I have started back at uni today (3rd and final year environmental science student), and am already waist deep. This one particular unit – “Ecological and Environmental Economics for Sustainable Development” asked me to do a reading entitled “The state of the world’s land and water resources for food and agriculture”. The report, ironically, was from the same organisation that I referred to a lot throughout my recent Big Beef Debate post. It is written by the Food and Agriculture Organization (sic) of the United Nations (FAO) and was presented at the World Environmental Summit in Rome during 2011. The assessment asked me to chose one photo from the report and to write my reflections (in a few sentences) about the image tied in to the reading. I have gone way out on a limb and written it from an emotional third party prospective instead of a more clinical scientific view point. Below is what I have submitted for grading; I hope you enjoy it.
This photo speaks to me on so many levels about all of the issues regarding food securities and the underlying problems. It is an unavoidable fact of life; people need food for survival. Currently, mother earth must feed over seven billion mouths and yet she is failing; over one billion are undernourished. By 2050, predictions estimate the world’s population at over nine billion. This population rise will increase the demand for sustenance by 70%. Even if this demand is met at a basic level, it is still estimated that one in 20 people will be undernourished.
And who is to blame? Is it mother earth for failing to provide? Or is it us, her dependant children for abusing the very hands that feed us? A staggering 11% of the available landmass is used for agriculture and 40% of these agricultural lands are reliant on irrigation sourced from underground sources. The utilisation of underground water stores outweighs natural recharge rates. While our rivers contain only 5% of their former volumes we continue to irrigate our fields. Our inefficient farming practices use 70% of the water withdrawals and yet we demand more to meet the needs of growth as cultivated areas have increased 12% in the last 50 years.
It is us who have bled the rivers and aquifers dry with our abusive farming practices. And it is us who must unlearn outdated farming practices that strip the soil of nutrients. These loss nutrients end up in the ocean only to cause damage to the life there. To regain what was lost, we load our fields with unnatural substitutes who benefit us at the cost of biodiversity.
At the dawn of a new era realise the damage we have done. The value of the very land we require to sustain us increases beneath our feet. Its proximity to water and the soil nutrient composition determine its availability to us. The rich acquire the fertile land and can maintain its high yield with their wealth and modern agricultural practices, hopefully undoing the sins of the forefathers. The poor can only access the barren fields remaining, with little or no money to improve its potential, further degrading it with their lack of options and poverty.
The rich, with their fat bellies and wallets are sustained by greed while nearby, our poor cousins starve. If only a little of that money could be redirected. If only our governments would make a stand, develop a higher farming standard and support us. If only…