The Demands of an Increasing Population
The worlds population is ever expanding and with it is coming increased demands for sustainable food production systems that meets peoples needs. Feeding the world in the future is set to be a challenge we must meet head on. It is predicted that by mid century, 2050’s, there will be an extra 2 billion people on the planet. And an increase in prosperity in less developed nations such as India and China means that there is more demand for meat, eggs and dairy, and a richer diet for these nations will mean we will need to almost double the amount of crops we grow.
Increased flooding and long lasting droughts are straining the ecosystem we grow in. The damages of our agricultural needs are ever present and pose one of the biggest threats to our planets survival. Agriculture in fact releases more greenhouse gases than all our planes, trains and automobiles combined – mainly through methane released by cattle and carbon dioxide from the cutting of rain forests to grow crops or raise livestock.
So how can the world create a more stable and sustainable food production system in the future, whilst using less resources?
Create more Innovative and Efficient Farming
There is a need to improve the efficiency of farming, with productive land and water resources decreasing while having a population that is rapidly expanding. We need to increase productivity on the land we currently farm on; as Mark Driscoll, head of One Planet Food Programme at WWF, says:
“We haven’t got any more land, so we have to produce more from the same amount of land, without as many environmental impacts.”
Using high tech farming practices we can boost yields in these places several times over. Innovative urban farms are now popping up throughout the world and the increased knowledge of both hydroponic and aquaponic farming techniques is beginning to increase productivity.
We need to understand what to grow, where to grow and how to grow.
We have already developed increased knowledge on how to boost yields in our faming techniques whilst reducing the environmental consequences. Improvements in technology is allowing for more targeted fertiliser and pesticide application. Commercial farming can now apply specific blends of fertilisers tailored to the exact soil conditions, helping to minimise the chemical run offs into waterways.
“Climate resistant” crops are being developed, albeit to much contention. Sharing best practice helps reduce inefficiencies, whilst better communication of the latest seed types and irrigation methods has also resulted in an increase in yields.
Seed banks are also being utilised, where seeds are stored as a source for planting in case seed reserves elsewhere are destroyed. Ethiopia has introduced a programme to improve food security, combining scientific knowledge with local know how, as new community-based seed banks and training centres try to help farmers meet their basic needs and increase agricultural output.
Hydroponic and Aquaponic Farming Techniques
Hydroponic growers have completely eliminated the need for soil and its micro-organisms. Resulting in better crop quality, increased growth rates and much healthier produce, all without soil erosion or water supply contamination. The fertilisers used in hydroponics are more pure than those utilised in organic growing, and they also leave no residue in cultivated produce. The result is that more people can be fed, less precious natural resources are used, and the produce is much healthier and flavourful.
Hydroponic crops are generally grown in a far more sterile environment than organic crops. Precise controls are utilised to ensure optimum growth, extended growing seasons, and maximum nutrition. This sterile environment also dramatically reduces the need for pesticides.
Aquaponics goes one further and is a system of aquaculture in which the waste produced by farmed fish or other aquatic creatures supplies the nutrients for plants grown hydroponically, which in turn purify the water. The symbiotic relationship between the plants and the fish is incredibly efficient allowing for the farming of both fish and vegetables in the same system. There have even been examples seen in Asia of the production of rice farming with this aquaponic method.
Halt our Agricultural Footprint
Throughout our history, when we have needed to create more farm land we have simply ploughed more fields and chopped down forests to create the land. To raise livestock we’ve taken an area roughly the size of Africa, and to grow our crops we’ve taken an area roughly the size of South America. This has had a dramatic effect on our planet, with whole ecosystems disappearing and the destruction needs to be halted. The deforestation of tropical forests for farming land is one of the most damaging things we can do to our planet.
Change our Behaviours
One of the most effective defences in the growing threat of food security is changing our behaviours, reducing food waste and improving our diets. There are a number of changes occurring to help offset the problems we are faced with and below are a number of initiatives being launched.
Reducing Food Wastage
It is estimated that up to 50% of the worlds food is lost before it can be consumed. In more developed countries wastage occurs in supermarkets, restaurants and in the home. In less developed countries the wastage occurs between farm and market, where poor storage and transportation conditions result in the loss of valuable produce.
A key fight against this waste is to educate and improve storage conditions. Reducing the waste of food in the home through better understanding and better planning could prove invaluable in reducing the global demand for food.
Another initiative that is picking up pace is to force supermarkets not to throw away their food. France is leading the way and have recently passed a law forcing them to give their unsold food to charity.
French supermarkets will be banned from throwing away or destroying unsold food and must instead donate it to charities or, if unfit for human consumption, for animal feed, under a law set to crack down on food waste.
Community Food Sharing
In Geneva, Switzerland, “foodscaping” has taken off where the community all grow different vegetables in their gardens. Each yard is a vegetable garden and neighbours plan together what each will grow so they can trade and have a wide variety to eat.
There is also a number of “food is free” projects in operation where people grow food and leave it on their front yard to donate to the community.
Changing our Diets
Improving our diets and changing what we eat could have a substantial impact on the amount of food we need to produce. It is estimated that only 55% of calories grown end up being eaten by humans, the rest is used to feed livestock or turned into industrial products. Finding more efficient ways to grow meat and shifting to less meat-intensive diets could dramatically reduce the amount of food we need to grow.