Food Production Affects Earth’s Natural Processes

Published on: 21 August 2022
by KnowESG
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A new study led by Aalto University in Finland has found that food production – already one of the largest stressors on our planet – is made substantially more challenging by the interaction of Earth system processes, defined as the natural activities that keep the planet in a habitable and useful state, such as carbon sequestration in forests or nutrient runoff into freshwater systems. According to scientists, the complex interactions between these processes challenge their boundaries and affect how well they function.

Steven Lade, an expert in sustainable development at the Australian National University (ANU), said: 

"Food production is a major cause of environmental stress, impacting biodiversity loss, the climate, and overexploitation of marine resources. We need to start sustainably producing food. By assessing the interaction of Earth system processes, we can ensure they are considered when designing and implementing food production and agriculture policy.”

By examining various Earth system processes, the researchers highlighted how they can be used to develop more sustainable food production techniques. The investigation revealed several pivotal interactions that are frequently overlooked, such as the impact of “green water” on food production and biodiversity.

“Green water refers to the water stored in soil that is available for plants to grow. It has a central role to play in interacting with, and regulating all the other processes like land, biodiversity, and water flow,” Dr. Lade explained. “Ensuring we address these various interactions will require action. We need better communication, meaning that authorities responsible for areas like agriculture policy and marine policy need to talk to each other.”

“We need to take a holistic approach when it comes to managing sustainable food production so that it doesn’t strain the boundaries of our natural systems. We need to look beyond just water and land as inputs for food production.”

Scientists argue that most challenges stem from a complex web of interactions between the ocean, freshwater, and land biospheres. Acknowledging these interactions and boundaries is crucial for maintaining stability and resilience in the Earth’s systems.

“System interactions make sustainable food production more challenging. However, the interconnected nature means taking positive actions can have extensive flow-on effects,” Dr. Lade concluded.


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