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A new report by Australian researchers claims far more needs to be done if we're to feed the estimated 9 billion people who will be living on the planet by 2050.

The report, by Professor Mark Tester and Professor Peter Langridge of the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics at the University of Adelaide, appears today in the journal Science.

"The simple fact is while food production has increased by 32 million tonnes a year, an annual increase of 44 million tonnes a year is what's actually needed to meet the food targets for 2050 set down by the World Summit on Food Security," says Tester.

"But this represents a 38% increase over historical improvements in food production, and it needs to be sustained for the next 40 years.

"This scale of increase is unprecedented and will require huge changes to current food production methods".
Climate change

Tester says our ability to increase or sustain crop yields and quality is being tested by changes to the environment caused by global warming and the growth in biofuels.

"Increasing food production in a stable environment would be challenging enough, but given the dynamic global environmental changes now occurring. It will be even harder but not impossible," he says.

The report says there will be some benefits from climate change, such as increasing CO2 levels acting as a fertiliser, and rising temperatures increasing growth in higher latitudes and altitudes.

But it also means more damaging high temperature events, new pest and disease pressures and altered drought and rainfall patterns.

Tester warns the current diversion of food into the production of biofuels is putting even further pressure on world food supplies.

"It's obscenity that such a huge percentage of the maize crop is going into biofuel production when children are starving," he says.

"We need biofuels, but we should use different feed stocks such as algal bio-diesel which won't impact world food stocks."
Impact on Australia

Earlier this week, the Northern Australia Land and Water Taskforce released a report that concluded northern Western Australia is unlikely to become South East Asia's next 'food bowl'.

Tester says this "is a pity", but believes Australia has enough to sustain a growing population.

"Australia grows more than enough to feed itself, even if our population were to be double the 36 million expected by 2050."

But he warns other countries face an uncertain future.

"India, which has more undernourished people than Africa, is a real challenge," says Tester. "Especially with their government's hard stand on genetically modified foods."

Tester believes new breeding technologies are needed to increase crop yields by quickly identifying the best genes for any given conditions.

"Facilities like the Australian Centre for Plant Functional Genomics will help to quickly identify plant varieties that will grow successfully," he says. "This is the way forward if we are to feed the world in the future."

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