Catalyst, Weeklies

Bananas may replace potatoes due to global warming

Delegates from about 200 countries gathered in Doha, Qatar yesterday, kicking off the latest international conference to discuss global warming, its implications and solutions for it.  As the international community turns its attention to global warming, one aspect people may need to consider is the agricultural implications of rising global temperatures.

Researchers from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research partnership said in October that bananas might replace staple crops, including potatoes, as global temperatures rise.

Potatoes, which are a central crop in many countries, thrive in cooler climates with stable environments. However, with rising temperatures and a volatile climate, potato growth is decreasing. Bananas might become a suitable replacement for these crops, according to a report by the CGIAR.

“This report adds to the debate that temperatures are increasing, that the climate is changing and that humans are behind it,” said Henrik Selin, a Boston University international relations professor who has conducted research on the environment and sustainability.

Along with bananas, the resilient cassava shrub and cowpea plant might become increasingly important to human diets as the warming climatic trend continues, the study stated.

Why bananas? 

Rising temperatures will predictably hinder the growth of more than just potatoes — they will also stunt the growth of major crops such as maize, wheat and rice, according to the report. As these crops continue to decrease, developing countries will have to seek replacement crops with similar nutritional benefits and better adaptability.

Bananas are predicted to be a sufficient replacement for potatoes, according to the report.

Bananas, like potatoes, are a good source of calories, potassium, carbohydrates and protein, according to SparkPeople, a nutritional website.

Authors of the report said there are several varieties of bananas that can be cultivated in different locations, including at higher altitudes. While there are some restrictive factors to banana growth, they are nutritionally apt replacements for potatoes in some countries.

A dwindling diet

One of the major concerns researchers have is incorporating important nutrients and minerals into people’s diets as staple crop production decreases. Researchers said they are primarily concerned with integrating protein into diets. As major crops decrease, so will the livestock population, consequently disturbing populations’ protein intake.

The report suggested the cowpea might solve this issue.

According to the report, the cowpea plant — also commonly known as the “poor man’s meat” or the “southern pea” — could act as an alternative to meat.

The Alternative Field Crops Manual stated that the cowpea plant is a nutritious component in human and livestock diets, and is composed of 24.8 percent protein. Its adaptability, durability and high concentration of protein makes it an adequate replacement for meat in developing countries.

Global warming

Selin said the report furthers ideas that global warming is an issue influenced by human activity, and that populations in the affected areas will find ways to adapt to major dietary adjustments caused by warming temperatures.

He also said these dietary changes will not be detrimental to human health.

“These dietary changes are not necessarily problematic,” Selin said. “It’s more of a question of overall access to food than a question of what particular crop you’re eating. It’s more so having a rounded diet no matter what your staples are.”

Global warming has and will continue to affect the entire world, including the U.S., Selin said. However, he noted that rising temperatures affect various areas of the world differently.

“Changes will be felt differently in different parts of the world,” Selin said. “[Global warming] will have a relatively large effect on regions that are already warm and dry. Those countries that are already sensitive will become more sensitive and vulnerable in the future. Wealthier parts of the world will better cope with that.”

Selin said Europe and North American countries, including the U.S., are areas that will not feel the effects of global warming as strongly as regions in Africa, South America and Asia. This is because more developed countries have better methods of adapting to environmental changes.

The problem: Solutions, preventions

The best way to avoid the effects of global warming is to begin taking precautions for the future, Selin said.

“Worrying about climate change is thinking 25 or 50-plus years into the future,” he said. “What will happen 50 to 100 years from now depends on the policy decisions that we make now.”

However, Selin said it is difficult to predict what the global environment will look like that far into the future.

“While we are certain that the climate is changing and humans are behind it, it’s difficult to tell what will happen,” he said. “But we need to start thinking and planning more for climate change.”

The Boston University mindset

Several students at BU said the report on crops brings to light the larger issue of global warming and its impact on differing global communities.

Alyssa Thomason, a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences, said the U.S. can stop global warming by reducing its influence.

“It would be most beneficial to try to reduce our impact on global warming by practicing more environmentally conscious measures at home since we are such a big contributor to global warming,” she said. “That would do more good than trying to help, individually, a lot of separate countries.”

Andrew Wasserstein, a COM junior, said Hurricane Sandy has renewed people’s discussion of global warming and its effects.

“Hurricane Sandy brought many nightmares to life with the mass destruction,” he said. “The events started the conversation up again in the country and allowed discussion on a bipartisan level to commence.”

Ashley Rossi, a COM junior, said global warming is an issue about which college students are becoming more informed.

“We have learned about the risks and increase in the earth’s temperature and depletion of the ozone layer,” she said. “Most people have come to accept the term, whereas a few years ago it was more of a problem of getting people to believe it was happening. Now the issue is more or less what to do about it.”

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