How will we meet the grain needs of the growing population?

 The world population today is 7.7 billion, by the end of this decade this figure will reach 11 billion. At the same time, the population of India is estimated to be up to 1.7 billion in the coming four decades.

In the coming times, the biggest challenge before the countries will be to raise food grains for such a large population.

In 1798, the economist Thomas Malthus said that the rate at which the population grows did not produce food grains, so food would always be less than the proportion of the population in the world.

According to Malthus, the speed of population growth is one to two, two to four, four to eight and then eight to sixteen, while the speed of food production is one to two, two to three, three to four and then four to five. That is, after a hundred years, there will be less grain to feed the population.

Malthus believed that natural calamities such as drought, disease, floods help in keeping the population under control so that the balance of population and grain production is maintained.


 
His assessment about population and food grains was always in the discussion but it never became true.

About two hundred years later, American Professor Christopher Barratt said in a speech at the United Nations that the biggest challenge before humans in the coming times would be to deal with the food crisis. Barratt warned that this would be a battle for survival as water, land and marine resources would be depleted.

The Green Revolution of the 1960s was an attempt to find an answer to this question, but it will not meet our grain needs in the future.

This week in the world, it was investigated whether we will be able to grow the necessary grains to feed everyone in the coming times. Is it not that fighting hunger will become the biggest challenge for us?

Focus to increase production

Andy Jarvis is director of Policy Analysis Research at the International Center for Tropical Agriculture in Colombia. This organization was formed in the 1960s when governments were worried about how to arrange food for the growing population.

To find the answer, scientists, governments and institutions decided that they would have to increase the yield. Along with changing the traditional methods of farming, scientists started looking for seeds of improved varieties by cross breeding. This effort was given the name of Green Revolution.

He says, "Our effort was not just to find large grains of grain. The Green Revolution gave us better varieties of crops and such plants could take the burden of bigger and more grains. Within ten years the production of cereals doubled. happened. This revolution saved millions of lives."

Dr. Norman Burlow was also awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for discovering improved varieties of seeds and increasing the yield of wheat. In areas like Punjab of India, farmers worked on the path shown by Norman Burlaw and increased the yield of the crop.

Dr. Norman Burlow

The result of the Green Revolution was that between 1950 and 1990, global grain production increased by 174 (seventy-four) percent, while the population increased by 110% during this period. According to a report by the World Bank's Development Research Group, between 1965 and 1973, the production of wheat in India alone increased by seven percent and that of paddy by 18 percent.

But the situation is no longer the same as before.

Andy says, "Times are changing and the situation is also. Due to climate change, it is becoming difficult to produce more. Here the population continues to grow and we will be able to use the land we have for farming in the coming times." Will not be able to grow food grains for the needs of 11 billion people."


 Andy says that it is not that we will have to face starvation but it cannot be said that the situation will not get worse.

Andy says, "The 2008 global food crisis was something like this. The movement in many parts of the world caused grain prices to rise and markets to falter. As a result, a large number of people in urban areas reached the brink of poverty, Violence and instability also increased in many countries.

Compared to the 1960s, the pressure of increasing population is greater than ever before and there is also a lack of suitable land and resources for farming. In such a situation, the challenge of increasing the production of food grains before us is more than ever.

Storage problem

Jane Embuko, born to a corn farmer in Kenya, says her family worked hard to grow more crops, but had to sell the entire crop because they could not store it. Later, he used to buy food grains from the market and thus fell into the vicious cycle of never ending poverty.

Jane Embuko is today Associate Professor of Horticulture at the University of Nairobi and her research topic is how and why grain is wasted before it reaches the dining table.

She says, “According to an estimate, 30 percent of food grains in the whole world is wasted. But you will find that in Europe and America, food is wasted at the level of consumption because consumers in developed countries have the resources and they can do it. are capable of."

But in places like Africa, a third of the grain is wasted before it reaches the market. For example, even if the production is good during the mango season, the farmer is forced to sell his crop at a low price or allows it to rot. Sometimes up to eighty percent of its crop is destroyed.


 Farmers need the facility of cold storage, but either its cost is high or due to lack of electricity in far flung areas, this arrangement is not possible.

Jane says, “We are forming groups of farmers so that they can collect their resources and adopt new ways to store, store and then save their crop. Later they can get a higher price for it in the market. To prevent wastage of crop For this, other things can also be made by processing it.

However, Jane says that it may not be possible to completely stop food waste around the world.

 

In the Sustainable Development Goal, the United Nations has set a goal for countries to halve food waste by 2030. If this target is achieved, then there will be a big increase in the quantity of food grains.

She says, "We need more food grains for the growing population. In the current situation, we think we can increase production. But this will not solve the problem. If we increase production and a large part of it is wasted, then this is will be like filling water in a pot with holes. For me, stopping the wastage of grains is like closing this hole, which is very important to deal with the coming food crisis."

