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Farmers scrambling after record-breaking weather destroys crop used by top chefs around the world: 'I don't know what to do'

"I am so sad."

"I am so sad."

Photo Credit: iStock

Extreme weather in Cambodia has destroyed a lucrative crop used by top chefs around the world, devastating local farmers who depend on the income. 

What's happening?

As detailed by Phys.org, Cambodia's Kampot pepper industry has been ravaged by high temperatures and drought in 2024. In April, scorching 109-degree Fahrenheit weather added stress to the crops after a six-month drought. Many of the farmers' pepper plants died.

Kampot peppers typically sell for as much as $200 per kilogram ($200 per 2.2 pounds), but Chhim Laem lost all 264 of his pepper bushes amid the worst harvest year on record. 

"I am so sad, but I don't know what to do," Laem told Agence France-Presse, per Phys.org.

Fourth-generation pepper farmer Nguon Lay, 71, is also expecting no harvest this year after he collected nearly 10 tons of Kampot peppers in 2023. 

Why is this important?

While El Niño is a natural weather pattern that supercharges our weather, human-caused pollution has exacerbated extreme conditions by driving our planet's temperatures higher. 

Events like the drought in Cambodia have become more frequent and severe, contributing to loss of income, food insecurity, and displacement. In southern Africa, for example, changes in climate amplified an El Niño-linked drought, impacting access to nutrition for millions of people.

According to Phys.org, Lay said that farmers' preparations this year were insufficient in the face of the new challenges. 

"We have been prepared. We know about climate change, we have stored water, we built roofs to protect our peppers from the hot weather, but it was not enough," he shared.  

The unique flavor of Kampot pepper isn't the only taste consumers might be missing or paying more for in the future. Popular staples like coffee, olive oil, and wine are among the crops that our overheating planet has impacted.

What can be done about climate-linked food shortages?

One Cambodian pepper farmer told AFP that he is committed to finding solutions for his crops, per Phys.org. Chan Deng, who has grown Kampot peppers since the 1960s, said he plans to dig more storage ponds with the hopes of a good harvest in three years. 

The Kampot Pepper Promotion Association also says on its website that it is committed to protecting its land and supporting local farmers. 

While a specific plan of action regarding the Kampot pepper hasn't been revealed, there are reasons to be optimistic that a solution may be around the corner. 

Scientists have already made multiple discoveries that could lead to more climate-resilient crops. For example, University of Southern California researchers believe that modifying plants' stress responses via a protein linked to their circadian clock could make them more able to withstand droughts. 

Adopting cleaner technologies can also help get our planet back on track. Governments around the world have been working to do just that.

You can support those efforts in ways big and small, whether by making your next car an electric vehicle, installing solar panels — which will reduce your electric bills — or simply switching to LED light bulbs

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