Seeking Solutions to the Global Food Crisis

April 1, 2022 | Marie Versteeg

Seeking Solutions to the Global Food Crisis

Can technology save us from the coming global food crisis?

This question was posed by global food security expert Evan Fraser in a presentation at Ontario Farmland Trust’s Farmland Forum in March.

With the population set to increase to nine or ten billion later this century, our food system will certainly face challenges. It’s easy to assume that the solution is to grow more food on more land, but Fraser points out that there are several other places we can look for solutions.

Solutions to the Crisis

Firstly, we need to address disparity. According to a 2021 report from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the past seven years have seen a global increase in both hunger and obesity. Redistributing our food supply equitably is one part of the solution.

Secondly, we need to grow food in proportion with nutritional needs. For example, sugar is never a recommended part of any diet, but we devote 18% of global food production toward it. That’s a lot of land that could be growing healthful food.

Thirdly, we need to reduce existing food waste. Efficiencies along the value chain and reduced consumer waste will go a long way toward conserving our food resources.

Finally, we must reduce the environmental burden of global agriculture. Worldwide, agriculture is the largest driver of deforestation, biodiversity loss and water pollution. Changes in agricultural practices are key to resolving the global food crisis.

Technology and Enabling Policy Necessary

Altogether, these are sobering findings, but Fraser suggests there’s still a lot to be optimistic about: “A good combination of policy, farmer ingenuity, and new technology will help change the future.”

One way that technology could change the future is by enabling farmers to use their land more efficiently. Amazing advancements in precision agriculture enable producers to harness data to make farming as efficient and eco-friendly as possible. However, Fraser questions whether that’s really what’s happening on the ground.

Even though precision agriculture promises to help farmers achieve better environmental stewardship, Fraser’s research has found that there’s no guarantee farmers will actually use the data for that purpose. Instead, economic concerns often take precedence. According to Fraser, “For a lot of producers all over the world, there isn’t enough financial space to consider much other than economic returns.”

Fraser suggests that technology will continue to fall short unless it’s paired with a system that pays farmers directly for protecting the environment: “What we need is new technologies, like smart tractors, plus the right kind of policy and enabling economic environment, and then we may see environmental practices enhanced and lands protected.”

The CFFO has long advocated that farmers receive fair return for their stewardship efforts. It’s unreasonable to place the burden of environmental stewardship on individual farmers when these practices benefit all of society. Rewarding environmental stewardship on the farm is a practical step toward reducing the global food crisis.

The CFFO Commentary represents the opinions of the writer and does not necessarily represent CFFO policy. The CFFO Commentary is heard weekly on CFCO Chatham, CKXS Chatham, CKNX Wingham, and CHLP Listowel.