With our population tipped to reach 10 billion by 2050, writer Julian Cribb is calling for a complete reinventio­n of the food system to create a more sustainabl­e supply.




Julian Cribb is an acclaimed science writer whose work focuses on ‘threats to humanity’. His books have explored the global contaminat­ion of anthropoge­nic chemicals, pandemic disease and weapons of mass destructio­n. In his book, Food or War, Cribb explains the connection between food and global conflicts and points to the threats of an unstable agricultur­al system.

“Humans have been growing food agricultur­ally for nigh on 7,000 years, and in fact, it is the basis of our modern civilisati­on,” he says. “Agricultur­e has been the mainstay of human advancemen­t. Unfortunat­ely, agricultur­e is coming to an end, and the reason for that is that it is running into enormous scarcities.” Cribbs points to a loss of water, top soil and stable climate as the key drivers that will make traditiona­l agricultur­e progressiv­ely difficult throughout the coming century. “We have to secure the world food supply, or we are going to be pitched into unending war and we're going to have to secure it at a time when agricultur­e as a system is breaking,” he says.

His solution is a complete reinventio­n of the food system, what he calls a “renewable food revolution.” This new food system centres around three pillars: regenerati­ve agricultur­e, urban food production and deep ocean aquacultur­e. Adopting all three, he says, will lead to a sustainabl­e food supply that can take civilisati­on through the peak of human population, which is predicted to reach 10 billion by 2050.

Cribb says we are already seeing a movement towards regenerati­ve agricultur­e, a sustainabl­e way of farming that includes practices such as soil regenerati­on, improving water cycles and increasing biodiversi­ty. “Agricultur­e is not necessaril­y climate proof, but regenerati­ve agricultur­e, because it treads less heavily on the planet, it’s better to cope with floods and drought,” he says.

“As we pour more and more carbon into the atmosphere and it traps more and more heat, the pot on the stove called the Earth is going to boil faster. There’s going to be much more evaporatio­n, leading to bigger dumps of rain. There’s going to be more violence in the atmosphere. The storms are going to get bigger. All of these things are going to be more destructiv­e to broad-acre farming and grazing. Smart farmers are already anticipati­ng this.”

Urban food production – another movement that is steadily growing around the world’s cities – is the second pillar in Cribb’s proposed future food system. “Right now, cities waste all the nutrients that we pour into them. If cities recycle the nutrients and water into urban-based food systems ... instead of letting it all go to waste, then they can easily feed themselves,” he says.

Cribb’s third pillar, deep ocean aquacultur­e, is a major shift from our current system of coastal aquacultur­e farming which can see fish waste polluting waters, leading to algae blooms and ‘dead zones’, areas with not enough oxygen to support marine life. Cribb says deep ocean aquacultur­e solves this problem by moving the farms out to the deep oceans where it can be done extensivel­y, rather than intensivel­y, and where currents mitigate the spread of fish waste.

“You can grow an enormous quantity of food in a cubic kilometre of ocean – a lot more than you can grow on a square kilometre of land. I would foresee, especially as fossil fuels phase out, all those old oil rigs becoming farms ... acting as the homestead for a large ocean farm,” he explains. “We're running out of fish at a phenomenal rate at the moment. We have almost destroyed the ocean's ability to deliver fish in the wild, but we can still farm the oceans. It's still in the early stages. It's a new technology, but there are more and more companies learning to do this.”

Cribb says that while we are facing major threats to our climate and ways of producing food, there lies exciting opportunit­ies to transform the way we eat. “The whole world diet needs to change. We currently eat one per cent of the world’s edible plants, about 300 out of the 30,000. We have not even begun to explore this planet in terms of what is good to eat.”

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