Food & Agriculture
FOOD SECURITY, NUTRITION, and AGRICULTURE – Feeding the World
The population of the planet is 7.8 billion, and the careful management of nature, resources, and the agriculture industry is needed to provide a healthy and nutritious diet for all of Earths inhabitants.
Discover over 4,500 resources in this essential ➡️ platform for food and agriculture which addresses some of the planets most pressing themes including hunger, malnutrition, thirst, food prices, sustainability, intensive agriculture, the climate crisis, and overconsumption of meat.
The global food situation is complex. More than 10% of the global population suffer from hunger, meanwhile 25% are overweight or obese, and a further 25% suffer from nutrient deficiency. Current poorly designed food systems based around intensive agriculture results in environmental degradation, deforestation, biodiversity loss, the pollution of water sources, and the displacement of communities.
Shockingly, despite such high levels of food scarcity and hunger, one third of the food we produce is then wasted. Hunger also has a gender issue - 60% of those facing food insecurity are women. The true vulnerability of our food systems was exposed when the covid-19 pandemic plunged 122 million more people into hunger. The Russian war in Ukraine then created vast disruptions and price hikes to the world's supply of grains, cereals and fertilisers.
Experts agree that our food systems have been broken for decades. Poor choices, concentration of power, and putting profit over people has led to lack of change.
“There is more than enough food in the world to go around. More than enough money to fund efficient and sustainable food systems to feed the world, while supporting decent work for those who grow the food we eat.” - UN Secretary-General, António Guterres
Check out our comprehensive guides to related topics such as environment, nature, the climate crisis, health, and development & aid. German speakers should visit our partner site Bessere Welt Info for 1,900 links on Nahrung.
One of the worst realisations about hunger and food insecurity is the reality that the world does produce enough food for everyone. Vast inequalities, conflict, poverty, food waste, and a host of other issues mean that 828 million people go hungry every day.
Global levels of hunger are actually rising. The second Sustainable Development Goal to eradicate hunger by 2030 is way off track. In a study by the IIASA, estimates predict that there will still be 2.5 billion people experiencing moderate to severe food shortage globally at the end of 2030.
In our guide to global hunger you will find reliable news sources, information on organisations and food aid such as the World Food Program, and excellent resources on the global food crisis, the right to food, food sovereignty, locust swarms, and World Food Day.
With the demand for food increasing exponentially over the last century, farming practices have had to intensify in order to not only feed the planet, but also to keep prices low. The green revolution in the 1980’s saw the introduction of technology into the world of farming resulting in much larger crop yields and the spread of monoculture. This intensification and large-scale land use change led to detrimental impacts on the environment including soil degradation, acidification, desertification, erosion, ecosystem destruction, biodiversity loss, deforestation, and the excessive use of agro-chemicals.
This use of fertilisers and pesticides has created pest and weed resistance, has implications for human health, and pollutes local water sources. Sustainable agriculture, organic farming, and permaculture provide the eco-friendly alternatives but corporate control of agriculture acts as a major barrier to change.
Globalisation and the demand for out of season foods all year round means that the food industry has a heavy carbon footprint. 19% of total food-system emissions now comes from food transport. The food miles of bananas and avocados are good examples of this. Before a banana can reach the UK it must first travel an average of 5,106 miles.
Our food systems are broken. The average meal now travels over 1,500 miles from the farm to our table. One famous example is the sliced pears which were grown in Argentina, packed in Thailand, and then sold in the U.S.A. which for food manufacturers is bizarrely cheaper than sourcing food locally. Not only is this practice incredibly bad for the environment, but it is based on the exploitation of cheap labour, it promotes the loss of food sovereignty, and traps local farmers in a cycle of poverty.
With the distance that our food is travelling to reach its market, the time between harvest and consumption is getting longer. Plastic packaging is used to lengthen the shelf life of almost all our goods. Not only is this having a detrimental effect on our environment, but plastics can actually leach harmful chemicals into our food products.
Explore our in-depth guide on rural development and agriculture in developing nations where we explore cooperatives, the importance of local and indigenous knowledge, sustainable livelihoods, women and agriculture, and common issues such as land grabs, conflict, drought, and seed property rights. Find our recommended news sources, publications, and the organisations working to promote sustainable and profitable farming in rural communities.
The Meat Industry - Big Meat and its Global Influence
Livestock farming presents serious concerns to our planet as demand and intensification of the industry spirals. Cattle ranching in the Amazon is responsible for 70% of land clearance. The global figures are shocking, 26% of (ice-free) land is used for livestock grazing, and 33% of the planets total croplands are used to produce livestock feed to sustain these animals.
80 billion animals are slaughtered each year for human consumption. Some countries have a greater taste for it than others, in fact Americans eat more than 1.5 times the average daily protein requirement. Overconsumption of meat has negative health implications such as higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity, and cancers. If the whole planet shared the meat-heavy diet of the average American, the world would be able to feed just 2.5 billion people.
