Deep thinking about the future of food

Environmentalists increasingly worry about the ecological damage from agriculture while traditional agronomists are mainly worried about supply - and tend at times to recommend fixes that might worsen the environmental damage.

A new paper looking at the future of the global food system claims that the challenge of doubling global food production in coming decades can probably be achieved, albeit with considerable difficulty.

The paper argues that the conversion of forests and grasslands to agricultural use needs to stop now; the environmental damage of chopping down the Amazon far exceeds the small gain in food production.

Clearing tropical forests is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions and is estimated to release around 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon per year, or about 12% of total anthropogenic CO2 emissions.

The paper contends that increases in food supply should come from existing farmland by a process of intensified production in places where yields are low and by improving the efficiency of agriculture in places where yields are already high.

The paper essentially argues that high yields can be attained with fewer chemicals and less water, which would not only cut pollution but in some cases costs for farmers as well.

As a significant food producer, Canada could play a crucial role in creating a less carbon intensive global food system. The paper recommends changes to the food system that focus on the three goals of increasing supply, reducing environmental damage and improving food security.

The barriers are not primarily technical but involve finding the political will to solve the problems, leading to low public investment in a more sustainable agriculture system. B.C. can play a role in reforming the Canadian food system. Section 2 of the B.C. Agricultural Plan focuses on meeting environmental and climate challenges.

The study outlines further recommendations, which could be integrated into future agricultural planning in B.C. and across Canada.

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