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Feeding the world, let alone feeding the world well, may be impossible.

June 6, 2011

I read an interesting article this week from the New York times concerning food prices and food security.

The subject of this article provides an interesting example of the relationship and problems between environmental (water and climate), societal (hunger and poverty) and economic facets of one issue.

I like their mention of the disconnect between people and the problem – something I think is a key barrier to be breached to solve many food/environment related issues.

I dislike their use of the word believe – scientists don’t (or at least shouldn’t) believe anything. Maybe I’m nit picking.

On the subject of the article, technology clearly has a role to play but I also can’t help think about the wider issues which aren’t addressed by this. Should we be looking at more subsistence based permaculture for poor communities? Should we be educating about the impacts of population growth on these issues? What about the efficiency of animal based agriculture vs crop based – is it right that we have to pitch to people to eat meat 1 day less a week when we can’t apparently grow enough basic feed crops for human let alone animal mouths?

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Hepe permalink
    June 7, 2011 6:43 am

    I wonder if you and the other commentators have time to help out with something that is relevant to this issue? I looked at the ‘Eat for the Earth’ site and really liked it, it’s great to see people up to their elbows in attempting a real solution.
    One problem that I have in my thinking and in seeking any small solution to the issue is that I don’t know just how much a person needs to eat to survive and be active. If I knew that, and someone would work out menus that sustained that level based upon easily produced crops and animal husbandry (including fowl and fish) it might be possible to derive the amount of ground and gardening practice needed to sustain it? If you can derive that, there is a meaningful basis on which to challenge the outdated thinking of architects and planners.
    As an example, as a family of four eating chicken once a week, you need 60 chicken (an allowance for losses because we will not be injecting them with antibiotics). That’s a lot of chicken and ‘succession planning’ would be an issue as would feeding them. Chicken once a week would be subsistence, not enough to make a person revise an opinion on poverty. What else should be grown or raised, how much and by what means?
    I have this vision of small houses built of carbon sequestering materials each with flat roofs where we replicate the gardens lost beneath the building footprint. The roof gardens would be shaded high above by concave roofing in white to reflect the sun’s rays back as the ice caps did and to collect water into storage for purification and irrigation. The area of the flat roof, using appropriate horticulture techniques, would produce fowl and fish beneath a garden layer. Fish and fowl are fed in part by worms from vermiculture for composting. Or should we be Hobbits?

    • June 7, 2011 10:14 am

      It should be possible to derive this. Several factors I can think of would need to be considered:
      1. Estimated energy/protein/vitamin requirements can be gathered from the WHO and similar bodies
      Here is one document I found detailing energy/protein requirements for the full range of ages/sexes/body types etc so it’s obviously not easy to determine a “bare minimum”, but it could be done I think, I’ll keep looking through the literature.
      2. These demands would need to be met through a variety of produce which would have to differ depending on climatic regime. From a brief bit of reading this morning (I do have a dietician friend who may be able to advise on this further), all sources of a nutrient (protein, vitamin, energy providing matter) are not equal in terms of what they supply to a human or what they require from the land.
      3. To maximise efficiency it would be most wise, I would think, to adopt permaculture type ideas with regional adaptations. There’s a lot of literature on this out there and this would have to be an essential component in combining solutions to the previous two comments with architectural/planning design. Some interesting structures for permaculture assessment and design methodologies here

      The following is mainly speculation on my part but it may provide some ideas to get thinking about:
      I think choosing crops would be easy to determine based on nutritional requirements combined with what would grow in your region of interest. Animal protein is potentially more difficult. If you want to grow rhubarb or vines I know ducks are incredibly useful, but they aren’t going to produce the best meat/eggs for protein. Pigs are useful for helping with waste and if access to freezers aren’t a problem/consider other preservation methods, a whole pig provides long term protein supply. Sheep and goats are good for wool/meat and milk and also tend to be better suited to marginal lands where crops won’t grow so well.

      The sustainability institute in Stellenbosch near us does research in this direction. I’m hoping to make contact with them soon to discuss a few things so I will let you know what I turn up.

      Hope this helps in some way 🙂


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