Climate change and a lack of significant improvement in technology may lead to fall in global crop yield, forcing production to move to new areas, a study today warned.
With a worldwide population projected to top nine billion in next 30 years, the amount of food produced globally will need to double.
The study by a team of researchers led by UK’s University of Birmingham showed that much of the land currently used to grow wheat, maize and rice is vulnerable to climate change.
This could lead to a major drop in productivity of these areas by 2050, along with a corresponding increase in potential productivity of many previously-unused areas – a major shift in the map of global food production.
The study, published in Nature Communications, used a new approach combining standard climate change models with maximum land productivity data, to predict how the potential productivity of cropland is likely to change over the next 50-100 years as a result of climate change.
The results show that: Nearly half of all maize produced in the world (43 per cent), and a third of all wheat and rice (33 per cent and 37 per cent respectively), is grown in areas vulnerable to the effects of climate change.
Croplands in tropical areas, including Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and the Eastern US, are likely to experience the most drastic reductions in their potential to grow these crops.
Croplands in temperate areas, including western and central Russia and central Canada, are likely to experience an increase in yield potential, leading to many new opportunities for agriculture.
While the effects of climate change are usually expected to be greatest in the world’s poorest areas, this study suggested that developed countries may be equally affected.
Highly-developed countries already have a very small yield gap, so the negative effects of climate change on potential yield are likely to be felt more acutely in these areas.
“Our model shows that on many areas of land currently used to grow crops, the potential to improve yields is greatly decreased as a result of the effects of climate change,” said lead researcher and the university’s academic Tom Pugh.
“But it raises an interesting opportunity for some countries in temperate areas, where the suitability of climate to grow these major crops is likely to increase over the same time period,” Pugh said.
The political, social and cultural effects of these major changes to the distribution of global cropland would be profound, as currently productive regions become net importers and vice versa.