We have heard over and over that the demographic projections show that we will need to double agricultural output by 2050 to meet a Western European style diet for approximately 9 billion people. This is no small task. And yet, when 16,000 children die each day of starvation and tens of thousands more die of malnutrition-related diseases, the questions must be asked: Where are our true priorities? Just how many people will die from global warming? And if they do die, isn’t it more than likely that the majority of preventable deaths will come from some failure of the food system, either to deliver or produce a sustaining food supply? Can the ethic of food security for all humans then be linked to the common cause of addressing climate challenges? In the world of agriculture, we can no longer work in parallel silos of good intention. We must respond to the impacts and the need for adaptation, mitigation and innovation. The significant and complex threats that confront all dimensions of agriculture must be revealed and understood in the context of an overarching strategy for agriculture.
In the developed world, the luxury of abundance gives us the privilege to choose how our food supply might be produced: Organic/conventional; GMO/heirloom; fast/slow; local/imported; processed/farm-fresh; 365-day/seasonal. In California, we are fortunate to not only argue about what’s for dinner, but literally to fight over how it should get on a plate. A quarter of the earth’s human population would just like something on the plate everyday. In California we have responded to a demanding worldwide consumer and now produce over 400 different commodities through a myriad of production methods and philosophies.
In the U.S., when 2 percent of the population produces the entire domestic food supply, the voice of agriculture becomes muted by the chewing sounds from those who consume but do not produce. In the absence of understanding comes a parade of demagogues -- masquerading as well-intentioned authorities -- who see agriculture as part of the problem and not as a leading force and source of the solution. These so called experts call our system of agriculture “broken”.
Solutions From the Land
While there are plenty of provocative reasons to worry about how safe and how healthy and how local our food might be, there is very little discussion in the media about the actual fate of agriculture. The simple and uncomfortable truth that has caught the attention of true agriculturists around the planet is that unpredictable weather means unpredictable harvest. Along with this comes the well-established observation that changing climate patterns, invasive pests and diseases do not discriminate between countries or farmers. It is a stark and sobering reality.
The lesson here is that we need to truly understand the potentiality of a “solutions from the land” approach where food, fiber and fuel can be produced with the fundamental understanding that an infrastructural foundation must be in place for it to progress. In the 21st century it will mean protecting and creating prime farm lands; looking to the oceans for additional water, minerals and growing space; enabling biomass and other renewable energy processes; landscaping an edible urban forest of cities; pursuing home permaculture greenhouse and backyard production sites. We will see innovative food, water and energy sheds develop in response to regional security goals and demands. Agriculture will be big and small, technically complex and simple. It will need to be dynamic. It must be successful.
About the author: A.G. Kawamura is the former secretary of the California Department of Food and Agriculture in November 2003. He is a produce grower and shipper from Orange County, where his family grows strawberries, green beans and other specialty crops.