Food could become scarce by 2050

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By 2050, global food production will have to double from current levels to keep up with a hungry world, but the delicately balanced ecosystem that produces food in abundance is already under considerable stress as climate change erodes crop production, says U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“This increased demand will have to be met under increasing water scarcity, heightened salinity, and more erratic weather and climate patterns,” Vilsack said at the international climate change conference held in Copenhagen. The conference aims to draft an internationally binding treaty to control greenhouse gas emissions causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.

Vilsack said that while global warming is affecting everyone, farmers, ranchers and others making their living off the land will be affected even more because of their particular vulnerabilities and challenges.

“Higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and more frequent extreme events like droughts and flooding threatens to reduce yields and increase the occurrence of crop failure,” he said December 12 during “Agriculture and Rural Development Day,” a daylong event at the University of Copenhagen.

A recent study by the International Food Policy Research Institute showed that rice and wheat yields in developing nations could decrease as much as 19 percent and 34 percent respectively by 2050 because of global warming. Vilsack said agriculture must play a role in curbing the impact of climate change, adding that “we are not currently on an optimum research trajectory to meet these challenges.”

The United States recently launched the Agriculture Department’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture to focus farm science on new outcomes that are designed to end world hunger and lessen the effects of global warming on farming and forestry, he said.

“Our researchers are now working to develop stress-resistant crops that are drought-tolerant, heat-tolerant and saline-resistant,” he said. Research is also being directed at making crops more resistant to pests and diseases through genetic engineering rather than relying on chemicals.

During the Group of Eight (G8) major economies meeting in Italy in July, world leaders pledged to provide $22 billion over three years to increase international assistance for agricultural development, which includes $3.5 billion from the United States, Vilsack said.

But that alone will not resolve the major food security issues. It will take firm leadership from major developed and developing nations (…) to begin the process of changing the world and thwarting global warming, he said.

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