If you have a subscription to Nature, this week’s issue is dealing with agriculture’s challenge of producing enough food as the world population reaches its plateau (apparently, this is to be expected around 2050). I’m just digging in, and it’s very interesting…
First of all, while certainly a major scientific challenge in the next decades, it doesn’t seem to be the quite impossible task it seemed a few times ago (say, in the early 90’s, scientists perspective was rather more pessimistic I think). Thanks to our population growth converging to an equilibrium and having the opportunity to change many ways food can be produced and distributed:
– not every place is taking advantage from the green revolution crop improvements from the last century, progress can still be expected from genetics and breeding, minor -neglected- crops have a dramatic potential, which are the classical ways to increase crop production,
– but also, between one fourth and one third of the food produced is still wasted or spoiled so research in storing, supplying and food transforming processes are probably a major source of novelty to improve worldwide food availability.
(Of course one the main issue with feeding the world isn’t exactly producing food actually, but rather to distribute it properly, which brings the issue to more political sides).
Just to quote about this comforting perspective*:
Scientists long feared a great population boom that would stress food production, but population growth is slowing and should plateau by 2050 as family size in almost all poorer countries falls to roughly 2.2 children per family. Even as population has risen, the overall availability of calories per person has increased, not decreased. Producing enough food in the future is possible, but doing so without drastically sapping other resources, particularly water, will be difficult.
And since’re at it, I’d also like to quote this week’s editorial**, and its take on GMOs and crop production (so close to mine I guess I couldn’t express it better):
Genetically modified (GM) crops are an important part of the sustainable agriculture toolkit, alongside traditional breeding techniques. But they are not a panacea for world hunger, despite many assertions to the contrary by their proponents. In practice, the first generation of GM crops has been largely irrelevant to poor countries. Overstating these benefits can only increase public distrust of GM organisms, as it plays to concerns about the perceived privatization and monopolization of agriculture, and a focus on profits.
Hum… Now I face the dilemma fo reading more or go back to paper writing. But that’s of a much smaller challenge…
Have also a look at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog’s take on the issue (Nature’s), they get a point…
* Nature 466, pp. 546-547 (2010)
** Nature 466, pp. 531–532 (2010)