So, a fair question to ask is why is everyone so concerned with food recently? Talk about GMOs, Organics, sustainability, pollinator preservation, Food Aid receive a lot of coverage in the media, but what is everyone so concerned about? It’s a question that has taken me months of research to be able to get a handle on, but what everything circles back to is the seemingly simple question: How will we feed the world in the 2050?
By the year 2050, most scientists and researchers believe the population will hit 9 billion, and when we will no longer be able to provide enough food for the entire world.
[It’s important to note that the world currently produces enough food for all 7 billion of us to eat, and yet nearly 1 billion people suffer from food insecurity. This is a very complicated issue, and gets at both issues of how food is distributed from a logistical standpoint as well as political and economic pressure. That’s a whole other blog post.]
Politics and economics aside, the question of how to feed the world in 2050 is occupying farmers, climate researchers, politicians and economists the world over. This comes from the tension between needing to increase food production in the face of changing climates and while reducing the effect agriculture has on the environment. GMOs offer potential for increased yields, but at unknown costs to nutrition and practices that are extremely costly environmentally. Food Aid seeks to correct food scarcity , but has consequences for developing agriculture. Organic farming helps correct environmental and health concerns, but what about cost and security?
What factors do we need to consider when designing a food system that will provide food security to a planet with 9 billion humans?
9 billion is a lot of mouths to feed. But more than just raw numbers of people to feed, the food that people consume changes. As countries become more and more economically developed, the demand for meat rises, which is more costly and harder to produce. So not only is overall demand increasing the demand for certain types of food is contributing the overall need for calories.
In most developed countries, urban and suburban areas are encroaching on arable land. Less and less land is available to produce food. Meanwhile, in developing countries, more and more environmentally critical land is be consumed for farming. Rain forests, savannahs and areas with high biodiversity are being used for farm land, which is something that is contributing to an overall ecological decline.
In addition to land use, the viability of land is becoming a challenge. Agribusiness practices have left tracts of land contaminated with disease and chemicals that drastically reduce yields.
Resource and Water consumption
Water scarcity is a huge concern in some regions. While globally there is enough water to supply adequate farm land, there is infrastructure issues with getting it to areas that are the most in need. There are also growing concerns about shifting precipitation patterns across the globe.
For a concise visual summarizing the tension between food production, food security, and agriculture, I highly recommend the following video published by the Research Program on Climate Change, Food Security and Agriculture.