Sustainable Agriculture Key To Feeding Asia

Monday, August 1st, 2022 | 62 Views

Food Production is intrinsically tied to water and energy. Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources, and more than one-quarter of the energy used globally is expended on food production and supply. The agriculture sector is one of Asia’s economic pillars, supporting the livelihoods of a significant share of the region’s population. HP Nanda, CEO Water Utility, Grundfos, talks about how sustainable agriculture is key to feeding Asia. Water, energy, and food are the most important resources for societies around the world, but the stability of all three have been met with tremendous challenges in just the last few years.


Food Security Issues

Food security is a key priority on this year’s agenda for the G20 under the Presidency of Indonesia, particularly as global challenges such as COVID-19 and the Russia-Ukraine war adversely impact the food supply chain. The World Food Programme reported that by end of 2022, an estimated 323 million people will be severely food-insecure, due to the compounding effects of social, political, and economic crises around the world.


Alongside this, food consumption has been skyrocketing as a result of a burgeoning population, growing middle class, and rapid urbanisation. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) predicts that we will need to produce 60 per cent more food to feed a global population of 9.3 billion by 2050.


Closer to home, food insecurity looms as a priority in Asia. The agriculture sector is one of Asia’s economic pillars, supporting the livelihoods of a significant share of the region’s population. And yet, an estimated 375.8 million people in the region faced hunger in 2020, which is nearly 54 million more people than in 2019.


We need to urgently address hunger and malnutrition, ensuring those impacted have access to nutritious food. The way forward calls for greater effort and innovation towards sustainably increasing agricultural production, improving the global supply chain, and decreasing overall food loss and waste.


The link between food, energy, and water

However, sitting at the heart of it all, it is important not to neglect the fact food production is intrinsically tied to our two other pillars – water and energy.


Agriculture is the largest consumer of the world’s freshwater resources, and more than one-quarter of the energy used globally is expended on food production and supply. With that in mind, the future of agriculture systems worldwide hinges on pursuing a more sustainable approach, transitioning to practices and systems that are more productive and less wasteful.


Sustainable agriculture is not only key in ensuring sufficient resources to meet growing demand; a farming-as-usual approach would also take too heavy a toll on our natural resources. Agriculture is estimated to contribute up to 24 per cent of total greenhouse gas emissions worldwide.


These statistics underscore the urgency of this issue. To ensure longevity of our food systems well into future generations, the global agriculture industry needs to move towards innovative technologies that not only limit water consumption and increase the reuse of resources but create more energy efficient systems that can contribute to addressing the global food crisis while limiting its impact on the climate.


The potential for water conservation


Critical to food security is water security. Agriculture and food production heavily relies on water connectivity, especially through processes such as irrigation, which calls for more sustainable ways to manage water.


However, water scarcity in the form of severe droughts is steadily exacerbating. Over the last two decades, droughts have impacted 1.4 billion people in the world, increasing in number and duration by almost 30 per cent since 2000. This has had dire repercussions on Asia’s food production. For example, in Thailand, a drought in 2020 lowered the country’s sugar yields, resulting in a 19 per cent decline in Thai sugar exports in the same year.


With that in mind, we need to revitalise Asia’s irrigation systems to be more water efficient. Specific farming methods — such as drip irrigation — can help reduce the amount of water needed for cultivation. Drip irrigation keeps uniformity high and water waste low by delivering water directly to a plant’s roots through micro sprays and sprinklers to cover larger surfaces.


Asia has access to a diverse range of natural water resources, making it important to manage and even restore what’s available to us, from rainwater to lakes. Conservation methods like rainwater harvesting can help farmers tap into periods of intense rainfall, helping recharge groundwater levels as well as storing them away for use during drier seasons.


Beyond identifying best practices, smart technology can also play a key role in providing farmers with greater control over resource consumption through remote access. Farms around the world are gradually running their pump systems with sensors and remote management units that allows complete control all at one’s fingertips via their smartphones.


Agriculture’s energy transition


Agriculture’s tremendous water use also has other greater implications. Processes like irrigation which lifts and moves water around farms using pumping systems consume a lot of energy. Traditional agriculture systems are powered by electricity generated by the burning of fossil fuels, which in turn contributes to climate change through the contribution of greenhouse gas emissions.


To ensure a more resilient global food system, it is important to explore ways we can reduce agriculture’s energy consumption overall. One way is by incorporating technology into agricultural systems which can ensure water use is optimised and in turn less pumping is required, which can make a huge difference in reducing the amount of energy used overall.


While reviewing how we can reduce consumption, it is also crucial to transition towards renewable sources of energy, such as solar. Solar-powered pumping systems present a cost effective, flexible, and secure water supply solution using clean energy. Utilising solar power reduces energy costs substantially and saves on the costs of energy infrastructure, wherever the application is installed. Beyond tapping into a renewable energy source, solar-powered pumping systems are also especially useful for remote or rural areas where water is scarce and power supply is non-existent or unreliable.


When it comes to tapping into solar energy, Australia has a huge natural advantage with an abundance of sun and vast, flat expanses of land, and is well on its way in establishing best practices and industry cases for further learning. For example, in Queensland, the Barfield Station requires a reliable supply of fresh, clean water to run its 15,500-acre organic beef operation. Its extensive watering infrastructure utilises solar pumping systems capable of delivering a far wider water supply and substantial savings.


Sustainable agriculture as the way forward


Access to food is a basic human right. The urgency of food security is not one-off, driven by recent global events. It will remain necessary for us to examine how we can strengthen food production while addressing emerging economic, environmental, and societal challenges.


The benefits sustainable agriculture bring to the table means that it has an undeniable role to play in feeding the growing worldwide population while reducing the industry’s impact on climate change. We are in the golden age of innovative technologies and precision agriculture which can greatly help farmers do more with less water and energy, and we need to tap into it so that we can continue to feed the generations to come.



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