A Better World - Volume 4

[ ] 65 L ife on L and A ccording to the United Nations, unless soil decline is addressed the world has less than 60 growing seasons left. 1 Additionally, it is estimated that the global population will reach almost 10 billion by 2050. 2 Given this perfect storm, the United Nations Decade for Deserts (2010–2020) and the fight against desertification 3 is especially relevant as more and more land around the world faces increasing deterioration and degradation. The intensive nature of agriculture in today’s world has degraded the vegetative cover and biodiversity of vast areas of the Earth’s surface. This, coupled with soil surface tempera- ture rises, is resulting in a major reduction of above- and below-ground carbon, and therefore soil biological resources, leading to erosion together with chemical, nutrient and pesti- cide run-off into river systems, estuaries and oceans. These and other natural factors have damaged the capac- ity of the land and oceans to absorb (excess) carbon dioxide (CO 2 ) via the natural process of photosynthesis, reducing agricultural productivity. This is accompanied by increased salination, soil erosion, desertification and, in some important marginal irrigation areas, the production of huge amounts of saline water, depressing the effect of usually productive plants. Micro-climates are increasingly unable to perform the function of keeping farmers’ fields moist, cool and healthy, resulting in diminishing food quality, and giving rise to new evidence of rising public physical and emotional health issues and costs. 4 Prof. Robin Batterham, former Chief Scientist for Australia (1999–2006), states that current intensive land practices are not sustainable and will lead to losses in farm- land productivity and profitability. He says a move towards regenerative farming can stem this undesirable trend without any long-term loss in farming outcomes, issuing instead an increase in productivity, profitability and sustainability. 5 Does the world have sufficient land to grow food to feed 10 billion people? From 2005 to 2050 the food requirement for rising popula- tions is estimated to increase by between 70 and 110 per cent 6 as income from emerging middle classes drives a demand for farm-based produce, such as grains and meat for largely urban populations which already exceed 50 per cent of the total, and are expected to exceed 75 per cent by 2050. 7 However, the area of land considered even marginally suitable for agriculture is predicted to rise from only 33.2 million km 2 today to just 34.1 million km 2 by the end of this century. 8 As some 50 per cent of grain production today is fed to livestock, substituting some of this grain by new live- stock feeds grown in degraded areas is commonly suggested as a practical solution, utilizing proven techniques that also reverse soil degradation and allow for climate variability. 9 Much of this degraded land exists in mixed farming zones fringing the deserts on each continent. These areas are mostly inhabited by poor, often marginalized people, who would be able to participate in this solution if they could be shown how their livelihoods might be improved as a result of their efforts in these farming proposals. 10 The question: “Will the world have sufficient capacity to feed 10 billion people by 2050?” should be rephrased as: “Does the world have the necessary land resources to meet its future requirements for food?” A further question would be: “How can we equip the people who live in these degraded areas to become part of a solution that benefits all?” Turning straw into gold: a new paradigm of regenerative agriculture There is a solution to these questions but it requires inter- national collaboration, global and local partnerships, widespread education and ways to involve the people who live in degraded areas to participate every step of the way. Are the outcomes that are vital for the survival of mankind achievable in an era of global warming? Gabriel Haros, Corresponding Author, Managing Director and Founder of PundaZoie Company Pty Ltd.; John Leake, Director, The Institute for International Development Ltd. and NyPa Australia Ltd. and Associate Professor, University of Adelaide Greening the Earth trials in Australia demonstrating the development of a saltbush plantation grown in hedgerows suitable for the dual purpose of harvesting and livestock cell grazing between the rows Image: PZC