Sustainable food production

languages: ennl

The world's population has grown exponentially in recent decades having doubled since the mid-1960s, from 3.5 billion to over 7 billion people today. It is expected that around 2100 there will be around 11 billion people in the world.

Providing all these people with good food is a challenge and that challenge will only grow, especially considering about 9% of the world's population (690 million people) is already starving.

To support exponential population growth, global grain production doubled between 1960 and 2000, a period known as the "green revolution." However, the industrial production of crops is highly dependent on the production of fertilizers which contribute to the climate crisis and local disruption of biodiversity. With the green revolution, nitrogen fertilization has increased 7-fold. The nitrogen that ends up in nature causes plant species that benefit from a nutrient-rich environment to thrive, causing lakes and seas to become overgrown with algae, and forests to become full of blackberries and nettles. This is at the expense of other species and biodiversity.

Our food supply is highly globalized. The production of meat, eggs, milk (powder), vegetables and fruit is made possible by massive imports of raw materials. Pig, poultry and dairy farms are highly dependent on animal feed (soy) from America, and horticulture is dependent on fertilizers from Asia. Shrimps are harvested in the North Sea, shipped 5,500 km to Morocco to be peeled and returned to the Dutch supermarket. The Netherlands (41,543 km²) is the second largest exporter of agricultural products in the world, after the United States (9,826,675 km²).

This globalization makes us vulnerable. A drought in Brazil, political tensions in the Middle East, a political leader in the United States or a pandemic: they have a direct impact on what is going on at home. However, these global chains, the environmental impacts and the risks to food security are invisible to the ordinary population. After all, milk comes from the supermarket, doesn’t it?

The major challenge is to make our food supply less dependent on fertilizers and global chains whilst at the same time make it even more efficient.