Anonymous asked in Food & DrinkOther - Food & Drink · 1 decade ago

As we appear to be on the brink of a global food crisis, is it time to rethink farming methods? How?

Given that we appear to be on the brink of a global food crisis, should we be making the world's farms even bigger and more efficient, or should we be making them smaller? Is it time to dismantle the industrial food machine, or should we be cranking it up to the next level?


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377 Answers

  • 1 decade ago
    Best Answer

    Farming methods have nothing to do with the level of hunger in the world. We already create more than enough food for every single person on this mudball to stuff themselves until they drop dead from overeating. The U.N.'s Population Reference Bureau is quite clear that the main cause of hunger in the world today is poverty. In their landmark study on hunger, “Population, Food, and Nutrition” they don’t even consider increased food production as a possible solution to the hunger problem. Hunger still exists because many poor people around the world lack the resources to buy enough food. In other words, people are starving to death (more correctly, being starved to death) through poverty, not though lack of food. It's pointless trying to work out why poverty exists in the world, but considering the money thrown at the problem – the G8 summit increased aid to Africa from $25 billion to $50 billion US in 2005 – it is certainly an intractable one. What desperate sinkhole of poverty couldn’t be cured by fifty billion dollars?

    The fact remains that we produce enough food to supply all six billion people on this planet with a massive excess left over. There is so much food available, in fact, that everyone who can afford it has a plentiful supply. This is what the United Nations has to say on the subject:

    “... Despite the dire predictions that the world’s population would soon outstrip food production, it has been the other way around: food production has risen a full 16 per cent above population growth. The American Association for the Advancement of Science has noted that 78 per cent of the world’s malnourished children live in countries with food surpluses. Clearly, this condition indicates a need for a keener social conscience and better political leadership ....There is enough food to go around now and for at least the next half-century. The world is not going to run out of food for all.” (

    It is not a matter of making more food. We don’t need to. We already make more than enough. The problem is with food distribution. Food surpluses in Europe and the United States are either suppressed by subsidies to farmers who agree not to grow certain crops during periods of overproduction, or they are destroyed. They are not loaded into bulk grain carriers and shipped to areas of the world blighted by famine. If they were the problem might be solved. Might.

    How can we have a net surplus of food in the world while a significant proportion of the human population is not merely undernourished but starving to death en masse? Given that it is true that "Due to advances in agriculture of many countries, there is now a substantial world surplus of food" (Abelson, P.H. (1972). World Food. Science, 236,9.) how is it that “more people than ever before are undernourished or malnourished”. (Curtain, M.E. (1985 July). Development and food. Inter-American Development Bank News, p. 3.)

    The standard economic definition of surplus is not just ‘too much’, as you would think it might be. Economists can make anything more complex than it needs to be, that’s why they have a Nobel Prize just for them. “Surplus” is defined as a supply situation where buyers do not exhaust available supply while still paying a unit price acceptable to sellers. Right. Glad we got that sorted out. Used in connection with world population and their food requirements, the words "food surplus" are worse than misleading. Only from food producers' point of view is there surplus. From many potential customers, there is shortage. There is widespread famine even in countries that are net exporters of food. (Poleman, T.T. (1969). World food: A perspective. Science, 173, 510-518) There is surplus largely because millions of people in these countries simply don’t have the financial clout to create an economic demand sufficient to interest suppliers. (Wortman, S. (1980). World food and nutrition: The scientific and technological base. Science, 209, 157- 164.)

    For example in India the National Institute of Nutrition estimated that as many as 50% of rural households and 55% of urban slum households do not have enough food to meet daily energy requirements. Yet India exports massive amounts of food and makes huge export income as a result. The food has been distributed out of the country and away from starving people because they cannot afford to buy it, and consumers in other countries can. India exports rice, wheat, sugarcane, tea, cotton, jute, cashews, coffee, spices, “other vegetables”, melons, sorghum, millet, corn, barley, chickpeas, bananas, and mangoes, all of which are desperately needed by their indigent, underfed people, none of whom can afford to pay the prices we Westerners can.

    We make enough food for the entire population of the world. Food shortages are caused by poverty and inequitable distribution of food, not the lack of food supplies.

  • 1 decade ago

    I have lived in 3rd world country and seen hunger. There I learned to follow the seasons and buy only what was locally sourced - we had no option as the cost would otherwise been to high. Unfortunately it was also a time where some big food wholesalers were coming through and convincing the government to change from local seasonal crops, that thrived well and which the people knew how to manage to all these new crops that would be paid at a higher rate - unfortunately they forgot to mention that these new crops were "fashion fads" and guaranttee of byer was not there, not only that, these crops were not suitable to the region and kept failing. Now we had farmers that had no crops to sell and therefore destitute, this meant they could not buy basic foodstuffs either and the cycle was started - from a thriving (though not large) farming community we ended up with a desert and total mismanagement the land now hardly grows much and the knowledge of which crops and seedstocks should be used for the various regions has been to a large extent lost - the young people do not want to farm as they see it as a total loss - now they are at the stage where the nation is starving and does not ahve enough foreign currency to acutally basic foodstuffs and seeds to kickstart the whole process again.

