Can We Sustainably Feed an Ever-Growing Population?
Agriculture is one of the most powerful tools we have to increase individual quality of living globally. The United States produces enough food domestically to technically be able to feed its entire population and then some. However, due to unequal food affordability, availability, and quality, many people still face food insecurity, poor diets, and hunger.
With approximately 7.5 billion people on the planet and the projected exponential growth of 10 billion people by 2050, food security is on everyone’s mind. Will the world be able to feed itself? How can we sustainably feed an exponentially growing population? Can we ditch traditional farming methods and still feed the world?
With increased commercial and residential buildings replacing agriculture space, the answer to feeding a growing population isn’t simply increasing farmland. In addition, current industrial agricultural practices that use pesticides and other harmful chemicals threaten both the health of people and the planet’s natural resources, such as clean water and soil. As a result, we are faced with two major problems: a lack of space and unsustainable approaches.
One of the solutions experts are exploring is farming without soil. Hydroponics, aeroponics, and aquaponics are three soilless farming methods in which farmers replace the need for soil with nutrient-rich water to support plant roots. Vertical farming incorporates these soilless solutions and grows crops stacked in layers to maximize a smaller space with higher yields.
The ability to harvest higher yields using less space and resources is inherently advantageous to growing populations. In addition, these alternative farming methods would reduce toxic runoff, decrease water pollution, allow hyper-local food systems, and lower food transportation costs. Communities would be able to access fresher foods, healthier foods, and higher quality foods.
However, for every advantage, there are of course disadvantages. Our current farmers are debt-ridden from investing in expensive agricultural equipment, such as combines, that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars. Consequently, the thought of investing in even more expensive technology for the sake of sustainability isn’t feasible to many farmers at this time, who are still trying to find ways to afford and pay for traditional equipment.
In addition, not everything can be grown hydroponically. Large root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, onions, or turnips are not optimal in hydroponic environments because their root systems take up too much space. As a result, a mixture of traditional soil farming and soilless farming would be needed to grow a variety of vegetables and fruits. Likewise, as new technology for hydroponics, aeroponics, or aquaponics is implemented, there are always technological mistakes and growing pains that could cause whole crops to be lost.
The solution for today won’t always be the solution for tomorrow. Though our current agricultural practices do satisfy our food needs, they may not always in the decades to come.
What are your thoughts on alternative farming methods like hydroponics? What pros and cons do you see for these new farming methods? Do have any sustainable solutions or ideas?
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