Agriculture, hunger and food waste

BiodieslBy Ricardo Ernesto Rose

The search for food, as in all living beings, has always been a major concern of humanity. Our Paleolithic ancestors, still unaware of the practice of agriculture, depended on the collection and especially hunting. For more than 100,000 years modern man, Homo sapiens, chased herds of wildebeest, zebras and antelopes and the African steppe mammoths, bison and reindeer through icy plains of Eurasia. Approximately eight thousand years ago, at the end of the last glacial period, the hunt begins to wane. With increasing temperature, the climate began to change and thus flora and fauna also undergo adaptive changes. The animals, which for thousands of years were abundant and provided large amounts of protein, decreased in number, moved to other colder latitudes or became extinct.

Our ancestors, spread over a vast area stretching from Africa to Europe and the Middle East to Asia to America – where the ancestors of the indigenous peoples had already come across an ice bridge covering the Bering Strait – started the first great revolution of humanity: the practice of agriculture. Observing the growth of plants near the camps, the result of occasional drop of seed, men should have realized that this process could be repeated on a larger scale, generating larger volumes of seed. In swampy valleys at the time of the Tigris and Euphrates, in the region where they are located now Turkey, Iraq and Syria, agriculture began to be practiced for the first time on a large scale from 5000 BC Around millennium and a half later, agriculture had spread to other regions as the valley of the Nile in Egypt, the Yellow River valley in China, and the Indus Valley, between Pakistan and India.
practice of agriculture has developed throughout history, always occupying new areas, following the growth and expansion of human populations. Just remember the extensions of arable land that opened in Europe, after gradually Celts, Germans and Slavs were Christianized and incorporated into the Roman Empire and later the Carolingian. Or in the sixteenth century, when Spanish and Portuguese discovered vast expanses arable land on the other side of the Atlantic, plus a variety of new food plants such as potatoes, corn, tomato, pineapple, avocado, peanuts, vanilla, cassava, beans , cocoa, peppers, among others, spite of the constant increase in areas planted hunger, however, always accompanied humanity. Already in ancient Rome, the historian Livy tells us about a great famine that had plagued the Roman Republic in 441 BC Shortly before the Fall of Rome (AD 476) history records over a period of great famine in the then Roman Empire, caused by sack of the city by Alaric the Visigoth king. Between the years 400 and 800, the absence of a stable political and administrative structure, meant that much of Europe was affected by periods of famine. The situation became so confused that in parts of Europe during the eighth century, even cases of cannibalism occurred. The occurrences of major famines happen during the Middle Ages, a large number of countries.

At the end of the Middle Ages, between 1315 and 1317 occurred in Europe which became known as the “Great Famine”. Due to excessive rain and cold in various regions, lost crops in large areas, which has caused a great famine throughout the Old World. Millions have died for lack of food and as a result of social problems connected with famine, such as increased crime, disease and murder. It was only from 1322 that Europe managed to slowly recover from the terrible social chaos that had settled.
So even with a variety of foods known from the Great Navigations – many authors talk about a globalization of consumption of certain plants, fruits and seeds – much of humanity still continued to eat poorly or starve. The German painter and printmaker Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528), painted in 1498 the famous painting “The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”, representing the greatest terrors of European society at the time: plague, war, famine and death, was only from the gradual mechanization of agriculture and the use of chemical fertilizers – a process initiated in the first half of the nineteenth century in the United States, which have emerged as major agricultural power – that crops became more guaranteed. Still, the hunger was still a real threat to most of the world’s population, causing large migration flows, mainly from Europe to the Americas. A detailed list of major famines occurred in the world since ancient times to the present day is on:

