The rising demand for food around the globe is prompting the need for both scientists and farmers to deal with failing crop yields as a result of global warming. Steady increases in both wealth and population are leading to projections that by 2050, demand for food will be up 70 percent – but around the world, the staple crops of wheat, soybean, sorghum, barley, rice, and maize, are providing lower yields.
Much of this can be attributed to the effects of climate change. According to studies, all six of these staple crops showed negative responses to rising temperatures, particularly maize, wheat, and barley. With temperatures expected to continue increasing at an even faster rate over the coming decades, the agriculture and scientific communities are rushing to address these concerns before they become a serious problem.
“We can mitigate the effects of some climate variations with food management practices,” said Dr. Andrew Borrell, a crop physiologist and centre leader of the Queensland Government’s Hermitage Research Facility. “For example, to tackle drought, we can alter planting dates, fertilizer, irrigation, row spacing, population, and cropping systems.”
According to Borrell, scientists are currently meeting the challenge, creating a framework to help crops adapt to the changing climate. The concept involves matching favorable crop varieties, or genotypes, to appropriate management practices, agronomy, to work together.
The idea isn’t entirely original; in fact, permaculturists have been doing this for years – combining the needs of the land and the needs of the people to grow more than enough food to provide for themselves and their communities. Incorporating some of the ethics of permaculture could help solve this global food crisis and ensure populations around the world will have enough to survive.
Even last year, in the face of a food shortage that threatened much of Venezuela’s population, president Nicolás Maduro called on citizens to help themselves by starting their own urban gardens – raising chickens and growing food in their homes and yards. The government even formed a Ministry of Urban Farming to help residents get started.
With permaculture and urban farming, we can turn the threats of climate change from a crisis to an opportunity – to help heal the planet by reducing the greenhouse gas emissions generated from the modern agricultural industry and to feed the world with organic, healthy foods produced right in our own backyards. This rising pressure may be the shock society needs to look at alternatives like permaculture for new agricultural strategies.
Until then, however, scientists and agronomists will continue seeking possible solutions to address the growing issue of food stability. According to Borrell, there is potential to develop climate-resilient crops for the highly variable environments in Australia and beyond – and to ensure agricultural success in the face of adversity.
“Climate change, water, agriculture, and food security form a critical nexus for the 21st century,” Borrell said. “We need to create and implement practices that will increase yields while overcoming changing conditions and limiting the emissions from the agricultural sector. There is no room for complacency here.”