agroecology

To feed ten billion people will require an agricultural and food revolution.

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By 2050, there will be 10.6 billion of us on Earth. If the current dominant agricultural model persists, the planet will not be able to withstand the shock. From now on, it will be imperative for people on Earth to change their food system: a shift towards plant-based diets, a drastic reduction in food losses and waste, and above all, a revolution in agricultural practices and technologies. For contrary to what proponents of intensive agriculture suggest, sustainable models such as agribusiness can perfectly feed everyone on Earth.
 
Ilmost two years ago, researchers at Oxford University published an study that caused a sensation. Professor Marco Springmann and his colleagues had constructed a global model of the food system, including the processes and infrastructure involved in feeding the world's population. Using this model and estimates of current and future food demand, the authors had quantified the environmental impacts of food in 2010 and 2050 in five areas: greenhouse gas emissions related to climate change; agricultural land use related to changes in earth systems; extraction of freshwater resources; and fertilizer use in agriculture.

READ UP : Feeding ten billion people by 2050: Will the planet be able to withstand such a shock?

Global Borders

Their investigations led to a chilling diagnosis: if no action is taken to counter the projected changes in world population and the westernization of diets, the environmental impacts of the food system could increase by 50-90 % by 2050. « The global food system has fundamentally altered our planet and the resources on which humanity depends. "says Marco Springmann. « Food production is responsible for about a quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions and is therefore a major driver of climate change, he continued.Agriculture occupies more than a third of the Earth's land surface and has led to a reduction in forest cover and loss of biodiversity. Agriculture also uses more than two thirds of all freshwater resources, and over-application of fertilizers in some areas has created dead zones in the oceans. "
 
In this study, the authors had the merit of highlighting how food production and consumption affect the Earth's "planetary frontiers", the "global frontiers" of the Earth. key planetary boundaries that define a safe operating space for humankind, beyond which the Earth's vital ecosystems could become unstable ".
 
In the planet's vital ecosystems, these "planetary frontiers", soils play a major role. Yet a good third of the world's topsoil is already severely degraded and lost due to agricultural intensification. If current rates of depletion continue - 25 billion tons of soil per year - the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates that topsoil will disappear within 60 years with enormous economic costs and a threat of food insecurity for billions of people. For an expert on the issue, Peter Horton, Research Advisor to the Grantham Centre for Sustainable Futures of the University of Sheffield, United Kingdom." This is a potential global catastrophe... ». Technological solutions to reduce the environmental impact of food production must include soil conservation and regeneration. For a long time, many voices - such as that of Vandana Shiva - are heard to alert: " Soil, not oil, is the future of mankind. ». What we do on the ground, we do to ourselves. And it is no coincidence that the words "humus" and "human" have the same etymological root.
 

Changes and resistance

To avoid crossing our global borders too easily and starving a huge part of the human population, the authors of the Oxford study call for a combination of measures to sufficiently alleviate the pressure on the environment. Three key changes need to be implemented; they relate to our food model - eating more plants, and less meat-, then our attention to the waste -we will have to halve our food waste if we want to stay within the planet's environmental limits - and last but not least, implement a real revolution in our agricultural practices.  
 
It is on this last point that the revolution meets with the greatest resistance. Ecosystems managed by farmers should aim to take into account the full complexity of domesticated environments as much as possible. A systemic approach considering both the interactions between plants, humans and animals, on the one hand, and biological, physical and climatic factors, on the other. This is largely ignored by intensive agriculture, which is nibbling away at more and more forests and natural areas, which aims at yield per hectare while ignoring the added value per hectare; that which results from the difference between what is produced and what is destroyed. Intensive agriculture produces a lot, but it also destroys a lot by using chemicals and fossil fuels. The proponents of this agriculture have a strong argument to justify their practices: they are indispensable to feed the humans that populate our Earth sufficiently.
 

We can amply feed 10 billion people

An argument against which Marc Dufumier rebels. Professor of agronomy and former holder of the chair of comparative agriculture and agricultural development at AgroParisTech, he has just published a particularly inspiring little book at Actes Sud: Agroecology can save us. There's no doubt in his mind, " 10 billion people can be largely fed with intelligent and sustainable agriculture. ». In a interview in Le Monde, he said, " It is perfectly possible to feed the whole of humanity properly and sustainably. If today 820 million people are hungry, and one billion suffer from food deficiencies, it has nothing to do with a lack of food, but with income disparities. These are poor people who are unable to buy the food that exists. To feed a person properly, you need about 200 kilograms of grain (or equivalent) a year. World production is about 330 kilos today. Look for the mistake... "
 
Many of the solutions needed to start this revolution are already being implemented in some parts of the world. However, scaling them up globally will not be an easy task, as their effectiveness will depend on strong coordination and rapid scaling up, not just in the richer countries. The necessary changes will have to involve above all a real revolution in behaviour and habits. Awareness of the impact of food on the planet will have to be raised from a very early age and encourage industrialists to review their supply and communication. « Feeding oneself is a political act " say the philosopher Corinne Pelluchon. There is no longer any doubt that it is through pressure from citizens that such a change can be initiated.
 
 

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