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2.8.d-future Fields Of Plenty





  FUTURE FIELDS OF PLENTY* byMichael G. Zey Throughout its existence, the human species has been plagued by shortages of food, material,and natural resources. Now, as we move into the Macroindustrial Era+, we are about toexperience a transformation in the production of goods and foods that will liberate the speciesfrom the threat of scarcity and expand the very concept of abundance.Advances in technology are enhancing our capacity to create the resources we need to surviveand thrive. We will... examine the breakthroughs in agricultural science that will feed the world.In contradistinction to the Malthusian predictions that humanity will outstrip the available foodsupply, we are actually on the verge of increasing the species' net nutritional and caloric intakeand improving the overall quality of foods available to the human species.Such exponential increases in food and goods can form the material base for an even larger population than exists at present...  The Food Supply Revolution As the Macroindustrial Era unfolds, innovation in vegetable and animal production areenhancing the ability of the species to feed itself at a level previously considered impossible.Contrary to the barrage of misinformation in the popular media, world food production increasedconsiderably faster than has the population in recent decades. According to such sources as theU. N. and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, between 1950 and 1977, per capita food outputincreased by somewhere between 28 percent and 37 percent. Recent data bring more goodnews: The world food output has continued to match or outstrip population growth since 1977.In 1991, the world output of rice, wheat, corn, and other grains swelled to 1.7 billion metrictons, about 260 million tons more than in 1981. Such a quantum leap in agriculturalproductivity amounts to the creation of another Midwest farm belt in just a ten-year period. Over the last four decades, some of the more encouraging increases have occurred in the lessdeveloped countries that have quickly applied many of the recent advances in agricultural andfood-related technology. Five major factors motored the so-called green revolution: thehybridization of corn; the ninefold increase in fertilizer use between 1950 and 1984; the near tripling of irrigated areas in that same period; the spread of new high-yield wheat and riceseeds in the Third World countries; and the use of chemical insecticide, herbicides,rodenticides, and fungicides. The last category alone, the protection of crops through chemistryand nitrogen fertilizer, has been of particular value to world agricultural production. Is it anywonder that during the green revolution world grain output multiplied 2.6 times? ------------------- *REPRINTED FROM : Michael G. Zey, Seizing the Future . (Simon and Schuster: New York,1994). Chapter 5, pp.159-190.+ This is the term used by the author to refer to the emerging future. 1  India's recent experiences in agriculture concretely illustrate the impact of the greenrevolution. In India's notorious famine of 1943, 1.5 million citizens of that country starved todeath. By 1977, however, India not only fed its own population, but became a grain exporter,even as it doubled its population. Rice and wheat production in India in the 1980s was almostthree and a half times as bountiful as in 1950, outstripping India's population increase byover 1900 percent. So dramatic was India's reversal of fortune that by the 1970s other developing regions actually coveted Indian farm products; farmers planting improved wheatladen with seed had to protect their riches lying in the fields from international poachers!By 1993, the continuing increase in world grain production was so pronounced that it beganto change the relationship between producer and consumer. The United States possesses thelargest area on the globe featuring the valuable combination of rich soil, good climate, and goodriver transport. Historically, the United States has been a net exporter of food to a hungryplanet, accounting for four-fifths of the world soybean trade and half of the wheat business as lateas the 1970s. By the 1990s, however, improvements in food production techniques have helpedmany former importers become agriculturally self-sufficient. Even the European Community hasutilized agricultural breakthroughs to revive its moribund farm industries and now challenges theUnited States in many world food markets.The green revolution itself demonstrates the extent to which the human species has expandedits control over nature and its products. Miraculously, these great increases in the world foodsupply in recent decades have brought humanity to the point where only 2 percent of the world'spopulation suffers from hunger. According to the U.N., the number of malnourished people inpoor countries has dropped by 150 million over two decades, and much of the remaining hunger and malnutrition results more from wars and capricious governmental policies thanagricultural shortfalls.As the Macroindustrial Era evolves, the species will completely eliminate the scarcity of food. Farmers have barely scratched the surface of the available food-raising resources: Someexperts claim that scientists are using less than half of the Earth's arable land and only aminute part of the water supply to irrigate dryer land. That dry crop land, about one-fourth of the globe's total acreage, ultimately will be made arable by macroengineering irrigationprojects. How Large a Population Can the Earth Support? The population of the world is currently around 5 billion, and it is expected to grow to 8.5 to11 billion sometime in the next century. Colin Clark, former director of the Agricultural EconomicInstitute at Oxford University, classified world land types by their food-raising capabilities andclaimed that if all farmers were to use the best food-growing methods, enough food could beraised to provide an American-type diet for 35.1 billion people, about seven times the presentpopulation. The American diet is a very rich one, featuring high-cholesterol foods, meat, andother delicacies. If the goal is to provide the world's members with a more modest Japanesediet, we could possibly feed three times again as many, or twenty-two times the current worldpopulation.Roger Revelle, former director for the Harvard Center for Population Studies, has determinedthat world agricultural resources as they now stand can provide an adequate diet (around 2500calories per day) for 40 billion people. Surprisingly, according to Revelle, we can feed thesepeople with an average world yield per acre one-half that presently produced in the AmericanMidwest. 