Experts say more efficient agricultural systems remain the surest bet to beating climate change and ensuring the sustainability of food production in the world.
They observe with the population increasing whilst natural resources like land and water remain finite, innovations are needed to help sustain life, especially when it comes to agriculture.
“When you look at climate reports, agriculture is considered to be a quarter of the driver of climate change. Mostly from livestock and deforestation and land use change…But what if farmers could be heroes? What if agriculture can help us beat climate change?” co-chair of Energy and Environment at Singularity University, Ramez Naam, told the Alltech Ideas Conference in Lexington – Kentucky, USA.
He says the introduction of technology and innovation is reducing the impact of agriculture on the environment already, but more needs to be done.
Mr Naam highlighted how crop yield per acre of corn and other crops have nearly tripled since 1960.
“It’s happening with every crop. And that means we are sparing land. Because worldwide, the land uses to feed each person has dropped by about half since the 1960s. We are doing more with less or the same,” he observed.
He says the world needs to stay on that course of increasing innovation as a way to preserve the planet.
“There has to be a way to digitize farms, (we need) better seeds, smarter practices, more precise farming with inputs, better animal nutrition, better monitoring of yields. All of these are would allow us to grow more food with the same land and less water,” Mr Naam said.
By 2050, food production needs to increase by 60 to 80% to feed the world. But water resources and lands are depleting. Mr Naam says fresh ideas are needed going into the future to ensure a food secured world and a healthy planet.
“Our planet is finite, but our ability to innovate is infinite. And the right idea, the right technology, the right experiences can increase the value of the land; and increase how much food we grow per acre and per drop of water,” he said.
“The right technology and right idea can substitute for scarce resources; it can make all of us better off. Idea is that one natural resource that we always have more of over time, and not less,” he concluded.
The Alltech Ideas Conference - now in its 35th year, is an annual event organized by agri-food firm Alltech. It brings together almost 4000 people from over 70 countries to explore innovation, inspiration and world-changing ideas.
Dr Frank Mitloehner of the University of California–Davis told the conference when it comes to combating climate change; “agriculture and farmers are the solutions, not the problem; it is our duty to educate the masses with the truth about agricultural emissions.”
He pointed out fossil fuels are fuelling climate change far more than agriculture, saying, fossil use in the USA produces 11% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the world whilst US animal and plant agriculture produce only 1.1%.
He described as misinformation claims that agriculture is the biggest driver of climate change in the world.
Dr. Frank Mitloehner observed efficiency in agricultural productivity is helping reduce further the impact of agriculture on climate change. He explained in 1940, there were 140 million head of beef in the United States but today, it’s only 90 million.
This means the emission of climate change causing gases from animal farming is decreasing.
“Notably, however, the same amount of beef (24 million tons) was produced in both 1970 and 2010, meaning that, over the years, we have begun accomplishing the same amount of beef with fewer cattle,” he explained.
“This is thanks to improved fertility, health and genetics… we should focus on better and more efficient livestock health than on livestock elimination,” he said.
President and Chief Executive Officer of Alltech Dr Mark Lyons charged industry to play its part in helping limit the impact of agriculture on the environment and committed his firm to that.
“We have to move forward. As a company; we will not wait for government to set guidelines on climate change,” he told a media briefing as part of the conference.