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Historically, when a crop failed in one of these breadbaskets, only nearby areas had to contend with shortages and rising prices. Now, however, major crops are traded on global markets, which means that production failures can have far-reaching impacts. Moreover, climate change is expected to generate heat waves and drought that could cause crop losses in most of the world’s breadbaskets. Indeed, failures could occur simultaneously in several of these key regions.

Pardee Center postdoctoral scholar John Patrick Connors and I are using mathematical models to study the potential environmental and economic impacts of failures in multiple breadbaskets around the world. It is already clear from our preliminary work that this is a real, near-term threat.

The good news is that not all of these regions respond in the same way to shocks in other places in the world. Some could bring new land into production quickly, easing stresses caused by crop failures elsewhere. But in order to make global food systems more robust, we need to know more about the most damaging consequences of multiple breadbasket failures.

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