One of the primary challenges of the day is meeting the growing food needs of our population while minimizing damage to the environment. Alleviation of poverty requires economic growth and large-scale agriculture, but these things often cause significant environmental damage. Sustainable agricultural practices are available that are less damaging to the environment, but can they effectively feed billions of people? Probably not.
Is poverty reduction vs. environmental sustainability an inescapable tradeoff? I've always considered this to be the case and as such my enthusiasm for sustainable agriculture has remained tempered. But a new study reveals that there may be hope for seemingly incompatible goals of feeding the planet and preserving critical ecosystem services. Read about it here at Science Daily. The upshot of the analysis is that yield gaps can be closed with better management of water, land and fertilizer. In other words, it appears to be possible in theory if we can make some changes. These include shifting consumption toward a diet that includes less meat, using less food crops for fuel, using fertilizer more effectively (increasing use in some places and decreasing use in others) and curtailing the burning of tropical forests for low-yield agriculture.
Now the question becomes, can we achieve these goals? If so, how? Can we rely on the market mechanism to get us there or do we need market intervention via active policy? If the latter, what types of policy interventions might move us in the right direction?
More on the topic here at Scientific American
More here at World Bank