Thursday, February 11, 2010
Science Magazine has an excellent overview of the challenges of optimizing food production for 9 Billion people over the next 40 years:
Producing more food from the same area of land while reducing the environmental impacts requires what has been called "sustainable intensification". In exactly the same way that yields can be increased with the use of existing technologies, many options currently exist to reduce negative externalities. Net reductions in some greenhouse gas emissions can potentially be achieved by changing agronomic practices, the adoption of integrated pest management methods, the integrated management of waste in livestock production, and the use of agroforestry. However, the effects of different agronomic practices on the full range of greenhouse gases can be very complex and may depend on the temporal and spatial scale of measurement. More research is required to allow a better assessment of competing policy options. Strategies such as zero or reduced tillage (the reduction in inversion ploughing), contour farming, mulches, and cover crops improve water and soil conservation, but they may not increase stocks of soil carbon or reduce emissions of nitrous oxide. Precision agriculture refers to a series of technologies that allow the application of water, nutrients, and pesticides only to the places and at the times they are required, thereby optimizing the use of inputs. Finally, agricultural land and water bodies used for aquaculture and fisheries can be managed in ways specifically designed to reduce negative impacts on biodiversity.NYTimes has a good summary.
Permaculture design principles can help reach a lot of these goals.