The global population is set to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, with most of the growth taking place in developing countries (1). The United States Department of Agriculture says the number of hungry (‘food insecure’) people in sub-Saharan Africa will rise by a third (2). In order to tackle the issue of food scarcity, the FAO claims that food production will have to increase by 70%.
If food production is to stay as it is, then we simply won’t be able to feed the global population in the future. Of course, there is a problem now of people going hungry. Around 795 million people do not have enough food to lead a healthy active life (3). There are many, complex reasons why so many people are hungry in the world: natural disasters, drought, climate change, a lack of arable land, pests, military conflicts, the marginalisation of women, wealth inequality, corruption and how political power is wielded (4).
So some steps have to be taken to address these causes, otherwise global hunger will only worsen as the global population increases. Let’s take a look at some possible solutions to food scarcity.
There are many wide-ranging controversies surrounding the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs; 5). However, so far there have been no reports of negative health outcomes in the human population from GMOs (6,7). In addition, there’s a scientific consensus that food derived from GM crops pose no greater risk to human health than conventional food (8).
On the other hand, there are concerns about the environmental impact of GMOs (9). Groups such as Greenpeace say that the environmental risks associated with GMOs have not been adequately researched. Indeed, this may be so. But given the absolute dire state of the global food situation, the benefits of GMOs may far outweigh both the actual and potential risks.
For example, GMO crops could relieve food scarcity (10) by providing increased yields and by being more resistant to environmental stressors (11). Also, the prevalence of drought has sparked an interest in the development of crops that can withstand high temperatures. Creating drought-resistant crops remains a challenging enterprise, but one that is still going on.
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Farming up instead of across
One of the causes of food scarcity, mentioned previously, is the fact that arable land is running out (12). It’s running out at a rate much faster than the pace of natural processes to replace the diminished soil (caused by erosion and pollution). Academics from the University of Sheffield offer several remedies for this “catastrophic” soil loss, including recycling nutrients from sewerage, using biotechnology so that plants no longer depend upon fertilisers, and rotating crops with livestock areas to relieve pressure on arable land.
The Japanese farmer Masanobu Fukuoka wrote a popular book called The One-Straw Revolution (13). In it, he described his philosophy and practice of farming in a way which doesn’t involve using agricultural chemicals, and so doesn’t diminish the soil. And yet his yields equalled or surpassed most farms in Japan. We could perhaps benefit greatly from this kind of ‘natural farming’. But there is another way we can farm, utilising technology to circumvent the problem of food scarcity.
Dr Dickson Despommier wrote a book entitled The Vertical Farm: Feeding the World in the 21st Century. In this book, he proposes vertical farming as a way to feed the growing global population (14). Vertical farming is the practice of growing food in vertically stacked layers, such as in a skyscraper, warehouse or shipping container. Vertical farming uses indoor farming techniques, with some operating like greenhouses. According to Despommier, if vertical farms can be designed properly, then it could eliminate the need to create additional farmland. This will allow farmland to return to its natural state, as well as save many natural resources.
Indeed, these farms of the future would use no soil and 95% less water (15). This is sustainable agriculture. There is another way we can promote sustainable agriculture. But it involves changing consumer behaviour.
Eating less meat
Research published by Oxford Martin School found that cutting down on meat consumption would make a big difference in terms of reducing greenhouse gas emissions (16). As mentioned before, climate change is one of the causes of food scarcity. And since greenhouse gases are responsible for climate change, efforts to reduce them will massively help to improve global food security (17).
Moreover, animal agriculture involves using much more land to feed people than would be used if plants were being grown instead. For example, beef uses 160 times more land than the equivalent in calories to produce potatoes, wheat and rice (18). It also produces 11 times more greenhouse gases than these plant crops.
We waste a lot of land and resources by raising animals for food. People are going hungry, and more will go hungry, because of our demand for animal products. If there were widespread changes to dietary habits, we could significantly improve the problem of global food scarcity.
What’s promising is that regardless of what actions are taken on a governmental or agricultural level, individuals have the power to make a difference.
About the author: Sam Woolfe @samwoolfe
I’m currently a Writer at The Canary, covering issues relating to the food industry, drugs, health, well-being and nutrition. I’m also a Blogger for Inspiring Interns, where I offer careers advice for graduates. If you have a story you want me to cover, drop me a message on Twitter (@samwoolfe). You can also check out my travel blog (samreflectsontravel.com) and personal blog (www.samwoolfe.com) to read my articles on philosophy, psychology, and more opinion-related content.