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What are National Geographic's 5 Steps to Solve the World's Food Dilemma? 22 April 2014

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Tuesday 22nd April 2014.
Sarah Mikesell - TheCropSite Senior Editor

Sarah Mikesell
Senior Editor



What are National Geographic's 5 Steps to Solve the World's Food Dilemma? 

Greetings and I hope you all enjoyed the Easter holiday!

After what was undoubtedly the coldest winter of my life, I am now finally seeing little green shoots emerging in my flower beds. I’ll honestly admit that I thought Spring would never arrive, but then along comes a beautiful, sunny 80 F Easter holiday, and I am reminded that Mother Nature hasn’t forgotten us!

National Geographic has a new magazine series starting this month continuing through the end of the year that will focus on food and the challenge of feeding the global population.

In the same vein, Nat. Geographic has an online article by author Jonathon Foley, director of the Institute on the Environment (IonE) at the University of Minnesota, that offers a five-step plan to feed the world.

Foley says the debate over how to address the global food challenge is polarized, pitting conventional ag and global commerce against local food systems and organic farms. And the division is widening.

“Those who favor conventional agriculture talk about how modern mechanization, irrigation, fertilizers, and improved genetics can increase yields to help meet demand. And they’re right,” Foley said. “Meanwhile proponents of local and organic farms counter that the world’s small farmers could increase yields plenty—and help themselves out of poverty—by adopting techniques that improve fertility without synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. They’re right too.“

Both approaches offer badly needed solutions for farmers around the world.

Foley led a team of scientists who asked: How can the world double the availability of food while simultaneously cutting the environmental harm caused by agriculture? His team proposed the following five steps that could solve the world’s food dilemma.

Step One: Freeze Agriculture’s Footprint

We can no longer afford to increase food production through agricultural expansion. Trading tropical forest for farmland is one of the most destructive things we do to the environment. Most of the land cleared for agriculture in the tropics does not contribute much to the world’s food security but is instead used to produce cattle, soybeans for livestock, timber, and palm oil. Avoiding further deforestation must be a top priority.

Step Two: Grow More on Farms We’ve Got

We can be more efficient about where we grow, what we grow, and how we grow.

The world can increase yields on less productive farmlands—especially in Africa, Latin America, and eastern Europe—where there are “yield gaps” between current production levels and those possible with improved farming practices. Using high-tech, precision farming systems, as well as approaches borrowed from organic farming, we could boost yields in these places several times over.

Step Three: Use Resources More Efficiently

Commercial farming is finding innovative ways to better target the application of fertilizers and pesticides by using computerized tractors equipped with advanced sensors and GPS. Organic farming can greatly reduce the use of water and chemicals—by incorporating cover crops, mulches, and compost to improve soil quality, conserve water, and build up nutrients.

Step Four: Shift Diets

It would be far easier to feed nine billion people by 2050 if more of the crops we grew ended up in human stomachs. Today only 55 percent of the world’s crop calories feed people directly.

Finding more efficient ways to grow meat and shifting to less meat-intensive diets—even just switching from grain-fed beef to meats like chicken, pork, or pasture-raised beef—could free up substantial amounts of food across the world.

Step Five: Reduce Waste

An estimated 25 percent of the world’s food calories and up to 50 percent of total food weight are lost or wasted before they can be consumed. In rich countries most of that waste occurs in homes, restaurants, or supermarkets. In poor countries food is often lost between the farmer and the market, due to unreliable storage and transportation. Of all of the options for boosting food availability, tackling waste would be one of the most effective.

I know… interesting stuff. I love it that they are offering a scientific perspective and putting a stake in the ground to say “Here’s what we believe can work.”

I hope you’ll read the whole piece – this is just a snippet from each section. And of course… it’s National Geographic, so the photography is AMAZING. Click here to go to the article.

Have a great week!


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