Farmers versus famine: tackling global food insecurity

CSIRO is working with farmers and government departments to research practical options to respond and adapt to climate change.

  • 12 April 2011 | Updated 25 November 2011

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Glen Paul: Hello, and welcome to CSIROvod. I’m Glen Paul. Climate change has, and continues to have, an impact on Australian Agriculture. More intense droughts, high temperatures, and extreme weather events, all go towards making life on the land for the Australian farmer very difficult.

CSIRO are helping farmers to meet the challenges of climate change by working with Primary Industries to develop a system of cropping and grazing working together. We’ve come to Cootamundra, on the south west slopes of New South Wales, where we’re going to talk to some farmers about the work they’re doing with CSIRO, and how science can help them farm better under a future of climate change.

The new three year project aims to help farmers identify on-farm management options that they believe may offset the negative impacts of climate change. Steve Crimp, from CSIRO’s Ecosystem Sciences, believes climate change offers both challenges and opportunities for farmers.

Steven Crimp: And I think from a challenge point of view, certainly farmers were going to have to deal with more extremes, more variability in their climates, and possibly less rainfall in some regions. But in terms of some of the opportunities, warmer conditions that currently limit winter production, changes in rainfall, seasonality in rainfall that allow different aspects of the farming system to be expanded, are actually opportunities that farmers can realise.

So I think there’s both the challenge and an opportunity, and we can provide information to inform on both the challenges and the opportunities.

Glen Paul: Implementing the adaptation options identified through this collaborative approach could result in significant reduction in production losses from projected climate change. These options are tested with the help of farmers using a series of cropping and grazing models.

The models are built and benchmarked on historical farming information, such as crop yields. And by showing the farmers that CSIRO can actually simulate historical situations accurately, builds confidence among the farmers that CSIRO can also do the same for the future.

Charlie Bragg: Oh, well on this farm we’ve got a model which the CSIRO’s running to be able to gather as much information as they can to allow other farmers to know, to open their eyes as to what may happen in the years down the track, and what we may be able to do to help us out.

Glen Paul: The project will establish a coordinated network of research activities with farmer and science groups across Australia. And working together can develop sound and responsive management practices.

Steven Crimp: Once we’re happy with the way the model’s performing, we’ll send that to you, and just get you to cast your eye over it, and just to see whether or not you were happy with the yield results. And if you are happy with that, then we can move forward to the sort of evaluation stage where we’re looking at the different options.

Charlie Bragg: Fantastic.

Glen Paul: Food security is a major issue under climate change, and it’s likely to increase the number of people at risk of hunger due to greater fluctuations in crop yields and local food supplies.

Steven Crimp: There is this growing realisation that we have to service a larger global population, and that the demand on foods, and food products, is going to be greater. Climate change in itself, particularly in the southern parts of Australia, poses challenges in terms of reductions in rainfall. And so ultimately that translates to reductions in the amounts and yields, and the profitability of farms.

So what we’re trying to deal with here is I think trying to maintain or increase yields in the face of these challenges. And if we’re unable to service that challenge, I think in terms of global food security, I think there will be a significant issue.

Given Australia’s contribution to the global – in terms of global production – if we’re unable to maintain or enhance our current levels of production, it will have significant impacts in terms of food security.

Charlie Bragg: Certainly it’s screaming to me that things are getting hotter and drier at different times of the year, our summers are getting wetter, and if this trend continues, well then we will have to find ways of – or find different means of farming which will do better in these situations, as opposed to beating our heads against a brick wall, the way we’ve always done it. Hopefully they’ll have some answers for us, for when we’re asking the questions.

Glen Paul: So there’s still a lot more work that needs to be done to ensure food security into the future, and help farmers continue to feed the planet. It’s going to take some good science, and CSIRO is there to work with the farmers and help them adapt to climate change. 

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