Food Systems - A Call for a 5th Agricultural Revolution

  1. Fifth Agricultural Revolution

Pick up a handful of living soil and there are more organisms contained within it than humans that have ever lived.   Soil is the largest reservoir of carbon, plant nutrients, fresh water and biodiversity.   Humans in the last few centuries have been treating the soil like dirt and this lack of respect for the living world is contributing to climate change, a rise in chronic diseases and an epidemic of anxiety and depression.

At Nobel Conference54 held this fall in Minnesota, USA   Leading thinkers and researchers came together to share knowledge at Living Soil A Universe Underfoot.

Dr Rattan Lal, Professor of Soil Sciences at The Ohio State University, pointed out that in 1800, human agriculture used 930 10^6 HA of land to feed slightly less than one billion people.   By 2017, human use of the planet’s land mass for agriculture has climbed 5 times to  4731 10^6 Ha.    Nearly half of the earth’s terrestrial surface is used for agriculture.   “Most soils have lost 25 to 75% of their original soil carbon pool” said Dr. Lal.

To meet the demand for food in a time of climate change, Dr. Lal argues that humans do 5 things – reduce waste, address global poverty and inequity, improve distribution, increase use of pulses and plant-based diet and accept personal responsibility.   “We must reconcile the need of advancing food and nutritional security with necessity of improving the environment.”

Can we both improve the environment and increase food security?  Yes, author David Montgomery, author of numerous books including:  Dirt:the Erosion of Civilizations; The Hidden Half of Nature: the Microbial roots of Life and Health and Growing a Revolution, Bringing our Soil Back to Life.  Montgomery describes five agricultural revolutions in human history ending with the Fourth Revolution – Green Revolution and Biotechnology.  Now is the time for the Fifth Revolution – Soil Health Revolution.

Co-founder of the Earth Microbiome Project, Dr Jack Gilbert mingled details such as evidence that dirt from Amish farms can impact rates of asthma and fecal matter from obese humans can make rats fats to paint a world that is far more complex than nitrogen makes plant grow.


Videos from the NobelConference54 are available here:

Podcast with the several of the speakers can be found here:

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