It’s only been one month since the disappointing end of the Copenhagen climate change conference, which failed to live up to many developing nations expectations. One of those countries Nigeria, is suggesting the level of carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere pose a serious threat to stables like cassava on which millions of African people depend on.
Studies by Australian scientists suggest that crops become more toxic and produce smaller yields in environments with higher carbon dioxide levels and more droughts.
Those findings were recently presented at a conference in Scotland and underscored the need to develop climate-change-resistant cultivators to feed rapidly growing human populations, said Ros Gleadow of the Monash University in Melbourne.
Gleadow’s team tested cassava and sorghum under a series of climate change scenarios, with particular focus on different CO2 levels to study the effect on plant nutritional quality and yield.
Current CO2 levels in the air are just under 390 ppm, around the highest in at least 800,000 years and up by about a third since the start of the Industrial Revolution.
“What we found was the amount of cyanide relative to the amount of protein increases” said Gleadow. At double current CO2 levels, the level of toxin was much higher while protein levels fell.
The ability of people and herbivores, such as cattle, to break down the cyanide depends largely on eating sufficient protein.
Anyone largely reliant on cassava for food, particularly during droughts would be especially at risk of cyanide poisoning.
About 750 million people in Africa, Asia and Latin America rely on cassava as a staple. The starchy tubers are used to make flour and the plant is ideal in dry regions because of its hardy nature.