Chapter 5 - Food and Agriculture



Chapter 5Food and Agriculture


Agriculture worldwide is facing the daunting challenges of providing for an increasing population that has changing food consumption patterns under the constraints of natural resource scarcity, environmental degradation, climate change, and a restructuring global economy. In addition, consumers are increasingly conscious about the sources of their food and how it is produced. Consumer concerns can translate into political and market demands for addressing the challenges. Thus, agriculture appears to be at a pivotal stage in terms of societal demands for agricultural systems with improved sustainabilitythat is, systems that address and balance social, economic, and environmental performance, and increase robustness in the face of new challenges. [see reference 1]

As with water, food is essential for life. The trends in food production have changed significantly over the last century, as population increases and the use of fossil fuels in agricultural production and processing have expanded food production greatly. The trends have come at an associated cost however, namely the reliance on fossil fuels which are running out, and similarly the challenge of maintaining a substantial agriculture system in a changing climate exacerbated by the burning of the fossil fuels.

Engineers, although not farmers, often support the agricultural industry through design of technology, systems planning and supplying energy for farms. Any engineer with a global perspective on sustainability should have an understanding of the systems in place to provide society with the elements without which life would be impossible.

This chapter will begin with outlining the trends in food production over the last century, how eating habits have changed and how agriculture has adapted to cater for this change in diet for an expanding population. In concurrence with previous chapters, we will then outline the environmental and social issues associated with current farming methods, finishing with suggestions for a sustainable food production system. Also included at the end of the chapter will be case studies of food growing projects that are successfully implementing sustainable practices in food production.

Veg bunches, Photo by Nick Saltmarsh, August 2008, Flickr, Creative Commons