Can we ditch intensive farming – and still feed the world?

urban farming to drones, innovation can help fill the distance between
manufacturing and consumption Why can we want to grow more food? Food
manufacturing worldwide should upward push via half in the next 30 years to
maintain a world inhabitants anticipated to top 10 billion by 2050.

Compared with 2010, an additional 7,400tn calories shall be needed a year in 2050. If food manufacturing increases alongside current strains, that will require a landmass two times the area of India, file published in December via the World Resources Institute on the “food gap” between present production and rising consumption.

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Fiona Harvey

So we
want to to find extra land to cultivate then?

extra land beneath agricultural manufacturing is one answer to filling this
gap, nevertheless it cannot remedy the issue on my own. Finding that quantity
of land in suitable prerequisites would spell the top for most of the earth’s
remaining forests, peatlands and wild areas, and release the carbon stored in
them, hastening climate change.

farming has already had a huge impact on biodiversity and the surroundings
worldwide. Pesticides, that have helped boost cereal and fruit production, have
additionally killed bees and myriad species of insects in large numbers.

that have improved deficient soils have additionally had accidental damaging
consequences. The greatest ever maritime “dead zone” was once discovered in the
Gulf of Mexico remaining 12 months, the results of fertiliser and manure from
the meat industry working off the land. Chemical fertilisers also contribute
immediately to climate trade, during the greenhouse gasoline nitrous oxide, and
to air air pollution via ammonia.

farm workers sort out leeks at an natural farm at the outskirts of Beijing.
Photograph: Ng Han Guan/AP

So what
are the other solutions?

So what
are the opposite solutions?

The UN’s
Food and Agriculture Organisation, the arena’s leading frame charged with care
of our future meals supply, has referred to as this year for “transformative
change in our food systems”.

The most
obvious alternative to industrialised intensive farming in the developed
international is natural farming. The label natural, or bio, is a
well-recognized one in many supermarkets, but makes up only 2% of meals gross
sales in the UK and about 5.five% in the USA.

farmers should adhere to strict rules on how they develop their plants and lift
their farm animals. These come with the use of antibiotics on animals handiest
when vital, cutting out chemical fertilisers and insecticides nearly completely
in favour of natural choices comparable to manure and wood ash as fertilisers
and plant-derived insecticides, and managing land to offer habitats for natural

Percival, head of coverage at the Soil Association, says organic farming can
feed the sector, if consumption patterns are adjusted to inspire those that can
have the funds for meat to devour much less of it. “We need an urgent shift in
both production and consumption if we’re to avert the worst consequences of
climate change, including a dietary shift towards less and better meat,” he

grazing on pasture can support soil health and carbon sequestration, and manure
can provide soil fertility for other crops.”

He adds
that the productiveness of natural farming is bigger than previously concept,
“and when the environmental and other damage caused by high energy and chemical
inputs in non-organic farming are factored in, organic food is cheaper for
society and better for the planet”.

isn’t natural a burden for farmers?

For many
farmers, the investment and time had to meet natural requirements may be a
stretch, but there are ways to move against extra sustainable farming without
organic certification.

is the name given to a large range of farming techniques that search to
minimise the environmental impact of farming. It encompasses organic farming,
however is informal and does not require certification and inspection.

“It is
about using natural systems,” says Vicki Hird, food and farming campaigner at
Sustain, an NGO. “Reducing the use of artificial chemicals, such as fertilisers
and pesticides is an important part of it. Looking closely at the soil and
other conditions, nourishing the soil, taking account of the natural pest
cycles, natural predators and crop cycles.”

argues that agroecology may well be extensively followed as an alternative
choice to damaging industrialised farming. Farmers can sow vegetation
corresponding to clover as quilt to suppress weeds and return organic topic to
the soil, and rotate vegetation, including greens reminiscent of legumes that
repair nitrogen. It requires shut consideration to the land itself and the
plants, quite than the standard mode of farming which is to plant cash crops on
the highest yield imaginable.

is the key,” says Hird. “Having these huge monocultures does not lend itself to
being managed in a natural way, and can damage biodiversity.”

into heritage plants, equivalent to older forms of fruit and vegetables and a
greater diversity of grains than the current few strains of wheat which are the
norm in extensive agriculture, too can yield advantages. These crops have their
very own benefits, together with herbal resistance to sure illnesses, pests or

might get a lower yield [by these methods],” Hird concedes, “but you get a
higher level of nutrients in the food produced.”

about permaculture?

farmers cross additional, and include ideas corresponding to permaculture and
biodynamics. The rules of permaculture contain working out the relationships
between vegetation and the use of them in mixtures, while reusing any waste
merchandise, ceaselessly as fertiliser.

takes a different way, following the precepts of Rudolf Steiner and
incorporating a non secular side, as an example in some circumstances aligning
planting and harvesting to lunar calendars.

which around the world have been grossly degraded, can be managed organically
through paludiculture. This calls for re-wetting dried-out peatlands and having
a look to choice plants that grow well there, including forestry and medicinal
crops corresponding to sphagnum moss, and permitting animals to graze.