The connection between the meat industry and the climate crisis has been recognised for decades. Methane production, animal cruelty associated with factory farming and live animal transport, antibiotic resistance, the use of growth hormones, and the increase in zoonotic diseases present further global issues.
More than 3 billion people worldwide rely on fish as their primary source of protein. Seafood is the largest traded food commodity in the world, and around 12% of the world are dependent on the fishing industry for their income. As a key part of the global economy, it is no surprise that serious issues have arisen with the intensive nature of the modern fishing industry.
The FAO estimates that due to overfishing, 70% of the fish population is either fully used, overused, or in crisis. Disregard of quotas and maritime boundaries,lack of enforced regulation, and the use of illegal nets and fishing techniques has made the industry unsustainable, cruel, and dangerous for workers.
Many people are now turning to vegetarian and vegan diets in order to end their complicity in the cruel nature of modern animal farming, to make healthier choices, and to lower their carbon footprints.
Not only is agriculture and the food industry suffering because of the effects of climate change, but the industry itself is a major driver of greenhouse gas emissions. Between 19-29% of these harmful gases produced are a direct result of our current agricultural systems.
Livestock, crops, and fertiliser generate vast amounts of nitrous oxide and methane. Deforestation then removes our Earths natural carbon sponge, and then long-distance food transport relies on the burning of fossil fuels.
Intensive agriculture is an especially large contributor, and without serious changes to more sustainable practices, the industry that humanity relies upon for survival is going to destroy itself. Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Increasing temperatures, weather unpredictability and instability, shifting weather patterns, invasive crops and pests, drought, and extreme weather events are reducing crop yields, lowering the quality of major cereals, reducing livestock productivity, and destroying livelihoods.
Giant corporations are using technology to adapt and become more resilient, however family farmers, small holdings, and rural farmers in developing countries cannot afford such luxury. As resources become more scarce, conflicts over limited arable land are becoming more common. Many farmers are on the frontline of climate change and have been forced to flee their land as it becomes unworkable and unprofitable.
There are currently over 376 million climate refugees around the world who have been displaced by deadly and catastrophic climate related events. Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Chad, Haiti, Kenya, Malawi, Niger, Pakistan, Somalia, and Sudan are not only the world's most vulnerable countries to climate change. They are also the ones with the least resources to adapt.
By 2050 global food yields are expected to decrease by more than 10% as a direct result of our changing climate. If current emissions levels are sustained, up to 39% of the Earths land surface will develop unpredictable conditions for farmers around the world.
The term genetically modified organisms refers to plants, animals, or microorganisms which have had their DNA modified to enhance certain features. Foods produced which contain GM organisms are called GM foods.
GM foods were developed to stabilise crop yields, improve food security, and increase profit margins. These miracle seeds grow into crops which are resistant against diseases, herbicides, and drought, they also grow faster and can have greater nutritional qualities. Animals have been bred to reap similar benefits for human consumption.
Critics state that the use of GMOs could have serious implications for human health and the environment. GM foods have a higher possibility of causing allergic reactions, antibiotic resistance, immunosuppression, and potentially cancers.
Environmental concerns include the risk of outcropping, the negative impact on insects and other species, loss of biodiversity, and the contamination of local ecosystems. There is also an ethical debate regarding genetic engineering, as the manipulation of human and animal genes and the potential health risks are not fully understood. The practice is also detrimental to smaller family-owned farms as traditional farming practices die out and are dominated by agricultural corporations and the use of technology.
The famous legal case involving Monsanto highlights various issues involved with GM foods. The agricultural biotech giant came up against a small-town farmer after the company's genetically modified canola was discovered in his crops, Monsanto argued that the patented seeds were being used without a license, and won.
Can we Fix our Broken Food Systems for a Better World?
If we are producing enough food to feed everyone on the planet, yet poor nutrition and hunger is responsible for nearly half of all deaths in children under 5 then something has gone horribly wrong.
Our food systems are failing farmers, consumers, and the planet.
We must put our food back in the hands of local farmers and increase accessibility and affordability of fresh nutritious produce. The availability and low cost of fast, processed, calorie heavy food needs to be regulated in wealthy countries to prevent a health crisis. In the U.S. one in six children are now obese, 80% of these children will continue their poor eating habits and grow up to be obese adults.
Reducing food waste is also a huge priority. In the U.S. up to 40% of all food is wasted and ends up in landfill sites, here the food rots instead of composting and produces vast amounts of methane – a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide.
Governments need to step up their recycling systems to include food waste, local composting areas can be established, and supermarkets need to lower their standards of size and appearance of fruit and vegetables to allow food to be sold that may look a little different but tastes exactly the same.
By shopping locally, eating seasonally, supporting small farmers, eating less meat, refusing plastic packaging, composting our food scraps, shopping at farmers markets, and eating home-cooked meals we can all do our bit to take the power away from corporate farming and intensive agriculture, as well as helping ourselves and our planet at the same time.
“Our food system belongs in the hands of many family farmers, not under the control of a handful of corporations.” – Willie Nelson, Farm Aid Founder and President.
Author: Rachael Mellor, 26.11.23 licensed under CC BY-ND 4.0
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