Food Production and the Environment
Food security: as defined by the United Nations' Committee on World Food Security, is the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Undernutrition: includes being underweight for one's age, too short for one's age (stunted), dangerously thin (wasted), and deficient in vitamins and minerals (micronutrient malnutrition). The term malnutrition refers to both undernutrition and overnutrition.
Malnutrition: results from eating a diet in which nutrients are either not enough or are too much such that the diet causes health problems.It may involve calories, protein, carbohydrates, vitamins or minerals
Overnutrition: is a form of malnutrition in which the intake of nutrients is oversupplied. The amount of nutrients exceeds the amount required for normal growth, development, and metabolism.
How Is Food Produced?
Food Production Has Increased Dramatically
Three systems supply most of our food:
Fisheries and aquaculture (fish farming): provide fish and shellfish which make up about 7% of world food supply
Such food specialization puts us in a vulnerable position should the small number of crop strains, livestock breeds and fish and shellfish species we depend on fail as a result of factors such as:
This violates the biodiversity Principle of Sustainability which calls for depending on a variety of food sources as an ecological insurance policy for dealing with changes in environmental conditions.
Food Production Increases Since 1960
Crop Agriculture Types
Industrialized agriculture uses the following to produce
Industrialized agriculture is now practiced on 25% of all cropland.
Produces about 80% of the world's food
Plantation agriculture: Plantation agriculture is a form of commercial farming where crops are grown for profit.
Two types of Traditional Agriculture:
Some families grow one crop but many plant several crops on same plot simultaneously.
In parts of South America and Africa some slash and burn farmers grow as many as 20 different kinds of crops.
Positive outcomes include:
Research shows that, on average, such low-input polyculture produces higher yields than does high-input monoculture
The many functions of soil can be grouped into six categories:
Specific Surface Area: surface area for a given mass of particles:
Farmers have two ways to produce more food:
Since 1950, about 88% of increases in global food production has come from using high-input industrialized agriculture to increase crop yields in a process called the green revolution.
A green revolution involves three steps:
Industrialized Food Production in the
Has evolved into a huge agribusiness of a few giant multinational corporations increasing control these food related markets:
In total annual sales, agriculture is bigger than that the following US companies COMBINED:
US farms use industrialized agriculture to produce about 17% of the world's grain
Since 1950 US industrialized agriculture has more than doubled the yield of the following key crops without cultivating more land:
Such yield increases have kept large areas of US forests, grasslands and wetlands from being converted to farmland.
As a result, the average US farmer now feeds 129 people compared to 19 in the 1940s.
People in less-developed countries typically spend up to 40% of their income on food
The world's 1.4 billion poorest people typically spend about 70% of their income on food
Because of the efficiency of US agriculture, Americans spend an average of 9% of their household income on food, down from 18% in 1966.
However, because of a number of hidden costs related to their food consumption, most American consumers are not aware that their total food costs are much higher than the market prices they pay.
Such hidden costs include:
Crossbreading & Genetic Engineering
Can Produce New Varieties
of Crops and Livestock
For centuries, farmers and scientists have used crossbreeding through artificial selection to develop genetically improved varieties of crops and livestock
Farmers and breeders allowed only the plants and animals with desirable characteristics to reproduce, causing the evolution of farm stock. This process is called artificial selection because people (instead of nature) select which organisms get to reproduce. ... This is evolution through artificial selection.
These common vegetables were cultivated from forms of
wild cabbage. This is evolution through artificial selection.
Examples of some of the 59 native Mexican maize cultivars.
Photo courtesy of CIMMYT Maize Germplasm Bank
Domesticated vs. Wild Tomato
Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)
Any organism whose genetic material has been altered using genetic engineering techniques
A more specifically defined type of GMO is a "transgenic organism." This is an organism whose genetic makeup has been altered by the addition of genetic material from an unrelated organism. This should not be confused with the more general way in which "GMO" is used to classify genetically altered organisms, as typically GMOs are organisms whose genetic makeup has been altered without the addition of genetic material from an unrelated organism.
Compared to traditional crossbreeding genetic engineering:
In the US:
Bioengineers plan to develop GMO crops that are resistant to:
Bioengineers also hope to develop crop plants that can:
For example, bioengineers have altered citrus trees, which normally take 6 years to produce fruit, to yield fruit in only one year.
