Farming needs to change. Why?

Back in 1798 it was predicted that the world’s population would grow faster than food production [3]. It was thought this would cause a lack of food and end population growth [3]. But this didn’t happen because people came up with new ways to farm [3]. In the “Green Revolution” of the last 50 years, cereal crop production tripled, whilst the area of farmland increased by only 30% [2]. But now, farming faces new challenges [4]:

INCREASING DEMAND – we need to grow more food to feed the growing population [4]. Moreover, people need better quality diets [4]. For example, 42% of the world’s children are sick with anaemia, due to a lack of iron in their diet [5]. We can fix this e.g. by breeding beans with higher iron content [6].

DROUGHT – climate change is causing more frequent and extreme droughts [8]. This is expected to cause declines in crop production over the next few decades [8]. So, we need to breed crops that are more tolerant of drought [10], and to help farmers access water to irrigate their crops if necessary [9].

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 [7]. Plus, plants stressed by drought are more vulnerable to pests and disease [7].

DESERTIFICATION – poor farming methods have caused soil to lose nutrients, become salty [11], and eventually become like a desert [12]. Millions of people in Africa are finding it harder to grow food as soil quality declines, forcing them to move to new areas [12]. We can fix this e.g. by continuously moving grazing animals between areas [13].

RUNNING OUT OF FERTILIZER – plants need phosphorous (P) to grow, as it forms part of essential parts of them, like DNA [1]. We need fertilizers containing P to grow enough food [16]. However, we could run out of P within a few decades [16]. We must use P more sparingly, and recycle it, such as by extracting it from human pee [16]!

The answer? Another Green Revolution [14]! 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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