THE Covid-19 pandemic has proved humanity’s vulnerability and underlined the importance of sustainability.
Estimates suggest that by the end of 2050, the global population will be nine billion. To feed everyone, the world needs to produce 50% more food than we currently do. The intensification of farming is seen as the solution to producing more food.
In a recent webinar titled Connecting Culture, Food and the Environment for Global Sustainability, speaker Dr Shonil Bhagwat, a professor of Environment and Development from the Open University, Britain, emphasised the need to connect culture, food and the environment for global sustainability.
The speaker suggested that although the progressive intensification of farming has dramatically increased food production over the last 50 years, it has harmed the environment and has not solved the problem of hunger and malnutrition in the world – over two billion people worldwide are currently food insecure, one billion of them in Asia alone.
According to Prof Bhagwat, the global community has not been able to achieve food security because of a three-way disconnect between culture, food, and the environment: A disconnect between culture and food because food’s commercial mass production has severed it from farming and agriculture’s cultural traditions, a disconnect between food and the environment because we have ignored the environmental harm caused by the intensification of agriculture, and a disconnect between the environment and culture because we have favoured technological solutions to “fix” food insecurity rather than approaching it in a culturally-sensitive manner.
The speaker highlighted that industrial agriculture claims vast landscapes and uses advanced technology to increase food production, primarily of cereal grains.
On the other hand, 80% of the world’s farmers are smallholders, who make more efficient use of land to produce a wider variety of nutritious food.
Our food supply chain is dominated only by a dozen or so plant and animal species. However, hundreds of thousands of species are suitable for human consumption, and this is something that we need to consider if we want to achieve food security and agricultural sustainability.
Many people believe that genetically modified organisms are essential for “fixing” the problem of providing nutritious food.
However, the vast numbers of local cultivars of crops and breeds of animals – known as “agrobiodiversity” – should not be ignored, because agrobiodiversity is essential to protect genetic variation, a product of selection and breeding for thousands of years, explained Prof Bhagwat.
In a nutshell, connecting culture, food and the environment are essential to achieve global food security and sustainable development.
Food is an integral part of our society. If we get its production right then we can make progress towards global food security and sustainability.
DR SUBHASH JANARDHAN BHORE
AIMST (Asian Institute of Medicine, Science and Technology) University, Malaysia
Note: The writer is a senior associate professor of Biotechnology at the Faculty of Applied Sciences, AIMST University.