One of the major challenges we currently face is how to ensure that there are sufficient resources available to feed all seven billion people who currently call this planet home. As things currently stand we produce enough food worldwide to meet the nutritional needs of every human being on this planet, and yet the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has released figures which show that almost one billion people are chronically undernourished. At present therefore the main problem is inequality in the distribution of food resources. However there are a number of worrying future trends, which include stagnant or declining crop yields, loss of topsoil, the growth in biofuels, increased demand for meat, and the effects of climate change. Taken together these factors are likely to put considerable pressure on the food supply over the next few years, which may result in genuine food-supply shortages. Add to that the fact that human populations are expected to increase by another two to three billion by the middle of this century and there are the makings of a potential food crisis.
Currently about forty percent of the Earth’s land area is given over to agriculture. This may not sound like a lot, but the areas which remain include the world’s cities, deserts, mountain ranges, ice sheets, and tropical and temperate forests. Areas which are suitable for further agricultural expansion are therefore very limited, and are often of considerable ecological value. Conversion of tropical rainforests to agricultural land is already causing serious environmental degradation in countries such as Indonesia and Brazil. Other areas which may at first glance appear to be under-utilised include marginal lands with poor soils, and steeply-sloping terrain. The fact is that most of the suitable land for agriculture throughout the world is already being used for this purpose.