Throughout history, hunger has led to many wars, revolts, and other conflicts. That pattern continues
today. When people do not have food for themselves and see their children starving, they are inclined
to listen to radical elements who promise change.
Tens of millions of people around the world live in countries that either lack agricultural skills to feed
their populations, and/or have had their food production disrupted by war, and/or do not have good
soils. If those countries then cannot afford to import food, their hunger is guaranteed to cause problems.
I fear that “conventional” agriculture, which relies on annual applications of chemical fertilizers, will
not be the answer in the long run. There is ample evidence that heavy doses of petroleum-based
nitrogen fertilizer is an unsustainable method of producing crops, especially in poorer soils. Even
wonderful deep glacial soils can have their essential humic elements burned out after just a few decades,
and the “just plow deeper” strategy is inherently limited.
At some point, a lack of organic matter replenishment and the resulting reduction of biological activity
in soil has to cause crop failures, no matter how much fertilizer is applied to the soil. (Of course,
many countries cannot afford to buy increasingly-expensive chemicals, so any discussion of sustainability
is pretty much a moot point for them.)
I think the long-term answer is to research and further develop microbial inoculants that can turn
otherwise useless soils into productive croplands. The use of small, inexpensive amounts of starting
cultures can let growers produce crops even in pure sand after beneficial fungi and bacteria
form colonies and then clump the sand into a moisture-holding biomass. In this situation, nitrogen is
derived from air and other mineral nutrients are made available to plants, thus fertilizer inputs can be
kept to a minimum.
The yields would likely never be as great as in good soils, but that is not the goal. The objective
would be to create huge acreages of permanent croplands out of vast sand deserts in countries
where hunger is a problem. I believe that the biological sciences can do this, and I suggest they
MUST do this if there is ever to be peace in our increasingly connected world.
I would be most interested to hear about any non-laboratory biological research and experiments
being conducted along these lines. My company would be happy to participate in any way we can.
Wishing you all peace and happiness this holiday season,