops more resilient.
The research shows that ozone pollution represents a significant challenge to global food production and that taking action to mitigate the effects of ozone pollution on crop yields could contribute to delivering UN Sustainable Development Goal 2, which seeks sustainable solutions to end hunger in all its forms by 2030 and to achieve food security.
The new paper, Closing the global ozone yield gap: Quantification and co-benefits for multi-stress tolerance, which also involved scientists from the University of Gothenburg, MET Norway and others in the UK, Sweden, Germany, USA, China, Japan and India, is published in the journal Global Change Biology today (August 7, 2018).
It estimates that ozone pollution reduces the yield of four staple crops by up to 227 million tonnes a year in total across the world, with the average yield loss for these crops being:
- 12.4% for soybean
- 7.1% for wheat
- 4.4% for rice
- 6.1% for maize.
The losses are up to 15% in the large wheat-producing areas of India and China.
While the paper’s authors recommend reducing the polluting gases from vehicles and industry that react to form ozone as the most effective long-term solution, they identify practical, shorter-term actions that farmers and growers can take to improve crop yields.
These actions including breeding new varieties of crop that are more resilient to ozone, better timing of irrigation and the development of non-toxic agrochemicals.
Professor Gina Mills, of the Centre for Ecology & Hydrology, lead author of the new paper, says: “We found that in some countries where food production is most needed, ozone can be as big a threat to crop yield as drought, heat or nutrient stress, but less of a problem than pests and diseases.”