As a recent Iowa State study showed—see our November 12, 2012 column—three- and four-year rotations that includes crops and livestock can reduce the need for synthetic nitrogen fertilizers and herbicides. In some cases the task will be to help subsistence farmers recover traditional rotations that used local crops and crop varieties.
While we are not soil scientists, we cannot underestimate the importance of the issue of soil and water management. We need to pay attention to soil biotics and soil structure. Doing so could decrease water runoff, increase water infiltration, and improve nutrient availability to the plants.
None of this is difficult. The science is relatively easy. What it takes in the political will to fund programs in these areas. In saying this we are not arguing that the role of mechanized agriculture in the global North does not play a role in meeting this goal; it does. But there is more to it than that.
Oh! and we almost forgot our most important point.
The real challenge in feeding all 9 billion people in 2050 is not production; it is distribution.
Remember 1998-2001? The price of corn was $1.85 a bushel and we had 800 million hungry people in the world. But because they lacked purchasing power, 800 million people went to bed hungry while US producers were told that the low prices were caused by their “overproduction.”
The first step in meeting this challenge is to enable the farmers who are among the poorest of the poor to produce their own food using sustainable technologies that are within their resource base.
Source: Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee