Feeding the World Sustainably: 10 Lessons From History

To stop food insecurity in its tracks without causing further harm to the environment, it’s critically important that we look at feeding the world sustainably.

By Jane Marsh

The United Nations’ projections for slowing population growth are notable. However, the global population is still expected to reach 9.7 billion people by 2050 and peak at 11 billion by 2100.

Today’s climate is vastly different from years ago and technology has significantly advanced. As global warming intensifies climate change and threatens the global food supply, scientists and engineers have made strides in understanding the importance of sustainable agriculture.

Looking back at lessons learned throughout agricultural history can help ensure future food security. Here are 10 lessons that can help us with the goal of feeding the world sustainably.

See also:

Feeding the World Sustainably: Hagley Road Toll Gate Birmingham, 1800 by Charles Rudd
Looking at History with the Goal of Feeding the World Sustainably:
Hagley Road Toll Gate Birmingham, 1800 by Charles Rudd
Photo by Birmingham Museums Trust on Unsplash

10 Lessons to Learn From the History of Agriculture About Feeding the World Sustainably

  1. Climate Change Is Unacceptable

Agriculture produces 25% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, releasing carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, and methane into the atmosphere. Yet, there’s a lot we can do to decrease GHG emissions and create a more sustainable agribusiness.

Tackling emissions outputs from harvesting, transport, packaging, and processing is essential. Additionally, utilizing new technologies to address methane release from soil degradation, crop burning, and livestock and rice production can significantly improve operational sustainability.

  1. Reproductive Education Reduces Population Challenges

Governments have prioritized reproductive health education and services to combat high fertility rates worldwide. By stalling population growth in countries fated for severe food scarcity, it’s possible to boost agriculture.

The World Resources Institute projects that if sub-Saharan Africa can achieve replacement-level fertility – the rate of fertility in which generations replace themselves exactly – we can decrease food demand by 600 trillion kilocalories (kcal) per year by 2050.

  1. Investments Are Crucial to Progress Research

Agricultural sustainability is attainable with crop variety that can withstand climate change. Utilizing up-and-coming technologies with enhanced automation can address crop breeding and protection, livestock welfare, diseases, and foodborne illnesses.

However, funding is essential for advancing research. In the U.S., additional donor investments of $14 billion per year by 2030 are necessary for targeting cost-effective interventions, new technology, sustainability education, and social protection.

  1. Crop Diversity Promotes Productivity

Monoculture farming – cultivating one crop species at a time – presents several challenges for sustainability. Currently, 50% of global agricultural lands grow soybeans, wheat, rice, and corn, with 152 other crops cultivated on the remaining farms.

Crop diversity is the best solution to enhancing productivity and feeding a hungry population. In polyculture farming, crop diversity lessens pest infestations, increases soil fertility, and offers greater food variety.

  1. Agroforestry Protects Pastures

Throughout history, cutting down trees for farmland was the norm. However, agroforestry helps balance soil nitrogen levels, produces organic matter, and protects fields from weather erosion.

Farmers in France, for example, have begun cultivating fruit and forest trees that haven’t just diversified their crops but also provide enough shade to produce cocoa, coffee, and vanilla successfully.

  1. Small-Scale Farmers Positively Impact Domestic Food Security

In some parts of the world, domestically grown food has fallen short. To compensate, small-scale farmers will play an essential role in food production.

Although small farms may not have the same yields as larger dwellings, they typically have greater crop diversification, connect with and deliver goods directly to consumers, and implement better management practices.

  1. Urban Farming Is Effective

Urban farming has the potential to meet 15-20% of the global food demand and produce fresh produce for low-income households effectively.

Although urban livestock farming is less practical, cultivating produce crops in cities can vastly reduce transportation, refrigeration, packaging, and pollution, making it a sustainable option.

  1. Plant-Based Diets Are More Sustainable

Animal agriculture represents 14.5% of GHG emissions annually, with beef production releasing tremendous amounts of nitrous oxide and methane.

Shifting to plant-based diets is a sound method for a more sustainable agriculture sector. Research suggests that ending animal agriculture for a plant-based food system in the next 15 years will stabilize GHG emissions from all other sectors for the next 30-50 years.

  1. Good Farmers Are Innovative

Determining the criteria for a “good farmer” is a complex task.

Farmers who are open to innovation, take feedback well, and are willing to develop and apply management tools and techniques to enhance their farms’ well-being are certainly upstanding. Sustainable agriculture has no room for complacency when food demand is so high.

  1. Collective Action Is Important

As a whole, society can create a more sustainable agricultural industry to feed the world’s booming population. By decreasing your household’s food waste, transitioning to plant-based diets, donating money for research, and purchasing from local farms, you can make a difference.

For the agricultural sector to sustainably thrive, consumer care and concern are paramount.

Looking Ahead: The Goal of Feeding the World Sustainably

History is a teacher that we can rely on to help us create a blueprint for agricultural progress. If we plan to stop food insecurity in its tracks, it’s important to look ahead to feed a hungry planet successfully.

Author Bio:

Jane works as the founder and editor-in-chief of Environment.co where she covers environmental news and sustainable living tips.