Sustainable Food Production: What Needs to Be Done

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Farm land

As we move forward with advances in agricultural science, much of the focus has been on achieving sustainability. Between climate change, soil damage, population growth and depleting resources, the future of farming faces serious challenges.

Over the last century, advancements in technology and agricultural science have led to exponential increases in food production. In the last five decades alone, global agriculture has grown 2.5-3 times. We’ve managed to incrementally increase food production to keep pace with human population, which theoretically should ensure there’s enough food per capita. Yet food availability varies widely across the world.

MalnutritionAccess to nutritious food is one cause for hunger and malnourishment in some parts of the world. To address the issue of unequal access, agricultural production must increase. Some experts estimate that it must increase by 70% globally and by as much as 100% in developing countries. These percentage goals must be met by 2050 to keep pace with population growth.

Agrifood systems also face another challenge: limited resources. Depleting resources is a serious concern, and is partly due to environmental degradation caused by modern agriculture.

Agriculture faces three major challenges: to improve access to food, to increase production of nutrient-rich food, and reverse and prevent degradation of the environment.

About 1.6 billion hectares of the world’s land is used for agricultural purposes. Land degradation has become an especially pressing issue in dryland regions of the world, which support about 30% of the world’s population.

Land isn’t the only issue that the agricultural world faces; water management is another serious problem. About 70% of the water taken from streams, aquifers, lakes and rivers is for agricultural purposes.

By 2050, irrigated areas are expected to increase by 60% compared to 2009 levels. Agricultural water usage will also need to increase by 10% compared to current levels.

Land management practices play a major role in crop productivity, and can lead to issues like waterlogging, erosion, salinization, and loss of soil nutrients. Improper irrigation and fertilization practices amplifies the problem.

Changes need to be made to land management systems to improve the quality and nutrient density of the soil for successful and larger yields. One major concern is the availability of phosphorus, an essential nutrient for plants.

The solution to achieving sustainable food production is a complex one, as there are so many components that need to be addressed.

Agroecology is working on new crop management systems that boost yields while preserving resources. The goal is to improve food production while minimizing environmental impact and improving social circumstances.

These systems are just one piece of the puzzle. Unfortunately, there is no one single managerial or technical fix that can solve the problem of world hunger or environmental degradation. But there are several organizations across the world that are working together to achieve a complex set of systems and solutions to help achieve the underlying goal of sustainability. For these solutions to work, farmers, communities, local groups and rural workers need to participate and support these systems.