The Need for Disruption in Agriculture

How Disruptive Innovation is affecting crops


As someone who has nothing to do with the production of crops, it's easy for me to look at the statement 'we could be running out of food' and dismiss it as scare-mongering. A recent study in Ecology and Society however came to the conclusion that many of our staples hit their peak production level some time ago, a revelation that reiterates the seriousness of the problem at hand.

The term 'peak' describes when yield gains stop accelerating, with eggs and dairy reaching their peak over 20 years ago. It's been claimed that soy beans will continue to grow, but the speed of growth will decrease as the years go by. In the study, 27 renewable and non-renewable resources were looked at, with the exception of farmed fish, all had peaked in the past.

A real concern, the study concludes that we've exhausted all the traditional methods for growing food, including the use of genetically modified crops, fertile lands and fertilisers. To counteract this, unsustainable solutions have been mentioned, including deforestation and the conversion of prairie land to farms.

The real fix however has been put at the feet of disruptive innovation, through the invention of new crops that can survive in hotter and drier environments.

It's not just about creating new crops either, existing resources can also be developed upon and made more efficient. For example, scientists are hoping to transfer the properties of C4 plants, properties which make them adaptable to desert conditions, to C3 plants which include rice and wheat. This would solve many problems to do with rising temperatures and make vital ingredients more sustainable going forward.

More than anything, it's important that everybody makes it their business to be less wasteful with our food. It won't solve all the earth's problems, but it will give us a great platform to improve agriculture. The solutions outlined above are mainly theoretical, but there's no doubt that things will have to be implemented to guarantee that we've all got food supplies in the future.


Read next:

Panel Session: The Cultural Shift