Almost every day great concern is expressed about how a rapidly growing global population will be fed and supported by the earth’s limited resources.
The solution to this dilemma will be through ensuring that all the resources employed and inputs made are used as efficiently as possible by maximising agricultural production on existing farmland as well as recycling and re-using energy-intensive materials wherever and however this can be done.
By doing this the great forests, wetlands and heathlands that support the wonderful natural animal and plant biodiversity can be left undisturbed in their pristine state.
Through re-cycling the efficiency of the resources employed can be multiplied over and over again, and the impact on the environment minimised even more.
Unless agricultural production is increased on the land available in line with population growth then a GAP is going to open up leading to global food shortages, hunger and malnutrition.
Further pressure on the GAP comes from the rapid rise in meat consumption in developing countries, and as a kilogram (kg) of meat requires between 3 and 7 kg of grain to produce it, this will widen the GAP even more.
To add to this dilemma the largest GAP’s are also in developing countries where the population growth is greatest and crop yields per hectare of land are usually very low due to poor seed quality and inadequate fertilizer and crop protection.
It is essential therefore that future agricultural productivity on each hectare of land is increased, particularly in developing countries, in order to ‘CLOSE THE GAP’ and ensure sufficient food for the growing population.
Routes to ‘CLOSE THE GAP’ through increased intensification using better quality seeds, improved fertilizer use and crop protection have been illustrated by farm demonstrations in sub-Saharan Africa where crop yields per hectare were increased 2 to 4 times over national average yields.
Such increases in intensification lead to huge improvements in crop production per hectare which eliminates the need to bring pristine land into production meaning reduced environmental impact and greater protection of biodiversity.
‘CLOSING THE GAP’ using more intensive practices on currently cultivated land can actually result in a ‘balance sheet’ outcome which achieves ‘more production with less environmental impact’.
‘More for less’ must become the mission and methodology of farming not just in sub-Saharan Africa but throughout global agriculture as it is the key to achieving future increases in crop productivity per hectare which are sustainable for a growing planet.
Strong evidence that intensification of agricultural production may have had an overall benefit for the environment comes from a ground-breaking scientific analysis by Burney et al (2010) of Stanford University published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) covering the agricultural productivity increases obtained during Green Revolution 1.0 (1965 to 2005).
The analysis reviews the Actual World (AW) Green House Gas (GHG) emissions by agriculture with the main contributions being from the cultivated land itself along with rice production and manufacture of fertilizers. In addition they calculated the GHG’s from the relatively small areas of newly ‘converted’ pristine land (red shaded) which had to be brought into production over this period (AW). Note that because crop yields per hectare were constantly increasing through this period as a result of better crop breeding, increased fertilizer use and improved control of pest and diseases, very little ‘conversion’ of pristine land was actually required.
However if yields per hectare had remained low at those prevalent in 1965 then much more new land would have been required to maintain the food demand from a global population that grew from 3.5 to 6.5 billion during this period, resulting in the massive increase in GHG’s from ‘conversion’ of pristine land (red shaded) necessary for the Alternative World scenario (AW1).
So without these food production increases per hectare there would have been over a 4-fold increase in GHG contributions and an additional land area the size of Russia would have been converted into production which on a global scale would likely have removed most forests, wetlands and heathlands – and the biodiversity they support!
Therefore the Stanford’s team’s work demonstrated that increasing the intensity of agricultural production in future is a real option to achieve ‘more for less’.
Following the ground-breaking analysis of Burney et al (2020) the international fertilizer industry has been inspired to gather all the available information and data to pursue research and innovation into the practices that can enable ‘Increasing Agricultural Productivity to Mitigate Greenhouse Gas Emissions’.
Notably the UK’s Royal Society, which is a pre-eminent international scientific body, has held two meetings in recent years around the subject of how to increase agricultural yields and ‘CLOSE THE GAP’ while minimising the GHG contribution to climate change.
Out of one of these meetings came the ‘call to action’ by Sir John Beddington to apply new technologies and management practices to achieve ‘climate-smart’ agriculture.
Despite the different terminologies the message remains the same that sustainable intensification of agricultural production while minimising environmental footprint is readily achievable by ensuring maximum use efficiency of all the resources and inputs made.
I believe that Kemnovation.com, with its sharers and collaborators, will have a constructive contribution to make in achieving ‘more for less’ in feeding, as well as protecting, a growing planet!