Food for thought: Food security, population growth & over-farming

We look at the state of global food security amid rising concerns about the world population and climate change.

08 May 2018 11:02 GMT

There are currently 7.6 billion people on the planet, and they all need feeding. However, producing crops and rearing livestock is environmentally unsustainable. Nearly one-third of the Earth’s land is severely degraded and 90 percent of our oceans are quickly being emptied of fish.

The pace of harvest is relentless and with the worldwide population expected to grow to 10 billion by 2050, it is clear that our planet won’t be able to keep up the pace of food production.

3D Farming

Bren Smith is in the process of creating thousands of decent jobs, transform how we harvest food from the oceans, and blunt the effects of climate change and marine degradation – all at the same time.

The system he has developed to do this is called ‘3D Ocean Farm’, a polyculture vertical farming system under the water’s surface which grows a mix of seaweed crops and shellfish.

Scientists, fisherman and farmers have found that kelp reduces water acidification rate. It pulls so much carbon and nitrogen out that it changes the water quality [Alice Martineau/Al Jazeera]

Requiring zero inputs, it is the most sustainable form of food production on the planet, and it also sequesters carbon and rebuilds reef ecosystems. The crops can be used as food, fertiliser, animal feed and even energy.

“If you were to take a network of these farms, totalling five percent of US waters, you could remove the equivalent carbon output of over a million cars,” says Smith.

“What the kelp does is it reduces the acidification rate. It pulls so much carbon and nitrogen out, that it changes the water quality.” 

In this episode of earthrise, we head to Connecticut to meet a commercial fisherman turned climate farmer who has developed a system of polyculture vertical agriculture in the ocean, called 3D farming.

Lab Meat

The global animal agriculture industry needs immediate and truly urgent attention. Animal agriculture is the leading cause of species extinction, ocean dead zones, water pollution, habitat destruction and is responsible for more CO2 being released into the atmosphere each year than all forms of transportation.

The impact of farming cattle on climate change is so significant that some experts believe that giving up beef reduces our carbon footprint more than giving up cars [University of Maastricht/ Al Jazeera]

While the statistics surrounding the industry are terrifying, there is no sign that the industry is slowing down. Meat consumption is on track to rise 75 percent by 2050.

Scientists at Mosa Meats in the Netherlands believe they have found a solution to this dangerous trend: growing meat in a lab.

This technique eliminates the need to harm live animals, eradicates the dedication of large swathes of land to the cultivation of animals and dramatically reduce methane emissions.

“Methane is actually a very powerful greenhouse gas,” says Dr Mark Post at the University of Maastricht. Post is part of a number of teams involved in research surrounding the production of lab-grown meat.

“[Methane is] 20 times more powerful than C02 and livestock is accountable for 40 percent of all methane emissions. This process would reduce the number of animals from 1.5 billion to 30,000,” continues Post.

In this episode of earthrise, we will visit the Mosa Meats lab who are at the forefront of this truly extraordinary meat movement, and examine the process behind it and learn of the huge benefits it could offer, while also looking at the varying social opinions on the new method of meat production.


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