‘Social capital’ reaps benefits for sustainable agriculture

Professor Jules Pretty gave a fascinating and wide-ranging insight into the sustainable intensification of agriculture on Tuesday afternoon at the BES Annual Meeting; this year’s BES Lecture. Prof. Pretty suggested that there was an ’emerging consensus’ around the necessity of improving agricultural productivity whilst minimising harm to the environment – as testified by recent reports from the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures programme, the Royal Society and others.

By 2050, the Foresight report has concluded, a 50-100% increase in food production will be needed worldwide to feed a growing human population. The precise figure will depend on how fast and far the population grows and on the consumption patterns which emerge. Food choices are currently converging. Where these were previously divergent, driven by choices and norms informed by differences in culture, now a Western ideal of consumption dominates, informing a greater consumption of meat in China, for example. Food price spikes in recent years have also adversely and disproportionately affected the poor and the hungry. Such trends will only continue unless radical reform is made to the systems by which we currently produce food, which involve intensive application of fertilisers, an increased use of machinery and a huge growth in livestock for meat and dairy which themselves eat grain which could be used to feed the hungry.

Read the full report at the BES Annual Meeting blog.