How to feed the world

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Today more than 900 million people are in danger of starvation. The grain market is at the mercy of the harvests: poor results place millions of lives at risk, as in 2008 when there was widespread famine across many countries. By 2050 the population will have reached 9 billion-what then?

Modern agriculture is struggling just when we need it most. The 20th-century agricultural revolution increased yields at a rapid rate. However, growth has since slowed down. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), productivity rose by 2.3% per year from 1961, but this figure is set to fall to 1.5% between now and 2030, and to 0.9% between 2030 and 2050. Methods developed in the 20th century to increase productivity have revealed their limitations. Intensive farming, irrigation, fertilizers, and pesticides have damaged the soil, water, and life itself, in short, the entire ecosystem farmers rely on for production.

Ecofriendly agricultural practices are possible, and can take several forms. Organic farming is the best-known example. Different systems respond to different specific needs. The challenge for the 21st century is to combine green methods with sufficiently high levels of productivity to feed the entire planet and bring about a “Doubly Green Revolution,“ in response to the first Green Revolution of the 1950s.

Conservation agriculture is leading the way in this area. It successfully harnesses the dynamics of our ecosystems. By creating minimal soil disturbance it promotes microbial activity, and it employs crop rotation to minimize the need for fertilizers and pesticides. Accord?ing to the FAO, the returns match those of traditional intensive farming methods. Since it eliminates the need for plowing, farmersí workloads are halved. Lower input also means that it is cheaper, saving up to 70% of fuel costs. Introduced some twenty?five years ago, it is now practiced on 250 million acres (100 million hectares) around the world, and is promoted by the FAO on a global scale.

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