harvesters in a line on a gigantic field

Comment | We already know what must be done

There is a weirdness to human perception. When staring at a critical issue, we are both prescient and blind.

Farming is a global issue.

We know that food production has to happen to feed everyone and that farming practices create their own landscapes, soils and rural culture. Most food is grown in fields away from urban areas, so people in town (over half the global population) rely on a food supply chain for their basic needs.

We know that around a third of current and historical greenhouse gas emissions come from agricultural practices and clearing land for agriculture. There are historical emissions and pressure for more, given that food production has to keep going to meet demand.

We know that the cleared land and the farming landscapes are not where biodiversity wants to hang out. As habitat is restricted and fragmented, biodiversity loss is inevitable. At the same time, rural landscapes are increasingly hostile to biodiversity, including critical groups like insects and microbes.

We know that current food production systems and supply chains are fragile and susceptible to predictable and unpredictable risks. Industrial-scale intensification meets the demand for food production through high input of energy and chemicals that easily collapse if the inputs stop.

But it is not all bad news.

Thanks to proven, science-based ways to create more efficient, less polluting and more resilient agricultural landscapes with less mining of soil, our prescience tells us there are lots of actions we should take, for example

  • keep vegetation cover on the soil at all times and reduce tillage to a minimum
  • protect patches of remnant native vegetation — habitat for animals and helps draw down and store carbon from the atmosphere 
  • retain water in the landscape by slowing the overland flow and creating healthy farm dams which can provide higher-quality drinking water for livestock, improve farm productivity and create wildlife habitat 
  • plant “shelterbelts” – strips of woody vegetation that shelter livestock from wind and sun, provide wildlife habitat (when well designed and managed), and prevent moisture loss from soil
  • control weeds and pests 
  • shorten supply chains wherever possible
  • reduce waste so that the majority of food produced gets eaten 

Most important is to maintain as many of these actions as possible and more at the same time because no single solution works. It must be integrated.

Alright, we know the problem—fragility, risk, and unprecedented demand.

We know the solutions—integrate multiple actions that maintain healthy soil, reduce waste, and use more ecology to reduce inputs

There is nothing in future food security that we cannot see coming, and we already have most of the evidence to deliver and justify actions to mitigate risk.

What sustainably FED suggests

Just do it.

Hero image modified from photo by James Baltz 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