Harvest 2050 Blog

Archive for APRIL, 2010

Earth Day a reminder of agriculture’s role in conservation

APRIL 21, 2010

Today is Earth Day. The Global Harvest Initiative and its partner companies and organizations are proud to celebrate and commemorate the significance of this day to millions of people around the world.

While it may be cliché - “every day is Earth Day for farmers” - and those of us engaged in agriculture. We love the land. We dedicate ourselves daily to conserving as much of it as possible, understanding that global agriculture - farmers - must produce more with less if are to feed the 9 billion people who are expected to inhabit the Earth in the year 2050.

I think Wisconsin Senator Gaylord Nelson understood that 40 years ago when the first Earth Day recognition was celebrated on April 22, 1970.

Nelson wanted to focus public attention on pollution and environmental concerns. Today, people the world over - adults and kids - recognize the day with many national and international organizations, schools and governmental entities holding programs and events to remind us that we must protect this precious resource called Earth.

Joyce Lobeck, a staff writer for the Yuma Sun in Arizona, recently wrote an excellent piece about agriculture and Earth Day with an assessment that put it all into perspective regarding why farmers and ranchers take seriously their stewardship of the land.

… farmers and ranchers not only make a living for their families, they feed and clothe the growing population of the world while protecting the ecosystem and providing wildlife habitat.

Here’s what the Global Harvest Initiative believes about conservation:

We must minimize environmental degradation while meeting the global agricultural production needs of the future. Deforestation and use of fragile lands is simply not a viable option, so more will have to be grown on the existing land base using natural resources more efficiently. Much additional emphasis should be placed on irrigation and drought management, nutrient efficiencies and management, conservation tillage, and other actions that will improve water quality, reduce water use, and reduce greenhouse gases. These programs are important both in U.S. agriculture and throughout the rest of the world.

At the GHI, we recognize the enormity of the challenge faced by global agriculture in meeting the needs of our growing and more affluent population. Land, water and habitat constraints are tightening, as recognition grows of the critical need to protect these resources for future generations. Failure to meet these expectations sustainably has implications that transcend agriculture, with enormous ramifications for political stability in many parts of the world. But we believe that the challenge can be met and that much of the solution rests with agriculture’s ability to produce more with the same or fewer resources. That will not happen without collective stakeholder engagement and widespread significant innovation that leads to accelerated agricultural productivity growth and improved supply chain efficiency. If we mobilize as a world community can feed the world, and protect it at the same time.

Happy Earth Day!

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Freezing the footprint of food

APRIL 13, 2010

In a forward-looking dissertation titled Agriculture from 2000 to 2050 - The Business As Usual Scenario, Dr. Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund effectively argues that the “business as usual” model for food production is not sustainable as the global population explodes over the next 40 years.

Dr. Clay, who presented his paper last month at the Global Harvest Initiative 2010 Symposium, Closing the Gap: Examining an Alternative Future, proposes freezing the footprint of food by intensifying, not expanding production.

It’s a compelling piece that also has been published in GHI’s book Benefits of An Alternative Future. The most persuasive aspect of Dr. Clay’s thesis is that it offers solutions for how we can feed the 9 billion people who will inhabit the Earth in 2050, while at the same time recognizing that we must be able to do in a way that sustains the planet. In other words, Dr. Clay urges that we need to do more with less impact on land and water resources.

Consider this excerpt from Dr. Clay’s paper:

We live on a single planet with finite resources. Today, we’re living at the level of 1.3 planets according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Living Planet Index. Translated: We are “eating” the planet-we are consuming the planet’s principle rather than living off its interest. And that’s today; by 2050, there will be nine billion people and on average they will consume twice as much. So the question is: How do we feed a larger population globally and maintain the planet? We must freeze the footprint of food. And, at the same time we must begin to do more with less, while restoring the planet. The math is simple. On a finite planet, population times how much each of us consumes must equal the Earth’s carrying capacity. Exceed that, and we degrade the planet not only for our generation, but for our children and our grandchildren.

In spelling out the consequences of continuing the business as usual scenario, Dr. Clay goes on to write:

For the past 50 years, we have expanded food production by converting natural habitat at the rate of 0.4 percent per year. In just the past decade - as developing countries such as China and India are hitting their economic strides - the rate has risen to 0.6 percent annually. This is occurring at a time when many might expect an increase in the intensity of production, rather than simple expansion.

If we assume the business as usual case for expanding into natural habitat, there will be very little natural habitat left by 2050. By that time, we will have 3 billion more people with 2.9 times as much income, consuming twice as much. In fact, the research suggests that in developing countries incomes are likely to increase more than five-fold by 2050. Moreover, by 2050, more people will live in cities (more than are alive today). If they behave like the urban residents of today, they will depend on others for virtually all their food. If we are to maintain a living planet for our grandchildren, then we will need to Freeze the Footprint of Food. We need more from less.

To freeze the footprint of food, we need smart policies, innovative ideas and new technologies. We must intensify food production rather than expand it…

Dr. Clay is right-on in his insightful assessment, particularly as it relates to intensifying agricultural production, while sustaining the planet. The Global Harvest Initiative also believes that much of the solution rests with agriculture’s ability to produce more with the same or fewer resources. The ability to meet the food needs of nine billion people in the year 2050 rests largely on utilizing shared ideas and innovations that will lead to accelerated agricultural productivity growth and improved supply chain efficiency. Working together we can get there; we must get there.

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Productivity vs. sustainability is a ‘false choice’

APRIL 05, 2010

Few would argue that now is the time for us to start thinking about how to meet the food demands of a growing global population with fewer natural resources as we advance toward the year 2050. A recurring Global Harvest Initiative theme has been to embrace a collective thought process to closing this looming productivity gap, and eschewing the idea of a “one-size-fits-all” approach to meeting this challenge.

With this blog, GHI has endeavored to engage and enlist divergence opinions about how global agriculture can address this issue in ways that encourages enterprise while understanding that we must move forward in a sustainable and environmentally-friendly way that is paramount to achieving the end of feeding the world’s population 40 years down the road.

A good example of GHI’s approach is our recently released, commissioned five-chapter study Benefits of an Alternative Future. Dr. Michel Petit, in his paper, Agriculture: A Reassessment Following Recent Controversies, deftly argues for an inclusive approach to meet the future global food demand.

He writes that we (agriculture) must be included in the solution to resolve “the environmental and societal controversies surrounding modern agriculture. Petit’s paper concludes:

Here is Petit’s entire chapter: GHIBooklet.pdf. It is an insightful read.

There are no easy solutions to resolving environmental and societal controversies surrounding modern agriculture. Every societal action, including those in the agricultural realm, entails risks which must be weighed against potential benefits, paying attention to the distribution of both costs and advantages. In fact, risk management is becoming a major task and challenge for public policy development everywhere in the world and requires ongoing dialogue with the society at large.

Modern agriculture must be enlisted if we are to overcome this false choice between productivity and sustainability. Modern agriculture - like all technological and scientific applications - is not static. It has and must continue to adapt to changing demands and challenges. Failure to continue advancements on the farm and across the food system will only exacerbate many of the problems that the critics highlight. These advancements will not occur automatically, however. They require the steady pursuit of a clearly articulated goal, namely one of feeding a growing population while holding steady, or even better, minimizing, the environmental footprint.

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