As the world’s population continues to grow, food production must grow with it. It may need to expand by as much as 70 percent globally and by 100 percent in some developing countries by 2050.
Increasing food production also puts pressure on land and water, the resources we need to sustain it. Climate change complicates the situation further as food production and distribution contributes to greenhouse gas emissions.
Making changes to the way we manage food production and to our consumption habits could help to make agriculture more sustainable. Technology, too, could play an integral part in helping us feed the world’s growing population sustainably. Here some of the innovations that could revolutionize how we produce our food.
Farmers today are using technology to gather data about their operations that they can use to improve them. This practice, often called precision agriculture, involves using tools such as GPS, sensors and drones to collect information on crop growth, soil health, water use, weather forecasts and more.Crunching this data, perhaps with the help of machine learning technology, enables farmers to know precisely how much water to give plants, for instance. Incorporating weather data into these calculations helps them plan their watering around rainfall to reduce water waste and prevent overwatering.
Crop monitoring can also help them to spot problems, such as pest infestations, more quickly and stop them before they cause severe damage.
Farming currently takes up approximately 12 percent of the world’s land area. If we are to feed the growing population, we either need to convert more land into farms or increase the productivity of the land we already have. The second option is usually the most sustainable, as long as the land is managed responsibly.
Increasingly, we are also finding ways to farm in non-traditional places, including indoor locations. Hydroponics, which involves growing plants without soil, enables vertical gardens to be built indoors. One company has even started a farm in an old World War II bomb shelter underneath the streets of London using hydroponics technology.
Preventing the degradation of farmland is crucial to growing enough food and doing so sustainably. One recent study concluded that 100 million people could be forced to migrate in the next three decades due to worsening land degradation. Unsustainable management of farmlands can cause erosion, nutrient depletion and increased flooding.
If we are going to feed the growing population, we will need to restore some of these lands, which can be a lengthy process. Hydroseeding could help to make this process more efficient and more manageable. This ground cover planting method, which involves spraying a mixture of seeds, water and additives such as fertilizers, results in improved erosion control.
The mixture can also be tailored to the climate, soil type and other factors to improve growth rates. Additionally, the efficiency of the application processes reduces labor costs.
Food Tracking With Blockchain
Consumers can help make the food industry more sustainable by buying sustainably produced food products. Often, the only way to know whether a product is eco-friendly is by the labeling on its packaging. But using words like “organic” and “sustainable” aren’t strictly regulated, and companies can sometimes make false claims.
The blockchain, which is mostly known for being the platform that supports cryptocurrencies, could help us track where our food comes from. The platform can be used to trace any transaction, and no one entity can change the records within the blockchain.
Blockchain food-tracking initiatives allow customers to scan a food product package and get information about every stage of the production process. This information can be used to verify claims related to sustainable farming and food production. Programs like this are currently in testing, and we may start to see more of them soon.
These are just a few of the technological advances that have the potential to increase the sustainability of food production. To feed the world without damaging the planet, we will have to consider a range of solutions including those related to lifestyle choices, farming practices and the use of advanced technologies.
Emily Folk is a freelance writer and blogger from Lancaster, PA. She covers topics in conservation, sustainability and renewable energy. To see her latest posts, check out her blog Conservation Folks, or follow her on Twitter!