No time to waste to avoid future food shortages

April 23, 2020

During the past few weeks, empty supermarket shelves, without pasta, rice and flour due to panic buying, has caused public concerns about the possibility of running out of food. Australian farmers have reassured consumers saying that the country produces enough food to feed three times its population. However, will this statement remain true in ten to twenty years in a country severely affected by climate change? The answer is yes, if we are prepared for this and if there is continuous funding towards creating solutions to increase crop production.

"Plant scientists are punching above their weight by participating in global, interdisciplinary efforts to find ways to increase crop production under future climate change conditions. We essentially need to double the production of major cereals before 2050 to secure food availability for the rapidly growing world population," says ANU Professor Robert Furbank from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP).

"It is similar to finding a virus vaccine to solve a pandemic, it doesn't happen overnight. We know that Australia's agriculture is going to be one area of the world that is most affected by climate extremes, so we are preparing to have a toolbox of plant innovations ready to ensure global food security in a decade or so, but to do this we need research funding to continue," Professor Furbank says.

Several examples of these innovative solutions were published recently in a special issue on Food Security Innovations in Agriculture in the Journal of Experimental Botany, including five reviews and five research articles.

Co-editor of the Special Issue, ANU Professor John Evans, says that this publication highlights the now widely accepted view that improving photosynthesis - the process by which plants convert sunlight, water and CO2 into organic matter - is a new way to increase crop production that is being developed.

"We are working on improving photosynthesis on different fronts, as the articles included in this special issue show, from finding crop varieties that need less water, to tweaking parts of the process in order to capture more carbon dioxide and sunlight. We know that there is a delay of at least a decade to get these solutions to the breeders and farmers, so we need to start developing new opportunities now before we run out of options," says Professor Evans, CoETP Chief Investigator.

The special issue includes research solutions that range from traditional breeding approaches to ambitious genetic engineering projects using completely different ends of the technological spectrum; from robot tractors, to synthetic biology. All these efforts are focused on finding ways to make crops more resistant to drought and extreme climate conditions and being more efficient in the use of land and fertilisers.

"Our research is contributing to providing food security in a global context, and people often ask what that has to do with Australian farmers and my answer is everything. Aside from the fact that economy and agriculture are globally inter-connected, if Australian farmers have a more productive resilient and stable crop variety, they are able to plan for the future, which turns into a better agribusiness and at the same time, ensures global security across the world," says Professor Furbank.
-end-
This research has been funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC) Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis (CoETP), led by the Australian National University, which aims to improve the process of photosynthesis to increase the production of major food crops such as sorghum, wheat and rice.

This research is published in the Journal of Experimental Botany Special issue on Innovations in Agriculture for Food Security (Volume 71, Issue 7, April 2020)

Journalists who want to link to the Journal of Experimental Special issue and associated papers in their stories can use the following link: https://academic.oup.com/jxb/issue/71/7

ARC Centre of Excellence for Translational Photosynthesis

Related Climate Change Articles from Brightsurf:

Are climate scientists being too cautious when linking extreme weather to climate change?
Climate science has focused on avoiding false alarms when linking extreme events to climate change.

Mysterious climate change
New research findings underline the crucial role that sea ice throughout the Southern Ocean played for atmospheric CO2 in times of rapid climate change in the past.

Mapping the path of climate change
Predicting a major transition, such as climate change, is extremely difficult, but the probabilistic framework developed by the authors is the first step in identifying the path between a shift in two environmental states.

Small change for climate change: Time to increase research funding to save the world
A new study shows that there is a huge disproportion in the level of funding for social science research into the greatest challenge in combating global warming -- how to get individuals and societies to overcome ingrained human habits to make the changes necessary to mitigate climate change.

Sub-national 'climate clubs' could offer key to combating climate change
'Climate clubs' offering membership for sub-national states, in addition to just countries, could speed up progress towards a globally harmonized climate change policy, which in turn offers a way to achieve stronger climate policies in all countries.

Review of Chinese atmospheric science research over the past 70 years: Climate and climate change
Over the past 70 years since the foundation of the People's Republic of China, Chinese scientists have made great contributions to various fields in the research of atmospheric sciences, which attracted worldwide attention.

A CERN for climate change
In a Perspective article appearing in this week's Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Tim Palmer (Oxford University), and Bjorn Stevens (Max Planck Society), critically reflect on the present state of Earth system modelling.

Fairy-wrens change breeding habits to cope with climate change
Warmer temperatures linked to climate change are having a big impact on the breeding habits of one of Australia's most recognisable bird species, according to researchers at The Australian National University (ANU).

Believing in climate change doesn't mean you are preparing for climate change, study finds
Notre Dame researchers found that although coastal homeowners may perceive a worsening of climate change-related hazards, these attitudes are largely unrelated to a homeowner's expectations of actual home damage.

Older forests resist change -- climate change, that is
Older forests in eastern North America are less vulnerable to climate change than younger forests, particularly for carbon storage, timber production, and biodiversity, new research finds.

Read More: Climate Change News and Climate Change Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.