Which are the right crops to enable food security under future climates?

A new paper sets out to determine if crop-specific research investments can be prioritized to anticipate climate change impact on crops and enable the production of more nutritious food.

As world leaders at the UN’s 24th Conference on Climate Change in Poland grapple with how to implement agreements made in Paris 2015 to reduce carbon emissions, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) warns that we have just “12 years to limit catastrophe”.

It is well-documented that agriculture is the second largest contributor to carbon emissions after the energy sector. At the same time, climate change is affecting our ability to grow food. The IPCC predicts that yields of major crops will reduce by 2% while demand increases by 14% every decade until 2050. Up to 40% of the world’s land could develop novel climates often with new crop pests and diseases.

Additionally, rising CO2 levels are linked to a decrease in crop nutrients. When grown under elevated CO2 concentrations, many food crops – including wheat, rice, barley and soybeans – have lowered concentrations of nutrients, including many that are important for overall health, such as iron, zinc, and protein. Even under current conditions, agricultural systems are failing to address malnutrition of more than 2 billion people who suffer from micronutrient deficiencies. This is also partly due to the insufficient production of nutrient-rich crops. If every person on the planet tried to consume the recommended daily amount of 400g of fruits and vegetables, they would find that the global supply of fruits and vegetables falls 22% short  – a shortfall that rises to 50% in some low-income countries.