Feeding the future

29th May 2019

Web istock 496686374

Related Topics

Related tags

  • Agriculture ,
  • Food and drink ,
  • Supply chain



Lewis Charters examines how industrialised agriculture is affecting the planet – and our food security

Since the dawn of the agricultural revolution around 12,000 years ago, humans have relied upon the domestication of a relatively small number of species to sustain ourselves. As a result, the amount of livestock kept by humans has increased exponentially, and people and livestock currently account for around 96% of mammalian biomass on the planet; domestic poultry, meanwhile, accounts for nearly 70% of the entire bird population – only 30% are still considered wild.

The domestication of these plants and animals have allowed human populations to grow. As humans produced more food, we bore more children – and so more land had to be converted in order to feed these extra mouths. Our ancestors set in motion a series of events that affect us to this day.

The cost of success

“We are divorced from the impacts that our food systems have on the natural world“

The industrialisation of agriculture has undoubtedly enabled humans to become the most successful species on the planet. However, it has also contributed to many of the planet's biggest sustainability challenges. For instance, rising demand for agricultural commodities such as beef, soya, palm oil, timber, leather, coffee and rubber are causing unprecedented levels of deforestation across the tropics – and the effects of deforestation are more widespread and far reaching than the initial clearance of the tropical forest itself.

The clearance and fragmentation of tropical forests from South America to Africa and south-east Asia is leading to greater human-wildlife conflict, poaching and illegal logging. Deforestation is also a major cause of food insecurity in said regions, as forest clearance leads to soil degradation and interferes with the gaseous exchanges that occur between land and atmosphere. These problems contribute to drought, flooding and variable rainfall patterns, which can lead to crop failures. The release of carbon dioxide also exacerbates climate change.

People have never been so disconnected from how and where their food is produced. We are divorced from the catastrophic impacts that our food systems have on the natural world. In addition, our over-reliance on certain monocultures may be putting our global supply chains at greater risk from pests, diseases and future climate change. Despite representing 0.01% of all living things, humanity has caused the decline of up to 83% of the planet's wild mammals, and up to 50% of plants.

Addressing inequalities

People ask: 'how we are going to feed the world's growing population, given that there are predicted to be nine billion of us by 2050?' For many, the answer is simple: produce more food. However, perhaps we should first focus on addressing the inequalities within the food system, such as unequal distribution of food between global north and south, the over-consumption of resource-intensive foods like meat and dairy, and the vast amounts of food waste that we produce every year.

This is where the IEMA Futures generation comes in; we must usher in a new era of sustainable agriculture. New and innovative ways of thinking have never been so important. Sustainability professionals around the world are helping to tackle many of the problems within the agricultural sector, from government policy to business supply chains and civil society. The time has come to rethink how we produce and consume our food, in order to ensure harmony between our pursuit of greater food security and the preservation of the natural world.

Lewis Charters is a member of IEMA Futures, and is studying for an MSc in climate change and environmental policy at the University of Leeds.

Image credit: iStock


Subscribe to IEMA's newsletters to receive timely articles, expert opinions, event announcements, and much more, directly in your inbox.

Transform articles

SBTi clarifies that ‘no change has been made’ to its stance on offsetting

The Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) has issued a statement clarifying that no changes have been made to its stance on offsetting scope 3 emissions following a backlash.

16th April 2024

Read more

One of the world’s most influential management thinkers, Andrew Winston sees many reasons for hope as pessimism looms large in sustainability. Huw Morris reports

4th April 2024

Read more

Vanessa Champion reveals how biophilic design can help you meet your environmental, social and governance goals

4th April 2024

Read more

Alex Veitch from the British Chambers of Commerce and IEMA’s Ben Goodwin discuss with Chris Seekings how to unlock the potential of UK businesses

4th April 2024

Read more

A project promoter’s perspective on the environmental challenges facing new subsea power cables

3rd April 2024

Read more

Senior consultant, EcoAct

3rd April 2024

Read more

Around 20% of the plastic recycled is polypropylene, but the diversity of products it protects has prevented safe reprocessing back into food packaging. Until now. David Burrows reports

3rd April 2024

Read more

IEMA presents a digital campaign to share knowledge and inspire action in sustainability

2nd April 2024

Read more

Media enquires

Looking for an expert to speak at an event or comment on an item in the news?

Find an expert

IEMA Cookie Notice

Clicking the ‘Accept all’ button means you are accepting analytics and third-party cookies. Our website uses necessary cookies which are required in order to make our website work. In addition to these, we use analytics and third-party cookies to optimise site functionality and give you the best possible experience. To control which cookies are set, click ‘Settings’. To learn more about cookies, how we use them on our website and how to change your cookie settings please view our cookie policy.

Manage cookie settings

Our use of cookies

You can learn more detailed information in our cookie policy.

Some cookies are essential, but non-essential cookies help us to improve the experience on our site by providing insights into how the site is being used. To maintain privacy management, this relies on cookie identifiers. Resetting or deleting your browser cookies will reset these preferences.

Essential cookies

These are cookies that are required for the operation of our website. They include, for example, cookies that enable you to log into secure areas of our website.

Analytics cookies

These cookies allow us to recognise and count the number of visitors to our website and to see how visitors move around our website when they are using it. This helps us to improve the way our website works.

Advertising cookies

These cookies allow us to tailor advertising to you based on your interests. If you do not accept these cookies, you will still see adverts, but these will be more generic.

Save and close