Hey ho, we're off; a little late but the gardening season has finally commenced. This year I have started it whilst, at the same time, studying a Future Learn course entitled 'Citizen Science: Living Soils, Growing Food' delivered by the University of Dundee in conjunction with the GROW Observatory which is a European wide project for growers and scientists passionate about the land.
It's all about regenerating rather than sustaining the food production ecosystem, recognising the need for permaculture i.e. living within nature's limits through earth care, people care and fair shares (the latter signifying that we should use only what we need and share the rest).
In the case of this project, the course is examining land based perma-design by combining experience, soil observation, water, climate, vegetation and animal life to identify strategies and resources to develop a site (in my case, my vegetable patch).
Currently food production methods are estimated to create 18-30% of all greenhouse gases and place increasing reliance on artificial fertilisers and pesticides as well as on antibiotics in the case of animal husbandry. Diversification is decreasing and I was startled to learn that by the end of the 20th Century the human race relied on only three crops (rice, wheat and corn) to provide 60% of its calories and 56% of its protein whilst just 15 mammal and bird species accounted for 90% of animal agriculture in circumstances where intensive livestock production is one of the biggest water polluters in the farming industry. Just this week the EU has announced a ban on pesticides commonly used in agriculture that have been having a devastating effect on bees; love them or hate them, bees are the essential pollinators on which so many life cycles depend.
Diets have also altered, especially in the emerging economies of the world to reflect those in developed countries and there has been a seismic increase in the intake of animal protein and sugar, rendering obesity and related health problems a global rather than a western issue.
Instead of setting land aside to allow nature to recover its mojo, scientists believe that, in light of an ever increasing global population, the answer instead lies in land sharing, applying production techniques that maintain biodiversity; think organic farming plus.
Make no mistake about it, Earth's natural resources are going to become more scarce. I'm not a vegetarian but this course points out that meat production is a killer in more ways than one when half of all cereals grown are fed to animals destined for the meal plate whilst those same animals consume enormous quantities of water. Did you know that it is estimated that 1800 litres of water is needed to produce a quarter pound beefburger?
Although food production has increased with farming intensity, waste has increased too. It is nothing short of appalling that across Europe it is reckoned that one third of the food produced is wasted. We may be growing more but it isn't getting to the mouths it needs to feed.
It is anticipated that by 2050 the global population will have increased by 60% and to avoid starvation on a massive scale it is obvious that food production needs to change. Malnourishment is linked to poverty but already it is not confined to the developing world with its inadequate agricultural techniques; in the abundant west people go under nourished through bad but cheap food choices with diets high in fat, sugar and empty carbs.
So this year, in my garden and for the benefit of the GROW Observatory project, I am seeking to develop a new permaculture and hopefully save the planet. A few days ago The Guardian published an interview with Dr Mayer Hillman who claims that anthropogenic damage to the Earth is such that there is no hope and most life forms (including homo-sapiens) are destined for extinction, with civilisation ending in the current century. However, as the blogger on This Puzzling Planet points out, it's optimism not despair that conjures up effective mitigation efforts. From my perspective, retirement is too good to deprive future generations so, whether through fear or hope, I am now going to be digging with the desire of availing them of its benefits.