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Sustainable Agriculture and the Future of Food: Views from the Prince of Wales

3p Contributor | Wednesday May 11th, 2011 | 0 Comments

By Susan Nickbarg

Food Supply. Health. Economic Security. Malnutrition. Obesity. Local Agriculture. Sustainability.

What’s in common to link all these words? Sustainable Agriculture.

His Royal Highness, The Prince of Wales addressed participants last week at a Sustainable Food Conference hosted by Georgetown University in Washington DC, where he said, “Creating sustainable food systems will become paramount in the future.”

Venturing into sustainable agriculture and fearing for a food-insecurity, the Prince, with a leading voice sketched out that the rate of food production is now less than the rate of population growth. Add in threats to food crop yields, now declining with climate change, and the cost of food production as being so reliant on the rising cost of oil for transport and production, well, it all sums to an expensive forecast. He identified additional facts and pressures that you may like to know:

  • Global population is heading toward  9 billion people — creating greater demands for food
  • On average in the developed world, people throw away 40% of the food purchased
  • Soil is the primary source of health for all plants and people — and soil erosion in the United States is washed away 10 times faster than the Earth can replenish it
  • 23 thousand square miles of arable land is turning into desert yearly
  • 2 billion acres (1/4 of the world’s farm land) is degraded
  • One-fifth of all U.S. grain production is dependent on water with 1.3 trillion gallons used faster than rainfall can replenish it
  • By 2030 it is estimated the world’s farmers will need 35% more water than today
  • Of all the water in the world, 5% is fresh and excluding the most voluminous fresh water lake in the world, Lake Baikal in Siberia, the fresh water sources remaining are three-quarters used in agriculture

The impact of sizeable pressures and forecasts such as these mean more people could go hungry.

With vast percentages of people across our planet who are either malnourished or obese, the world seemingly is gradually waking up to the heightened need for a sustainable food systems framework. “In one way or another half of the people are on the wrong side of the food equation.” says the Prince of Wales. He then pushed the audience to consider that looming ahead of us is a need to re-make the agriculture system so that it is durable.

Here, the Prince recommends adopting a mixed approach under several broad pillars that would include recognizing biodiversity, mitigating climate change, protecting water systems, planting trees, ensuring animal waste recycling and organic waste composting for soil fertility. He pointed out and at the same time questioned, “Why it is that an industrialized system deeply dependent on fossil fuels and chemical treatments is promoted as viable while a much less damaging one is rubbished and condemned as non-fit for purpose? The reasons lie in the anomalies behind the scenes.” Small hold agriculture and localizing food production was an emphasis framed by the Prince because by strengthening small farm production, it can better buffers shocks to a larger system in the long term.

He finished up by saying, “We need to include in the bottom line, the true cost of food production, financial, and to the Earth. It is what you could call an accounting for sustainability.”

My observation from hearing this landmark speech is that will take radical transformation to put plans in place for agriculture sustainability and security to operate in an intertwined policy, climate, and economic framework in terms of rebuilding the food systems of the future. What do you think?

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By Susan Nickbarg, Principal of SVN Marketing LLC, a marketing, corporate social responsibility and sustainability services firm. Susan is also adjunct faculty at Georgetown University and chapter co-author of “Developing a Sustainability Strategy” in The Sustainable Enterprise Fieldbook. Follow her on twitter @svnickbarg!


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