Back in 1798 it was predicted that the world’s population would grow faster than food production . It was thought this would cause a lack of food and end population growth . But this didn’t happen because people came up with new ways to farm . In the “Green Revolution” of the last 50 years, cereal crop production tripled, whilst the area of farmland increased by only 30% . But now, farming faces new challenges :
INCREASING DEMAND – we need to grow more food to feed the growing population . Moreover, people need better quality diets . For example, 42% of the world’s children are sick with anaemia, due to a lack of iron in their diet . We can fix this e.g. by breeding beans with higher iron content .
DROUGHT – climate change is causing more frequent and extreme droughts . This is expected to cause declines in crop production over the next few decades . So, we need to breed crops that are more tolerant of drought , and to help farmers access water to irrigate their crops if necessary .
PESTS & DISEASE – as temperatures rise, pests (e.g. insects that eat plants) and diseases from the tropics are expected to spread further from the equator . Plus, plants stressed by drought are more vulnerable to pests and disease .
DESERTIFICATION – poor farming methods have caused soil to lose nutrients, become salty , and eventually become like a desert . Millions of people in Africa are finding it harder to grow food as soil quality declines, forcing them to move to new areas . We can fix this e.g. by continuously moving grazing animals between areas .
RUNNING OUT OF FERTILIZER – plants need phosphorous (P) to grow, as it forms part of essential parts of them, like DNA . We need fertilizers containing P to grow enough food . However, we could run out of P within a few decades . We must use P more sparingly, and recycle it, such as by extracting it from human pee !
The answer? Another Green Revolution ! We need to keep innovating. Sub-Saharan Africa was almost untouched by the first Green Revolution, so changes are needed here in particular [2,15].
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