By 2030, the gap between global water supply and demand is projected to be 40%, with much of the excess need due to agriculture. World population is projected to reach 10 billion by 2050, demanding greater yields in crop productivity than the current trends project. The water problem and the food problem are both occurring against the backdrop of global climate change, which exacerbates both problems and demands radical new approaches to solve these problems because of the need to cut greenhouse gas emissions.
This unholy trio of factors was highlighted in a talk by Sir John Beddington, UK Chief Scientific Adviser, at the UK Plant Sciences 2012 meeting, which he used as a point of departure for discussing the vital need for plant science research. If I had to boil down his talk into a concise summary, it would be that we need to produce more food with less greenhouse gas emission and less water on the same acreage within the next two decades. Of course none of this is news, but this talk brings all the pieces together in a single place nicely. In addition to pointing out the dangerous position humanity is in, Beddington suggests a few areas of plant science research that could address some of these issues. The rest of the conference was presumably concerned with a more detailed look at solutions, from what I can glean from the list of titles available. I’m embedding the video below and plan to write more about the areas of plant science involved in the future.