    In the UK we are spoilt for choice, the foods don't taste right have additives all over that causes you to put weight on anyway (or grow man boobs) and not many people know what is seasonal at any one time. If we follow the seasons with local produce we will improve the crisis and reduce the food costs, things that are out of season or from outside the local region should be so expensive that we would learn to use and support our local farming communities. We now grow some veg during spring and summer and will attempt our first winter farming this season - who knows might get a free Xmas meal raised and bred from my back yrd.

  • 1 decade ago

    The way you ask the question is unfair. It suggests that all farms are the same. Whereas some farms are better managed on a smaller scale (for example upland livestock farming), others (lowland arable farms) are better suited to larger farms.

    The question should be asking what we need, and how to provide it sustainably. We need both veg, cereals and meat. So where ever possible mixed farms should be the norm, as there are also synergies to had from this, as well as providing for all our needs. Arable farming works best when the fields are sometimes left fallow or sown with clover, this can then used used to partly support livestock, from which manure can be gathered to be used as an organic fertiliser and so on. This is obviously a simplistic way of looking at it, but in the 'ideal farm' situation a mixed (preferable organic or similar) farm is one of the best management regimes.

    In other parts of the world different ways are more appropriate. For example, in rice paddy fields, if an organic regime is applied than fish can be reared in the paddies when flooded. Increasing what can be harvested from a single field. However, in some areas, such as arid areas of Africa the soil and climate are not good for growing crops, and so the traditional livestock rearing is the most sustainable.

    Therefore to come out and say we need to increase the size of fields everywhere doesn't take into account the most appropriate ways of farming the land in question. However, it can safely be said that the only way to increase global production of food is NOT "cracking it up to the next level", although this may well be appropriate to some areas.

  • 1 decade ago

    It depends whether you think that the human race would be better off with less or more people. I say this because if more people live on the planet more food must be produced, either by more efficient farming or bigger scale farming. And, so, the inverse is true also.

    There is only so far you can take, making farms bigger because there is only so much planet but more of it can be put to use if we operate more efficient farming systems. This is where science is supposed to step in and provide a solution but can't because people are terrified of the possible consequences. I always say we take a risk and introduce gm crops or whatever other apparently helpful technologies are out there because that is the only way to test these things out really, but that's another question.

    The only other option is making the world population smaller, either by culling or by restricting rights to have children as was done in China, of which,particularly the first is against all morals I was ever taught. Besides,they both reek offensively towards human rights believers and so, should probably be avoided.

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  • Me.
    Lv 4
    1 decade ago

    Crank it up to the next level, can't see signs of a crisis myself, but you have more experience than me at the farming business, so if it's true, I guess I would have to believe that we are on the brink of a crisis, and I'm assuming you mean supply and demand? If the world is going to become over-populated then we should use all the techno know how to contain produce in an efficient way and without Genetically Modifying of course, just good old common sense and making the most of modern equipment and efficient use of land and re-structuring also to save on the use of fossil fuels, maybe the Japanese will pioneer the way for us...?

    Good job the majority of 'the end is nigh' prophets are wrong though, but if there is gonna be a food crisis it will be in February 2013 I reckon.

  • 1 decade ago

    The main cause of all problems to the planet Earth is human race.

    Which is plundering and exploiting any possible source to the very limits for the last centuries.

    If left unrestricted, human populations continue to grow until they become too large to be supported by the food grown on available agricultural land, causing starvation which then controls population growth(a Malthusian catastrophe-predicted by this scientist).

    Human population is growing with logarithm precision and it should be controlled. This is the only hope.

    In 2008 the United Nations Population Division projected that the world's population will likely surpass 9 billion in 2050.

    The last 50 years have seen a rapid increase in population due to medical advances and substantial increase in agricultural productivity.

    On a global scale, since the industrial revolution, food production has sometimes grown faster than human population. However, it has been argued that other changes impacting Earth's ability to function as a suitable habitat for human beings, such as global warming, desertification, overfishing, peak oil, soil degradation, deforestation, aquifer depletion and other environmental problems caused by industrialisation, will significantly reduce food production or factors necessary for well-being.

    In not so distant future the population of the Earth will shrink because of famine and global warming.

    The money spent on wars should be invested in new technologies to save complex ecosystems(or just leave them alone?) of the Earth but this is just the wishful thinking.

    The reality is govern by the politicians and they have huge appetites.

    Western world (USA and Europe) set up very bad example of a consumer society and the rest of the world is following this "american dream " blindly thinking there won't be any consequences.

    They take more and more than they can swallow.The media tells you how to live, eat what to buy what you need to be happy.

    Every year there is a new model of something.. and the old one is thrown away.

    We should go small and choose and take wisely only if we really need it.

