Monday, December 26, 2011

Feeding a world of 7 billion people

When it comes to feeding the world, I think often of the sage advice, "think globally and act locally".  So, if we have a small plot of dirt or even a container that would work for us to tend as a garden, what a great thing to get our hands dirty and grow locally some of what we consume.  However, most of the world doesn't have quick or easy access to fertile soil. Farm lands are not equally distributed and thus must be managed skillfully to feed those in other parts of the world, often living in large cities.

An article by Dr. John Tjostem, a retired microbiology professor from Luther College, wrote an article that  suggests that modern American agriculture is the most sustainable and the most environmentally friendly form of agriculture on the planet. ("A recipe for a sustainable future, part 1", Agora, Fall, 2011).

Some of the greatly improved farm yields and reduction in erosion are a result of no till and minimum till thanks to Monsanto's Roundup and Roundup Ready herbicides. Dr. Tjostem further observes that commercial fertilizer, plant breeding and genetically modified crops (GMO's) have resulted in abundant yields that can feed the world's population, which has mushroomed to 7 billion.  He further states that were we to practice the organic farming techniques of the past it would cause massive starvation.  Those practices were adequate when the world's inhabitants counted 1.6 billion in 1900 or even 2.55 billion in 1950.  Besides not being able to attain the high yield rates brought about by modern agricultural practices, organic farming also involves tilling, and soil erosion, which Dr. Tjostem contends is not a sustainable practice.

In a rather startling assertion, Tjostem suggests that despite the fears many of us have of GMO crops, they are actually safer than conventional crops. He notes that conventional crops have developed poisonous molecules to combat plant eating pests, and hence they may cause serious allergies in humans.

Dr. Trostem concludes this article by observing the vital role genetic engineers must play in order to speed up the process of biological evolution through the production of genetically engineered crops.  Given the reality of global warming it will be essential to have plants that can survive in a warmer world. He concludes that our Creator gave us an intellect that He expects us to use in order to make the world a better place.

This article suggests that while we may find solace in a small organic garden plots at or near to our home, this gardening practice isn't likely to work on a larger scale in order to adequately feed the 7 billion residents with whom we share the planet.  Now that's something to think globally about...

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