Agriculture Key To Solving Global Crisis

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“Society is starting to see agriculture in a whole new light and we have to accept our responsibility.”

Demand for agricultural products has nowhere to go but up, and those involved in agriculture have a crucial role to play in the face of an upcoming global crisis, says a long-time industry watcher.

John Oliver is a former president of DowElanco Canada and now president of Maple Leaf BioConcepts, a consulting firm in biotechnology and bio-economy strategies based in Oshawa, Ontario. He is also chairman of Flax Canada 2015.

“My goal today is to get you to look at the agricultural industry in a different way than it’s traditionally been looked at, and to look a little farther out than you’ve traditionally looked at it,” Oliver told the AgChoices 2009 conference here in early February.

He says elements of the crisis include climate change, health care, the search for energy and alternatives, and the need for water.

The upcoming crisis will take away the certainty of access to food, oil and water, and will result in major changes to agriculture, said Oliver.

“Society is starting to see agriculture in a whole new light and we have to accept our responsibility,” he said.

“We’re truly at a fracture point in an industry that’s used to dealing with cycles. Sometimes those cycles are land driven, sometimes those cycles are supply driven. We’ve never been in a supply constrained industry marketplace for a significant number of years. Both energy and food are moving toward wide restraints in the future,” said Oliver.

“The lack of alternatives, in the next 20 years, will force billions of people to face starvation, at the very least,” said Oliver. “We in the Western world can no longer take cheap food, cheap oil and cheap water for granted.”

The upcoming crisis will affect everyone on the planet and agriculture is the one industry that offers tools to mitigate the crisis, adding that Canada has an excellent set of natural resources to deal with the crisis, and should adopt a leadership position globally.

CLIMATE CHANGE WILL CUT AREA

Trends which will factor into the upcoming crisis include the speed and the growth of climate change, and the growth of a billion middle class consumers in Asia in the next 10 to 12 years. As global population grows, food production will have to increase. Oliver said.

“We’ve got to double food production with 80 per cent of the arable land that we have today because global warming will take at least 20 per cent, possibly 30 to 40 per cent of the arable land,” he said.

Solutions will be dependent on science and technology. Oliver believes agriculture is based on three equally weighted responsibilities – environmental, social and economic. Sustainability needs to be a key focus, and those in agriculture should take a leadership role to deal with the crisis. The preservation of natural resources is crucial and will be built into businesses and society as a cultural norm, he said.

Albertans have the opportunity to lead in water conservation, said Oliver, since the province is unique due to its shared leadership in agriculture and energy. “Alberta’s facing huge demands for water and because of that, you need to be pushing everyone to get on top of this,” he said. He urged agricultural professionals to align with those in the energy sector to create a strong voice to address possible solutions for the global crisis.

Other key issues which will affect producers include the rising demand for animal protein from the Asian markets and a growing emphasis on livestock welfare, raised by activists and the media.

New plans to manage water, energy and food need to be created immediately to deal with the upcoming problems, said Oliver.

About the author

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Alexis Kienlen

Alexis Kienlen lives in Edmonton and has been writing for Alberta Farmer since 2008. Originally from Saskatoon, Alexis is also the author of two collections of poetry, a biography, and a novel called "Mad Cow."

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