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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin - Faculty of Life Sciences - Resource Economics

Agriculture and the environment

On the one hand agriculture together with horticulture, fishery and agro-forestry certainly contributes to resource degradation and environmental pollution; on the other hand it is the main source of the world's food supply. It has been for long also the main source of income for the population in developing countries; it is the most obvious engine for social equity and economic growth; accordingly, it has a major role to play in addressing current global issues. Still today, access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food is the primary problem more than one billion chronically undernourished people. In addition to this, the demand for food is likely to double within the next 25-50 years, primarily in developing countries, as the global population increases to 8-10 billion.
Food demand will be further affected by the rapid urbanisation of the developing world; increased per capita income; changes in lifestyles, food preferences and the expansion of international trade. These factors will have implications for food production, food distribution, and consequently, nutritional security and both urban and rural livelihoods. Urban areas are growing in the world, also by migration of the rural poor to the cities, and often the urban poor in emerging megacities depend on public food provision programmes. In addition, human health in both types of societies is strongly depending on food provision and food quality.
Humans depend crucially on the use of natural resources, in particular as regards their basic needs to be covered by food production and provision. To relieve humankind from hunger and poverty, effective food security concepts must be associated with adaptation and mitigation measures regarding climate change strategies, sustainable management of land, soil, water, air, pollution, landscapes, biodiversity, forests, genetic and other natural resources. The more natural resources will degrade, the less food will be available. Therefore food and nutrition issues are strongly interrelated with an increasing need for sustainable management of natural resources requiring complex and diverse nature-related institutions and governance structures.
Resource degradation is ubiquitous. 70 % of the world's drylands (about 3,600 million ha) are degraded. Over 250 million people are directly affected by desertification, and one billion are at risk. 1.1 billion people in developing countries have no access to clean drinking water. In 2025, 1.8 billion people will prospectively live in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity. The diversity of species and varieties of cultivated plants has declined by 75 % since 1920 resulting in a considerable loss of genetic resources. 50 % of the world's nutrition is nowadays based on 5 cereals, 95 % on 30 plants.
Agriculture contributes 13.5 %, forestry 17.4 % to global warming (for comparison: industry 19.4 %; energy sector 25.9 %). The ongoing reduction of CO2 sinks is reinforced by continued deforestation particularly in the tropics, and in the future by the loss of permafrost soils, e.g., in Siberia. At the same time, adaptation and mitigation strategies to climate change require fundamental changes in lifestyle, including food and energy consumption patterns both in rural and urban societies. Finally, there is little knowledge up to now on the proportion of the world's land, water and other resources that will be converted from food to bio-energy provision, and what side-effects will emerge mainly regarding the trade-offs between food and bio-energy demand, water provision and biodiversity conservation.
(References and data sources please see the paper below!)

More information related to the topic „Agriculture and the Environment“ please find in the following paper:

Hagedorn, Konrad (2008):Balanceakt zwischen Ernährung und Naturschutz – die Landwirtschaft. Informationen zur politischen Bildung. Umweltpolitik 287: 36-43 (überarbeitete Neuauflage)