As climate stresses the world and water sources get depleted and polluted, scientists around feel the need to shift to sustainable agricultural practices to feed an additional two billion mouths by 2050.
Today, the world is home to eight billion people. This number will have swelled to 10 billion in less than 30 years from now – or simply, a child born today will very likely become a parent in 2050.
How will all of tomorrow’s parents feed their children?
A possible answer to this question is that today’s governments, policy makers and farmers work to reverse water degradation, smartly plan for sustainable farming practices and harness new innovative technologies.
Because, existing agricultural practices will not be able to feed 10 billion people populating planet earth by 2050, warns a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO). Today, one in every 10 persons on planet earth is undernourished. Three of eight people lack healthy diets.
The State of the World’s Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture report 2021 builds upon the concepts and conclusions given in the 2011 report.
But it also recognises that much has happened since then. It alludes to the recent assessments, projections and scenarios to paint an alarming picture of the planet’s natural resources – highlighting depletion of land and water resources, loss of biodiversity, associated degradation and pollution and scarcity of primary natural resources.
But the FAO report’s warning is too dire for solutions to hinge on just that prescription. Far reaching changes will be necessary to avoid widespread hunger and other catastrophes, it says.
It says that climate change “may bring opportunities for multiple rainfed cropping, particularly in the tropics and subtropics.”
For instance, farmers might need to grow crops they never did before. For example, farmers in Canada and northern Eurasia might need to farm more cereals in the coming couple of decades than they do today.
For areas “where the climate becomes marginal for current staple and niche crops, there are alternative annual and perennial tree crops, livestock, and soil and water management options available.”
It says there will be a need to shift to sustainable agricultural practices to feed an additional two billion mouths by 2050 as climate stresses the world and water sources get depleted and polluted.
Scientists might be able to work on new varieties of crops with seed and germplasm exchanged globally and among regions to create breeds that can withstand changes in temperature, salinity, wind, and evaporation. This of course, will require investments from governments.
Need sustainable agriculture practices as never before
So, why have things come to such a pass?
Complicated as the question might be, part of the answer is the limited land on earth to grow food. Forests cannot be thrashed any further and food has been hugely linked to fuel, fertilisers and pesticides.
None of these are sustainable. As the report points out, “Human-induced degradation affects 34 per cent of agricultural land.”
“The treatment of soils with inorganic fertilizers to increase or sustain yields has had significant adverse effects on soil health, and has contributed to freshwater pollution induced by run-off and drainage,” it says.
Extensive degradation due to irrigation of farmlands has harsh consequences as irrigation causes a runoff of fertilizers and pesticides that eventually contaminate soil and groundwater.
The FAO report notes that agricultural irrigation needs are depleting groundwater aquifers in many regions.
Similarly, it notes that the quality of 13 per cent of global soil, including 34 per cent of agricultural land, is now degraded by the use of fertilisers, overgrazing by cattle and livestock, erosion, deforestation and decreasing water availability.
The report emphaises that climate change is further stressing agricultural systems and amplifying global food production challenges as it discusses the changing climate: erratic rainfall patterns, the unsuitability of land for certain crops, increasing spread of insects and pests and shorter growing seasons in parts of the globe due to intense droughts.
As it exacerbates agricultural challenges, climate change is also exaggerating water demands and resulting in drought-like conditions. Extreme heat conditions stress crops. While agricultural productivity might increase in relatively colder regions, productivity will decrease in places that are already heating and drying up.
Climate adaptation can be painful and costly, it says, offering the example of farmers in California tearing up their lucrative almond orchards.
However, there is one spot in the report that holds hope. It says that deforestation trends have been partly arrested. The rate of decline of global forested areas over the past decade has halved from where it was in the 1990’s.
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