Saturday, December 06, 2014
Agricultural Production and Climate Chage
04 Dec, 2014 03:00 AM
The world has not yet fully understood the food dimensions of climate change
Science author and former rural journalist Julian Cribb.
TODAY'S broadacre farmers may not like the idea, but the human diet is on course to shift from a focus on meat and grain products to seafood and vegetables in the next 50 years.
Farming is also likely to increase in high-rise buildings (or 'agritecture') within the world's emerging mega cities, and even on giant floating horticulture and aquaculture greenhouse platforms dotted around our coastline.
We won't have much choice, according to science author and former rural journalist Julian Cribb.
The planet is running out of fresh water, farmland, fertiliser and fossil fuels, and mankind will need to get much better at recycling agricultural inputs and growing food more efficiently.
"By the latter part of this century there may be 11 billion mouths to feed, but rainfall in the world's great grain bowls is becoming less reliable and lakes rivers and aquifers are drying up," he said.
Global warming by just two degrees in average temperatures would cut grain yields as much as 45 per cent in India alone. Five degrees could halve current global food production capacity.
"The world has not yet fully understood the food dimensions of climate change," Mr Cribb said.
"It will drive geopolitics, migration and warfare and gradually shift our diet away from one that is predominantly meat and grains to predominantly seafood and vegetables."
At last month's Rabobank sponsored F20 Summit on food security solutions in Sydney, Mr Cribb told attendees that mega cities and energy industries were also devouring more and more of the farmer's water resources, yet farms were expected to double their output from half as much water.
On average, humans used 1240 tonnes of water a year.
About 75pc of this use was in the form of food, much of which was discarded by western consumers or wasted in the paddock, or became part of an "industrialised diet" responsible for diet-related diseases claiming about two thirds of all ailment-related deaths.
To feed emerging mega city populations like the 120 million filling China's sprawling Guangzhou-Shenzen apartment towers by 2050 - and to make life more livable for the 7 billion people forecast to be occupying the world's cities - urban agriculture and horticulture was taking on a new importance.
Global impact on cities
Plans on drawing boards already ranged from high-tech glass skyscrapers producing horticulture crops, fish and even poultry, through to a renaissance in balcony and community gardens.
Vertical greenhouse 'farms' and city office or hospital roof-top gardens (pictured, below) would bring new green life, food, birds and biodiversity and help moderate temperature extremes in the "soulless concrete and glass 'urbanscapes' of today".
Metropolitan waste and water would be recycled to grow these city crops, utilising valuable nutrients currently being flushed away, while easing the demand on limited fertiliser and water resources.
"With the right investment, urban horticulture and farms can supply half the world's food by 2050, bringing immense relief to the stress now imposed on our farming soils, water, biodiversity and rural communities," said Canberra-based Mr Cribb.
Aquaponic farms producing crops and fish fed on recycled nutrients, algae and vegetable matter were already "sprouting" in Norway, Iceland, North America and even New Zealand and Australia.
A 4000-hectare vertical farm was proposed right in the heart of Rotterdam in the Netherlands, one already operated in Singapore, and an "aeroponic" farm planned to grow hundred of tonnes of leafy greens in New Jersey, US.
At Cobbitty south-west of Sydney, Blue Farms was producing fresh fish and herb crops in controlled glasshouse environments, using fish waste to feed plants grown in aquaponic conditions on giant conveyor belts.
In Norway, seven hectares of greenhouses produced 2200 tonnes of organic tomatoes and capsicums every seven months.
To meet the fresh food needs of seaboard mega cities like Shanghai, Tokyo and Mumbai, Mr Cribb said giant floating greenhouses were also being designed.
By 2050 aquaculture production would grow three-fold from the current 67m tonnes of fish and water plants (including algae) produced annually to help feed the 550m tonnes of animal and fish protein likely to be demanded.
Jellyfish, seaweed, sea cucumbers and a host of edible Australian native plants (6100 are known to exist) could become part of our diet, just as tomatoes and potatoes from the Americas had created profound culinary changes in the past 400 years.
"The food we eat a century from now and how we produce and consume it will be as strange to us today as the foods our ancestors grew centuries ago."
The algae revolution
Feeding the world with more meat, grain, seafood and horticultural crops won't be possible without a revolutionary change in the energy resources used to power extra agricultural production.
That revolutionary ingredient is likely to be algae, according to Julian Cribb.
"In future huge algae farms on land, at sea and in salt lakes will produce food for people, feed for fish and other livestock, fuel for transport, pharmaceuticals, plastics, textiles and chemicals," he forecast.
Nourished by the flood of organic waste from the world's increasing urban populations, algae production plants, such as South Australia's Muradel site at Whyalla, offered a green renewable solution to the problem of global oil scarcity.
Last month Muradel launched a $11 million demonstration plant in its first step towards a commercial site with potential to produce 80m litres of 'green' crude oil a year.
Theoretically, algal-type water plants were capable of supplying the world's entire fuel needs from an area covering just 57 million hectares, said Mr Cribb, whose science and technology writing career has spanned National Farmer magazine, metropolitan newspapers and six years as a media director with the CSIRO.
He said 30 countries were already investing in what could becomes the world's biggest crop.
Algae was resilient to climate change and could be farmed in tanks, on wasteland ponds, or in floating rafts at sea where it did not compete for space with other crops.
The world's 72,000 species of water plants included many which also contained nutrients for a healthy human or livestock diet, including omega three oils and beta-carotene.
"Algae can be made into delicious, healthy and sustainable foods as readily as any land-based crop and would also insure our food system never ran short of energy," Mr Cribb said.
He also wants Australia to move fast to accelerate research algal biofuels, coupled with a national investment plan to take advantage of the opportunity.
The world's food supply was not just currently dangerously dependent on fossil fuels to grow crops and livestock, but also to transport, chill and cook the food our farmers produce.
"Each year we're eating the diesel from 66 barrels of oil, but the number of new cars is also growing at seven times the rate of new oil reserves being discovered," he said.
"There will be huge impacts on the price and supply of food as fresh energy shocks occur."
On the other hand, algae culture had the potential to make sunlight-rich Australia self sufficient in energy production, generating an extra $50m annually in new revenue and jobs - particularly in the bush.
This is a critical issue and we all should be aware of how this is developing.
But getting support for new concepts is a frustrating business, with governments and support organisations not supporting funding of the development of these new concepts, especially here in Australia. And we have first hand knowledge of that lack of support.
The comments on the original story are amazing - read them yourself. Some very strong vehement almost anti-progress stuff with a personal attack bias. Quite amazing!!