Feeding Plants to Feed the World
Originally appears in the Summer 2017 issue
“England and all civilized nations stand in deadly peril… As mouths multiple, food sources dwindle.” [i] These words by Sir William Crookes in 1898 in his inaugural speech as the president of the British Academy of Sciences, underscored his prediction that by the 1930s, humans would begin dying of hunger in large numbers. The audience sat silently, straining to hear his every word. Crookes spoke of many of the same issues we face today such as finite supplies of arable land, loss of soil fertility, limited “natural fertilizers” such as manure and bird droppings, and crop rotation. He argued that the best farming practises at the time would not be enough to stymie world hunger. For Crookes, the answer was in making what he called “chemical manure”, the discovery of which was the greatest challenge of their time.
Today modern agriculture faces similar challenges. How are we going to feed an estimated world population of 9 billion people by the year 2050? As the world population continues to increase, it is worth noting the available arable land (land capable of being ploughed and used to grow crops) and land in permanent crops is increasing slightly in developing countries but decreasing in developed countries. As a result, we must grow more food on less land.
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Kent Lewarne is a high school science teacher in Prairie Spirit School Division in south central Manitoba, with 30 years experience. He is the Program Coordinator for the Riverwatch program across southern Manitoba, and for the past six years, het has worked as an Educational Coordinator for Nutrients for Life Canada (NFL).