A woman stands in her crop of maize, that grows around her home in Zimbabwe in April 2009.

Rural communities

Poor farmers will bear the brunt of climate change

Globally, over one billion people rely on subsistence farming – growing enough to feed just themselves and their families. Even now food shortages are common. The UN estimates that nearly 870 million people were suffering from chronic undernourishment in 2010–12.

Proportionally, the worst-affected regions are in sub-Saharan Africa (the part of Africa that is south of the Sahara desert). Most hard-pressed areas will face further hardship in the future due to drought or more unpredictable weather.

From left: Maize; wheat and maize; soybeans
From left: Maize, rice and barley

Dieter Spears/iStockphoto (left); Alexander Hafemann/iStockphoto (centre and right)

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 2014 report, for every degree that the mean global temperature rises, an additional 4 per cent of the Earth’s land area is projected to suffer a 30 per cent or more decrease in its groundwater resources.

In Latin America most crop and livestock productivity is predicted to fall (although soybean yields in temperate areas could go up).

Many countries will be hard-pressed to cope with lower crop returns. Mass starvation and displacement are real possibilities.

The persistent food crisis that has struck the African country of Niger in recent years is a good example of the way climate change is making life harder for some of the world’s poorest rural communities.

Lead image:

A woman stands in her crop of maize that grows around her home in Zimbabwe in April 2009.

Kate Holt/Africa Practice, Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade/Flickr CC BY


About this resource

This resource was first published in ‘Health and Climate Change’ in January 2009 and reviewed and updated in September 2014.

Ecology and environment, Health, infection and disease
Health and Climate Change
Education levels:
14–16, 16–19, Continuing professional development