The Food Production Dilema

Since graduating from University I have been faced with a dilemma with how we produce food in the world. The fact is, without food we cannot live, but how we produce our food is something we need to understand. On the one extreme, to produce plenty of food, make it cheap and as ubiquitous as possible, and some would say even fight global hunger and starvation. The cost being to the environment and even our health. The other extreme is to be in harmony with the environment and nature's systems. To take what it can give and not put any stress to the already changing environment. Here the cost is perhaps time, and growth potential, and in truth does not create the huge profits the private sector expects.

Today most people I talk to, do not understand the long journey our food takes before it gets to our supermarkets. In this journey there are many issues, efficiency issues, and many facets that need our attention. One of the first times I was faced with a choice regarding food production, was as a veterinary student in agriculture practice, like dairy, or poultry farming. From my perspective, the veterinarian is simply holding the balance between economic pressure (economies of scale and continuous demand for cheaper products) and animal welfare (the health and well being of animals in the intense food production units). It was clear to me I never wanted to be a veterinarian in agriculture.

My career has taken me through working in a zoo, conservation and environment agency and now, in the administration of our Ministry that is responsible for Agriculture, I am responsible for animal Health and Development in the UAE, and coordination of the whole agriculture sector, developing our laws and policy and trying to create a system to ensure food production and trade. In short, I wanted to work on this dilemma at the highest level possible for our country.

As I work I find I am continuously facing the original dilemma, of how to best produce our food.This dilemma is actually a product of the greater clash between the human economy and the biological harmony of nature and the earths ecosystem. Essentially, the economy is pushing for higher returns and concentration of effort over a smaller surface area, where many things are a cost and even simplified down to spreadsheets. These systems are essentially fighting entropy. Nature on the other hand favoring a distributed and disseminated systems that build in complexity in a way we are still learning about. In this complexity there are ways to ensure balance and continuity and even buffers.

I have thought long and hard and constantly about this and there are times where I burn the midnight oil deliberating and discussing this dilemma with other people. The philosophies span the spectrum but I feel it’s time to put pen to paper (or the digital equivalent) to investigate and explore all the aspects. I write to investigate the many facets of this topic and share my thoughts and hopefully form ideas, gain more forward motion and ultimately become part of my life’s work.