Of all the freshwater resources (which is about 2% of total water) available in the world, maximum of it (~70%) is utilized for irrigation purposes.
Effects of Agriculture in Global Environmental Change
Major side-effects of agriculture are the greenhouse gas emission, deforestation, desertification, and damage to coastal reefs, species extinction and pollution. Food production also causes eutrophication (nutrient overload) and dead zones in water bodies. This prologue directly hints the relation between production of food, (in other words, the human’s diet), and the health of the environment. The impact of 7 billion humans’ food diet on the planet will amount to a significant detrimental effect on the environment; by 2050, the world population will touch 10 billion, augmenting the effects as well.
Presently the food production systems are driving the destruction of natural resources we have. We live in the ‘Anthropocene - current geological epoch, defined by humanity being the dominating driver of change in atmospheric, geologic, hydrologic, biospheric and other earth systems’. Agriculture, an anthropogenic activity, is the largest cause of global environmental change.
‘You are what you eat’ seem to translate to the health of our planet as well. Though life expectancy, hunger, infant and child mortality rates, and global poverty has improved over years, a marginal shift in the current food habits is making a turn for the worse. How does our food habit bring a bearing on the environmental health?
‘3-highs’ define the unhealthy food habits: high consumption of calories, highly processed foods and high amounts of animal products. Not only the ‘3-highs’ negatively impact the human health, they are also not environmentally sustainable.
The number of over-weight/obese people is shockingly high on a planet where a large number of people are still going hungry every day. High consumption and food wastes form part of the vicious cycle where more food is produced on demand. Likewise, highly processed food has gone on high demands especially in the past century leading to non-communicable disease such as heart attacks, cancer and diabetes. Animal based foods are more resource intensive than plant based foods. They have higher greenhouse gas emissions, such as dairy and red meat (especially beef).
For a sustainable lifestyle it is crucial to monitor the food production systems and the human diet. According to the U.N.’s Brundtland Commission on sustainable development in 1987, “Sustainable development [meets] the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”
Eating healthy and eating sustainably, go hand in hand. Ramifications are a sustainable environment – a secure food supply is not possible if the food supply is not sustainable. While we are dependent on the ‘beneficence of nature’, mankind has taken poor steps to protect it; instead all actions only aggravate the damages done to nature.
The EAT-Lancet Commission
A study The EAT-Lancet Commission has shown that these negative impacts on the environment can be reversed by ‘dramatic reductions in food losses and waste, major improvements in food production practices and substantial dietary shifts toward mostly plant-based dietary patterns’. An immediate and obvious benefit would be a better health for humans.
“Our connection with nature holds the answer, and if we can eat in a way that works for our planet as well as our bodies, the natural balance of the planet’s resources will be restored,” said Richard Horton, editor-in-chief at The Lancet. “The very nature that is disappearing holds the key to human and planetary survival.”
With the global food systems being non-sustainable, it becomes imperative that we think how we eat and rethink to change the processes involved in the way we produce food – mindfully and efficiently working on this to derivable solutions. Driving climate change, biodiversity loss, pollution, and drastic changes in land and water use can all be ‘managed’ with the food in our plate – so that our environment is not pushed beyond safe boundaries by food production systems.