Climate change will affect every aspect of food production in the future, according to a report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations.

The report, titled ‘The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges’, outlined that the fallout from a changing climate is set to jeopardise mankind’s future ability to feed itself.

The intensifying pressure on natural resources is also another obstacle that will have to be overcome in the future, the report warned.

Expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment, the report says.

By 2050 the world’s population is estimated to reach nearly 10 billion people. The report expects this population increase to push up global demand for agricultural products by 50% over present levels.

At the same time, the FAO report suggests that greater numbers of people will be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food.

This projected increase in demand will intensify pressures on already-strained natural resources.

Alongside these trends the planet’s changing climate will throw up additional hurdles, including greater variability of rainfall and increases in the frequency of droughts or floods, according to the report.

‘Limited scope’ for expanding agriculture’s use of additional land

The report believes that the world’s agriculture and food systems are capable of sustainably meeting the needs of a growing population, but major transformations will be required.

There is limited scope for expanding agriculture’s use of more land and water resources, the FAO believes.

Based on this, the production increases needed to meet rising food demand will have to come mainly from improvements in productivity and resource-use efficiency, the report says.

However, the report warned that there are worrying signs that yield growth is levelling off for major crops.

Since the 1990s, average increases in the yields of maize, rice and wheat at a global level generally run at just over 1% per year, the report notes.

A ‘business-as-usual’ approach is not an option to tackle these and the other challenges outlined in the report, according to the FAO.

High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production, the report added.

In the future the FAO argues that there will need to be a shift to more sustainable food systems, which make more efficient use of land, water and other inputs and sharply reduce their use of fossil fuels.

It is hoped that these measures will lead to a cut in agricultural green-house gas emissions, greater conservation of biodiversity and reduced waste.

These measures will require more investment in agriculture and agri-food systems, as well as greater spending on research and development, the report says.

It is hoped that these investments would promote innovation, support sustainable production increases and find better ways to cope with issues like water scarcity and climate change.