Earth Day Series- Part 4 Food & Agriculture
In this article, I summarize the key takeaways from the fourth day of the webinar held by ‘We Don’t Have Time’, from Stockholm and Washington . Day 4 focused on food, agriculture, and some innovative companies operating in this sector. This topic seemed to be one of the most controversial topics, with very varied opinions from scientists and industrialists.
Topic 4: Food and Agriculture
Can you imagine a planet where nothing grows? Seems to be a situation pictured by Christopher Nolan in the movie Interstellar, where everyone around the world is forced to produce food crops, as that becomes the most important industry in the world. We have to feed the world; hence we must talk about food and agriculture. Agriculture is hugely affected by climate change and is also a major sector contributing to greenhouse gas emissions. While taking into consideration the pre and post-production activities, agriculture contributes close to 32% of the greenhouse gas emissions.
Globalization has caused major land degradation due to expanding cities. Employing land-based mitigative actions now instead of later will be much more beneficial in the long run. The more we delay this action, the less our chances of actually having an impact. Enhancing land anywhere, improves the quality of life, everywhere. We need to grow more food and grow this food sustainably.
Ibrahim Thiaw from United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) suggests 4 pathways for a meaningful contract with nature:
Treating land as a limiting factor. The landmass on planet earth is limited, forests and greenery are the main culprits for expansion. Only 10% of natural land will be left by 2050 if we increase cities at the current rate.
Improve how land is used. The governments need to fund farmers and industries using sustainable methods and penalize large-scale usage of fertilizers and pesticides.
Sustainable land management, to ensure what we take from the land, is given back to the land at some point.
Achieve land degradation neutrality, whereby the amount and quality of land resources, necessary to support ecosystem functions and services, and enhance food security, remains stable or increases within specified temporal and spatial scales and ecosystems.
The topic of food brings us to the topic of the transport of these foods. Europe gets most of its food from Brazil. Hence, Europe has exported its food carbon print to one of the most ecologically diverse countries on the planet. An interesting point to note is the fact that we must produce as much food in the next decade, as we produced in all of the last 10,000 years. Between now and 2050, it will become harder and harder to feed the growing population. Therefore, the next 30 years are the most crucial for the food and agriculture sector, and if we can achieve feeding everyone without cutting down our forests or degrading our land, we can consider ourselves successful.
This brings the topic of using pesticides and fertilizers while at the same time ensure farming is done organically. However, organic doesn’t mean ancient because if we used the same technology and processes for agriculture as we used 20 years ago, we won’t be able to meet the needs of the entire world. We need to move towards pesticides and fertilizers that are not harmful to human beings and nature. While seeping into our water systems, it should not affect the natural flora and fauna. This is what sustainable farming means, not completely eradicating pesticides and fertilizers. In a similar way, we have to bring about the practice of putting nutrients back into the soil. This ensures we continue to produce enough, without damaging our land.
The webinar further went on to discuss veganism and vegetarianism. It can be accepted that meat is still important for the majority of the population. There can be cultural, health, or economical reasons. More than 36% of the world’s crop calories today are used for feeding animals that are farmed for slaughter and consumption rather than going to humans directly . If the global meat demand can go down, the agricultural products can be redirected into feeding people, in a way reducing world hunger as well.
It was very interesting to note the contrasting difference of opinion from the European and American speakers on the topic. While the European scientists and speakers aided in reducing consumption of red meat and incorporating more vegetarian foods in your day-to-day diet, the American speakers were more focused on increasing the yield. This means artificial hormonal insemination makes an animal produce more than it naturally produces. At no time during the topic of discussion was the concept of morality brought up, in the case of animal farming. It is this concept of considering humans more superior than nature, that has brought us to the current level of climate warming.
We need a cultural, scientific, and moral shift to live in harmony with nature. The point to note here is; the earth is not going anywhere. What needs to be saved is humanity. If we don’t learn to live in harmony with nature, we will be in grave danger.
We Don't Have Time, [Online]. Available: https://www.wedonthavetime.org/.
Project Drawdown, [Online]. Available: https://drawdown.org/sectors/health-and-education.
 “Redefining agricultural yields: from tonnes to people nourished per hectare”, Emily S Cassidy et al 2013 Environ. Res. Lett. 8 034015.
Have you also read the previous articles in these series?
- Earth Day Series - Part 1: Climate Finance - Making our investments more sustainable
- Earth Day Series - Part 2: Circular economy
- Earth Day Series - Part 3: Big Ideas and Education