Global Food Systems Forum
Global Food Systems Forum
Global Food Systems Forum
University of California
Global Food Systems Forum

Food 2025 blog

Can sustainable agriculture feed the world?

We've all heard the argument that organic agriculture cannot feed the world. But as we've seen with the high number of both starving and obese individuals in the world, our current system isn't working either.

If organic agriculture isn't the answer, what about practices close to organic agriculture? What about sustainable agriculture? Can sustainable agriculture feed the world? According to Mark Bittman of the New York Times, it certainly can.

According to Bittman, "Anyone who opens his or her eyes sees a natural world so threatened by industrial agriculture that it’s tempting to drop off the grid and raise a few chickens." But sustainable agriculture practices, such as agro-ecology, immediately help support small farmers in less expensive and more productive ways, and make the system less susceptible to climate shocks.

Even the World Bank supports a shift to more sustainable agricultural practices. Their International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development Report, calls on sustainable practices as a solution to poverty, food security, malnutrition and poor health, environmental degradation, and more.

Anna Lappe, author and food activist, also argues in favor of sustainable agriculture as a means to feeding our growing population. Her short video "Can Sustainable Agriculture Feed the World" markets itself as a myth-buster against large-scale industrial agriculture.

What do you think? Can we feed the world with sustainable agriculture alone?

Posted on Thursday, August 22, 2013 at 3:03 PM
  • Author: Marissa Palin

Growing Power and McGrath Family Farms

Each of us has a favorite food, a favorite book, a favorite movie.

My favorite foods are blueberries, cheese, chocolate, and coffee.  (I eat more blueberries than cheese or chocolate.  Coffee…well that is its own food group).  My favorite book is “The Catcher in the Rye”.  My favorite movie is “Babe,” a wonderful tale about a pig who challenges orthodoxy and changes his fate by embracing an unlikely career.

I also have some favorite organizations.  One of them is Growing Power, a Milwaukee-based, national nonprofit organization whose mission is to support people by helping to provide equal access to healthy, high-quality, safe and affordable food in all communities.  Growing Power implements this mission by providing hands-on training, the demonstration of best practices, outreach/education, and technical assistance. Growing Power has been a defining presence in the (re)emergence of urban agriculture in the United States.  The organization catalyzes projects all around the nation.

Growing Power was created in 1993 by Will Allen.  Will Allen’s biography is, well, amazing. Raised on a family farm, Allen has had a varied career. A former professional basketball player and marketing professional, an author and speaker, Allen is also a farmer. For his work in urban agriculture, Allen has received recognition from the Ford Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation "Genius Grant” and the Kellogg Foundation.  He is both prophetic and particular: he inspires, but he also provides important and specific information about the art and science of food production.

On a recent day, Allen visited Phil McGrath’s farm in Ventura County.  He was visiting Southern California as part of a multi-state project in which UC ANR’s Rachel Surls is engaged.  A small group of us joined Will for a tour of Phil’s farm.  I’ve visited Phil’s farm before, but each time, I learn new things.  I have a few takeaways from listening in on a conversation between two of my favorite farmers.

One is that farmers speak the same language.  They share their best practices, their hopes, their aspirations.  They are generous. They are civic minded.  They want to learn, and to teach. They work in challenging and ever-evolving situations. For example, US 101 and an airport border Phil’s land.  Some adjacent farmland has recently been sold for development.   In the next few years, Phil will face more pressures on his farming operation, as what was once a rural setting becomes the peri-urban interface. Phil’s family – his ancestors immigrated from Ireland - has been farming locally for generations; the landscape as they experienced it has changed vastly.

Another takeaway is the vital role that farmers play in educating youth and the public about their work.  In any educational work about agriculture, producers ought to be front and center. (And I wish they were in classrooms more often. Food systems ought to be part of our new national core curriculum). Phil’s innovative operation is full of young people, many of whom never envisioned agriculture as a career opportunity.  Although he educates people of all ages, Will’s work in Growing Power initially started out as a program that offered teens an opportunity to work at his store and renovate greenhouses to grow food for their community.  Growing Power provides one of the best models I’ve seen for youth education, and perhaps more importantly, for youth engagement and empowerment around the food system.

