World will need more food despite cutbacks on greenhouse gases

By Alex Binkley
True North Perspective
Originally written for Ontario Farmer

Amidst all the debate about how much humans are responsible for climate change, there're a few sensible voices that keep pointing out the need for mankind to adapt to a warmer world, which is coming regardless of what we do to stem greenhouse gases.

Saskatchewan based commentator Red Williams points out a slowly gaining recognition of the need to "gear up the food production system to meet the demands of a 50 per cent increase in human population."

Climate change, which mainly means more erratic weather because of slightly higher temperatures, will be one of the challenges farmers will face in the future, he continues. The last few years have given Canadian farmers some experience with wonky weather and there're bound to get more. Even if a way was found to severely ratchet back greenhouse gas emissions, the world's going to get warmer for decades to come.

That means food shortages will be real in many parts of the world as the population continues to grow and countries like Canada should start preparing now to fill that need, he suggests.

"For places like the Prairies with our current capacity to export food, it is an opportunity to increase cereal and livestock production," he says in a weekly online commentary. "The truth is we cannot expect to make these increases when the crisis has struck but rather that preparations must begin now for that eventuality which it is predicted will peak forty years from now in about 2050."

What steps does Williams recommend we take to prepare ourselves? First is "to intensify agronomy research to increase crop yields, and abandon the nonsense that we can play our part using the farming methods of our grandfathers. Step two is to totally integrate livestock and cropping practices in order that the output per acre can be optimized.

"Step three is to improve our infrastructure; transportation, marketing and policies in order that market signals can be evenly responded to by the production sector. And, step four is that water policy is advanced to develop reservoirs on our major rivers in preparations for the possibility of reduced summer flows and greatly expanded irrigation."

Williams adds a much needed touch of reality to his argument. "This is creating opportunity out of a world food crisis; sensibly and aggressively."

The adaptation that Williams talks about will require unprecedented co-operation among farmers, the agri-food industry and government. It will also require a new infrastructure support program along with governments willing to talk frankly about climate change. The midst of an economic recession isn't the best time to advocate Williams' style forward thinking but given how long it takes to change public opinion, we can't afford to wait.

October 30, 2009 — Return to cover.