How we can expand food production sustainably in a changing climate

It is a common misconception that climate change only means a rise in average global temperatures resulting in a hotter, drier environment. The reality is far more complex – presenting far more difficult challenges than perhaps first realised. The resulting impact on our ability to feed the world’s growing populations is not always obvious.


Inevitably, there will be regions of the planet experiencing higher temperature rises than others. Some locations may rise annually by a significant 2˚c, while others may experience a more modest 0.5˚c.


Additionally, the full impact of new and unusual patterns of natural events must be considered. Weather systems move, concentrate and dissipate. Some areas will become wetter and more humid, others drier. Some will become stormier; others will see greater floods. A wetter climate is not what people might associate with temperatures rising, but wilder variations in weather means greater extremes.


In the hottest parts of the world – such as the Gulf states – it can mean the heat getting harsher and more inhospitable, causing even more difficult growing conditions and more arid land. Even global regions once considered generally conducive to growing are now facing increased obstacles. Spain’s long-term drought continues to make global headlines, with 60% of its countryside now regarded as having suffered ‘irreversible’ damage to over 3.5 million hectares of crops.


These climate extremes cause difficulties for growers, resulting in  lower crop yields, shorter growing seasons, and uncomfortable working conditions. Productivity plummets, and the combined effect creates further reduction in the quantity and quality of crops produced. It naturally follows that growing populations face dwindling food supplies and higher prices.


What can be done to address such challenges?

One answer is to try and mitigate mankind’s damage to the climate. The world will seek to continue its collective effort on this front at COP28 later this year in the UAE.


Changes to our lifestyles and behaviors will, however, take decades – which is why Governmental  targets aim for dates such as 2030 or 2050 – giving countries time to redevelop their infrastructures, and meet new standards and demands.


While these long-term strategies are important, even more crucial is developing new technologies to deliver short-term improvements and solutions for affected industries, including agriculture. This means tackling symptoms of climate change so we adapt and cope with the impact, but also revolutionising food production, how we travel, the type of energy we consume, and meeting the demands of our growing populations.


Fortunately, new technologies are being developed to meet the problems of hotter, drier climates – including the difficulty of working in exhausting conditions, scarce water resources, and possible crop damage from the Sun’s hot rays.


Here in the Gulf, hard-working companies, scientists and engineers have shown crop cultivation – using new controlled environment agriculture technologies and combining them in novel ways – can deliver economically sustainable commercial production. This could be replicated across the world’s many hot climates.


Continued and increasing use of scarce fresh water is simply not sustainable. The trick is to turn what seems like disadvantages into advantages – such as taking sunlight and using it to generate solar power or developing plants tolerant of salt water and heat – of which there is no shortage in the Gulf – to reduce freshwater needs.


The Gulf-based plant scientists and engineers of RedSea – now operating globally, in Egypt, the US, Mexico, and Europe – have developed a fully integrated system of pioneering technologies to advance commercial farming in hot climates, whilst saving fresh water and energy.


One of RedSea’s award-winning, proprietary technologies is iyris(™) SecondSky(™), a heat-blocking cover, that lets in sunlight but not radiative heat – resulting in less energy expense on cooling and less fresh water consumption, not to mention a more comfortable working environment for growers.


Our goal is to deliver the technologies that expand food production beyond the limits of current agricultural processes, particularly as populations grow and worldwide climatic conditions for agriculture change.  Applying these technologies will enable commercial cultivation to continue in some harder-hit areas and will also open up cultivation in areas where it was previously impossible.


Meeting the rising demand for food as temperatures climb and natural water supplies remain scarce, is a great challenge. But we can overcome it by making the most of controlled cultivation enabled by technology. Solutions to these challenges are being pioneered in the Gulf, one of the world’s hottest regions.


At RedSea, this is our purpose – developing technologies to help feed the world sustainably.