The fear environment that we live in at this time now goes beyond disease and disaster.
For many it is simply a question of finding enough food to eat or drink. As persons of privilege in a First World country, how can we engage in solutions that are transformative and transferable?
This past winter I worked on a water catchment system for a group of persons without a permanent community. It had to fit a nomadic lifestyle, so portability was important, as was water quality and educating the recipients on water use.
This was a good exercise for me because as much as I saw it as a solution, it did not solve the other problems associated with the state of the community. Nor did it provide enough water to grow food because of the required portable nature.
Originally, nomadic cultures all over the world knew the route and timing to access food and water. The centralization of communities and changes in the landscape (be that from development or from climate changes) has altered those routes and the access to food supply.
Achieving food security has to come from the community itself or be able to be fully used and maintained by that community. The new local may be based on technology or a return to rural roots.
Using animals to regenerate ecosystems is one solution and is gaining recognition worldwide on its importance. Society has a problem with that and in many areas, the environment is now so depleted that there is no starting point. The water is gone and all that lives with it.
- More with Brenda Schoepp: Our animals give us such a precious gift
Another solution to regeneration has been incorporated by the Dutch as they use soil replantation or what we might refer to as transplants, to regenerate ecosystems. Basically it involves scraping healthy soil and layering it in another area.
This has been done successfully in the transformation of agricultural land into natural ecosystems. The question is: Is there enough healthy food production soil that can be skimmed to regenerate tired soil? And if not, then other than using animals and other cooling activities for the soil, what can be done?
First, I think it is important to answer the question of what do we have the most of?
A good example of this approach to problem solving is Qatar where there is an abundance of heat and sea water. This country, which gets only three inches of rain a year, secures 99 per cent of its water from sea water scrubbed with thermal heat technology. Finding solutions is important as 93 per cent of the food is imported. The use of vertical farms that recycle the water is also critical as is the understanding of the capability of the desert. In both Qatar and Cuba, I saw beautiful farms in harsh, dry conditions where technology was used to produce food.
Responsible technology is also the vision of places such as Singapore, which is stretching upward with vertical gardens. This island city-state imports 90 per cent of its food — there is no space to modify or regenerate environments as only 0.8 per cent of its land is arable. What they had the most of was a drive to food security to produce what they had the least of, which is fresh produce.
The tiny country of Holland is the second-largest exporter of food in the world. This includes crops like tomatoes (it’s the world’s second-largest exporter).
What the Dutch had the most of was water and ingenuity. What they had the least of was farmland. And although they have successfully created land masses for farms in the sea, so too do they populate inland and on new land with glasshouses in which to produce food for the world, recycle the water and CO2, and through biological control, determine the quality and the output. A glasshouse with LED lighting and no soil can produce 350 times the volume of vegetables as a field.
While it sounds like there is no question as to which direction food production should go, we must stop to think of the communities in which we hope to serve. Increasing output in the First World encourages a dependency on imports in those countries with less. However, transferable technology allows for the problems to be solved locally.
And at the end of the day, that is where we must go in our thinking.
The question is always cost. Even if we contribute to the development of local systems, there must be a way for farmers to farm and the political will to ensure the ongoing production of food. Too often, all the factors are not taken into account — just as I was challenged in the design of a portable water catchment system.
For some communities, the solution will be a wheelbarrow and cow while another has the capacity for a fully integrated and highly technical growing system.
However we look at the future, there will be the challenge of ethical technology that benefits the local community in the long term and is cost effective.