The day after lead author Daniel Winstead approved the final proofs of a study to be published in Vibethe journal of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, Russia has put its nuclear forces on high alert.
“In no way did I think our work – ‘Food Resilience in a Grim Catastrophe: A New Way to Look at Tropical Wild Edibles’ – would be immediately relevant while we were working on it,” said the research technologist. at Penn State’s College of Agricultural Sciences. “In the short term, I saw it as an abstract concept.”
Winstead and study co-author Michael Jacobson, a professor of forest resources, had to go back to the Cold War era to get information for their review.
“So it didn’t occur to me that it would be something that could happen anytime soon,” Winstead said. “This article was published during this last Russian invasion of Ukraine, but our work began two years ago. The idea that a nuclear war could break out now was unthinkable to me.”
The research acknowledges what has been widely agreed for decades: in higher latitude countries – such as the nuclear powers, the United States and Russia – there would be no agricultural production and little food gathering. possible during a nuclear winter after a total conflagration. If the warring countries released much of their nuclear arsenals, the resulting global sun-blocking cloud would turn the ground into permafrost.
A nuclear war would block the sun globally for several years due to injections of black carbon soot into the upper atmosphere, blanketing most of the planet in dark clouds, the researchers said. Computer models predict that a major nuclear war, primarily between Russia and the United States, could inject more than 165 million tons of soot into the upper atmosphere from more than 4,000 nuclear bomb explosions and burnings of resulting forest.
Such a nuclear war could result in less than 40% of normal light levels near the equator and less than 5% of normal light levels near the poles, with freezing temperatures in most temperate regions and large reductions in precipitation. – just half the global average – – according to the study. Post-disaster conditions, which could last 15 years in some tropical rainforests like those in the Congo and Amazon basins, could result in a 90% reduction in rainfall for several years after such an event.
But the rainforests would provide an opportunity for limited food production and gathering by locals because, despite the dense soot clouds, the region would be warmer. In the study, the researchers classified edible wild plants into seven main categories, plus forest insects: fruits, leafy vegetables, seeds/nuts, roots, spices, sweets and proteins.
In nuclear winter, the study shows that the following foods would be available in varying degrees in tropical forests: konjac, cassava, wild oyster mushroom, safou, wild spinach, vegetable amaranth, palm, mopane worm, dilo, tamarind, baobab, enset , acacia, yam and palm weevil.
The researchers chose 33 edible wild plants from a list of 247 and considered their potential for cultivation in rainforests under post-nuclear war conditions. Their selections were complicated by the fact that in the tropics there are relatively few host plants that are both drought tolerant and shade or low light tolerant.
Post-disaster conditions would be unlivable for humans in many parts of the world, and agriculture may not be possible, the researchers concluded. This study shows how some of the many edible tropical wild plants and insects could be used for cultivation and short-term emergency foraging after an injection of atmospheric soot following a catastrophic event such as nuclear war.
The world’s rainforests contain many underutilized crops and resources, Jacobson pointed out. This study offers a new perspective on global food security and resilience using forest foods, as well as policy and preparedness recommendations.
“But whatever the risk of nuclear war, there are many other existential threats, including climate change,” he said. “Ensuring food security – and nutrition – in the face of any of these risks is clearly one of humanity’s greatest challenges over the coming decades. To this end, it is imperative that we better understand our supply chains. food production, supply and value to make them less vulnerable and more adaptable in times of crisis.”
This study is part of a much larger project, “Emergency Food Resilience Research,” underway at Penn State. Open Philanthropy funded this work. Most of the data in this review comes from a previous research paper.