Intensive farming methods, pesticides and fertilizers have provided more food as the world’s population has tripled over the past 70 years, leading also to a large reduction in the numbers living in poverty. But this has come at a heavy price, insists Geraldine Matchett, co-CEO of the Dutch nutrition company Royal DSM,
“In doing that, we’ve destroyed about a third of the topsoils in the world, because very intensive agriculture destroys the micro-organisms that keep the soil alive,” she says. “And as you do that, your yields go down and then you say: ‘I can fix that with more fertilizers’, but you’re simply destroying the soil even more. So it becomes a barren base.
“We’re looking today at how we can feed around 7.9 billion people, and maybe 10 billion in the future, in a world where these topsoils are being destroyed every single year. There’s an estimate that we have only 60 harvests to go, so 60 years before all topsoils are very depleted. Intensive farming, while feeding a lot more people, has actually destroyed the planet.”
A switch to a sustainable food supply system is urgently needed, but the good news is that the solutions are already known. “It’s about regenerative agriculture. It’s about not tilling the soil. It’s about rotating crops. It’s about applying ways of producing food that we can do but we’re not doing because of the current set-up of our food and agricultural systems. It requires a system change, as opposed to innovation or individual company contributions,” says Matchett.
The system change must involve the entire food industry, but it has to start with major changes in farming. “It requires the whole chain to start from a regenerative agriculture point of view and say that farmers should change their practices.”