When a cyclone hit Madagascar in March 2017, the effect was felt in ice cream shops and bakeries around the world. As the producer of 80 per cent of the world’s vanilla beans, the extreme weather experienced by the African island wiped out much of the year’s supply, making the price of vanilla extract more expensive than silver.
This episode was just one illustration of how change in the world’s climate has been having a serious effect on the world’s supply of food. And with the population of Earth growing at a rapid pace, scientists and food producers are working hard to address the problem.
There will be almost 10 billion mouths to feed on Earth by the year 2050.
While the forecast may seem dire as higher temperatures, extreme weather, drought, increasing levels of carbon dioxide and rising sea levels put Earth’s food supply at risk, there are some ways that farmers and food producers can reverse the effects. And, in many cases, these new technologies are a twist on the old.
Raising farm animals has traditionally meant clearing the land of forests; however, the practice of silvopasture means domesticated animals, such as cows, pigs and deer, can graze amongst trees. Not only do the trees in silvopastures take carbon dioxide from the air and return it to the soil where it is needed, but the diet provided to animals in a silvopasture may lower the amount of methane they send out into the world.
A burping, farting cow can produce as much daily pollution from methane as a car does.
Planting in the ocean
Over the past two hundred years the increased amount of carbon dioxide in the air has seeped into ocean waters, increasing its acidity by about 30 per cent. Researchers are finding that growing kelp, eelgrass and other aquatic vegetation can absorb carbon dioxide and reduce acidity in the ocean.
Waste not, want not
In a world in which hunger is still a problem for 800 million people, it is hard to believe that one third of food produced or raised does not make it to the kitchen table. Not only are valuable land and resources used to raise food destined for the dump but rotting food contributes to global warming. Thoughtful planning by both producers and households can make a huge difference in how much food ends up being thrown out.
A plant-rich diet
Raising livestock accounts for nearly 15 per cent of global greenhouse gases. These emissions could be lowered as much as 70 per cent with the addition of more plant-based foods in our diets.
Carbon back where it belongs
Plowing, spreading synthetic fertilizer, spraying chemical pesticides and growing the same crop year after year hurt the soil and release carbon into the atmosphere. Thankfully plants naturally take carbon out of the air and direct it back into the earth where it does the most good. Farmers can help by growing crops that benefit the soil and reduce weeds, leaving the soil undisturbed rather than tilling it and planting different crops each season so the nutrients in the soil are not exhausted.
Article originally published in Brainspace Magazine