Global temperatures are rising, and they’re bringing global food prices along with them. The last year has seen massive flooding in Pakistan and Australia, alongside devastating drought in China and the Horn of Africa. Particularly in the Global South, localized food crises have accompanied these meteorological calamities. These “extreme” events are consistent with the reality of a warming planet. As the balance of Earth’s thermal energy increases, so does the range of meteorological possibilities. The news wires serve as a reminder that not all of these possibilities end well. What, then, is the future of agriculture and food security in a world of rapid climatic change and heightened meteorological extremes?
The first step to imagining the future of agriculture is to admit that the current industrial paradigm is part of the problem. The latter half of the twentieth century saw a massive consolidation of agricultural concerns, not just in terms of bank accounts, but also in farm fields. We are growing few crops on fewer farms than at any time in modern history. As fields have become larger, the ruthless, fossil-fueled efficiency of the Green Revolution has become standard. In many parts of the world, governments have encouraged growing crops in locations, densities, and varieties not supported by local water supplies, leading to declining water tables and soil salinization.
Under this industrial model, rapid shifts in climate coupled with increasingly frequent extreme weather will create plenty of opportunities for widely dispersing, environmentally tolerant pests to threaten our crops. Weeds are the future, and thanks to the marvels of modern genetic engineering, these weeds may be tougher than they’ve ever been. The status quo is unsustainable.