The Future of Farming
How to Feed 10 Billion People in 2050
The Sixth Great Extinction Event
The last five cataclysmic mass extinction events were devastating enough to life on Earth, but the sixth one might be permanent. 440 million years ago life on Earth was drastically reduced. Then again around 365 million years ago. Then 250 million years ago it happened yet again…, and 200…, and 65… The most recent event is only decades old. The sixth great extinction event has only just begun. The problem is that, Gaia is dying, and maybe even for good this time. The planet is being overwhelmed by climate change, pollution, invasive species, habitat destruction, overfishing, and so much more. In the wake of this rampant industrialization, we are backing ourselves into a corner from which we cannot escape. The lifestyles of the modern world could very well bring about our own undoing. In regards to this it is important to understand that overpopulation isn’t part of the problem, like some people claim. For the world to be overpopulated that would mean that there aren’t enough resources to sustain everyone. However, in 1800 when we reached the first billion people we had more than enough food to eat and land to live off of. This was true in 2000 when we had more than six times that amount. It will even be true when we reach peak population in 2100. Currently there are seven billion people on the planet and for every two people that die four more are born to replace them, so our population continues to grow. However, this trend will change and, believe it or not, the global population is going to stabilize very soon. By the start of the 22nd century, there will be 11 billion people on the planet, but for every two people that die two will be born. In other words, in about eight decades, humanity will have fully colonized the Earth, achieving peak population. Of course, even then we won’t have a population problem. Humans have trouble with resource distribution, not overpopulation. There will never be too many people. The real problem is that we may have created runaway effects that will inevitably end in disaster. In other words, while a country like Bhutan fights to save the world, countries like America do everything in their power to destroy it all. The carbon footprint of the Western world is an embarrassment to our species. It may very well drive us extinct. This is terribly unfortunate because humans are meant to be the avatars of the cosmos. It is our duty to serve as stewards of this and all other planets, yet we are barely free from the trees. Everyone must cease to be mass consumers and polluters if we wish to remain extant for much longer. More importantly, environmental protection is the key to the survival of life on Earth.
For about 3 billion people around the world, seafood provides a significant source of protein and nutrition. The problem is that recent studies show that 1/3 of wild fisheries are overfished, and 2/3 of those are fished at their maximum capacity. The collapse of fish stocks is leading to more and more extinction as food chains break down. The myth of everlasting plenty is just wishful thinking. We cannot take more from the land and sea than it can provide. This is what they mean when they say that this is unsustainable. As much as people want them to be, our oceans are not inexhaustible sources of seafood. The sad truth is that if we don’t get some sensible and sustainable fishing and farming policies in place, then many animals will die, including people. With each passing year, there are less and less fish, but humans just keep on fishing at an increasing rate. We let the demand outpace the supply and now we have to back off for a while. Fish stocks will never be replenished if we don’t give the fish a generation or two to recover. Plus there needs to be international laws in place to prohibit the fishing of endangered animals like tuna. Instead, people need to only eat things like mackerel which is far more plentiful. On top of this, fishermen often through back a large percentage of their catch, because they can only go after fish of a certain size and a particular species. This means lots of animals die in the process of large scale catch and release operations. By-catch is a really big problem that is tied in with overfishing. Just as one example of how bad this can get, in the mid-1990s Canadian cod stocks were depleted too much. As a result, the food chain was disrupted. The urchin that they normally fed on then decimated the kelp and the ecosystem collapsed, and it has never recovered. This is happening all around the world. As part of this, farmed seafood is now one of the fastest-growing food industries, currently expanding in volume by about 6% each year. One of the most common aquaculture methods involves large pens made of nets, where fish are farmed offshore in huge floating cages. These pens are highly overcrowded, and this can be very stressful to the fish. This concentrates their waste leading to pollution and spreading disease among wild species. They also excrete some of the added antibiotics that they get fed. This can lead to a number of different problems. Similarly, the man-made coastal ponds that are commonly used for shrimp farming, particularly in Southeast Asia, create additional environmental problems. One way to solve these problems is to farm fish on land in completely contained systems. This would also help with the issue of irradiated fish stocks in the Pacific, which the Fukushima Diiachi disaster made inedible. The problem there is finding enough harmless, inexpensive fish feed to make the whole thing worthwhile. About 10% of the seafood caught globally is used to feed animals, including carnivorous farmed fish, but this is mainly contaminated and therefore undesirable. Ultimately, even if we develop plant-based fish feed, this is still inevitably unsustainable. That’s why aquaculture farmers should really focus on growing shellfish and seaweeds, but people need to buy more of those animals and less fish. Ultimately, we should only have herbivorous freshwater fish farms, but that’s just a stopgap. In the end, fish will need to be taken off the menu altogether, but in the meantime we have to reduce by-catch to a minimum, at the very least. Either way, kelp and oyster farms would naturally improve water quality, filtering it as they feed off of sunlight and nutrients in the seawater. Plus, by absorbing carbon through photosynthesis, these farms help in the fight against climate change. This would then reduce the local acidification and create new habitats for other species to thrive in. This is what is known as regenerative ocean farming, and with the right distribution network, a series of small farms, that together would only be the size of Washington state, could easily feed everyone on the planet.
