An alarming new report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) calls for a 70% jump in world agricultural production, if it is to feed the world’s population in 2050.
The UN FAO is calling for a paradigmatic shift to more sustainable farming practices, as intensive industrial-based farming of the past fifty years has degraded soils, depleted water reserves, and increased environmental pollution.
Most of this environmental degradation caused by agriculture can be linked back to the “Green Revolution.” The Green Revolution is often heralded as an achievement in increasing food supply by maximizing crop production. And indeed, it did manage to save an estimated 1 billion people from starvation while kick-starting Asian economies. However, its intensive use of fertilizers, pesticides, and specialized crop production has slowly degraded the land on which it relies.
Now, the future of world food production is in question.
In response, the UN FAO calls for a more “ecosystem based” farming approach rather than the chemically intensive approach initiated by the Green Revolution. Such an approach would require reducing ploughing, alternating cereals with soil improving crops, and introducing improved seeds to save water. It should be noted, however, that the improved seeds need not be genetically modified. A recent article in the New York Times suggests that traditional breeding techniques can yield the best seeds in a warming planet.
So, what should we make of the latest news by the FAO?
The latest UN FAO report reveals yet another sign that we are reaching the Earth’s natural limits. If we are to arrive at a reasonably habitable planet in forty years, we must leave behind old 20th century businesses practices. These practices were predicated on cheap fossil fuel consumption and abundant natural resources.
The focus was on quick profits in the “now” rather than paving the way for a sustainable future. They may have been viable forms of development back when the population was 1 billion, but with a projected 9.2 billion human inhabitants in 2050, we need to seriously reassess the trajectory of our current development.
First of all, this means factoring the value of natural ecosystems into economic models and incorporating future environmental degradation into how we do business currently. But secondly, it requires incorporating the developing world in decision-making, since they will be the hardest hit by climate change and food insecurity in the world to come.
Image CC licensed by kamstrup: Desert of Green