Quantcast
Food
Sorghum, anyone? The right crop in the right place will grow more food. Tomascastelazo / Wikimedia Commons

Scientists: Strategic Crop Growth Based on Climate Change Could Feed 825 Million More

By Tim Radford

Scientists in the U.S. and Italy have worked out a strategy to feed an extra 825 million people—by rearranging where crops are grown. Their new menu for the global table could serve up 10 percent more calories and 19 percent more protein, while reducing the use of rainwater by 14 percent and cutting irrigation by 12 percent.

The secret: shift the patterns of crop growth to make the best of climate change, in a rapidly warming world in which rainfall patterns could become less predictable and drought and heat waves will become more frequent and more intense.


So that means, for some, less reliance on traditional staples such as rice, wheat, millet and sugar cane and sugar beet, and a switch to more groundnuts, soybean, sorghum, roots and tubers.

Climate change has already announced itself in small ways with earlier wine harvests in Europe, the promise of a sparkling future for wine in southern England, and the first successful cultivation (in South Wales) in the UK of that costly Mediterranean delicacy, the black truffle.

But the overall picture is alarming: there have been predictions of lower yields for coffee producers in South America and for wheat farmers in Europe, Asia and the Americas. There have been warnings that climate change could hit African farmers hard and that traditional crop varieties may not be able to adjust to new conditions.

Big savings

Kyle Davis of Columbia University's Earth Institute and colleagues reported in the journal Nature Geoscience that they matched models of water use in farming and yield maps for 14 of the world's most important food crops.

They found that their new models of crop distribution could create substantial savings in water costs in 42 countries, including Australia, India, Mexico, Morocco and South Africa, as well as in California's Central Valley and Egypt's Nile Delta.

Some regions—the U.S. Midwest, for example—would continue to face water scarcities whatever crops were planted. But for at least 63 countries—many of which, like Ethiopia, Iran, Kenya and Spain, rely heavily on food imports—crop redistribution would deliver 20 percent higher levels of calories or protein, and increase self-sufficiency overall.

Research of this kind relies on considering local conditions and making judgments that will deliver the best returns to the farmers and their communities. Farmers have, traditionally, done just that.

But an average rise in global temperatures of around 1°C in the last century or so means that local traditions are in question. It is a given that the Mediterranean truffle Tuber melanosporum depends on the Mediterranean oak and the climate conditions of southern France and northern Italy. But UK researchers reported in the journal Climate Research that they have successfully cultivated a 16-gram specimen in Monmouthshire, in Wales.

Black truffles are one of the world's most expensive delicacies. The success, attributed to climate change, was more or less accidental.

"This is one of the best-flavoured truffle species in the world and the potential for industry is huge," said Paul Thomas of the University of Stirling in Scotland, and Mycorrhizal Systems Ltd, one of the co-authors.

"We planted the trees just to monitor their survival, but we never thought this Mediterranean species could actually grow in the UK—it's an incredibly exciting development."

Starting point

Climate change will act as a global lottery: there will be winners. But as global population continues to grow, and extremes of heat, drought, windstorm and flood become more frequent, there may be many more losers.

The Nature Geoscience researchers argue that their recipe for agricultural change is a starting point, not a final answer. Harvest choices must be adapted to local conditions and local cultures.

"Our analysis shows that redistributing crops across lands that are cultivated at present can make use of the technologies and knowledge that are already present in a country to offer distinct benefits across food security and environmental spheres," Davis and his colleagues wrote.

"In particular, our results are encouraging for several world regions that are grappling with water scarcity, food insecurity or a combination of both."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Climate News Network.

Show Comments ()
Sponsored
U.S. Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Cristian L. Ricardo

One Year Into the Trump Administration, Where Do We Stand?

By John R. Platt

What a long, strange year it's been.

Saturday, Jan. 20 marks the one-year anniversary of the Trump administration officially taking office after a long and arduous election. It's a year that has seen seemingly unending attacks on science and the environment, along with a rise in hateful rhetoric and racially motivated policies. But it's almost been met by the continuing growth of the efforts to resist what the Trump administration has to offer.

Keep reading... Show less
Popular

Chris J. Ratcliffe / Greenpeace

Greenpeace Slams Coca-Cola Plastic Announcement as ‘Dodging the Main Issue’

By Louise Edge

Friday Greenpeace criticized Coca-Cola's new global plastics plan for failing to address the urgency of ocean plastic pollution.

The long awaited policy from the world's largest soft drink company featured a series of measures weaker than those previously announced for Europe and the UK.

Keep reading... Show less
Animals
The two young Iowa vandals knocked over 50 hives and exposed the bees to deadly winter temperatures. Colby Stopa / Flickr

Two Boys Charged With Killing Half a Million Honeybees in Iowa

Two boys were charged with killing more than a half million bees at a honey business in Iowa last month.

"All of the beehives on the honey farm were destroyed and approximately 500,000 bees perished in the frigid temperatures," Sioux City police said in a release.

Keep reading... Show less
Energy

Are Microwaves Really as Bad for the Environment as Cars?

According to many headlines blared around the Internet this week, "microwaves are as damaging to the environment as cars." But this misleading information, based on a new study from the University of Manchester, hopefully doesn't make you feel guilty about zapping your next Hot Pocket.

The research, published in the journal Science of the Total Environment, found that microwave ovens across the European Union generate as much carbon dioxide as nearly 7 million cars and consume an estimated 9.4 terawatts per hour of electricity per year. Okay, that sounds like a lot. But also consider that there are about 130 million microwaves in Europe and some 291 million vehicles on its roads.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
GMO

Monsanto's Roundup Destroys Healthy Microbes in Humans and in Soils

By Julie Wilson

We're only beginning to learn the importance of healthy gut bacteria to our overall health—and the relationship between healthy soil and the human microbiome.

We know that the human microbiome, often referred to as our "second brain," plays a key role in our health, from helping us digest the food we eat, to boosting our brain function and regulating our immune systems.

Keep reading... Show less
Trump Watch
Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke refused to meet with National Park System Advisory Board members last year, prompting most of them to quit. Gage Skidmore / Flickr

From National Parks to the EPA, Trump Administration Stiff-Arms Science Advisers

By Elliott Negin

The Trump administration's testy relationship with science reminds me of that old saying: Advice is least heeded when most needed.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored
Health
Shutterstock

8 Ways to Reduce Your Exposure to Hormone-Disrupting Chemicals

By Caroline Cox

What keeps you up at night? Sick kids, restless pets, the latest tragedy on the evening news, politics, wars, earthquakes, hurricanes, fires, money troubles, job stress, and family health and wellbeing? There is no shortage of concerns that make us all toss and turn.

But what keeps the chemical industry up at night? A couple of decades ago a senior Shell executive was asked this very question. The answer? Endocrine disruption.

Keep reading... Show less
Insights
Dave Atkinson / Flickr / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Why We'll March Again

This Sunday marks the first anniversary of the Women's March that happened on the day after Donald Trump's inauguration—the largest protest march in our nation's history. The Sierra Club was there that day, and we'll be there this year, too—at a significant moment for women's rights and justice.

Keep reading... Show less
Sponsored

mail-copy

The best of EcoWatch, right in your inbox. Sign up for our email newsletter!