In spite of how hopeless things may seem, there are fairly simple ways to fix the planet. As unbelievable as it may seem, with enough help, the whole world could be transformed from a barren desert into a tropical paradise, and it could be done in less than a decade if it were done right. The world could go from being 2/3 desert to 2/3 grassland, or better yet farmland. Plus, grasslands hold the potential to sequester enough atmospheric carbon dioxide to completely reverse the effects of climate change. So, regreening could easily save the world. In line with this, farmland is becoming an increasingly rarer global commodity, but more than a quarter of all the fertile soil in the world is found in Africa. In reality, the continent has so much arable land that it should be exporting tons of food, however many areas are unused so countries end up needing to import vast quantities of edible goods, instead. This is a terrible waste of resources. Foreign invested large-scale farming could help deal with this, but it’s not really the best solution. Although this would provide jobs to natives and allow for roads to be built and electricity to be harnessed, the problem is that it would make local populations dependent on foreign capital. Plus, vast mono-crop plantations cause tremendous harm to the planet, and the profits from things like palm oil don’t even really benefit local populations. Food insecure countries don’t need overseas companies coming in and taking things over in vicious land grabs. There is a tremendously high demand for locally produced food that needs to be met. Plus, there are a number of exportable products throughout Africa, such as cocoa, as well as sheep and goats. Everything is just being mismanaged, so very few people gain anything from all of this. Granted, Africa’s food challenges are highly complex, but they’re not impossible. They just need enhanced irrigation and diverse crop varieties, but have no way of acquiring those things. This is terribly unfortunate because something like poor grain quality impacts every facet of daily life. So, the overall goal is to get lower production and transport costs on higher yields throughout the continent. Strong public and private partnerships need to be made in order for this to occur. Simply put, there needs to be massive investment in the agribusiness sector to make more food locally available and to boost exports. To make it all happen, humanity needs to put an end to desertification around the world, once and for all. Drought has led to famine for millennia and the time has come to end world hunger for good. Food and water security is the most important thing in the world, and it always will be. Scarcity can become a thing of the past though, but everyone has to work together to make it happen. Fortunately, there are easy steps to follow in the regreening algorithm. To begin with, work needs to be done in every place that doesn’t stay humid all year round. Every area in the world that has dried up, or is drying out, must be fenced in. Overgrazing leads to exposed ground, which leads to damaged soil, which contributes to climate change. This does so by releasing carbon and more importantly dihydrogen monoxide, or water, into the atmosphere. The same problem is also caused by slash and burn style farming. Improper herding and farming are detrimental, so everything has to be managed properly to avoid any further damage. Then, once most of the soil covering the planet has been turned to grassland, then most of that needs to be turned into farmland. This will require the use of holistic planned grazing and harvesting. Then, in most cases, the sustainable growth of vegetation can be made to occur in a number of different ways. To do this, permaculture farming emphasizes patterns of landscape and species assemblies, such as corn, beans, and squash which should always be grown together, not as separate crops. This provides the maximum benefit to the local environment and produces a high density of goods at a minimal cost. On top of that, smart phone apps will give the farmers of the future real-time updates to guarantee the most optimum harvest results. Simply put, technology will completely revolutionize modern farming, delivering reports on the weather, commodity futures, and more, all at the touch of a button.
Right now there are about seven billion people on Earth and a large portion of them are malnourished. Furthermore, as the population increases, so too does the global need for food. Unfortunately, in the current production model, corporations tend to feed most of the food in the world to other food for a relatively small number of people to then consume. That is to say, companies grow plants for animals to eat, and then only the most affluent individuals get to dine on them. Rather than doing this, we could feed far more people if everyone would just become vegetarians instead. The problem is that the operating procedures that are in place perpetuate a carnivorous consumer culture. This is a huge problem. There is so much water being wasted in the current agricultural methods. The logistics involved in the transport of these goods also requires a great deal of oil to be used. In addition to this, the models in place are terribly inefficient and unsustainable uses of land. This system only serves to line the pockets and bellies of the wealthy elite, with little to no regard for anything or anyone else. To transition the world to a humane vegan diet, we need to invest far more into local vertical farms all across the world. In this way, biotech plant-based foods will provide meat alternatives with far more nutrition. These laboratory grade edibles are revolutionary. Scientists have even found clever ways to make it all delicious too. By oxygenating the roots of vegetables grown hydroponically, it’s possible to make healthy food that actually tastes great. It’s so inhumane for people to go hungry in this world, and vertical farms are really the only thing that can save people from continued starvation. This is why it is so vital for everyone to become a vegan as soon as possible. The only way that everyone can eat is if we all give up meat. In this way we will end the suffering of countless animals, including starving children. To eliminate animal consumption altogether humanity must eventually embrace vertical farming. This is an inevitable step that our species must take that I am fully in favor of for so many reasons. For one thing, such a marvel of engineering completely eliminates the need for harmful fertilizers and pesticides. Plus, the specific spectrum lighting used to make all of this happen allows food to be harvested year round. The climate controlled buildings also take up very little space on the ground, making them easy to incorporate into cities of all sizes. This forward thinking concept is definitely the way of the future.