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Last modified Monday, June 09, 2014

   

First world must learn from the third world farming methods to achieve food security

 

"Though agriculture is already one of the most heavily subsidized industries in the world, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that food supplies will have to increase 40 percent by 2030 and 70 percent by 2050, when the world’s population is predicted to reach 9 billion. Farms will need to produce even more, but in the first world, farm yield growth has recently begun to stagnate despite access to the latest technologies. Farming production has slowed as technological developments increasingly push crops to grow as much as possible in the shortest amount of time, creating an unnatural strain on the environment."

 

Angus West

 
   

Definitions of food security generally involve affordable access to safe, nutritious food, and a supply chain that can confidently withstand severe, systemic shocks. As the globe passes the demographic milestone of 7 billion residents and with over half of the human race living in cities, the task of producing enough food is of paramount concern.

In the developed world, farmers are getting older without sufficient numbers of skilled younger people to eventually replace them. Fewer than 5 percent of European farmers are under 35, while only 1 percent of Americans grow food for a living. What the first world consumes is at times produced thousands of miles away, and that which is produced at home is cultivated mainly by machine. This leaves the first world’s food supply precariously dependent on finite energy sources, particularly oil.

 

The forces of globalization, climate change, and rising energy prices combined with first world waste and third world scarcity have created an unstable future for food markets - an issue which needs to be urgently addressed.

Here in Scotland, approximately 75 percent of the land is used for agriculture, while there is also a historically strong fishing industry. However, the UK as a whole still imports nearly 40 percent of the food it consumes. In terms of food security, importing food can provide a safeguard against domestic catastrophes like disease or drought, but the supply chain needed to store and move imported food is energy intensive and is only viable for countries wealthy enough to do so. Wealthy countries can also use crop subsidies to adjust their domestic food consumption. The Treaty of Rome (1957) helped to guarantee European self-sufficiency in food production following the two World Wars, establishing subsidy programs for certain crops and raising tariffs on imported food. In the following decades, however, huge amounts of excess food had to be purchased by European governments and redistributed to developing countries, with the dual consequence that it created food waste and crippled local farmers in the receiving nations, who could not compete with the subsidized crops.

Though agriculture is already one of the most heavily subsidized industries in the world, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that food supplies will have to increase 40 percent by 2030 and 70 percent by 2050, when the world’s population is predicted to reach 9 billion. Farms will need to produce even more, but in the first world, farm yield growth has recently begun to stagnate despite access to the latest technologies. Farming production has slowed as technological developments increasingly push crops to grow as much as possible in the shortest amount of time, creating an unnatural strain on the environment. Yet the vast majority of the undeveloped world is still fed by small farms with few technological advantages. According to Greenpeace, almost 2.6 billion people are small farmers, roughly 40 percent of the world’s population, and they produce most of the food consumed worldwide. These farms have the capacity to greatly increase yields without the environmentally damaging and heavily fuel dependent features of first world farming. Being able to capitalize on the potential output of these small farms could be crucial in preventing global food crises in the future.

Sustainable intensification is a concept at the forefront of international discussions on the future of agriculture. It represents a multifaceted approach to impending food scarcity which addresses the need to increase production while sustaining limited natural resources. Sustainable intensification techniques involve low-water irrigation systems, crop rotation, and working with the earth’s natural cycles and climate to achieve optimum output; this, while maintaining sustainability and equality within local ecosystems, societies, and supply chains. Across the globe, throughout Africa, South America, and Asia, subsistence farmers have coped with changing climates and unfavourable conditions for generations, and they continue to innovate with remarkable success and little oil dependency. Rather than developing energy heavy and ecologically damaging pesticides, fertilizers, and genetically modified super-crops, sustainable intensification implements many of these traditional, inherently sustainable techniques and uses the benefits of modern technology to accentuate their advantages.

In rejecting many facets of the modern agricultural paradigm, sustainable intensification and sustainable production have the potential to make farming more profitable again for more people. Profitability is essential. So long as there is a population to feed, food will be in constant demand, and the ability to continue meeting that demand is reliant on making shifts now towards not just more farms, but more farms which can sustain their production against the forces of climate change, population growth, and the rising cost of fuel. Agriculture, a vital sector of the global economy in terms of real life survival, has an inherent ‘multifunctionality’, as the Scottish government describes it, supporting both rural communities and the environment.

Modern farming has drifted away from this fundamental concept, but the farms of the future cannot afford to take the same short cuts. There will have to be more farms growing more natural food and more farmers to operate them, reversing the trend of machinery over manpower, and chemicals for crops.

In the past few decades as large farms became more efficient, manual labour jobs were lost while small farmers also experienced a steady income decline relative to most other professions. This left a bleak future for farming as a profession. Today, creating more farms and employing more farmers is not an impractical ideal, but a basic necessity. Production is already peaking in the developed world, so the vast number of small farms in the undeveloped world must pick up the slack, expand and innovate and not follow the same strategies as the first world. Furthermore, the rampant obesity and the waste associated with food consumption and production in developed countries should be addressed with the same seriousness used to tackle famine in the poorer countries of the third-world. Feeding a swelling population is a monumental and communal task, one made more pressing because of the flawed strategies adopted in the recent past. The next generation of farmers will need to be pioneers.

[Angus West attends the University of St Andrews in Scotland where he studies International Relations. He is also a member of the Scottish National Lacrosse Team.]

Source: Global Politics

 

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