Climate change and food insecurity

Did you know that around 14% of all food is lost between harvest and market? Let us discuss today some facts and potential solutions for climate change and food insecurity.

Farmers are facing constant challenges to grow safe and nutritious foods sustainably. They not only need to adjust to changing climate conditions, but also work to preserve biodiversity and the environment.

Have you ever wondered how plant science can reduce the accumulation of greenhouse gases? We have an interesting article concerning this topic. You can read it here "Climate change mitigation with plant science".

Climate change is an ongoing series of events impacting global food security, leading to a serious decline in crop production worldwide. With the prediction of global population to surpass 10 billion by 2050, ensuring food security is one of the major concerns for stakeholders as well as policymakers.

Stakeholders need to develop crops that produce higher yields as well as tolerate predicted extreme climates. There is a need to develop technologies that efficiently use resources such as water, minerals, etc. which are becoming scarce with time.

However, achieving these results might be a daunting task. According to recently published literature, there is a need to work towards increasing global crop yield by 70–110% to sustainably meet the health needs of the global population by 2050. This should be accompanied by the addition of new crops or cropping systems to agricultural production, hence diversifying currently grown crops.

How plants can help?

Plants perform an important energy-producing process called photosynthesis. Through this process, they are absorbing high amounts of solar energy and converting it into chemical energy for their growth. Plants fix approximately 451 gigatons of carbon dioxide annually from the Earth’s atmosphere through photosynthesis.

Hence, using this principle, scientists around the world are developing advanced crops with increased photosynthetic capacity. With this development, plants will be able to absorb more solar energy as well as have a better yield and productivity of important compounds. This will enhance the chances of meeting the future requirements of global crop production.

There is also intensive research going on to develop crops that are more resilient to rapidly changing and harsher environments. Adoption of these 'climate-resilient crops', for example, early-maturing maize, heat-tolerant wheat, drought-tolerant legumes or tuber crops, varieties with enhanced salinity (salt present in the soil) tolerance, or rice with submergence tolerance, all can help farmers not only to better cope with climate shocks, but also produce higher yields.

Interestingly, plant tissue culture can play a prominent role in breeding and developing such crops. It can facilitate the development of different generations of uniform plants in order to select and cross plants with desirable traits. This can significantly reduce the duration of breeding a tolerant variety.

Plant tissue culture can also facilitate the extensive production of important crops in a shorter duration of time to meet food production demands.

How can sorghum serve as one of the potent solutions?

Specific plants can also help to reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, such as sorghum.

Sorghum is one of the top five cereal crops in the world. It is a drought-tolerant cereal and a highly productive crop. It produces gluten-free grains and can withstand extreme hot environments. Hence, sorghum plants can survive in changing climates.

How can sorghum offer a solution? Plants have the ability to absorb carbon dioxide during photosynthesis and release oxygen. They store carbon in their biomass. However, certain plants like sorghum have an advanced root system that stores more carbon which improves soil quality as well as plant health. This process is known as 'soil carbon sequestration'. Under this process, plant roots remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere via absorption and store it in the soil carbon pool. Once the plant dies/is harvested, these carbon-rich plant parts decompose and add up to the soil organic matter, hence increasing soil fertility.

Hence, sorghum's drought tolerance along with carbon sequestration capacity can serve as one of the tools for combating climate change effects. However, the development of highly efficient sorghum variety is still ongoing. The Salk Institute for Biological Studies, based in California has started this project along with other collaborators.

With the example of sorghum, there is also an awareness among breeders globally to focus on carbon sequestration traits and improving deep root systems in major crops so as to maximize carbon capture from the atmosphere into the soil.


Greenhouse gas emissions linked to food loss between harvest to market, estimates around 1.5 gigatonnes of CO2 annually!

Impacts of current food loss

Yes, we can develop future crops which yield more, but what about the food we are currently losing at different post-harvest stages?

Globally, scientists are trying to figure out different ways to combat the climate change effects and meet crop yield requirements. In order to ensure food security for the increasing global population, there is also a need to develop solutions for preventing the loss of food during post-harvest applications.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nation's recent publication, it is estimated that on an annual basis:

  • Around 14% of all food is lost between harvest and the market (during post harvest practices).
  • This lost food costs approximately 400 billion USD.
  • It is accompanied by a loss of 75 billion cubic meters of water.
  • This food loss translates into a loss of 912 trillion kilocalories and micronutrients which could have been used for providing nourishment to people.
  • Not only this, 715 million hectares of land go to waste in producing food from different sources, but end up going to waste.

In nutshell, the loss of food is not only costing us money, but also destroying our climate and depleting natural resources.

Several research organizations around the world are developing innovative packaging and preservation techniques for fruits and vegetables to increase their shelf lives in supermarkets. There are global initiatives to develop regional programs for promoting resource-efficient production and processing activities. There is also an emphasis on consumers to become conscious in purchasing and consumption habits.

We hope this article is resourceful for many readers. For more interesting articles, keep checking our space!

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By Nancy Bhatia | 19-October-2021