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Influence of extreme weather disasters on global crop production

Nature volume 529, pages 8487 (07 January 2016) | Download Citation


In recent years, several extreme weather disasters have partially or completely damaged regional crop production1,2,3,4,5. While detailed regional accounts of the effects of extreme weather disasters exist, the global scale effects of droughts, floods and extreme temperature on crop production are yet to be quantified. Here we estimate for the first time, to our knowledge, national cereal production losses across the globe resulting from reported extreme weather disasters during 1964–2007. We show that droughts and extreme heat significantly reduced national cereal production by 9–10%, whereas our analysis could not identify an effect from floods and extreme cold in the national data. Analysing the underlying processes, we find that production losses due to droughts were associated with a reduction in both harvested area and yields, whereas extreme heat mainly decreased cereal yields. Furthermore, the results highlight ~7% greater production damage from more recent droughts and 8–11% more damage in developed countries than in developing ones. Our findings may help to guide agricultural priorities in international disaster risk reduction and adaptation efforts.

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We thank R. Below, who is in charge of the EM-DAT project at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters, for sharing the data. We thank C. Champalle for testing the original idea using data over East Africa in a class project. This research was supported by a Discovery Grant from the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada to N.R.

Author information


  1. Department of Geography, McGill University, Montreal H3A 0B9, Canada

    • Corey Lesk
    •  & Navin Ramankutty
  2. Department of Geography, University of Sussex, Brighton BN1 9QJ, UK

    • Pedram Rowhani
  3. Liu Institute for Global Issues and Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability, University of British Columbia, Vancouver V6T 1Z2, Canada

    • Navin Ramankutty


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This research was designed and coordinated by N.R. All authors performed analyses, discussed the results, and wrote the manuscript.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Navin Ramankutty.

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    Supplementary Information

    This file contains a Supplementary Discussion and additional references. We discuss the relative influence of larger and smaller EWD impacts, the effect of sample size, the implications of trends in the number of reported disasters per year, the application of comparative statistics and relevant assumptions, and the limitations of comparison to previous studies.

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