PostHeaderIcon Increasing Global Population Threatens Food Security

tractorPlanet Earth is expected to have 9 billion people inhabiting its surface by 2050. Meeting the dietary needs of all of these individuals presents a significant global challenge to farmers, agriculture systems, and natural resources. Assuming a status quo in our diets, farmers will need to produce an additional 1 billion tons of cereal crops including wheat and rice and an additional 200 million tons of meat products including beef. In total, agriculture needs to increase food production by at least 70% annually.

Is this almost 2-fold increase in food production possible? An initial analysis of the situation has been provided in a first of its kind UN report, and concludes that significant hurdles currently exist if we are to meet this objective.

Two of the most important challenges to food production involve the quality and quantity of land suitable for hosting crops and the volume of clean fresh water available for supporting crops.

As reported in the “State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture” and in this press release almost all land suitable for growing crops (1.6 billion hectares) is now being utilized. Between 1961 and 2009 land dedicated to farming increased 12%. A similar increase in farmland is unlikely to occur over the next 50 years as a strong desire exists to protect forests and environmentally sensitive regions. During this same time period food production increased 150%. This productivity was generated using “modern” farming and agriculture management practices, typically using large quantities of synthetic nutrients, and very liberal use of a wide range of synthetic herbicides, pesticides, and insecticides. Unfortunately, these practices have resulted in significant soil and water degradation and there is now evidence of declining productivity. It is therefore unlikely that these same management practices can provide the increase in productivity.

This UN report attempts to categorize all available land that could be used for farming and concludes that 25 percent of the world’s “solid surface” is now “highly degraded,” an additional 8 percent is “moderately degraded,” 36 percent is “stable or slightly degraded,” and 10 percent is categorized as “improving.” Remaining land mass is barren or covered with fresh water. Land quality parameters used for categorization include soil nutrient levels, organic matter levels, compaction, salinity, biodiversity, and toxin levels.

In addition to soil issues, water and climate changes present serious challenges to food production. The decline in the quality and quantity of fresh water sources and poor irrigation practices are noted as is the struggle between competing needs including drinking water, industrial process water, and habitat requirements. Climate change has increasing become a wild card. Extreme weather events including floods and droughts have significant impacts on food production and are currently difficult to predict.

This UN report focused solely on land and water, but there are other equally important issues that need to be addressed. Clearly fossil fuel use in food production must be considered. Does it make sense to ship food between continents? Does it make sense to use fossil fuels to produce fertilizers and ship globally? How will plant nutrients be efficiently recycled at the local level? Can we change our diets?

Clearly new agricultural practices are required to meet food productivity goals. Methods that support “super-intensive” agriculture without damaging soil, water, and surrounding environments need to be developed. Additionally, urban and residential food production must evolve to meet the objective.

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Our Objectives

Increase local production and use of organic fertilizers and soil amendments.

Decrease the amount of fertilizers that enter our lakes, streams and waterways.

Decrease the amount of organic waste that is landfilled and combusted.

Decrease the amount of fossil fuels used to generate and transport fertilizers and soil amendments.

Fast Facts Municipal Waste

Why care? The US Environmental Protective Agency (EPA) estimates that 243 million tons of municipal waste was generated in 2009. This included 34 million tons of food scraps, 34 million tons of yard trimmings, and 85 million tons of wood and paper.

In 2009, we recovered the following amounts of material through recycling and composting:
62% of paper and paperboard
14% of wood
60% of yard trimmings
2.5% of kitchen waste

Fast Facts Organic Waste

There are more than 450,000 animal feeding operations (AFOs) in the US. Each year they generate more than 250 million tons of organic waste which if not handled properly contaminates local surface and subsurface water systems. Every day one cow generates 120 pounds of wet manure - an amount equivalent to 20-40 people.

The typical grocery store, restaurant, coffee shop, and food service location throws out more than 100 lbs of food and organic waste every day. The majority of this organic material ends up in the landfill.

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