This past month, the country celebrated agriculture and all its contributions not just to Barton County or The United States, but really to the world. The world population is currently over 7,400,000,000 and is expected to reach 9,600,000,000 by 2050. That’s an additional 2 billion mouths to feed in a little over 30 years. Currently, we are all well aware of malnutrition and even starvation in various parts of the world. The question then is can the world produce enough food to adequately feed 9.6 billion people. The short answer is yes. The natural question is how when people are starving now.
• First, it is true people are malnourished and starving. However, it isn’t because of a lack of food production. The causes are geopolitical, not agronomic. It involves not just dysfunction between countries but also the government or lack thereof within countries.
• With the following, the assumption is made that the agricultural community possesses the ability to adapt to a changing climate. This includes changes in growing season, precipitation patterns, pest pressures, and both temperature patterns and extremes.
• Much has and is being made regarding “grow local” and that may indeed help, especially with various simple and easy to maintain greenhouse type technologies. However, in much of the world this cannot solve the problem for several reasons. First, areas where the production per unit area could meet local demand aren’t typically areas where food shortages are a problem. Second, areas with critical long-term food shortages tend to be in areas with limited technological, climate, and/or soil resources. Finally, it isn’t practical on a large scale for each family or group to attempt to grow all their own food in most areas of greatest need and in case of a disaster, the group would be in trouble as they likely wouldn’t have adequate food stored.
• More effective pest control (weeds, diseases, and insects) in the field and in storage. Even today, with all the advances in pest mitigation, a significant percentage of food products never make it to the table.
• GMO technology – Not just genetically engineering crops but livestock and microorganisms. This would include disease and insect resistance, drought and heat tolerance, increased nutrient efficiency, changing the profile of nutrients in the food product, engineering livestock to increase gain more efficiently, and so on. This has the added benefit of decreasing agriculture’s reliance on pesticides.
• Renewable energy sources ranging from biofuels to wind, solar, and geothermal. And not necessarily on a large scale as we think of here but on a smaller scale to allow more remote less developed areas the ability to take advantage of modern food production and storage techniques.
• Conventional plant and animal breeding to increase crop and livestock health and productivity. Developing crops and livestock to occupy particular niches, extremes of conditions and even unique nutritional characteristics.
• Increasing resource allocation to research and development to address the items mentioned above. Develop a plan to increase the number of bright young students into the range of agricultural sciences, especially at the graduate level. And increase the overall level of education for producers around the world.
There is more but hopefully this provides an overview. It will not be easy but it is possible if we can find ways to bridge political differences and develop governments around the world focused on the welfare of their people.