Why current food systems are not sustainable

- Antonio M. Claparols -
There are at least five reasons why our current food systems are not sustainable.

First, the increasingly mechanized agriculture depends on oil, but the supply of soil is beginning to run out, and oil demand from China, India and other developing countries which are industrializing fast is rising so sharply that production cannot keep up with demand, and permanent shortages of oil will kick in within a decade or less.

Second, the growing shortage of water means that half a billion people now live in water-stressed areas and UN expects this to rise five to six-fold to affect half the world population by 2025. This will lead to massive shifts of populations and water wars. The current use of water is extravagant and utterly unsustainable. For example, US prairie farmers and East Anglian barley barons need 1,000 tons of water to produce one ton of grain, plus 1,000 energy units are used for every one energy unit of processed food which is not sustainable.

Third, the intensification of climate change has led to a ten-fold increase in the incidence and ferocity of climatic catastrophes in the past 40 years – these include major-scale cyclones, floods, as well as increasing drought, desertification and inextinguishable forest fires. The latest UN report says one-sixth of the countries in the world (up to 30 countries) now face food shortage because of climate change.

Fourth, the loss of biodiversity from monoculture imposed by industrialized farming including GM crops. One-fourth of the world’s GM are grown in Argentina where huge areas, especially in Argentina’s pampas, previously one of the most organically productive areas in the world.

Fifth, long-distance transportation of food across the world is incompatible with the requirement to reduce greenhouse emission by 60 percent in 2050. Between 1968 and 1988, world food production increased by 84 percent and the world population increased by 84 percent but world food trade.

In order to develop a sustainable food system the following should become a major government policy based on setting targets for: (1) sustainable food production; (2) import substitution; (3) fair trade; and (4) local sourcing of food. These targets are to be achieved within specific timescales.

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