As our global population inches toward 10 billion by 2050, climate change is already wreaking havoc on the world’s food supply — and agriculture experts say it’s likely to get worse before it gets better.
“Look at the last couple of years with the severe drought in the Prairies, the atmospheric river B.C. had and of course [Hurricane] Fiona this fall. We’re getting much more severe weather patterns happening, and that’s definitely going to have an impact on the land,” says Keith Currie, vice-president of the Canadian Federation of Agriculture.
Without quick, decisive collaboration between governments, agriculture companies, food producers and scientists, the situation will only grow more dire.
Presently, one-tenth of the world’s inhabitants are chronically undernourished. Worse, in 2021, 2.3 billion people experienced moderate to severe food insecurity. These figures from the United Nations demonstrate food insecurity isn’t only a consequence of poverty and lack of resources; it is also directly related to environmental degradation, drought, biodiversity loss and extreme weather.
In November at the G20 Summit in Indonesia, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned of the looming crisis. “We are on the way to a raging food catastrophe,” Mr. Guterres told world leaders.
But this head-on collision is not inevitable, says Mr. Currie: “It all depends on what happens over the next decade, from the aspect of both mitigation and adaptation.”
The road to zero hunger — one of the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals that Canada has pledged to fulfill — demands smarter use of arable land and the creation of sustainable, regenerative, innovative agricultural techniques and practices.
The timing is critical, Mr. Currie says. A rapidly changing climate is shifting the growing season and bringing new plants and pests. Governments, companies and other agriculture sector players need to make aggressive investments and policy changes to build the resiliency of the food supply chain, he says.
The world’s largest provider of crop inputs like potash and nitrogen, Saskatoon-based Nutrien Inc., is taking action on food insecurity in Canada, and around the globe, by investing heavily in sustainable farming.
The company’s Feeding the Future plan describes its efforts to help growers adopt more sustainable and productive agricultural products and practices. That plan depends on conservation, technology solutions and adopting ways of tracking soil health, water quality and biodiversity.
So far, Nutrien has measured and documented about 955,000 sustainable and productive acres in North America. With its global reach and strategic partnerships, Nutrien aims to count 75 million sustainable acres globally by 2030.
“Farmers have always been on the cutting edge, continuously looking for ways to improve yields and crop quality while protecting the soil and water resources on which their livelihoods depend,” says Michelle Nutting, director of agriculture sustainability at Nutrien.
Farmers are innovators and land stewards, Ms. Nutting continues. “They’re adopting new practices and technologies faster than the researchers can publish and peer review the papers on the expected benefits from those practices,” she says. A large part of the way Nutrien supports farmers — besides manufacturing inputs — is by providing technology solutions that take a lot of the guessing out of growing. Agrible, for instance, measures local environmental impacts as well as yield, while Echelon enables producers to adopt precision agriculture techniques that ultimately require less fertilizer.
Among Nutrien’s sustainable innovations is the use of environmentally smart nitrogen products that minimize nitrogen loss and the associated greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As well, Nutrien’s Carbon Program supports soil carbon sequestration, greenhouse gas reductions and farmers’ ability to participate in the carbon credit market.
Mr. Currie says agriculture has certainly contributed to GHGs, but that it has the potential to be a much bigger part of the solution to reducing emissions — especially as innovations in the field are leading to the development of more environmentally sound products and processes.
One major area of focus across the agriculture sector is the reduction of nitrous oxide emissions from fertilizer application.
“We’ve done a tremendous job in the last 10 to 15 years already [at reducing nitrous oxide emissions] — we just need to continue on that path,” Mr. Currie says. “It’s going to start with some investment because we can’t do it financially on our own backs. We’re willing to do our part if we get some help along the way.”
“Nutrien is on track to reduce GHG emissions in nitrogen production by one million tonnes by the end of 2023 and has a goal of cutting GHG emissions by at least 30 percent of 2018 levels by 2030,” Ms. Nutting says.
She agrees that efficient nutrient use globally, coupled with carbon sequestration in agriculture, has enormous potential to curb greenhouse gas emissions. As well, she says that the past decade or two has seen a dramatic increase in the efficiency of crop production in North America, meaning more food is being grown on the same amount (or less) land, while using less fertilizer.
“The result of that is, we have a lower carbon intensity per unit of crop produced in a world that’s requiring more and more crop to be produced,” she says.
Maximizing the efficiency and sustainability of food production is essential to Canada meeting its climate commitments, and for alleviating food insecurity both at home and abroad.
Already, producers in Canada and North America overall have made major strides. Continuing that work — and supporting it with good policy and meaningful investments — is critical to averting the food catastrophe and putting us on the right path to Zero Hunger.
“We have to nourish those crops to feed people in Canada and around the world and there’s just no alternative for that,” Ms. Nutting says.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Nutrien. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.