- Food production, biodiversity and carbon storage in ecosystems are competing for the same land.
- As humans demand more food, more forests and other natural ecosystems are cleared, and farms intensify.
- Fortunately, a whole raft of new technologies is being developed that make a system-wide revolution in food production feasible.
According to a recent research, this transformation could meet increased global food demands by a growing human population on less than 20% of the world’s existing farmland. Or in other words, these technologies could release at least 80% of existing farmland from agriculture in about a century.
Cellular agriculture provides an alternative, and could be one of this century’s most promising technological advancements. Sometimes called “lab-grown food”, the process involves growing animal products from real animal cells, rather than growing actual animals.
If growing meat or milk from animal cells sounds strange or icky to you, let’s put this into perspective. Imagine a brewery or cheese factory: a sterile facility filled with metal vats, producing large volumes of beer or cheese, and using a variety of technologies to mix, ferment, clean and monitor the process.
Animal cruelty would be eliminated and, with no need for cows wandering around in fields, the factory would take up far less space to produce the same amount of meat or milk. Other emerging technologies include microbial protein production, where bacteria use energy derived from solar panels to convert carbon dioxide and nitrogen and other nutrients into carbohydrates and proteins.
What About Old Farmlands?
These new technologies can have a huge impact even if demand keeps growing. Even though the research is based on the assumption that global meat consumption will double, it nonetheless suggests that at least 80% of farmland could be released to be used for something else.
That land might become nature reserves or be used to store carbon, for example, in forests or the waterlogged soils of peat bogs. It could be used to grow sustainable building materials, or simply to produce more human-edible crops, among other uses.
Gone too will be industrial livestock systems that produce huge volumes of manure, bones, blood, guts, antibiotics and growth hormones. Thereafter, any remaining livestock farming could be carried out in a compassionate manner. Converting these technologies into mass-market production systems will of course be tricky. But a failure to do so is likely to lead to ever-increasing farming intensity, escalating numbers of confined animals, and even more lost nature.
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