Worldwide adaptations: Food resources
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Farmers around the world are already adapting their practices to changes in the climate. As temperatures rise, some regions could initially benefit from longer growing seasons. But in other regions – or following larger temperature rises – farmers may need to adopt new methods, finding ways to satisfy the food requirements of a growing global population.
Crop farmers in some regions of Bangladesh have experienced an increase in the severity of flooding, with their fields waterlogged and their crops destroyed. A number of farmers have responded by diversifying into duck farming. Unlike plants, ducks are unfazed by a flood, and selling their eggs provides some income for farmers when their crops have been damaged. In addition, the ducks eat aquatic pests that attack crops. Meanwhile, some Australian farmers have experienced the opposite. After almost a decade of drought, the Australian rice crop has declined massively. So many farmers have switched to growing grapes and cereals, which are much more suited to the drier conditions.
Adaptations don’t have to be hi-tech – often traditional low-tech techniques also work well. Farmers in Waru Waru in Peru have rediscovered an ancient irrigation method thought to have last been used 900 years ago. The Waru Waru landscape is scattered with the remains of ancient canals, once used by farmers to help keep the soil in their fields moist and at constant temperature. Modern-day farmers have restored the canals to their former condition and have found them well suited for defending crops against increases in the severity of droughts.
Genetic modification (GM) could play a role in adapting crops to changing climate. A crop’s genetic make-up can be altered to give it desirable properties, such as increasing its tolerance to heat and drought. Research suggests that GM may have considerable potential, but some issues remain to be resolved before it’s likely to be used throughout the world. Other biotechnological adaptation measures are also being proposed. Scientists have developed a spray that not only protects against insect attack but also against shortages of water. When the insecticide breaks down, it forms another chemical that increases the plants’ natural protection against drought and extreme heat. Field tests found that the spray increased cotton yields by 10%.