  • 1 decade ago

    Don't have a straight answer here but I think the whole farming industry has gone barmy! Think about the butter and grain mountains and the fact a farmer gets paid more for set aside than producing? Also the general public need to make up their mind! Do they want good quality food that comes from a known source and pay more for it? Or do they want higher yeilds from larger farms where it could have been GM produced and probably not so healthy? It's quality versus quantity??

    If I was just concerned about my own children and my family's health quality would win every time and I'm all for being semi- self sufficiant as I want to know where my food comes from what the crops have been sprayed with and also how the animals have been brought up and if they have been injected with HGH! I do realise however with an ever growing world population the need to feed millions does not go away.

  • 1 decade ago

    As a farmer, producing more food is not a problem. It is whether I want to. I have made no money for more than 10 years and I have nearly had enough. I am 43 and thought I had a lifetime in farming but the supermarkets have such a strangle hold on prices I think making a resonable living is just a dream. The government has cut R&D spending over the last 20 years until most of the research institutions have closed. My uni (Aberdeen) has finally closed its Agri Department, lots of others have closed also. In twenty years time there will be a shortage of farmers as very few are being trained and entering the industry. Farmers sons don't want to know and I am certainly not encouraging my son into it. Something has to change considerably if the UK isn't going to be hungry in a few years time.

  • 1 decade ago

    This a difficult question to precisely answer. However, to me, we have to look beyond farming systems. It is unquestionable that, technological and scientific advances are playing a very important part in strengthening the methods of farming. Compare the current systems of farming with those which were in place in the 1960s or 1980s. The world is currently using more efficient technologies than before. Animal and crop diseases are now easily detected and are more manageable.

    I think the world currently produce enough food to feed the entire world population. The problem is that of equal distribution. Some people have more stocks of food than they need whilst others go the whole week or even month with nothing. For instance, in the UK people by more food than they need and end up throwing it away, while in Ethiopia children die of malnutrition. So to me the question worth of asking is, 'How can we distribute current world food stock so that we all get equal share?' I would suppose we have to look at the current trading regimes in place, and see how we modify them to facilitate fair importation and exportation of food. However, we must also rethink the current proposals of bio fuels? If is true that we are on the brink of a global food crisis, then why are we planning to reduce the limited stock we have by making bio fuels?

  • 1 decade ago

    Scale is a big problem but sustainability is more so. We can only take the short cuts so far, there is a price to pay for every one taken. Quality & nutrients are severely effected in much of the current structure.

    We have never eaten meat in the way we do now, and the only way we sustain it is by completely unnatural methods. You can feed at least 5 times the amount of people using a land mass of crops, than using the same space for meat. But this is a different question...

    The supermarkets also need to take some responsibility and give something back. I can't remember if it's Tate& Lyle or Silverspoon who have gone back to farming british sugar beet and powering a tomato farm too - that's the kind of thinking we need.

    I don't like being at the mercy of the supermarkets and the oil prices. I love the transition town model, I think we're going to need it. There is no point increasing the industrial side of farming when we're approaching peak oil. It's a foolish position for an island to be in to not be able to feed itself. If we keep building over land and trashing the farming infracture we're stuffed.

    We need much more local farming and local suppliers, so we are not reliant on oil for packaging or transport anywhere near as much.

    Definitely we shouldn't waste anything, and definitely we all need to re-skill in the kitchen - did you see the horror on Mary Berry's face on the BBC news last week - at the waste and complete lack of knowlegde!

  • 1 decade ago

    I thought I would like to add my two-penneth into this one as I feel people are losing site of the issues.

    Intensive farming has the beneft of producing large amounts of food relatively cheaply for the masses, and these are then distributed, relatively cheaply to the masses, via the major supermarkets.

    The problems with this are that too much is produced which is then wasted in the great and infamous wine lakes and butter mountains we hear about. This is not fed, how it should be, to the millions of hungry people in the world. Instead the EU subsidises the farms to produce more still, wasting more and creating a problem that the farmers are forced to produce yet more just to get by as these subsidies are then cut, in an effort to stop wastage.....can we see the viscious cycle!??!

    My answer is not to move forward blindly, but to learn from our mistakes. Not that long ago everyone ate local, as the transport networks were simply not there to enable your meat to come from spain and your tomatoes from holland. Now, the cost of transport is making the cost of food rocket, so wouldn't the answer be to buy local, where they havent had to put it on a boat, then a lorry, then a plane, then another lorry. There isn't a load of excess packaging on a paper bag of potatoes from the market either, so it cuts down on the amount of waste going to landfil. Decreases the 'Carbon footprint of the items, are generally better for us and are supporting the local economy.

    While I'm not normally one to jump on the green band wagon I do believe that the old ways are the best....maybe it's my history background, or maybe it's my upbringing. Supporting our local community however, will eventually lead to a change in the amount it costs as it becomes the norm. Eventually the supermarkets will have to buy local and then they will have to price match or they will lose their trade.

    My advice in the meantime is revert even further, grow your own, barter, bake, make and above all, keep the old trades going! Smaller, more traditionally managed farms offer a flexibility for us all, which history has shown, is successful.

    Source(s): Aimee, 24, Yorkshire
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