Published in the Brics Magazine
At the turn of the 20th century, 50 years was the average life expectancy at birth of the global population. But now, for the first time in history, the average life expectancy of a newborn is projected to exceed 100 years. Thanks to medical advances in fighting chronic diseases and drugs engineered to slow cell aging, people are living increasingly longer lives. At the same time, our global footprint continues to expand accordingly. This undeniable trend means that more resources will be required to satisfy the needs of an ever-growing population. The basic necessities for survival are food, water, and shelter. Adequate shelter and potable water are available in most parts of the world, but access to healthy food is becoming a global challenge.
The United Nations estimates that over 800 million people around the globe struggle to get enough food each day to live a healthy life. The majority live in developing countries. Millions die each year because they simply cannot get the minimum number of calories to sustain basic survival. Even in developed nations, access to healthy nutrition is problematic. In these countries, children are becoming obese at very early ages because their diet lacks nutrient-dense foods, such as fruits, vegetables, and grains. This new norm has led to an increase in cardiovascular diseases and other health issues related to poor nutrition. This global food crisis will not cease unless we address it with a systematic and comprehensive three-step approach.
Step 1: Create Sustainable Food Production Systems
At its core, successful and efficient food production requires a coalescence of multiple systems. Food cultivation requires good seeds, optimal temperatures and humidity levels, adequate sunlight and shade, proper irrigation and fertilization systems, and arable land. Nonetheless, it is still difficult to grow food in many parts of the world today. Climate change has unleashed a number of problems that farmers did not face a century ago. Floods and droughts are affecting many areas that were once conducive to farming. In other places, it has simply become too hot or too cold to grow food. Another major problem is pests, which force farmers to spray more potent and powerful chemicals to protect their crops. Even more disturbing, crop viruses are becoming stronger, requiring higher doses of new chemicals to prevent widespread contamination. Essentially, our food is becoming less healthy and more dangerous to consume.
Our food demands, as well as those of future generations, are immense. The only way to develop sustainable food systems is by creating protected facilities where each element of the production process is subject to control – otherwise known as ‘greenhouses.’ This is our best choice if we hope to offset the mounting demand for food spurred by climate change, environmental changes, and population density.
A greenhouse’s protected environment offers the possibility of a full organic system and eliminates the need for chemicals to deal with outside pests. Greenhouses also reduce our carbon footprint and have higher crop yields than conventional growing techniques. Fortunately, we have the technology to grow fresh food in difficult environments, like deserts and extremely cold areas. Farmers must first realize that a change in strategy is imperative if we are to move forward. They must accept that the problems they are facing today will not magically disappear – swift action is required. Fundamentally, we have to bring agriculture into the 21st century.
Step 2: Develop Food Hubs
Regions where food production is established tend to have surpluses. In other areas, food must travel thousands of miles before it ends up on a dinner plate. By creating strategic food distribution hubs, we can equalize supply and demand. An efficient food hub will require the development of radius-based delivery systems. For example, a radius of 200 miles would serve the food demand of that population. The food growers in that region would produce exactly what that population wanted and needed to eat.
The first benefit of food hubs is the immediate reduction of food prices. In fact, a major component of food prices are the transportation costs – the shorter the distance to the final consumer, the cheaper the food. The second benefit is access. In some parts of the world, certain foods are not available to the local population simply because they are not grown there and the cost to import them outweighs the benefit. Food hubs enable greater access and variety. Again, the technology and engineering breakthroughs have made it possible to grow food in any environment, but farmers must seize this opportunity.
Step 3: Start Another Agricultural Revolution
Food is the only product we use multiple times a day, throughout our entire lives on Earth. From a marketing standpoint, it is the perfect product to sell – we need it to live. Why, then, is the farming business in steady decline? Why do people, especially the young, not view farming as a profitable business opportunity? Why have domestic policy and global economics encouraged economic and ecological conditions that have made the family farm a dying institution?
For most of the 20th century, you were more likely to meet a farmer than an insurance salesman. Farmers, especially in developed countries, are becoming an increasingly rare breed. In poorer countries, agriculture is the basis for employment, but a lack of consistent yields is forcing farmers to look toward other sectors to earn a living. At both ends of the spectrum, agriculture is not what it could or should be. These days, when young people graduate from business or technology schools, agriculture is not even on their radar. Success to them means having an attractive office or working in a skyscraper.
The media deifies technology and entrepreneurs, which has led to a massive interest amongst young idealists in building ‘the next big thing’ – be it a web-based service or mobile application. A monumentally high level of competition has caused the shelf life for many good ideas to be measured in weeks or even days before someone else comes up with a similar or better product. Meanwhile, a profitable industry that spearheaded economic development throughout world history has been left to stagnate. Most young people fail to realize that their interest in technology can be aligned with food production. Greenhouse agriculture can be clean, exciting, and rewarding. Opportunities still exist and the demand will only grow.
We must get back to the basics, realign our priorities, and incentivize our upcoming generation to value and see the opportunities in food production. We need to view these global food challenges as pending crises that could lead to worldwide instability. Let us feed everyone using sustainable systems. Let us take a stand – the time is right for this crucial movement.Lets