Food Production

Food production is threatened by water shortages, as well as extreme weather and rising sea levels as a result of climate change.

Hunger has driven many drought-stricken farmers to tap into non-renewable water sources such as underground reserves. When these sources dry up, agriculture will have to cease, placing millions at risk of starvation.

In India, for example, 175 million Indians consume grain produced with water from wells that will soon be exhausted.

World grain production has fallen short of consumption for 6 of the past 9 years. This has steadily drained food reserves, forcing up world food prices.

These shortfalls in food output have been due to weather, notably the severe water shortages in southern Europe, Africa and Australia.

These droughts are an early signal of global warming, meaning that if we continue to pump greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, food shortages are likely in the future.

For instance, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) last year projected significantly higher drought risk in some parts of the world, rapidly intensifying in the next 2 decades. Southern Europe, western Australia, Southern Africa, Africa north of the Sahara and the Middle East, and central Western USA are expected to be the worst affected. These are major export areas, so reduced food production capacity there will spread to the rest of the world.

With global population projected at 9 billion by 2050, food demand is growing at 1 % per year, meaning that we will need to double our current food production by mid-century.

Clearly, more efficient use of the land and urgent solutions to climate change are needed to avoid famines and conflict.

Climate change causes droughts in many areas, contributing to food shortages, but it is not alone. Our own responses to solving climate change can also impact on food production.

Recent policies to manufacture biofuels to replace heavily polluting fossil fuels dramatically reduced food supplies because grains were being used in industrial crops rather than food for human consumption.

Better and more holistic policies are needed to combat falling food production. Solutions must include massive cuts to greenhouse gas emissions, and also adapting agricultural areas to a changing climate. Building water-efficient irrigation systems, crops appropriate for the land, and developing drought-proof crops will help to secure food for the future.

Unless we take these steps, shrinking water supplies could lead to widespread food shortages, social conflict and waves of environmental refugees.

References

Lester Brown, ‘Falling Water Tables, Falling Harvests’, Earth Police Institute,http://www.celsias.com/article/falling-water-tables-falling-harvests/

Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, ‘Impacts, Adaptations and Vulnerability’, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson (eds) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007, ‘Impacts, Adaptations and Vulnerability’, M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson (eds) Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Kerri Smith, ‘The Population Problem’, Nature, 15 May 2008,http://www.nature.com/climate/2008/0806/full/climate.2008.44.html

Bruce Babock, ‘Charting Growth in Food Demand’, Iowa Agricultural Review, Summer 2008, Vol. 14 No. 3,http://www.card.iastate.edu/iowa_ag_review/summer_08/article4.aspx

Oxfam International, ‘Another Inconvenient Truth’, June 2008, http://www.oxfam.org/en/policy/another-inconvenient-truth