My third takeaway is this: I learn new things every time I visit a farm.  It’s an opportunity I cherish, an opportunity to regenerate, to renew my appreciation about where my food comes from, and to engage with the most wonderful kinds of people.

I feel a special connection to both of these farmers.  Both inspire me. Ventura County is my home.  I value its producers, including Phil.  And as a descendant of Dutch nationals who immigrated to Milwaukee (some later pushed west to farm in Iowa), Growing Power holds a special place in my heart.  No matter where you’re from, food is fundamental.  Cherish farmers.

Posted on Thursday, August 15, 2013 at 2:18 PM

Oceana Suggests -- Saving the Oceans Can Feed the World

"Oceans cover 71% of the planet and are the source of life on Earth. Over a billion people, including some of the poorest in the world, depend on the oceans and wild seafood for survival. 

The good news is that our oceans are astoundingly resilient. Contrary to popular belief, the sea is not ungoverned. 

We can turn things around if we focus on three goals: ending overfishing, controlling bycatch and protecting our ocean nurseries. Help us ensure that the oceans remain bountiful and beautiful for generations to come."

From Oceana.org 

Do you agree or disagree? Is there more to it? Share your thoughts in the comments. 

Posted on Wednesday, August 14, 2013 at 11:48 AM
  • Author: Jennifer Rindahl

World's first lab-grown burger to be cooked and eaten

Reposted from BBC News

The world's first lab-grown burger is to be unveiled and eaten at a news conference in London on Monday.

Scientists took cells from a cow and, at an institute in the Netherlands, turned them into strips of muscle which they combined to make a patty.

Researchers say the technology could be a sustainable way of meeting what they say is a growing demand for meat.

Critics say that eating less meat would be an easier way to tackle predicted food shortages.

BBC News has been granted exclusive access to the laboratory where the meat was grown in a project costing £215,000.

Prof Mark Post of Maastricht University, the scientist behind the burger, said: "Later today we are going to present the world's first hamburger made in a lab from cells. We are doing that because livestock production is not good for the environment, it is not going to meet demand for the world and it is not good for animals".

But Prof Tara Garnett, head of the Food Policy Research Network at Oxford University, said decision-makers needed to look beyond technological solutions.

"We have a situation where 1.4 billion people in the world are overweight and obese, and at the same time one billion people worldwide go to bed hungry," she said.

"That's just weird and unacceptable. The solutions don't just lie with producing more food but changing the systems of supply and access and affordability so not just more food but better food gets to the people who need it."

Read the rest of the article>>

Posted on Monday, August 5, 2013 at 8:46 AM
  • Author: Pallab Ghosh

California looks to milk China’s growing dairy demand - Center for Investigative Reporting

From the Center for Investigative Reporting:

A growing demand for milk and cheese in China has the potential to bring California’s beleaguered dairy industry back to life – and with it, renewed concern about its damaging effects on the environment.

As China’s middle class grows, so does its penchant for dairy products such as milk, cheese and yogurt. U.S. government data show that Chinese demand for dairy products is growing rapidly. For instance, between 2011 and 2012, imports of skimmed milk powder grew by 49 percent and are expected to increase an additional 18 percent this year.

And although China is trying to build its nascent dairy industry to meet this demand, it relies heavily on imports of high-protein feed. That includes one of California’s most water-intensive crops, alfalfa.

“Exports (of alfalfa) to China are definitely increasing,” said Daniel Putnam, an agronomist at the University of California, Davis and UCANR specialist. “We’ve seen a pretty dramatic rise since 2006, and I think all expectations are that it will probably increase again this year.”

Read the full article and watch the video online>>

Posted on Wednesday, July 10, 2013 at 1:59 PM
  • Author: Marissa Palin

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