Intensification makes more sense than agricultural sprawl

The challenge for the next 40 years is to produce as much food as has been produced in the last 8,000 years.

Do we have enough food for the next 20 years? Do we know how to produce enough food to feed our growing population without taking an environmental toll on the planet? The short answer is probably not, Dr. Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said at the American Feed Industry Assn. nutrition symposium in Ft. Worth, Texas.

Clay, who is senior vice president of market transformation for WWF, explained that the challenge for the next 40 years is to produce as much food as has been produced in the last 8,000 years. He is hopefully that can be done on the same amount of land, with the same or few resources. It needs to be about intensification and not agricultural sprawl, he said.

Another significant change on the horizon, according to Clay, is that of greater exports of finished proteins as opposed to raw materials. From a carbon footprint standpoint, he explained it doesn’t always make sense to ship raw materials around the world only then to be fed to animals.

In terms of where things are at today, Clay estimated that we are living at about 1.5 planets, which equates to living off natural resources faster than they can regenerate themselves. “We are mining the planet right now, or rather, we are eating the planet,” he said. 

Yet, the issue of overconsumption, he said, is not being fueled population growth but rather rising incomes. “It is hard to be against improving income but we have to be thoughtful on how that translates into consumption and what impact consumption has on the planet.” In fact, Clay said, it is pretty much assumed that the world’s population will peak at 9-10 billion people at about 2050 but no indicators exist to show if and when consumption may peak.

Quite simply, it is about using less to produce more and freezing the carbon footprint of food production. Clay said doing such is going to take the joint development of strategies and seeking of solutions, along with the establishment of measurable benchmarks along the way and possible establishment of certification programs. Just how all those things come together, he said, is what needs to be determined.

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