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Page added on February 11, 2010

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Radical new directions needed in food production to deal with climate change

Yields from some of the most important crops begin to decline sharply when average temperatures exceed about 30 degrees Celsius, or 86 Fahrenheit. Projections are that by the end of this century much of the tropics and subtropics will regularly see growing season temperatures above that level, hotter than the hottest summers now on record.

An international panel of scientists writing in the Feb. 12 edition of the journal Science is urging world leaders to dramatically alter their notions about sustainable agriculture to prevent a major starvation catastrophe by the end of this century among the more than 3 billion people who live relatively close to the equator.

Specifically they urge world leaders to “get beyond popular biases against the use of agricultural biotechnology,” particularly crops genetically modified to produce greater yields in harsher conditions, and to base the regulations of such crops on the best available science.

“You’re looking at a 20 percent to 30 percent decline in production yields in the next 50 years for major crops between the latitudes of southern California or southern Europe to South Africa,” said David Battisti, a University of Washington atmospheric sciences professor.

“I grow increasingly concerned that we have not yet understood what it will take to feed a growing population on a warming planet,” said Federoff, who also is a biology professor at Pennsylvania State University.

The challenge is becoming more difficult, the scientists said, because the world’s population is likely to have increased more than 30 percent, to 9 billion people, by 2050.

Even without climate change, feeding all of these people will require doubling the grain production in the tropics, Battisti said, but a warmer climate will reduce yields because the temperature will be too high to achieve the most efficient photosynthesis. That factor, combined with less rainfall in major food-producing regions and increasing pressure from pests and pathogens, is likely to cut major food crop yields a minimum of 20 percent to 30 percent.

EurekAlert



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