Rural Development & Agriculture: Tech's Addition to Consumption & Communities
Sinhyu @ stock.adobe.com
Agriculture is a direct and indirect cause of farmland degradation, a long process that slowly destabilizes regions with subtle negative impacts which are not felt immediately. In combination with rising CO2 levels, this could reduce the nutritional quality and availability of food and could put an additional 150 million people at risk of protein deficiency by 2055. Apart from causing significant land degradation, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, raising livestock accounts for nearly a quarter of global water use and is responsible for a significant portion of human-caused greenhouse gas emissions.
Again, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization, global demand for meat is estimated to double by 2050, due to a large portion of the population continuing to traditionally and habitually consume meat products without an awareness of its consequences. The negative impact of raising livestock is so wide-reaching that it seems virtually impossible to overcome the problems just by using more sustainable or regenerative approaches. It could be necessary for our growing society to find culturally acceptable alternatives to animal meat, such as Cultured Protein, in addition to a reduction in overall meat consumption.
While population growth, urbanization, and rising incomes drive growing demand for high-value animal protein, rural communities face widespread poverty and hunger, a lack of guaranteed basic services, a lack of school and hospital accessibility, and exclusion from political participation.
The failing connection between rural and urban communities is one of the causes for the constant growth of urban areas and according to the Population Reference Bureau, future world population growth is expected to be almost exclusively in towns and cities. In addition, urbanites have much higher consumption patterns compared to residents in rural areas, leading to the conclusion that urban population growth in combination with increasing consumption habits could strongly impact ecosystems and the interactions between urban environments and populations.
Combining elements of food security, measures to boost production such as Crop Epigenetics, and structure-reinforcing propositions could encourage better use of food supplies and generate income for rural areas. Due to long supply chains between producers and consumers, the profit margins of the agricultural sector are quite low. To counteract this, a Bartering Platform and financing models such as Crowd Farming are appearing in order to more directly connect food producers and consumers. As the sharing economy moves forward and peer-to-peer platforms grow, middlemen would be cut out and supply would be tied closer to demand, elevating poor rural populations towards a more dignified and financially sustainable livelihood. Between income-generating measures, small-scale loans, and payments in the form of cash-for-work programs, purchasing power could be boosted while improving access to food.
Regenerative agriculture promises to take advantage of soil as a carbon sink in order to improve soil quality and grow more nutritious food while improving the well-being of producers. Techniques such as intercropping, soil-based carbon sequestration through Enhanced Weathering instead of chemical pesticides can be complemented by data and automation. Automated, data-driven farming could have a significant contribution to developing regenerative agriculture and could allow farms to be more profitable, efficient, safe, and environmentally friendly. Yet, if poorly implemented, these tech farms could exclude disadvantaged people and communities since they often lack the education or infrastructure to participate in automation efforts.
Genetically-modified herbicide-tolerant crops have been credited with conserving soil, supporting carbon sequestration, and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR provide powerful tools to fine-tune the makeup of crops and the genetic profiles of livestock and ideally could help science adapt nature to the needs of today. As applications in the agriculture industry grow, public concerns about gene technologies need to be addressed with transparency being paramount.
A comprehensive plan to reverse global warming cites changes to food and land use as the most important factors that need to be addressed in order to reduce our environmental footprint. According to the World Bank, investing in growth in agriculture is more effective at reducing poverty compared to investing in growth in other sectors. Therefore, policies that stimulate agricultural and rural development should be a priority for governments around the world.
Nevertheless, care must be taken to invest in measures that actually make a difference in communities, helping them achieve long-term sustainable growth while empowering concerned citizens. Achieving sustainable agriculture and rural development will not be easy. It will require new technology combined with fundamental changes in policy, mindsets, and business models, all of which need to be economically viable, socially inclusive, and ecologically sound. An urgent shift towards an agriculture system that puts more into the environment and society than it takes out is critically necessary for the future of our planet.