The current population of the world is 7 billion, and is expected to reach 9 billion by the year 2050. It is no exaggeration to say that the population explosion of the 20th century was largely supported by the green revolution,* made possible by mass consumption of fossil fuels. However in the 21st century, concern is deepening over issues such as global warming, the depletion of fossil fuels and water shortage, and we have come to a point where it seems impossible to continue increasing food supply in a way that uses resources so excessively. In order for future generations of humans to continue life on earth, it is vital for us now to develop a more sustainable method of farming and food production. The KAITEKI Institute (TKI) envisions a 'KAITEKI' society, in which people can maintain and enhance their health by consuming a diet of delicious foods produced by sustainable methods. TKI has named the concept of such farming and food supply 'KAITEKI agriculture,' and is actively engaged in bringing about its realization.
Analysis of long-term social trends and situations surrounding food and farming leading up to the year 2050 have shown the following results for global food supply and demand in the 21st century.
1. Obtaining adequate food supply will become increasingly difficult, considered from various perspectives including economics.
2. Improvements in standard of living in developing countries and elsewhere will lead to a more sophisticated and complex demand for food.
It is a natural progression for people in developing countries to start striving to obtain the same level of prosperity as those in developed countries, and with the current state of agriculture, stock farming and fishery, it is very likely that food supply will become inadequate not just in terms of quantity but also quality. In contrast to the 20th century when all eyes were turned towards mass production, TKI sees the most important theme for agriculture and food in the 21st century to be sustainability. Specifically, TKI considers the issues of water stress and green house gas (GHG) to be two areas of particular significance.
Roughly 70% of the amount of freshwater globally consumed by humans is used in agricultural activities. The amount of freshwater available for human use is limited, and is expected to become even more so in the future with the progression of global warming and population growth. Considering these facts, it will become increasingly important to develop new methods of agriculture, such as water-saving agriculture that uses as little water as possible in the most efficient ways, low-cost desalination methods to utilize seawater that exists in abundance on earth, as well as methods of effective water recycling.
Synthetic fertilizers made using massive amounts of fossil fuels played a big role during the 'green revolution' as mentioned above, but have resulted in serious environmental problems. Nitrogen and phosphorous leach out from over-fertilized plots of land and enter underground water and oceans, and this has created 'dead seas' in the Gulf of Mexico and other places around the world. Furthermore, residual nitrogen fertilizer in the ground usually returns to the form of molecular nitrogen via the process of denitrification by the activities of microorganisms in the earth, but some of the nitrogen gets released into the atmosphere as nitrous oxide (N2O) before denitrification occurs. N2O is a powerful green house gas (GHG) that is 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide, and its CO2 equivalent already accounts for 8% of all GHG, of which 70% is said to be due to agricultural activities. If fertilizer could be delivered in a more efficient way, for example, by being dissolved in water and delivered at targeted points near plants’ roots, less water and fertilizer will be needed to produce crops. This will effectively reduce the amount of residual fertilizer in the earth, and hence N2O emissions.
We have briefly discussed some of the issues of water stress and GHG that pose challenges for sustainable agriculture in the 21st century. 'KAITEKI agriculture' is one of the primary research themes for TKI, and we will continue our activities to find solutions for its realization.
*green revolution: series of technological initiatives for farming, such as the introduction of high-yielding varieties of crops and massive use of chemical fertilizers, which dramatically increased agricultural production around the world during the 1940s to the 1960s.
Percentage of earth's water
September 21, 2012