Results tagged “agriculture” from onegoodmove

How to Feed a Hungry World

Producing enough food for the world's population in 2050 will be easy. But doing it at an acceptable cost to the planet will depend on research into everything from high-tech seeds to low-tech farming practices.

With the world's population expected to grow from 6.8 billion today to 9.1 billion by 2050, a certain Malthusian alarmism has set in: how will all these extra mouths be fed? The world's population more than doubled from 3 billion between 1961 and 2007, yet agricultural output kept pace — and current projections (see page 546) suggest it will continue to do so. Admittedly, climate change adds a large degree of uncertainty to projections of agricultural output, but that just underlines the importance of monitoring and research to refine those predictions. That aside, in the words of one official at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, the task of feeding the world's population in 2050 in itself seems “easily possible”.

Easy, that is, if the world brings into play swathes of extra land, spreads still more fertilizers and pesticides, and further depletes already scarce groundwater supplies. But clearing hundreds of millions of hectares of wildlands — most of the land that would be brought into use is in Latin America and Africa — while increasing today's brand of resource-intensive, environmentally destructive agriculture is a poor option. Therein lies the real challenge in the coming decades: how to expand agricultural output massively without increasing by much the amount of land used.

What is needed is a second green revolution — an approach that Britain's Royal Society aptly describes as the “sustainable intensification of global agriculture”. Such a revolution will require a wholesale realignment of priorities in agricultural research. There is an urgent need for new crop varieties that offer higher yields but use less water, fertilizers or other inputs — created, for example, through long-neglected research on modifying roots (see page 552) — and for crops that are more resistant to drought, heat, submersion and pests. Equally crucial is lower-tech research into basics such as crop rotation, mixed farming of animals and plants on smallholder farms, soil management and curbing waste. (Between one-quarter and one-third of the food produced worldwide is lost or spoiled.)

Natural or Synthetic

The natural synthetic dichotomy is not useful when it comes to what's good for us. There are countless examples of "natural" substances that can do one great harm, and that's also true of synthetic ones. The converse is also true, there are many synthetic substances that are totally innocuous, and even beneficial, and so it is with natural ones. So where does this natural is good and synthetic is bad paradigm come from, and why are otherwise, intelligent people so eager to get on the "natural" bandwagon.

I don't know the answers, but I do know that the sort of fuzzy thinking that leads people to believe it, causes harm. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the organic/conventional debate on food and how we produce it.

The question isn't natural or synthetic it's harm or no harm.

A recent study highlights the problem

Consumers shouldn't assume that, because a product is organic, it's also environmentally friendly.

A new University of Guelph study reveals some organic pesticides can have a higher environmental impact than conventional pesticides because the organic product may require larger doses. . .

The study, which is published in the journal PLoS ONE, involved testing six pesticides and comparing their environmental impact and effectiveness in killing soybean aphids -- the main pest of soybean crops across North America.

"In terms of making pest management decisions and trying to do what is best for the environment, it's important to look at every compound and make a selection based on the environmental impact quotient rather than if it's simply natural or synthetic. It's a simplification that just doesn't work when it comes to minimizing environmental impact."

Here is another link discussing the study.