Australia will have to change the way it produces its food if it wants to avert crisis as the impacts of climate change take hold, leading Australian climate researcher says.
Professor Mark Howden says global food production is beginning to feel the impacts of climate change with increasing temperatures and declines in crop yields.
Temperature increases over land now average 1.5 degrees, and agricultural productivity in many parts of the world is already several per cent lower than it would have been in the absence of climate change.
"About 700 million square kilometres of land - about the size of Australia - is needed for planting trees to store carbon in order to keep temperature increases to 1.5 degrees," Mr Howden said.
"That land would then be lost to conventional agriculture, creating even more pressure on food production."
He said tropical regions, where crops are already growing at the extreme end of their temperature range, are particularly susceptible to climate impacts.
These regions are also home to the world's fastest-growing populations.
"If we ask whether we can meet growing demand for food without making changes, then I think the answer is no," he said.
"As climate change increases, the impacts on agricultural productivity are likely to get worse."
He said a three pronged approach is needed to help agricultural production adapt.
First is something he calls a transformational change - which could see humans moving towards new food groups such as insects.
Second, systemic change is illustrated by Indian farmers, who have already switched from maize to the more heat and drought tolerant grain, sorghum.
And third, incremental change, which can be seen by international organisations who are attempting to drive up yield potential and enhance climate adaptation through advanced breeding programs.
Mr Howden said food production is under pressure to increase as the population continues to grow.
"The outlook if we don't respond effectively is quite challenging," Mr Howden says.
Food crises are likely to first manifest in the form of price spikes when global-scale events affect production in several important food exporting regions in the same year, such as extended dry conditions that cause both Australian and Ukraine wheat crops to fail.
"Because of increased climate risks, there is an increased probability of multiple regions having food production problems," Mr Howden said.
"The disparities between supply and demand make food price spikes, such as those experienced in 2008-09, more likely and more damaging for those people least able to pay.
"We need to be much more strategic about the management of our whole food supply.
"It is important we get people right across the globe understanding the issues and being able to respond effectively and strategically."
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