This blog is intended to go along with Population: An Introduction to Concepts and Issues, by John R. Weeks, published by Cengage Learning. The latest edition is the 13th (it will be out in January 2020), but this blog is meant to complement any edition of the book by showing the way in which demographic issues are regularly in the news.

You can download an iPhone app for the 13th edition from the App Store (search for Weeks Population).

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Saturday, April 7, 2012

Is There Such a Thing as Sustainable Agriculture?

The bottom line for any effort to "sustain development" relates to feeding the population. Nothing else matters if people don't have enough nutritious food to eat. So, it was helpful that a New York Times editorial this morning pointed out a new report by a prestigious international body detailing a "road map" for agricultural sustainability.
Commissioned by Cgiar — a research alliance financed by the United Nations and the World Bank — it recommends essential changes in the way we think about farming, food and equitable access to it, and the way these things affect climate change.
In the Foreword to the report "Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change," which should probably be mandatory reading for everyone, the Chair of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change lays out the case very nicely:
Humanity faces difficult tradeoffs in producing sufficient food to feed our growing population and stabilizing our climate system. Globally our food system is not sustainable, does not provide adequate nutrition to everyone on the planet and, at the same time, changes to our climate threaten the future of farming as we know it. Agriculture is both part of the problem and part of the solution to climate change. We must seize every opportunity to shift away from inefficient farm practices, supply chains and diet choices towards long-term sustainability, profitability and health.
The message over and over again in this report is that we cannot simply continue with business-as-usual. The "marketplace" will not solve the problem in some automatic way. This is partly because we probably lack the resources on earth for everyone in the world to have the kind of diet "enjoyed" by those living in rich countries. The sharp shift in diets away from vegetables to meat, in particular, has devastating effects: "A high proportion of animal products in diets translates into larger land areas required for food production and greater impacts on the climate."

There is little in this report that is actually new--there is no magic solution to feeding a growing population. Rather, the report carefully outlines different strategies for different parts of the world--strategies that need to be worked on starting yesterday...

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