Our reliance on artificial fertiliser and intensive farming techniques did not happen overnight, but took decades. Along the way, these methods revolutionised farming and enabled huge population growth and economic growth. We now have a wealth of scientific evidence that shows that continuing down the same path would risk runaway climate change, the extinction of species vital to human life, pollution of our water and air, and the death of our soils.
“Industrial agriculture exploits the available natural resources of our planet to an untenable and unsustainable extent,” says Vargas of the FAO. “The basic strategy to replace human labour with farm machinery, agrochemicals and fossil energy is a dead end in times of climate change, dwindling oil reserves and over-exploited natural resources.”
Experts say a second revolution is now needed, that will encompass not just our growing methods but consumption habits and our entire food economy. This would have to involve farmers, retailers, governments and consumers. In last century’s farming revolution, only one future was offered: industrialisation. For this century, there will be a plurality of alternatives, and combinations of new and ancient technology, and all have their place.
“There is not one huge conceptual change where you do everything differently and everything will be OK,” says Tim Searchinger of Princeton University and the World Resources Institute. “There is not one single answer. There are lots and lots of things we can and need to do.” Read more