Securing adequate food production to feed the world’s growing population requires the efficient use of all resources, including land, soil nutrients, fertilizers, energy and water.
Of all industries, the agricultural industry has the greatest impact on land, energy and water resources. Agriculture uses almost half of the earth’s land mass. With the remaining land being unsuitable for food production, higher production yields are needed to feed growing populations. Also, agriculture claims approximately 70% of the earth’s available freshwater (“Water”, Agriculture at a Crossroads, Foundation on Future Farming, 2017), and the food supply chain represents 30% of total energy consumption. (“Water, Food and Energy”, UN-Water, United Nations).
Food sector topics include those that address food supply practices that help sustain the soil, water and energy resources needed for food production, such as the:
- Energy demands of various agriculture practices, seafood and livestock production
- Water demands of agricultural practices such as crop selection and irrigation methods, aquaculture and ranching practices
- Industry impacts
- Food waste practices for increased water efficiencies
- Effects of land-use decisions on the food supply chain.
Practices that address resource efficiencies or competing demands on the food-energy and water-food resources are included in this section. Land-use decisions that affect both food production and the water supply can be found under integrated approaches.
Energy Use for Food
The food production supply chain requires large amounts of direct and indirect forms of energy to feed the growing population. Because of the various drivers in the agricultural and the energy industries, interdependencies between the two industries are vast and complex. Decisions made in one industry, greatly impact the other. With irrigation offering higher crop yields, energy used for pumping water increases. Using fertilizers and pesticides for increased production and land for renewable energy production affects energy supply and demand and the food supply, as prime agricultural land is taken out of food production or made unsuitable for future food production. The increasing dependence on energy for food production—or land for energy production—places food production at risk of meeting food demands due to the energy industry’s volatilities.
Energy demands of food production includes topics such as:
- Extensive versus intensive agriculture (e.g., rainfed versus irrigation, and the use of fertilizers and pesticides)
- Food storage and distribution
- Effects of crop selection for food, feed or energy (e.g., biofuels)
- Livestock production
- Ocean fisheries and land-based aquaculture practices
- Food loss and food-waste practices that minimize energy demands of food production.
Water for Food
Agricultural water management challenges increase to support the growing global population and the dietary changes that occur with affluence. “Recent forecasts warn of impending global problems unless appropriate action is taken to improve water management and increase water use efficiency” (“Satisfying Future Water Demands for Agriculture”, Agricultural Water Management, 2010). Because many countries of the world depend on rain-fed agriculture, water management challenges are exacerbated by increased droughts and floods due to climate change.
Important topics that address the water requirements for food production include:
- Improved water conservation practices
- Water requirements of crops
- Irrigation and non-irrigation techniques
- Water requirements of livestock husbandry
- Impact of fertilizers and pesticides on water supply for agriculture
- Water reuse for agriculture
- Virtual water
- Water-efficient practices such as composting
- The politics and economics of agriculture and water management.
In addition to the topics mentioned above, this section includes policies and best practices of farming as they relate to conserving land, water and energy, including agricultural impacts on soil, agricultural losses, energy versus food policies and market forces, land-use decisions impacts on food production, major industries consuming agricultural lands, and urbanization impacts on the agricultural industry.