It is forecast that by the year 2050 there will be 9 billion people on the planet. How will they all be fed? It depends on who is asked the question, but the fact remains that a crisis is growing. On the demand side, the increase in population means that there is an ever increasing demand for food. As countries make economic progress, consumers in those countries move into higher income brackets and demand a higher proportion of meat in their diet. This leads to the diversion of resources in the agricultural sector from food to feed production and raising animals for meat also leaves a bigger carbon imprint contributing to global warming. Even without this, we have to contend with the fact that drier, warmer weather are going to have an adverse impact on crops. So, where should we direct out efforts?
One of the positive effects of economic progress is that increased incomes and standards of living lead to smaller families and some experts feel that the population growth rate will not be as high as projected. Others argue that the problem is not one of production, we already produce enough food, but one of access. Increased incomes should provide increased access but if this leads to a demand for a meat based diet then that would be unsustainable for the planet.
So much for the factors behind the crisis. To get back to the original question: how do we feed so many people? There are those who would vote for a more widespread adoption of organic/sustainable methods which would also help heal the badly battered planet while others see a huge potential in biotechnology which can provide drought resistant crops, increased yield and also the possibility of better health outcomes (for example, golden rice).
Perhaps we could see our way to picking from these choices the best combination to solve our problems? Can we try to follow good farming practices while harnessing the benefits of new technology? We have been experimenting with cross-breeding, growing hybrids and other techniques for centuries; adopting some new strains developed through the use of genetic modification is another step down that road, it will not make us grow another ear or turn purple. There is no satisfaction in being “right” while people and the planet suffer.