To provide the food needed by the world's 9 billion inhabitants expected by 2050, it would be necessary to double the present agricultural production.
The green agricultural revolution, which began after the Second World War, has led to a strong increase in agricultural production, thus helping to avoid famines in numerous regions worldwide and especially in Asia. However, this revolution has been accomplished by using high amounts of energy, fertilisers and pesticides. Similar to what has occurred in other economic sectors, this has had a negative impact upon the environment and has increased the dependence of agricultural production upon energy supplies.
Therefore, new agricultural production modes have to be developed. A first pathway consists of applying a more intense selection of plant varieties, genetic engineering methods and new chemical products in order to increase productivity further.
In order to reduce the consumption of energy and the impact upon the environment, alternative more ecology-friendly methods are also being investigated. These methods aim at the optimisation of the ecosystem and avoid ploughing up the ground. The objective is to increase productivity, while ensuring better energy conservation, by using new cultivation methods involving reduced external inputs, combined with new rotation and irrigation methods .
The use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should be examined in the most objective way. It would be unfortunate to discard without a thorough investigation new options which might satisfy the food needs of the world's population in a better way, by consuming less energy or by using the available resources (especially water) better.
In this area also, rather than looking for a unique solution, which would provide answers to a whole set of raised questions, it seems preferable to favour a pragmatic approach, taking into account the real needs of the population and environment protection.
Sustainable agriculture can help also to supply a more healthy food. In developing countries, it generates new jobs. It is essential to protect such sustainable agriculture in competition with products derived from energy intensive agriculture by taking into account such factors within the international trading mechanisms.
Consumption habits are also very important. The average cereal consumption per inhabitant in the USA is four times higher than in Japan (800kg/year against 200kg/year). This is mainly due to a much higher consumption of meat. However, life expectancy in Japan exceeds that in the USA by 8 years . This does not mean that consumption habits in Japan are better in all respects as they contribute to the depletion of world seafood resources, but this example shows that health and life expectancy criteria go often hand in hand with reduced energy consumption.
It is most important to succeed with a transition in the agricultural sector as it affects some of our essential needs, namely food and health. Progress should lead to a reduction in the consumption of energy and of all our natural resources, while reducing the pollution resulting from the use of chemicals.
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