Quantcast

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

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

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 ()

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

A metal fence marked with the U.S. Border Patrol sign prevents people to get close to the barbed/concertina wire covering the U.S./Mexico border fence, in Nogales, Arizona, on Feb. 9. ARIANA DREHSLER / AFP / Getty Images

President Donald Trump issued the first veto of his presidency Friday, overturning Congress' vote to block his national emergency declaration to fund a border wall that environmental advocates say would put 93 endangered species at risk. However, the president's decision came the same day as an in-depth report from UPI revealing how razor wire placed at the border in the last four months already threatens wildlife.

Read More Show Less
Guillermo Murcia / Moment / Getty Images

By Ansley Hill

Vitamin D is an essential nutrient that your body needs for many vital processes, including building and maintaining strong bones.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
D'Bone Collector Museum head Darrell Blatchley shows plastic found inside the stomach of a Cuvier's beaked whale in the Philippines this weekend. - / AFP / Getty Images

Yet another whale has died after ingesting plastic bags. A young male Cuvier's beaked whale was found washed up in Mabini, Compostela Valley in the Philippines Friday, CNN reported. When scientists from the D' Bone Collector Museum in Davao investigated the dead whale, they found it had died of "dehydration and starvation" after swallowing plastic bags―40 kilograms (approximately 88 pounds) worth of them!

Read More Show Less
Pexels

By Jeff Turrentine

"Be careful what you wish for; you just might get it." This is something that everybody has to learn at some point. Lately, the lesson has hit home for a group of American automakers.

Read More Show Less
Art direction: Georgie Johnson. Illustrations: Freya Morgan

By Joe Sandler Clarke

"Don't expect us to continue buying European products," Malaysia's former plantations minister Mah Siew Keong told reporters in January last year. His comments came just after he had accused the EU of "practising a form of crop apartheid."

A few months later Luhut Pandjaitan, an Indonesian government minister close to President Joko 'Jokowi' Widodo, warned his country would retaliate if it was "cornered" by the EU.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Torres and his parents walk along the Rio Grande. Luis Torres / Earthjustice

By Luis Torres

For some people who live along the U.S.-Mexico border, President Trump's attempt to declare a national emergency and extend the border wall is worse than a wasteful, unconstitutional stunt. It's an attack on their way of life that threatens to desecrate their loved ones' graves.

Read More Show Less
Flooding at the Platte River south of Fremont, Nebraska. Gov. Pete Ricketts

Flooding caused by last week's bomb cyclone storm has broken records in 17 places across the state of Nebraska, CNN reported Sunday. Around nine million people in 14 states along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers were under a flood watch, CNN meteorologist Karen Maginnis said.

Read More Show Less
A car destroyed by Cyclone Idai in Beira, Mozambique. ADRIEN BARBIER / AFP / Getty Images

At least 150 people have died in a cyclone that devastated parts of Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi over the weekend, The Associated Press reported Sunday. Cyclone Idai has affected more than 1.5 million people since it hit Mozambique's port city of Beira late Thursday, then traveled west to Zimbabwe and Malawi. Hundreds are still missing and tens of thousands are without access to roads or telephones.

"I think this is the biggest natural disaster Mozambique has ever faced. Everything is destroyed. Our priority now is to save human lives," Mozambique's Environment Minister Celso Correia said, as AFP reported.

Read More Show Less