While a lot of households struggle during the week just to
figure out what to make for dinner tonight, 4-H Canada, Bayer Crop Science, and
Olds College in Alberta are teaming up to figure out how to feed nine billion
people over the coming decades.
The Youth Ag Summit – organized by 4-H and sponsored by
Bayer in conjunction with Olds College is addressing the theme Feeding A Hungry
Planet. The summit, which will bring together 120 bright young minds from around
the world, will be held at Olds College in August 2013. Everyone is marking an
anniversary that year. Olds College and 4-H in Canada are celebrating 100
years, while Bayer is marking its 150th year.
Officials introducing plans for the 4-H Youth Ag Summit next August, from left,
Dr. Tom Thompson, president of Olds College; Hon. Ted Menzies, federal Minister
of State (finance); Verlyn Olson, Alta Minister of Agriculture; Jacob Onyschuk
and Rosie Thompson, 4-H Premier Award Winners; Mark Shand, Alta Agriculture 4-H
specialist; and Sandra Peterson, CEO of Bayer Crop Science.)
The 4-H speakers from 20 countries attending the summit will
be selected through an essay contest that runs later this year. The contest
closes in December, with the Youth Ag Summit participants selected in February
2013. The actual summit will be
August 19 to 25, 2013.
This type of summit probably won’t impact what Canadian
farmers do or grow over the next few growing seasons, but it is an interesting,
challenging issue the world will have to address over the coming years.
World population right now is about seven billion. That’s
expected to increase to about nine billion by 2050. No one seems to know what
is causing this, but it is obviously widespread and infectious.
But, you listen to speakers at different conferences and it
is just not as simple as growing more food. Dr. Robert Thompson, a retired
professor from the University of Illinois and former vice-president of the
World Bank, told the Canola Council of Canada last year the world land base to
increase food production by 50 per cent just isn’t there – there isn’t 50 per
cent more land.
Not only will there be more people, but with an emphasis to
improve the living standards of the hordes that are already out there, world
food demand will increase by 50 per cent over the next 40 years. And according
to Thompson he sees only about 12 per cent more of the world land base that can
be brought into food production.
And then I had an interesting talk earlier this year with
Dr. Philip White, a plant scientist with the James Hutton Institute in Dundee,
Scotland and he was explaining the natural nitrogen cycle to me. Maybe everyone
in the world knew this already, but I didn’t. The natural nitrogen cycle — if
the world was just left on it’s own to fix and produce soil nitrogen through
legumes, lightening and all other normal, natural processes — would only
produce enough food to support a world population of about three billion. So it
was the development of nitrogen fertilizer back in the 1800s that has allowed
the world to move forward (I think it is forward) and produce the food we have
now for seven billion people. According to White, if we stopped all use of
nitrogen fertilizer some four billion people would get very hungry in very
This isn’t in depth research on my part by any means, but if
these two learned men are right at all, to me the only way to increase food
production over the next 20 to 40 years is through more intensive agriculture —
getting more out of the land base we are using now.
What does that involve —more efficient use of water,
improved fertility, higher yielding crops through improved plant breeding and
genetics and more intensive livestock production. And I assume a serious look at a wide range of novel and as-yet
unconsidered food sources — those black squirrels in my back yard are not only
prolific, but would probably be tasty with a little BBQ sauce.
But I am sure science will find a way more appealing than
squirrel nuggets. Maybe one of these 4-H kids speaking at this summit, will go
on to become a world leader in producing food for the masses. If you’re in Olds
next August you can say “I heard here first, folks.”
And all the players in this summit make sense. The 4-H
organization can get bright young minds thinking about this, then those minds
can go to Olds College to learn the science and technology of how to develop
those ideas, and Bayer is vital too. All this thinking about a world food
shortage is giving me a headache. So I’m going to take two aspirin and I’ll
call you in the morning.
Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or
by email at [email protected]