By 2070 the world will be populated by approximately 10.5 billion people. This means that we will need to be able to feed a further three billion people. Fortunately, technological advances in agriculture and technology have already helped us provide food for an extra 5.5 billion people in the last century compared to the two billion that populated the earth in 1920. Stanford University estimates that if we were to still use the farming technology of 1960, we would need additional farming land equivalent to the size of Russia to earn the same yields as current technology.
Unfortunately, the current political narrative in one of the world’s wealthiest regions seems to ignore the challenges ahead of us and wants us to turn to less efficient farming. The European Union’s Farm to Fork (F2F) strategy sets out to create a more sustainable food system by the end of this decade. However, looking at the current proposals, it is worrisome that this new policy framework will achieve the opposite of sustainable farming and could lead not just Europe but the entire world to a food crisis with massive geopolitical ramifications.
"Stanford University estimates that if we were to still use the farming technology of 1960, we would need additional farming land equivalent to the size of Russia to earn the same yields as current technology"
The EU plans to increase the share of organic farming as a total of agricultural production from the current level of 7.5 percent to 25 percent by 2030. Additionally, they plan to reduce pesticide use by half. At the same time, the F2F strategy does not embrace new technologies that allow farmers to achieve the same yields they are able to produce using the current level of pesticides.
More organic farming in Europe means lower yields of EU food production and higher prices for consumers. The shortage in Europe will be likely compensated by additional food imports from other parts of the world. This will lead to a global increase in food prices. For affluent regions of the world such as Europe, this will be rather a nuisance for consumers. But for people already living at the edge of existence and facing hunger, this will have very negative consequences.
In India, home to a fifth of the world’s population, the country’s caste system means that farmers of the lowest caste live and farm on land that is more likely to experience regular flooding, resulting in poor or destroyed rice harvests. However, using gene editing, we can produce rice crops that can submerge underwater for up to two weeks and still provide high yields. Such technologies are a clear game-changer for the poor and hungry and should be embraced. There’s no humanitarian case against them but a strong one for them.
Unfortunately, many critics of pesticides also oppose the use of gene editing. This can result in lower food production in the face of growing demand.
"We indeed all share one planet and we therefore need to have sensible food policies that acknowledge hunger still being a problem for one in ten of us every day"
We all saw the dramatic refugee crisis in 2015, including all the terrible suffering and drowning in the Mediterranean. While the EU’s policies did not trigger this crisis, our future agricultural policies could cause widespread famines in parts of Africa and Asia. We indeed all share one planet and we therefore need to have sensible food policies that acknowledge hunger still being a problem for one in ten of us every day. No one wants to see people forced from their homes because of starvation, but, with just a few adjustments of the EU’s future agricultural policies, we can mitigate many of the negative drivers of poverty and hunger.
The EU’s Farm to Fork strategy needs to take this into account and not jeopardise our ability to feed an ever-growing population.