Food security is a major global concern. Now the world population has passed the 7 billion mark, help consider how we can meet the challenge of producing enough food in the future and discuss the issues we face. How can we produce more food but reduce the impact on the environment? Would you be prepared to change your diet or stop eating meat?
Apparently the World Bank estimates that cereal production needs to increase by 50% and meat production by 85% between 2000 and 2030 to meet demand! (See http://www.foodsecurity.ac.uk/issue/global.html#refs)
We must be doing all we can to invest in sustainable agriculture and address waste and consumption inequality issues, but demand is also an important part of the equation. 215 million women in developing countries have an unmet need for contraception. Achieving universal access to voluntary family planning programmes must be prioritised, which would reduce future demand for and pressures on key natural resources by preventing some of the 75 million unintended pregnancies that occur every year in developing countries. This would help drive progress towards food security at the same time as advancing a wide range of other sustainable development goals, including health, poverty reduction and gender equality.
How do we feed 9 billion people in 2050? This is not merely a question about how to feed a set number of people, but how to continually meet the nutritional requirements of an ever-increasing global population. If we solely focus on this question, we will ignore the challenge of how do we feed 11 billion people in 2075? Or 15 billion people by 2100? Nor is it merely a question about how to provide enough food for these people; it is a question about how to provide enough water, sanitation, education and shelter as well.
In my opinion, it simply is not possible to meet this challenge simply by increasing food production, otherwise this challenge will never cease to exist; something must be done to stem population growth, otherwise a Malthusian crisis seems inevitable. Fortunately, viable options do exist: contraception, education and anti-natal incentives. It seems to me as though a two-pronged attack is necessary: increasing food production should be a short-term solution to counter those that will be born by 2050, but in the long-term we should look to capping the world population figure. That way, we won't one day find ourselves facing the challenge of meeting the resource requirements of 50 billion people. We think we have witnessed serious famine now; a Malthusian-like crisis in such a scenario would be more catastrophic than anything we could ever have imagined.
Another way to look at this challenge is not to view it through the lens of INCREASING food production itself, but by increasing equality. There is an intensely uneven distribution of food worldwide. Why? Even if significant increases in food production are made, the likelihood is that it is the developed world that will reap these benefits.
Beyond the issues of production and equitable distribution of food to feed this big mass in 2050, what we all should focus at is how can we really try to confront it taking in to account the current status of natural resources we have. For this we need to understand and also believe that most parts of the world especially the developing countries are facing severe land resources degradation and they are not yet up for using biotechnlogy to boost the production. One important point to focus on is we need to think how to make the production sustainable without extra side effects on other natural resources like forests, land, wetlands, coastal vegetations, water, etc. As of the current state of natural resources of developing countries, piece-meal approaches will have no effect even in some cases they are contributing to the degradation. For example, investment promotions through land grabbing are severely affecting the local people, biodiversity (especially forest resources and wild fauna) and the climate.
Integrated approaches which take into account the people's livelihood, land management, forest resources management, water resources management and development of other natural resources. One option to deal with this is considering the option of adopting agroecological approaches to the ways of making livelihood which has strong capability to address the sustainability issue from multiple points. The concept agroecology defers from the conventional ways of doing agriculture/livelihood in that it considers systems integrity whereby at most possible the components of the landscape are taken care of under the same umbrella. It tries to reduce the competitiveness of the practices to ensure that all support one another. If such integrated and holistic approaches are not considered, taking into account the climate change effects and the degradation of natural resources in many developing countries, there is no doubt we face a serious food crisis. But still there is a chance for change, if we act timely with all hands to the same goal - ensuring sustainability of the ways of making livelihood for today and preserving the earth so that it could be habitable for the coming generation.
In vitro meat is right round the corner. This should be considered in the debate, as it will provide meat (more ethical and sustainable meat) and wll free up all the crops grown for livestock for consumption by people and a very small percentage for our pets. However, if in vitro meat never comes or is deemed to be too expensive or something, vegetarianism or even veganism would increase the amount of food we have.
As it is though, food production does not seem our most immediate problem. Not only do we have enough food, tonnes and tonnes of it is going to waste every year. I am more concerned about climate change. Will we even be here in 2050? Will the wildlife?
A somewhat relevant comment I wrote in response to a recent Facebook debate on animal testing:
Caitlin has a point, in animal populations there are density dependent limiting factors - disease, competition for food and waste. This can be seen in all living organisms, and even microrganisms like viruses in which it is debateable whether they are actually alive or just chemically complex, and if there's really much of a distinction between the two.
We too share the same limiting factors. Disease is rife in high population density areas, as well as pollution (biological waste and waste from technology) and inadequate food production (as opposed to competition).
Though the idea of curing disease is a wonderful yet perhaps quixotic objective, we rarely consider the consequences of removing the limiting factors and allowing our population to grow out of control. Though it may seem as though I am dismissing the devastation caused by the death of loved ones, I am certainly not, however death is - like Caitlin says - only the end of life. Those that have passed can be mourned, but by allowing people to die instead of trying to preserve everybody as long as we can, we can control our pollution levels, infectious disease (by means of having fewer people to transfer the disease to, and less cramped and more hygienic living quarters) and food production much more effectively.
---------------------------------------------------------------- Less relevant below, though I didn't want to omit it.
Now the way I see it, people are never going to stop looking for medicine; it is now such a big part of civilisation. If we didn't test the medicine on animals before it went to the public, and instead just sent it out, the suffering caused to the animals in the labs would just go straight to the public and the animals that need veterinary medicine. I do not wish for the medicines to be tested on animals or released for sale before it is confirmed safe - I feel it would be much more ethical to allow people to volunteer to be tested on. However this does also raise the issue - poor people will be desperate for money, and so more likely to subject themselves to be tested on, and would the government exploit this by increasing taxes to force more people into that situation to further medical knowledge?
Lots of money is already spent on alternatives, like computer models that simulate biological organisms, also using cell cultures and invertebrates (which are unable to feel pain, and do not have the capacity for an individual personality - though it is possible they are capable of stress). If society is adamant on curing the ill, then rather than doing so at the cost of many animals' health and welfare, we should fund a lot more research into alternatives that do not require the use of vertebrate, and ultimately invertebrate also, animals.
Making reference to the part on density dependent limiting factors, I think by stopping the effort to protect the human race from these factors, pollution, disease and food production would all be much more effectively controlled. By finding medicine for so many diseases and treating the sick, by producing enough food for a growing population, and by fighting pollution and having a good sewer system (though I'm glad we are fighting pollution and have a sewer system, for peoples' but mostly other animals' sake.
So we could try to educate people, give them anti-natal incentives and better contraception, though the population isn't growing in countries that can afford this - so it would need to be a form of humanitarian aid. Or, we could limit medical care to only the really nasty diseases like smallpox, hemmoragic fever, bad strains of influenza etc. We could even just decide not to meet the increasing demands for food production, however starving people to death may be inhumane.
It's a difficult problem to solve. But we shouldn't be meeting the continually rising demands, otherwise the population will just continually rise.