ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE PUBLISHED FOR EVERYBODY ROUND THE EARTH
Future food production
Food production in the future will be affected by changes in biophysical conditions (temperature, precipitation and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels) and changes in socio-economic factors such as population growth and technological advances.
Biophysical effects of climate change on food production will be positive in some regions and negative in others, and these effects will vary through time.
Socio-economic factors influencing food production include changes in population size, changes in food prices, changes in trade agreements and the possibility of adaptation.
Scientists combine different mathematical models (climate, agricultural, and economic models) to predict the possible impacts of global climate change on regional food production. The figure shows the results obtained using the Hadley climate model for the years 2020, 2050 and 2080 (for further explanation on how this model works, see the "read more" section).
1. Results of models showing possible crop yields in the future.
Source Rosenzweig and Iglesias, 2002.
To interpret the maps we have to remember that the results obtained depend on climate, the effect of CO2 levels on crop growth and changes in socioeconomic conditions. For example, in developed countries lower rainfall levels can be overcome through irrigation but these technological solutions are not necessarily possible in less developed countries.
The maps show that increased temperatures in many parts of Africa will reduce food production. The decrease in rainfall in Australia will reduce crop yields but this decline can be overcome by irrigation in some cases. The increase in rainfall combined with a moderate increase in temperatures in North America may benefit food production there. The maps show that the burden of climate change is likely to fall disproportionately on the poorer countries of the world.
Factors influencing future food production:
Scientists always stress that predicting the future is very difficult and its even more difficult to predict changes in food production than it is climate. Click on the pictures below to help you understand what factors have to be taken into account when we try to predict how climate change will affect food production.
a) in developing countries
b) in the developed industrialised world
- Demography - How will the population on our planet develop? How many people have to be fed? Compare the numbers and projections for two industrialised and two developing countries [source: US census].
- Technical state - Is engineering know-how, financial backing and technical equipment available to mitigate the impacts of climate change? Compare countries where people get the water from public wells to modern drip irrigation using carefully each drop of water!
- Infrastructure - What means are available to overcome local or regional food scarcity of food? Compare, for example the transport sector.
- Trade - How fair is trade? Compare what producers, traders and sellers earn. Look at how the price of coffee changes from production to sale in western shops.
- Markets - How do markets develop and what happens when goods become temporally scarce due to floods or droughts? Think about the distance an item of food travels to a local market in Niger and to a big grocery store in the USA.
Image sources for the figure series:
1. Data from US census population statistics, graph by Elmar Uherek.
2., 3., 5. Images from or near Agadez / Niger by Peter Hilty.
2. Photograph of a drop irrigation system by Alison Clayson for UNESCO.
4. Data from Oxfam 2003, graph by Elmar Uherek.
5. Photograph of a US grocery store by Denise Daughtry.
About this page:
author: Marta Moneo and Dr. Ana Iglesias - Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, España
1. scientific reviewer: Alex de Sherbinin - CIESIN, Columbia University, USA
2. scientific reviewer: Lily Parshall - Goddard Institute for Space Studies, Columbia University, USA
educational reviewer: Emilio Sternfeld - Colegio Virgen de Mirasierra, España
last published: 2004-05-12