Agriculture and Water Risk

by Mark Edwards

Producing food grains to feed animals for meat requires 100 times more water than producing food for vegetarians. Meat production consumes 1,000 times more freshwater than using protein from algae. Algae do not require freshwater or arable land to grow, maximizing resources that can be used for additional food production or other cash crops. The water saved can be traded to serve thirsty people in urban markets. Numerous sources predict future wars will be fought over water.

Wars are not a difficult prediction because history from tree rings proves the relationship between water and war.

Failed harvests destroy food supplies and cause people to get angry. Those angry, hungry people staged food riots and insurgencies that toppled governments across North Africa in 2011. The UN Refugee Agency calculates that more than 65 million people, the largest number in human history, are now either refugees or internally displaced due to conflict or poverty. Conflict, migration and drought are tightly interwoven. Drought contributes to conflict, which leads to poverty, displacement, migration and more war.

Add to the 65 million hungry migrants, more than 40 million Africans that are trying to survive on severely degraded or worn out land. A New York Times report by Jeffrey Gettleman observes that population swells, climate change, soil degradation, erosion, overgrazing, poaching and global food prices are exerting incredible pressure on African farms. Degraded land is fueling conflicts across the continent. Farmers from one destroyed area attack their neighbors, killing animals and stealing food. Land disputes are fierce and are driving farmers off their land. NASA satellite images reveal overwhelming land degradation throughout Africa. Gettleman’s report does a good job describing the farmers’ pain and suffering, but the pictures of dead animals and dead cropland are quite disturbing.

tree ringsA team led by David Zhang analyzed tree rings in order to estimate the swings of temperature in China over the last 1,000 years. They reviewed 899 wars fought in China between 1000 and 1911 and found a strong correlation between warfare and temperature change.

Records showed that weather changes resulted in food price inflation, followed by war, famine and population decline. The findings suggest that worldwide price cycles in recent centuries have been driven mainly by climate change.

A second team led by David Zhang examined temperature data and climate-driven economic variables during the “golden” and “dark” ages in Europe and the Northern Hemisphere during the past millennium. Their findings align with the China studies. The data indicated that climate change was the ultimate cause, and climate-driven economic downturn was the direct cause of large-scale human crises in preindustrial Europe and the Northern Hemisphere.

A series of extreme El Niño weather events in 2015–16 caused severe droughts throughout Africa, Asia and the Americas. Many countries had to import emergency food for their citizens. Much of the conflict and forced migration from North Africa is occurring now due to extended heat and drought.

Unfortunately, rising temperatures amplify drought conditions. Excess heat spawns fierce storms that destroy crops and the ag infrastructure. NASA scientists calculate the chances for a 35-year or longer “mega drought” striking the Americas by 2100 are above 80% if the world stays on its current trajectory of GHG emissions. This conclusion sounds eerily similar to Food System Shock predicted by Lloyds of London.

Roughly 99% of pesticides are not absorbed by crops and pollute local ecosystems. Pesticide pollutants cause diseases of major organs, including the brain, heart, lungs, respiratory and vascular system. Dust, fertilizer, pesticides and ag chemicals make farming and living in farm communities dangerous to health. Farmers, ranchers and agricultural managers are among the top five most dangerous jobs in the US. They suffer a fatality rate of 26.7 per 100,000 workers.

Dust and pesticides

Dust, pesticides and poisons make farming dangerous

Animal production, which the Bureau of Labor Statistics defines as raising and fattening animals on ranches, farms, and feedlots for eventual sale, ranked #1 in the US for injuries. Animal production experiences a serious level of 66.6 injuries per 100,000 workers. Farm workers make the most dismal jobs list because they require intense physical labor under harsh conditions – and receive very low pay.

Farmer risk includes fatigue, since they must work long hours in all types of weather, perform heavy labor and work on and around heavy machinery. Many farmers are regularly exposed to dust, agricultural chemicals, pesticides and other poisons. Available labor for food production will decline even further as young people leave rural areas for better jobs and lifestyles in cities.

Half the world lives in urban settings now, and 75% will be urban by 2050. MIA farmers must live in rural communities, distant from cities, shopping and entertainment. Young farmers find it difficult to attract a wife. She must be willing to put up with the rigors and isolation of farm life – which requires long hours and considerable independence.

Peace microfarms using abundant methods provide solutions to reduce each farmer risk, except finding a farm wife. Farmers will have to rely on their own DNA and ingenuity for attracting and sustaining a spouse.