The global scarcity of farmland and the possibility of conflict

“…we are approaching the limits of the Earth’s ability to support us. Though rarely mentioned in the public debate, the scarcity of farmland is likely to emerge as  fresh source of international tension and possible conflict as the century advances.” (p.67)

“If people respected cornfields, as the French philosopher Simone Weil once suggested we should (as part of our love for our homeland), we would not build cities on them or degrade them. The coming famine of the midcentury is likely to teach us a renewed respect for grain fields, rice paddies, orchards, market gardens, and the soil that sustains them all.
Believe it or not, the world is running out of high-quality soil. In one sense, we passed ‘peak land’ a long time ago. A report by Rabobank shows that the area of food production has declined from 0.45 hectare (1.1 acres) per person in the 1960s to 0.23 hectare (0.6 acre) currently and will keep falling as population rises, to around 0.18 hectare (0.4 acre) in 2050.
Another way to interpret this, however, is as a tribute to the remarkable achievements, over the past half century, of the world’s farmers and agricultural scientists, who now put significantly more food on our plates using less land through advanced broadacre farming systems and efficient smallholder agriculture. It shows just what can be achieved when we put our minds to it.
This also underscores, however, that food security is a race – between the things we can do to increase it, such as using fertilizers, fossil fuels, better crop rotations, and improved varieties, and the things we do to destroy it, such as losing soil, water, and nutrients, exacerbated by our increasing population and demand for food. Our destiny depends on the state of this race in the middle of the twenty-first century.

Superficially, the world appears to have plenty of spare land, but – like water – it isn’t always located in the most favorable climactic regions or where the major centers of population and increases in food demand are most likely to occur.” (pp.48-49)

Most cities occupy fertile river valleys and coastal plains for the historical reason that they needed to be close to their food supplies. As these cities expanded they encroached on more and more of the land around them, drawing their food from increasingly distant places.” (p.57)

“Peak land is an issue that some experts seem eager to downplay or dismiss because their maps appear to suggest that the Earth has plenty of spare terrain. As we have seen, however, there are serious impediments, costs, or risks to opening up much of this land and, if the experience of recent years is anything to go by, it will be opened only at rates far too slow to match the rising demand for food on its own.
This, essentially, forces us back to four main strategies:
1. Redouble output from existing land and water using better and more sustainable farming methods, both small-scale and large.
2. Make a global effort to turn lost or degraded land back to productive use.
3. Develop new ways to produce food that don’t take up a lot of room.
4. Stop wasting food.” (p.63)

“A further pointer to approaching global land scarcity is the rate at which certain countries are now buying up ‘spare’ farmland in others. China is said to have bought or leased 1.24 million hectares (3 million acres) of land in the Philippines and 700,00 hectares (1.7 million acres) in Laos; its Ministry of Agriculture has proposed foreing land acquisition as an explicit strategy, similar to the acquisition of global energy resources. …Not only countries are involved in the global land grab: in 2008 the Korean corporation Daewoo was reported to have leased 1.3 million hectares of land in Madagascar, half that country’s arable area.” (p.51)

What can I do about it?

Cribb advises:

“1. Avoid wasting food.
2. Eat more grains, fruit, and vegetables because these take less land to produce than do meat and dairy.
3. Support politicians and governments who are prepared to put more scientific effort into farming, to resolve land-tenure injustices, and to reduce overregulation of food production.
4. Be selective as a consumer in choosing those foods that use less land, energy, and water to grow. Demand eco-labeling from supermarkets and manufacturers. [-p.67]
5. Support green cities to reduce the city footprint on the wider landscape and reuse its wastes.
6. Support the rezoning of periurban landscapes to preserve agricultural values and curb land-hungry development: it will keep your own food prices down and help prevent desertification.
7. Grow more of your own food as efficiently as you can, composting safe household waste.” (pp.67-68)

Ref: Julian Cribb (c2010) The Coming Famine: the global food crisis and what we can do to avoid it. CSIRO Publishing: Collingwood, Vic., Australia.

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in education around food and meals, Science education, social and political contexts and tagged , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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