An Agricultural revolution

5000 years ago dawned the Neolithic period on Earth. Our species were transitioning from hunter gathering to a new way of life. We settled down, built houses but crucially; we started planting crops. By farming, we started a monumental shift in how we feed ourselves.

Today, agriculture has taken over the planet. It shaped our land & transformed the biosphere. It has spawned cultures, cities and whole ways of life. By 2050, we will have to feed over 9 billion people. By 2100, the number could be over 10 billion.

The greatest challenge facing humanity is feeding our burgeoning, unsustainable population. It will happen in our lifetime, over 131 million new people arrive every year and are in the pipeline. It won’t be easy to cope with these crippling numbers & solutions to these problems require a big shift in thinking and better allocation of finite resources.

A disturbing glimpse into our future world can be visually witnessed in director Chris Nolan’s sci-fi epic Interstellar, a movie praised for its use of real science to reinforce its cautionary tale. With powerful imagery, Nolan depicts our planet in an agricultural crisis. With national defence & armies now abandoned, the 2050 earth is now arranged as an agricultural production hub, struggling to feed its enormous population with the last remaining strains of Okra and Corn. Limited biodiversity & monoculture farming triggers blights resulting in catastrophic crop losses. This dark reality forces NASA to organise futile deep space missions to find & terraform life supporting planets to ensure the survival of the human race.

A global food crisis

How can we feed these 9 billion and still have a planet left worth living on? Doubling production to meet demand isn’t the sustainable answer. Collectively, the global output of food production is enough to feed the world but food inequality directs staple nutrients away from people and into livestock feed. Animal agriculture and their byproducts are responsible for over 51% of global carbon emissions and over 25% of global water usage. Cows produce over 500 billion litres or 150 billion gallons of Methane per day which has a global warming potential 86 times that of CO2. According to a U.S press release at the 2014 Climate Summit, reducing methane emissions by choosing a vegan based diet rich in protein would create tangible benefits that would be felt immediately.

 The spread of prosperity across the world, especially in China and India, is driving an increased demand for meat, eggs, and dairy, placing increased pressure to grow more corn and soybeans to feed more cattle, pigs, and chickens. Not only is animal agriculture accelerating climate change, systemic corruption and unethical practices plague the industry.  Multinational biotechnology giants Monsanto recognise this growth industry and have successfully lobbied Governments to prevent their GM food derived products from being openly labelled as genetically modified. Monsanto now controls over 90% of food production in the United States, forcing defiant farmers to embrace their idea of the future food through cross pollination of organic crops.

Monsanto’s proprietary strains of genetically modified crops like corn and soy have been promoted to solve the global food crisis as they are resistant to disease, droughts and deliver bigger yields. We don’t know the long term health effects of these GMO crops, but we do know they are sprayed with harsh pesticides like Roundup with known carcinogens are now banned in many places in the world. Cancer causing molecules in Roundup are carried through the food chain, into our stomachs and are no doubt responsible for our increase rates of cancer, allergies and diseases.

Agriculture is among the greatest contributors to global warming, emitting more greenhouse gases than all our machines combined—largely from methane released by cattle and rice farms, nitrous oxide from fertilized fields, and carbon dioxide from the cutting & burning of rainforests to grow crops or raise livestock.

Farming is the thirstiest user of our precious water supplies and a major polluter, as runoff from fertilizers and manure disrupts fragile lakes, rivers, and coastal ecosystems across the globe. Agriculture also accelerates the loss of biodiversity. As we’ve cleared areas of grassland and forest for monoculture farms, we’ve lost crucial habitat, making agriculture a major driver of wildlife extinction.

Skyrocketing food prices & shortages are pushing more people into poverty than ever before, resulting in riots and even revolutions. A food price spike was one of the driving forces behind the Arab Spring of 2008.

But there is hope, in an ancient plant. Hemp has long been recognised as one of the most versatile and beneficial substances known to man because it can be used in multiple applications from superfoods, paper, biofuels, renewable building materials to superconductor batteries. There is still a huge potential and we are only just starting to unlock the potential of this miracle plant.