 


 Using natural methods

Amanda Cavanaugh is a researcher at the University of Illinois, USA. His team is researching the natural process of photosynthesis in plants. In this process, plants make food by taking light from the sun, water from the ground and carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Amanda is trying to make such changes in the seeds through genetic engineering so that the process of photosynthesis can be improved further.

She says that plants are able to use only 5 percent of the sunlight. And the reason for this is the enzyme Rubisco which helps plants to absorb carbon dioxide.

Amanda says, "You can say that we are alive because of Rubisco. Whatever carbon we have in our body has passed through the enzyme Rubisco in some form or the other. It is the most important enzyme in the world. In 20% of the cases, the plant cell replaces carbon dioxide with an oxygen molecule, and a different process starts in it."

The job of Rubisco is to collect the right things and put them to the work of cooking. If it chooses the wrong molecule instead of carbon dioxide, oxygen, then the plant has to get rid of it and energy is spent in it.


 Amanda says, "Our research says that in this process, 30 to 50 percent of the plant's energy is wasted every day, which could have been used for cooking. This could have increased grain production."

Amanda's team has found a way through genetic engineering that Rubisco can do this work by spending less energy.

She says, "In recent research, we have found that this change improves the process of photosynthesis by up to 40 percent and plants grow more than before."

His team is now preparing to test it on cowpea crop. It is widely cultivated in the areas around the Sahara Desert in Africa.

The Green Revolution helped to increase the yield of crops and now with the help of genetic engineering, scientists are trying to improve it further. Amanda hopes that new discoveries will continue and a solution to the food crisis will be found.

 Need to preserve diversity

Doctor Debal Dev, who lives in West Bengal, is a seed protector and farmer. He believes that the Green Revolution helped to increase production, but he also says that choosing one or two improved varieties of seeds can have some very bad consequences.

He explains, "Seeds used to be the resource that everyone had access to, but from the 1960s onwards, a huge seed business started. Companies started researching seeds and then they started selling seeds."

As of today, only three companies account for 60% of the global seed trade. Debal believes that the monopoly of companies in the seed market is a warning bell.

Debal says, “You can see that there were one lakh ten thousand varieties of paddy in India and farmers used to transact it among themselves. But today farmers are buying seeds from only a few companies and due to this many varieties of paddy have disappeared. Now only seven thousand varieties of paddy are left.

But what is the sign of the extinction of rice varieties?

Debal is concerned that the genetic diversity of rice is being lost and that there may be a variety in it that has a special trait.

He says, "In a remote village I came to know that a special variety of paddy is fed to a woman during pregnancy and after delivery. I collected its seeds and planted it in my field. Later I came to know that it contains iron. It's in huge quantities."

After this he collected seeds of different varieties and started cultivating them. So far he has collected 1,460 varieties of paddy seeds. All these seeds have different properties.

They say that some varieties can withstand drought, some can grow in floods and some have the ability to survive insects or diseases. But the question is, what will help in arranging food for the growing population? 

Debal says, “There are many such areas which agronomists call marginal farms. These are drought-prone, flood-prone or coastal areas where salt water is stored. This is 24 percent of the total arable land in India. And talk about genetic engineering but till now we have not been able to prepare any such advanced variety of seed which can grow in salt water.But traditionally we have varieties which can give crop in such environment also. "

This means that the places which have not been cultivated till now due to natural reasons, can be cultivated with the help of traditional seeds in those places.

These seeds can free us from another big worry, says Debal. Relying on one or two varieties has its own dangers; if a disease affects the crop, the consequences can be dire.

"The best example of this is the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s, also known as the Great Famine. At that time only one variety of potato was grown in Ireland," says Debal.

The main food crop of Ireland is the potato. In 1845, only one variety of potato was cultivated here. It did not have immunity against the disease called late blight. This year, fifty percent of the potato crop was ruined here and after that the crop was destroyed for a few years in a row. As a result, there was a severe famine here.

If more than one variety of potato was cultivated here, then maybe one would have the power to fight this disease and the situation would not be so bad.

Debal says that preserving seed varieties is the best way to avoid bad times.

Debal says, "Traditional varieties are the best and only solution for us. These are the varieties that are capable of providing food to the population of the whole world. These are the varieties that have been feeding people for the last hundreds of years."

Coming back to our question - will we be able to grow the necessary food grains to feed the growing population?

 

Relying on only one option would be insufficient. For this we need to use all the measures so that on one hand the production of food grains is increased and on the other hand its wastage should be reduced and those lands which are lying idle today should be brought under cultivation.

 

At the same time, we also have to take care that our crops are not only disease resistant but they can fight climate change and can also grow in difficult conditions like drought and flood.

It cannot be denied that the market will also try to meet the demand for food grains. In such a situation, for food grains to be accessible and its prices low, governments, scientists and organizations will need to start a new revolution together. However, all the experts we spoke to believe that there is little political will for this.