2  Revelle has estimated that the less developed continents are capable of feeding 18 billionpeople, or six times their present population. Africa alone, according to Revelle, has the capacityto feed 10 billion people, twice the number of the present world population and more than twentytimes Africa's 1980 population. Revelle also believes that agricultural yields in Asia could begreatly increased and reflects some sentiment that India alone could feed the entire populationof the world. The Expanding Land Base for Farming A key factor in the food supply revolution is our ever-growing agricultural land base. Examplesabound of how human imagination is effecting an exponential increase in the world's farmacreage.For instance, humanity is literally greening the desert. The canal currently labeled the IndiraGandhi Canal was launched in 1958 to bring life-sustaining water to the northwestern India stateof Rajasthan, and it now helps to irrigate more than 1.5 million acres of once-arid land. Themain canal, running parallel to the Pakistani border, was completed in 1987, but this fineexample of macroengineering is far from finished. A network of tributary canals, more than 5000total miles in length, is slowly spreading across the desert at the main canal's southernextremity. This work, which costs $41.4 million annually, will take another fifteen years tocomplete.The price is well worth it. These areas have been barren for centuries and are nowbecoming arable once again. Supplementing this process is a state-sponsored landdistribution program providing newly cultivated land to the landless. In 1989, 370,000 tons of crops, including cotton, sugar cane, and food grain, were produced on land irrigated by thecanal.The species is developing a plethora of hardy plants that thrive on salt, called halophytes,which the National Research Council claims could improve food or fuel supplies, help stemdesertification, and contribute to soil reclamation. A four-year study by the council identifiedhundreds of plants that can survive in the brackish waters and arid lands of the world.Experts believe that halophytes could be a valuable commodity in developing countrieswhere millions of hectares of land are damaged from high salt content and in areas like thewestern United States, where periodic droughts threaten irrigation supplies for conventional crops and where some irrigated lands have become loaded with salt.Saline agriculture is creating a quiet revolution around the globe. Israeli farmers irrigatespecially bred tomatoes and cotton with saline water; Pakistanis grow kalar grass in water-logged, high-saline soils as food stuff for livestock; and Mexican farmers harvest salicornia,a succulent plant that thrives in seawater and produces a safflower-type oil.According to a Food and Agriculture Organization study, we have not even begun to utilizeavailable land. The organization estimates that there are in the world nearly 8 billion acres of arable land lying idle--four times that now being cultivated, just waiting for humanity'singenuity and imagination to transform them into farms and gardens. Tropical lands, for instance, allow multiple cropping. If that fact is taken into account, then the fourfold potentialincrease balloons to tenfold.Occasionally we hear arguments that a variety of factors will actually reduce the land areaavailable for farming, thus reducing the species' ability to grow food. The main culprits in this 3  argument are the growth of cities, increased populations, and desertification, the gradualexpansion of deserts into previously arable land.Facts show that the fear of urbanization/population sprawl is overstated. The total land areaon the globe used for urban purposes is minuscule--less than 3 percent in the U.S. (and that iscounting a large number of homesites that literally sprawl on for several acres).The biologist Francis P. Felice claims that the sum total of the world's population could beplaced in Texas, forming one giant city with a population density less than that of manyexisting cities and leaving the rest of the world empty. Incredibly, even if one-third of thespace of this city were devoted to parks and another one-third to industry, each family couldstill occupy a single story dwelling of average American size. In other words, this city wouldhouse the entire planet's population and still be a pretty nice place to live, more spaciousthan cities like London, that are famous for their open park areas.Even though these changes are dramatic, the future will bring even greater increases infood supply and quality, an exponential supply-side explosion that provides proof positive thatwe are quickly approaching the historical juncture where we can produce enough food to feed notonly the current population, but a much larger one as well. The Biotechnological Breakthrough Breakthroughs in the science of biotechnology will deliver an array of powerful newagricultural techniques that will vastly enrich the global food basket. In fact, advances inbiotechnology will literally reconfigure the very method of growing things...- - -The impact of biotechnology on agriculture can and will be dramatic: It will obliteratehunger and even force the human species to reconceptualize issues like scarcity andabundance. Crops will be grown that will be resistant to disease and drought, tolerant of herbicides and salt, and immune to attack by insects. Humanity will transform agriculture andliberate it from the ills that have plagued it from time immemorial.There is a new technology on the horizon, antisense RNA and DNA, which allows products toretain their vine-ripened flavor and enjoy a longer shelf life. Importantly, it may also provide ameans to lower the level of natural toxicants in foods and increase the nutritional value of cropsthat serve as staples in our diet.The impact of biotechnology on the food industry is dazzling.*Genetic engineering may improve bacteria and yeast for the production of fermented dairy,meat, vegetable, and cereal products.*Microorganisms can provide a variety of components to be used as ingredients inprocessed foods--vitamins, amino acids, sweeteners, and flavor enhancers.*Protein engineering will improve enzymes used by the food industry as processing aids. *Raw material conversion will convert more of the raw material into finished products,leaving less bones, blood, and collagen to be discarded into the environment. 4