Can we feed the world and manage the planet sustainably?

Charles BaughanAbout 15% of the world’s population suffer from chronic hunger, we grow enough food but it is not distributed properly and many cannot afford it. By 2050 the world population will increase by 2 or 3 billion, there will be increased use of agricultural land for biofuels and higher incomes will increase demand for food. This could double the need for food production providing of course we solve the problems of access and poverty. 

The other critical factor we must consider is how we do this without damaging the planet. 

To reduce harm, agriculture must significantly cut the damage it does to the atmosphere, habitat and water (on average it takes one litre of irrigation water to grow one calorie of food!).

Feeding 9 billion people in a truly sustainable way will be one of the greatest challenges our civilisation has had to confront.

A group of international experts based in America has settled on a five point plan to face up to this challenge. As someone closely connected to the meat trade, it made me think particularly the 4th point!

  1. Stop agriculture from consuming more tropical land
  2. Boost the productivity of farms that have the lowest yields
  3. Raise the efficiency of water and fertiliser use world wide
  4. Reduce per capita meat consumption
  5. Reduce waste in food production and distribution.

I am sure reducing meat consumption will be on the agenda, but preferences are unlikely to change completely. But there will be a focus for example on moving from grain fed beef to pasture fed beef. Using more crops to feed people rather fatten livestock.

Lastly I think we will see a system for certifying foods based on how well each one delivers nutrition and food security and limits environmental and social costs that would help the public choose products that push agriculture in a more sustainable direction.

Imagine the possibilities: sustainable citrus and coffee from the tropics, connected to sustainable cereals from the temperate zone, supplemented by locally grown greens and root vegetables, all grown under transparent performance based standards. Use your latest sustainable food app on your smartphone and you will learn where your food came from, who grew it and how it was grown, and how it ranks against various social, nutritional and environmental criteria. And when you find food that works you can tweet about it to your social network of farmers and foodies.

It will not be easy, it will take time but I do believe we will need to change and we do not have the luxury of time.

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