And city

farming can deliver food – or no less than some fresh produce – successfully to
dense populations with out the greenhouse fuel emissions and nutrient loss
related to transporting it throughout lengthy distances. Already, city farming
produces about a fifth of the arena’s food.

are currently greater than 3,000 urban farming schemes in London by myself.
These carry an echo of the “market gardens” and dairies of the Victorian era,
when small vegetable farms have been sited in or near cities and cows have been
stored in green places in towns for fresh milk.

The cows
of Hyde Park, shelling out fresh milk to Londoners, were a well-known sight
till the first world warfare; in the close to future, look out for hipsters
consuming smoothies from the underground farms of Shoreditch.

sound a bit of area of interest. Don’t commercial farms produce many of the
international’s meals?

There are greater than 570m farms international; greater than 90% are run by an
individual or circle of relatives and depend totally on family labour. They
produce about 80% of the sector’s food.

farmers shall be key to the transition, says Ronald Vargas, soil and land
officer at the FAO. Many small farmers are deficient and insecure, however FAO
considers funding in smallholder manufacturing “the most urgent and secure and
promising means of combating hunger and malnutrition, while minimising the
ecological impact of agriculture”.

How can
generation and innovation help?

There is
no scarcity of innovation and tech to help beef up efficiencies and yields – on
business farms and smallholdings. GPS, drones and fine-grained knowledge on
topography, soils and different facets of farmland to allow farmers to focus on
specific spaces with fertilisers, pesticides and water, instead of blanket

instance, Olam, a global agribusiness that produces cocoa, coffee, sugar,
cotton and other vegetation, makes use of real-time tracking on its plantations
to finely pass judgement on fertiliser quantities and keep away from the desire
for the pre-emptive use of insecticides. Its almond trees in Australia are
fitted with sensors to observe exactly how a lot water each tree needs, and

family farmers in the growing world, cellphones are revolutionising what’s
imaginable. They have given farmers in far off areas get admission to to
equipment corresponding to weather forecasts, marketplace costs, yield
knowledge and practical recommendation. GPS is also letting them track their
produce after it leaves the farm.

and robots would possibly seem futuristic but are already in use, turning in
focused insecticides and picking out damaged or diseased plants before they are
able to infect others round them.

In parts
of the sector where area is at a top class, vertical farming is catching on.
This refers back to the observe of stacking vegetation, typically greens, in
shallow boxes in layers, which is able to reach any peak available. It not
simplest saves on house, however may also be managed to make use of water and
energy extra successfully, as water can be pumped to the top and allowed to go
with the flow down through gravity.

programs use hydroponics, by which the crops are immersed in water containing
mineral answers, in place of soil. Temperatures can also be carefully
controlled, water reused, and nutrients recycled. Software systems can regulate
the supply mechanisms and track how the crops are faring.

new-found skills to regulate mild, temperature, air and other environmental
components open up new vistas for farming. Underground rising was once reserved
for mushrooms and niche crops reminiscent of forced rhubarb, grown in huge

can take where of sunlight, a a ways better number of vegetation can thrive in
those conditions, making now not only rooftops however basements and disused
underground areas from worked-out mines to old railway strains probably viable
venues for rising short-cycle foodstuffs.


reliance on synthetic fertiliser and extensive farming tactics didn’t happen in
a single day, but took a long time. Along the best way, those methods
revolutionised farming and enabled massive inhabitants enlargement and economic
growth. We now have a wealth of medical proof that displays that proceeding
down the similar path would risk runaway climate trade, the extinction of
species essential to human life, pollution of our water and air, and the demise
of our soils.

agriculture exploits the available natural resources of our planet to an
untenable and unsustainable extent,” says Vargas of the FAO. “The basic strategy
to replace human labour with farm machinery, agrochemicals and fossil energy is
a dead end in times of climate change, dwindling oil reserves and
over-exploited natural resources.”

say a second revolution is now wanted, that will surround not simply our rising
strategies but intake habits and our complete meals financial system. This must
contain farmers, shops, governments and customers. In ultimate century’s
farming revolution, only one long term was presented: industrialisation. For
this century, there can be a plurality of alternatives, and mixtures of new and
historical generation, and all have their place.

“There is not one huge conceptual change where you do everything differently and everything will be OK,” says Tim Searchinger of Princeton University and the World Resources Institute. “There is not one single answer. There are lots and lots of things we can and need to do.”

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