Wednesday, December 9, 2015

The great food crisis looming ahead-Is the world prepared to face it

Beating a horse beyond its limit of tolerance can obviously lead its incapacitation eventually. This seems to be true with the agricultural land humanity depends on so heavily to coax it to produce more and more food for meeting its survival needs of food. This stark reality has been highlighted by a group of scientists in the US to warn the world that global security is already jeopardized though not beyond redemption if adequate measures are taken to restore soil fertility through appropriate remedial action. Green revolution was applauded as the arrival of a panacea for solving food problems faced by many countries and provided a means to increase food production by boosting land productivity. But it is now realized that the very same technological break through has already caused heavy damage to the soil health by depleting the nutrients at a rate beyond the sustainable level. Though the report is alarming it does promise a way out to which the world will have to listen. Here is the take on this crucial issue.  

"The soil fertility of the world may soon reach the point of jeopardizing global food security. A group of the country's top environmental scientists has authored a review paper about the tantamount importance of correcting the imbalance of soil depletion and replenishment.
Soil degradation and erosion – combined with damage to agricultural land from urbanization, as well as the expanding global population – are among the century's most urgent concerns for the international community, according to the researchers. The "green revolution," which started in the late 1960s, considerably improved food production through concentrated farming that utilized agro-chemicals. The researchers however said that those principles and techniques would not be able to match the needs of the increasing population today — unless greater attention is given to soil fertility and soil preservation. In a review of global soil fertility published in the journal Science, the research team said the most industrious farmland is a result of the domestication of wild soils produced by advance farming exercises. The challenge for these domesticated soils is preserving the quality of their wild inherited stock. From 1970 to 2000, an area of agricultural plot the size of Denmark was developed and urbanized. In the next 20 years, an agricultural area the size of Mongolia – about 600,000 square miles – will be enveloped by city modernization, the scientists wrote. Dr. Ronald Amundson – the study's lead author and a professor of environmental science, policy and management at the University of California, Berkeley – added that agricultural methods through the years have triggered the enhanced loss of soil through nutrient removal and erosion. This is one of the crucial game-changers for the extended, maintainable production of the soil — the living top layer of Earth. One of the major challenges of future food security is maintaining the supply of artificial soil fertilizers — specifically potassium and phosphorus, which have to be extracted from reserves held in minerals and rocks."

It is true that agricultural land suffers not only qualitatively but also quantitatively and the major reason for quantitative loss is the high rate ofurbanization taking place around the world sacrificing the agricultural land in the name of development. Alarmingly this frenetic pace of urbanization does not seem to be slowing down with the real possibility that available arable land left over might not be sufficient to provide enough food for every body. Added to this the modern agriculture plus faster depletion of natural forests are causing a great damage to the environment by releasing the vast storage of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere accelerating the global warming  effect with unimaginable consequences. It is mind boggling that the top 10 feet of soil in earth holds about 2300 gigatons ( 1 gigaton= i billion ton) of carbon and humans have already lost about 50-70 gigatons through out its history because of agriculture.Most of this loss came from agricultural practices during the last 200 years. Some of the solutions suggested include changing the way agri operations are carried out without tilling and manufacturing nitrogenous fertilizers like urea without burning fossil fuels. Recovery of nutrients like phosphates and potash from sludges through appropriate technological means may also be necessary to overcome the monopolistic hold of Morocco and China where phosphate mining provides bulk of the world supply and greater afforestation. 

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