Yet in the 1960 famine was a concern for scientists, politicians and businessmen – and the danger of a nuclear war. The apparent problem of arithmetic progression in increasing food production, compared to the population growth in geometric progression, occupied much of the academic discussions of the time. Based on the average annual rate of world population growth during this period (2.1%), it was anticipated the explosion of a population bomb. Maintained the growth rate, the population would multiply eight times in the space of a century, 64 times in two centuries, 512 times in three centuries, 4,096 times in four centuries and 32,768 times in the space of five centuries. This meant that the world population of three billion people in 1960, would reach 98 trillion inhabitants in the year 2460, a staggering number. Many scientists say that the predictions made ​​by economist and demographer Thomas Malthus (1766-1834) in his “An Essay on the Principle of Population or a vision of its past and present effects on human happiness, with an inquiry from our expectations as to the removal or mitigation of the evils which causes future “could be realized in the near future. Mankind grow in number, there would be more food for everyone. This was even the main concern of the first meetings of the Club of Rome in 1968.

Fortunately, the growth rate of the world population began to fall over the years, stabilizing at around 1% per year today. But that was not the main reason why the concerns of the Club of Rome changed the focus of population growth to the growth of pollution. What caused a real shift in global food security was the introduction of so-called “Green Revolution” in agriculture. technique was developed in the United States by agronomist Norman Borlaug and provides the mechanization of agriculture, from planting to harvest, associated with the use of genetically modified seeds and industrial inputs (chemical fertilizers and pesticides). dissemination of these technologies throughout the world from the 1970s, made ​​the crops and increase the specter of hunger – at least one caused by lack of food – disappeared over the last thirty years. still persists hunger caused by wars, lack of financial resources or speculation, but this has no natural causes.

Resolved for now the problem of hunger due to lack of food for much of humanity, now we are faced with a new challenge: food waste. data from the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) realize that the world is wasted 1.3 billion tons of food a year . A study prepared by the entity, entitled Global food, waste not, want not (global food, no waste, no misses), shows that much of the food on the planet is lost, mainly due to inadequate collection, transportation and storage; visual patterns by adopting very hard to foods (red apples, bananas without blemishes, etc..), and setting expiration dates too stringent. In England, for example, according to a report from the BBC website, about 30 % of vegetables, fruits and even vegetables are harvested, they do not correspond to the standards of appearance that appeal to consumers. Another aspect presented by FAO report is that once purchased approximately 50% of food is thrown away, both in Europe and in the States States. Disposal of such great volume of food represents a loss of about 550 billion cubic meters of water used to produce these fruits and vegetables. Additionally, according to scientists, it is necessary to compute the volume of greenhouse gases (CO ² and others) issued for the production and transport of these products, as well as the volume of methane (CH4) emitted when its decomposition, without being consumed.

Spearheaded by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), was created a worldwide movement in order to reduce losses and food waste. The idea that emerged during the Rio +20, is being disseminated through a website ( ) which contains the information, reports, data, tips, events and initiatives on how to save food and avoid waste. was The idea has been around for some time: in 2012 the European Parliament approved a recommendation that was reduced food waste, which that year reached 89 million tons (equivalent to 179 kg / year / person), with an expected increase to 126 million tonnes by 2020.

Brazil, according to the Institute of Applied Economic Research (IPEA), is one of the biggest wasters of food in the world. According to the institution, 35% of our entire food production are thrown away; somewhere around 27 million tons of food annually. Akatu Office data, published in 2003, reported that 64% of what is planted in the country was lost along the chain production: 20% in the harvest; 8% in transportation and warehousing, 15% in the processing industry; 1% retail, and 20% in the process of food preparation and food.

A question of food production is similar to the electricity production. If instead of continuously increasing production efficiency measures were introduced, consumption – both the food as KWhs – would be optimized. Reducing waste and managing the process of production, distribution and consumption in a more rational, there would be no need to make so many investments in increasing production – whether food or energy. Better use of resources would reduce the need to increase acreage and electricity generation (hydroelectric), reducing the impact of these activities on the environment, so we returned to one of the basic principles of economics: resources are scarce and we need to use them in the best way possible.

 Source: Biomass and Bioenergy, 11st March, 2013
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2 responses to “Agriculture, hunger and food waste

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