Many scientists think that such innovations hold great promise for helping to improve global food security
Others warn that genetic engineering is not free of drawbacks.
Genetic Engineering Could Solve Some Problems but Create Others
Soils & Vegetation GMO assignment with questions and links:
Industrialized Food Production Requires Huge Inputs of Energy
This energy is used to run:
Fossil fuels are also used to:
In the US, food travels an average of 1300 miles from farm to plate
Burning these fossil fuels adds to global climate change
The input of energy needed to produce a unit of food has fallen dramatically so most plat crops in the US provide more food energy than the energy to grow them
However, when we consider the energy used related to plant and animal food to:
It takes about 10 units of nonrenewable
fossil fuel energy to put 1 unit of food
energy on the table
This huge expenditure of energy to produce
food contributes to several environmental
Environmental Problems Related to Food Production
According to many analysts, agriculture has greater harmful environmental impacts than any other human activity, and these environmental effects may limit future food production
According to the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), agriculture accounts for:
Caused by wind and water
Erosion of soil has two major harmful effects:
UNEP estimates that soil is eroding faster than it forms on about 38% of the world's cropland
Both Drought & Excessive Irrigation
Desertification: a process in which the productive potential of soil is degraded by 10% or more caused by drought or human activities that degrade the soil
It is estimated that 70% of the world's drylands used for agriculture are degraded. Most of these lands are in Africa and Asia.
Excessive irrigation can also degrade the soil.
45% of the world's food is produced on 20% of of world's cropland that is irrigated.
Irrigation in dry climates produces soil salinization.
Food Production Systems Have Caused
Major Losses of Biodiversity
When forests are cleared and natural grasslands are plowed under for crops, biodiversity declines.
An example is the clearing of tropical rainforests for planting crops
A related problem is a reduction agro-biodiversity:
Seed Banks: stores seeds to preserve genetic diversity; hence it is a type of gene bank.
There are many reasons to store seeds:
Svalbard Global Seed Vault
Established in 1984 as Nordic Gene Bank to house Nordic plant seeds
Svalbard Global Seed Vault established in 2008.
Over 20,000,000 seeds stored from around the world. Among the seeds are:
Svalbard Global Seed Vault
There Are Limits to Expansion
of the Green Revolution
Several factors have limited the success of the green revolution to date and may limit them in the future:
Can we expand the green revolution by expanding irrigated cropland?
Reasons for decreases in irrigated land:
Can we increase the food supply by cultivating more land?
By clearing tropical forests and irrigating arid land, we could more than double the area of the world's cropland
But..... much of this land:
Cultivating such land usually is expensive and unlikely to be sustainable
These potential increases in cropland would not offset the projected loss of almost one-third of today's cultivated cropland due to:
Such cropland expansion would seriously reduce:
In addition, during this century, fertile croplands in coastal areas are likely to be flooded by rising sea levels resulting from projected climate change
How Can We Protect Crops
From Pests More Sustainably?
Nature controls the populations of most pests
A pest is any species that interferes with human welfare by competing with us:
Worldwide, only 100 species of cause most of the damage to the crops we grow:
In natural ecosystems and on farms using polyculture, natural enemies:
control the populations of most potential pest species
For example, the world's 30,000 known species of spiders kill far more insects every year than humans do by using chemicals
When we clear forests and grasslands, plant monoculture crops and douse fields with chemicals that kill pests, we upset many of these natural population checks and balances
Consequently, we must devise and pay for ways to protect our:
from insects and other pests that nature once largely controlled at no charge.
Pesticides to Help
Control Pest Populations
Plants naturally produce chemicals called biopesticides to ward off, deceive or poison the insects or herbivores that feed on them
Insects and herbivores overcome various plant defenses through natural selection
Then new plant defenses are favored by natural selection and this coevolutionary process is repeated in an ongoing process
**** Show What Plants Talk About ****
Since 1950, synthetic pesticide use has increased more than 50x, and most of today's pesticides are 10 to 100 times more than toxic than those used in the 1950s.
About 75% of these chemicals are used on more-developed countries, but their use in less-developed countries is soaring