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Column: Science, technology, politics needed in feeding population

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As a teacher, I believe it is part of my role to keep students abreast of current events and issues involving our industry.

Most national agriculture media and many of the multinational agricultural corporations feature as a major part of their message the U.N. estimate that by 2050 global population will increase from approximately 7 billion now to surpass 9 billion.

This growth will happen in developing nations, primarily in Africa. On top of that, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. estimates that food production will have to double to meet that need. As I was photocopying one of these articles to assign for a class discussion, I suddenly thought, “Why does this seem to be agriculture’s problem to solve?” Then I realized that, of course, it isn’t only the agriculture industry that has to deal with issues in the predicted population growth, it turns out that it is really a problem that education can solve.


It seems an obvious charge that agriculture will continue to have a major role in feeding the increasing population. Agriculture, which not only includes production, but processing, distribution, food safety and myriad other roles in getting food from “farm to fork,” is considered to be America’s largest employer with 23 million workers involved in some aspect. While American agriculture is currently the global leader in food production per person, future growth in production capability will occur outside the United States, much of it due to advances in technology. Many other professions will share in solving issues around population growth.

Another recent article from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in the United Kingdom recognizes that somewhere between 30 to 50 percent of food produced is lost or wasted before consumption. Some of that loss is due to deficiencies in infrastructure and management practices as well as wasteful political, economic and behavioral practices.

Most of the new population growth will be in developing nations. It is well documented that as any nation becomes more developed, its people will have a greater appetite for animal protein, which often requires increased use of grain, water and energy. This increase will obviously have an effect on the environment.

Over the past several years, much has been discussed about the obesity epidemic as well as various health-related problems that occur with an overfed, under-exercised and aging population, at least in the United States. Other developed countries have similar issues, while developing nations are dealing with malnutrition, various diseases and sanitation issues that are not going away anytime soon.

By 2050, the children and young adults currently in our education system will be the world leaders who hopefully will have dealt with these issues as they arise and who will be dealing with them over the next 30-something years as they live in an increasingly crowded and hungry world.

As educators, it is our obligation to prepare the absolute best agriculturalists, scientists, engineers, environmentalists, politicians, economists, social scientists, health professionals and teachers to face a world of issues that only a well-educated, critically thinking society can properly address.

Matt John is chairman of the agriculture program at Ivy Tech Community College — Columbus/Franklin. Send comments to letters@dailyjournal.net.

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