Approaches to Agriculture, Sustainability and Food Security
Agriculture has evolved remarkably since its inception approximately 11 000 years ago. Before humans learned how to ‘domesticate’ plants and animals, their survival depended upon hunting and gathering (Lambert, 2005). During the medieval age in England, farm sizes were characteristically small and run by individual pheasants, spanning on average below 5 hectares and yielding less than 9 bushels of wheat per hectare (Bailey, 2007). During the 1950’s the average farm size grew to approximately 100 hectares, and today that number is almost tripled at 300 hectares. Keeping in mind that the land dedicated to farming remained almost constant during this time, this increase in the size of farms was due mostly to the influx of the Canadian populous into the city and away from the farm. As of 2006, less than three percent of the Canadian population are farmers, a far cry from an estimated 80% before the industrial revolution (Statistics Canada, 2006). Not only has the number of independently owned farms and farmers, decreased but productivity has increased drastically. For example, Canadian wheat yields are expected to reach an average of 67 bushels per hectare this spring (Canadian Wheat Board, 2012). Though not a direct comparison to medieval aged farms run by pheasants in England, there is no doubt in claiming that agricultural productivity even one hundred years ago is incomparable to that of today. Having more than tripled since 1961, this increase in yields is due in most part to technological advances during a period known as the Green Revolution (Wik et al., 2007). The Green revolution, as a technological response to a looming world-wide food shortage, transformed agricultural practice throughout the tropics and the sub-tropics, whose staple crops were rice, wheat and maize. Through substantial public investments in agricultural research, in only forty years wheat yields climbed from 2 to 6 metric tons per hectare, compared to a 1000 years for an increase from 0.5 to 2 in England. Combined with increasingly improving plant breeding, the advent of inorganic fertilizers, modern pesticides and now genetically modified foods, crop yields are finally reaching their peak under the practices of conventional agriculture (International Food Policy Research Institute, 2002). Since 1960, the global population has more than doubled, from 2.9 billion to just over 7 billion today, while the demands on global agriculture production as a result of this population boom, have almost tripled. Thanks to the green revolution, this demand has been met…Or perhaps population would not have reached such growth rates had agricultural production not kept pace? Regardless, at present, there is enough food produced to feed the 7 billion human inhabitants of this earth, yet the food and technology consistently do not reach those in need (Sadik, 2000). Although approximately 900 million people are currently undernourished, the majority in developing countries, it is important to acknowledge that the proportion of those malnourished has decreased by almost half since the 1960s. Perhaps further improvement is possible (Wik et al., 2008). ‘How?’ is the next question. Inequitable food distribution is not the only issue currently facing global food security. Not only is population continuing to increase, expected to reach somewhere between 9 and 10 billion people, but income growth and development will also occur in developing countries, where most of this population growth is projected to occur, which could result in an estimated 70% rise in demand for food and other agricultural goods by 2050 (FAO, 2005). Climate change is another worry, having already threatened global food supply through increased droughts which reduce yield through water scarcity, heavy precipitation events which cause increased soil erosion, crop damage and water logging, tropical cyclones which disrupt food production,...
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