For centuries, economic growth, and population growth for that matter, depended greatly on the abundance produced from agriculture. The vitality of this crucial economic sector shapes economies’ growth while uplifting them during times of trouble. What we eat, and how we eat have immense impacts on not only ourselves but the environment and the economy as well. This week we are moving away from Industry Innovation, and Infrastructure, and are discussing Health and Wellbeing.
Industrialized agriculture has allowed the world to grow at an eye-popping rate. Estimates of world population posit a global population of around 600 million by the year 1700, to just under 8 billion in 2019 (Figure 1, Our World In Data 2021). And while innovations in agriculture have led to the industrialized system we see today, perhaps it is time to rethink this model.
In order to feed this growing world, the agricultural sector moved away from high labor-intensity to becoming more capital-intensive. Fertilizer, for example, is a crucial input in industrial agriculture, and its use has skyrocketed over time (Figure 2). As a result, crop yields have grown but at a high cost: reductions in biodiversity. Advanced nations are seeing high levels of nitrogen compared to phosphorus in their crops (Figure 3, OECD 2021), decreasing future earnings (which we mentioned in a previous blog). The current means of producing agriculture are mired in excess and uniformity.
An industrialized agricultural system is efficient, but not necessarily beneficial. Biodiversity is crucial to maintaining a healthy populace and keeps medical expenses low. Of the 6000 plant species cultivated for agricultural use, only 9 make up 66% of all total crops produced (FAO 2019). Both advanced and developing economies emit large amounts of methane from livestock, with land dedicated to livestock covering 30% of the Earth’s land surface (FAO 2017). To make space for agricultural production, some rainforest nations have increased deforestation rates. In a 26 year period between 1990 and 2016, the world cut down 502,000 square miles (1.3 million kilometers) of forest, while the Amazon alone lost 17% of its total landmass in the past 50 years. In order to restore the damage done by industrialized agriculture, it is time to move forward with sustainable agriculture.
What is a healthy and sustainable diet?
There are a few ways we can all do our part to accelerate the growth of sustainable agriculture. The first is to change our diets. Changing our diets to include more sustainable foods can look very different depending on where you are in the world, as you favor locally produced sustainable produce. However, the common thread that has been identified by scientists as a cornerstone to a sustainable diet is simply a predominantly plant-based diet. This type of diet will not only contribute to the health of the environment, but also your own health! Check out what scientists of the eat-lancet commission have found to be a sustainable diet example:
Rethinking the way we grow our food will not be easy. Changing our distribution methods to ensure localized coordination will be challenging, but will reap tremendous benefits. By becoming locavores we are creating a win-win solution for all: a healthier planet, populace, and a more robust local economy. By creating a more biologically diverse and less wasteful agriculture system we can finally end world hunger, drastically improve nutrition, and even repair the damage dealt to the environment. While it may seem hard, or even impossible, nothing easy is ever worth doing.
To find locally grown food in your area check out Ripe Near Me:
FAO. 2019. The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, J. Bélanger & D. Pilling (eds.). FAO Commission on Genetic Resources for Food and Ag
Max Roser, Hannah Ritchie and Esteban Ortiz-Ospina (2013) – “World Population Growth”. Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: ‘https://ourworldindata.org/world-population-growth’ [Online Resource]
Nunez, Christina. “Deforestation and Its Effect on the Planet.” Environment, National Geographic, 7 Feb. 2019, www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/article/deforestation.
United States, Congress, Mateo-Sagasta, Javier, et al. Water Pollution from Agriculture: a Global Review, International Water Management Institute, 2017, pp. 2–23.
OECD. “Sustainable Agriculture – Nutrient Balance – OECD Data.” OECD, 2018, data.oecd.org/agrland/nutrient-balance.htm.