Producing Food in the Face of Climate Change Threats

ANALYSIS - More information needs to be made available on the impact of climate change on food production in order to mitigate its effects in future, writes Chris Harris.
calendar icon 2 December 2015
clock icon 4 minute read

According to Prof Tim Wheeler, the deputy chief scientific adviser at the Department of International Development in the UK, food producers, governments and scientists will need to quantify the impact and vulnerability of crop and food production in the face of climate change, in order to produce enough food to feed the growing world population.

Speaking at the National Farm Management Conference in London, Prof Wheeler said that new market opportunities caused by climate change will need to be identified.

And investment will have to be guided towards infrastructure such as irrigation and processing techniques, through the knowledge gained about the impact of climate change, to allow informed decisions to be made in the supply chain.

He said information on crops, food production and climate need to be made more available, and from the data available, greater knowledge of the problems and challenges needs to be built.

Prof Wheeler told the conference that at present there is sufficient food produced – 3.6 billion tonnes – to feed the current population of 7.3 billion.

However he said that despite the availability of food, access is an issue and many people still go hungry.

He added that the problem is going to deteriorate unless action is taken, because by 2030 the global population will be 8.3 billion, and there will be a demand for 50 per cent more food, with demand in Asia for more protein rising as the middle-class population reaches 3 billion.

“The world will also be warmer in 2030 and the population will be exposed to the supply chains across the world,” he told the conference.

He said that already the calories and nutrition consumed by the world’s population travel many thousands of kilometres.

“The human influence on the climate system is clear,” he said.

“Climate change will impact on all dimensions of food security and there is a range of responses to rising CO2 around the world. In some areas there is a positive effect of rising CO2.”

Prof Wheeler said that there is a link between rising CO2 emissions and climate change, and the changing climate is going to be a greater problem in the areas most in need.

He said that crop productivity is highly vulnerable to variations in climate with heatwaves causing drops in yield.

There is a need for more resistant crops, such as those capable of growing in flooded areas, new technology, such as satellite technology to monitor crops and assess fodder for livestock and better knowledge to build predictive models to combat climate change.

He said that this year is going to be seen as the warmest on record, with the effect of El Niño in the Pacific affecting agriculture around the world.

But he said that the action needed is to put the information that has been received at research levels into a practical response.

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