Farmers use soil and water to grow crops and raise animals

Farming is in danger from a scary list of threats. Farmers need us to demand food policies that help.

Farmers use soil and water to grow crops and raise animals. This is good news for urban and suburban populations worldwide who don’t have enough land or the skills to grow their food. 

As of 2021, the UN reports that the world’s population in urban areas is 58% and is projected to reach 68% by 2050. That would be 6.6 billion people with food insufficiency without regular trips to the local market.

People like living together it seems. At least they like the economic opportunity of aggregation. 

It leaves the farmers to look after the bulk of the land. For example, Australian farmers manage up to 60% of the country’s landmass and use 70% of its diverted fresh-water extractions as they grow crops and raise animals to make a living. 

Globally, most farmers grow crops and raise animals just for themselves and their families. FAO surveys show that five of every six farms in the world consist of less than two hectares, putting most farmers into this subsistence category.

The remaining 20% of farms have to feed everyone else.

And they have for a long time. 

Local pre-industrial collapses aside, farmers have fed the human population as it has grown slowly at first and then rapidly thanks to the intensive input-driven production systems we are familiar with today.

Humanity asks that they keep doing it forever or at least until a realistic alternative to soil-based food production appears.

Only this task is about to get more complex and production riskier.

Gabrielle Chan suggests that “farming both contributes to and is endangered by the biggest existential threats of our time”: 

  • climate change
  • water shortages
  • soil loss
  • energy production
  • natural disasters
  • zoonotic diseases
  • population displacement 
  • geopolitical trade wars.

sFED would add a few more items to this scary list 

  • population growth
  • urbanisation
  • soil degradation 
  • peak phosphorus
  • ‘just in time’ supply chain fragility
  • decline in insect populations
  • and Uncle Tom Cobley

This list is long and it covers wide economic, social and ecological territory. It is cruel to expect farmers to be across it all. So they should get some help, especially from public policy presented by politicians but created by a public service resourced and skilled for the purpose.

Here is Gabrielle Chan again.

image quote from Gabrielle Chan on the contrary environmental policy in Australia

Tim Long says the same thing about the UK in his book Feeding Britain.

Food policy is wayward or nonexistent and that is not helping.

What sustainably FED suggests

…that everyone read our posts and take our eCourses.

Not to make us rich and famous, but because the ideas we are gathering together are the foundation for this policy vacuum solution.

They connect food ecology and diet to grow enough of the right food to feed everyone.

As the list of existential threats show, food security is about people, lots of them. 

Because all the threats are against humanity.

As the only organism cognitive of the risks and with the smarts to do something about them, it’s time to get on it.

If that doesn’t get you, just ask yourself why food is not on the agenda at election time.

Her image modified from a photo by Shelley Pauls on Unsplash


Mark is an ecology nerd who was cursed with an entrepreneurial gene and a big picture view making him a rare beast, uncomfortable in the ivory towers and the disconnected silos of the public service. Despite this he has made it through a 40+ year career as a scientist and for some unknown reason still likes to read scientific papers.

Add comment

Subscribe to our explainer series

* indicates required

Most discussed