Ever more people need ever more food. We currently produce enough food to feed the seven billion people on the planet. Hitherto the main reasons that millions have remained malnourished have been where food is grown, how it is distributed and that many people are too poor to pay for it. This has led to a false sense of complacency. It is dangerous to assume that the world will continue indefinitely to be able to feed even its existing population, let alone the mid range 30% increase in numbers projected by the UN between 2010 and the middle of the century.
In 1960, there was enough land to sustain the world population on a modest European diet, around 0.5 ha of arable cropland per capita. This allowance has fallen by over half to 0.2 ha per capita because the population has doubled and soil degradation and erosion have increased. Humanity is already using most of the productive land, so the expected 1 – 4 billion additional people will have to be fed from more fragile and marginal soils. The more people there are, the harder it will be to feed them.
Basically, we live by turning oil and water into food. However, the high input levels required by our intensive monocultural approach are vulnerable in a world where fossil fuel resources are finite and water supplies are threatened by climate change, overextraction and increasing demand.
Food supplies are also vulnerable to plant disease, pests, falling soil fertility, desertification, urbanisation, changing weather patterns, rising sea levels and rising levels of salination as soils are over-irrigated.
Fish stocks, another major contributor to global nutrition, are currently being over-exploited world-wide by intensive industrial fishing practices.
As developing countries industrialise, they adopt diets with greater proportions of input-intensive meat and dairy products, putting further pressure on resources.
Our consumption is driving continued encroachment into the natural environment as more and more land is engulfed by agriculture to feed our growing numbers.
Read more about food.