Permaculture and urban agriculture:
the solution to feed 9 billion people by 2050 ?
Is feeding 9 billion people by 2050 feasible without jeopardising our environment? Knowing that 1 person out of 9 is still suffering from starvation according to the UNO and that 80% of the land that is suitable for raising crops is already in use, it is a priority to find a sustainable alternative to avoid a global food crisis.
Our modern society has long thought that industrial and intensive agriculture was the solution to tackle food insecurity. Even if this model has shown some positive results to increase food production in developed countries, many experts have proved its limits for our natural ecosystem and human society.
This type of agriculture has many negative impacts on the environment: greenhouse gas emissions (agriculture is one of the sector with the highest greenhouse gas emission rate along with industry and transport), soil erosion, loss of biodiversity and highly polluting activities with the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers. Besides it accounts for 70% of our water consumption worldwide.
Taking into account these challenges, what solution do we have?
Let’s imagine another type of agriculture that will be the complete opposite of the current model: it would sequester the greenhouse gas emissions, purify water and soil, be self-sufficient and even create sustainable natural ecosystems… Impossible? No, not at all!
This model does already exist since the 70’s. It is the Australian Bill Mollison who developed this type of agriculture after having acknowledged the disastrous results of our agro-industrial practices on our environment.
In fact, permaculture is just mimicking the natural ecosystem interactions to produce food. The philosophy of permaculture is to work with nature and not against it. Contrary to monoculture (culture of only one single crop), which is widely used in industrial agriculture, permaculture is using polyculture in an efficient and productive way (culture of multiple crops in the same space).
“Agriculture design” is key in this model: it is important to know which species can be grown together to maximise the food production of the crops. In the end, the different species are protecting each other and the wastes of some of them are the resources of the others.
This system notably enables farmers to avoid the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers
When we were in Morocco, we had the chance to see the concrete effects of permaculture on the field while meeting with the NGO Orange Bleue Maghreb. One of their projects is to create a teaching organic garden in a poor neighbourhood of Casablanca. Thanks to permaculture, Orange Bleue has managed to transform a former 2500m² landfill into a cultivable and sustainable land. « Thanks to permaculture, we managed to turn a nearly dead soil into a biological bomb » said Hassan, one of the founder of Orange Bleue Maghreb. Permaculture has definitely something magic!
It is therefore both feasible and efficient to implement sustainable agriculture.
However, how can we answer the food needs of a world population that is skyrocketing?
One of the questions we need to answer is where will the majority of the world population be by 2050? If 54% of it is currently living in urban areas, it will be more than 70% in 2050!
Feeding the big cities will soon be a real challenge. This time, urban agriculture can be one of the solutions. That is the reason why the UNO and the FAO have recommended the use of urban agriculture to tackle the food insecurity issue especially in emerging countries.
Urban agriculture refers to the practice of cultivating food within cities and urban areas. It can be done in different ways: roof gardens, urban farms, vertical agriculture (towers where fruits and vegetables are produced), etc.
Today, urban agriculture accounts for 15 to 20% of food production worldwide. The recent boom of urban agriculture is due to the increasing migration from rural areas to urban areas. Cities are a way more exposed to food insecurity because they are highly dependent on the outside regarding their food supply. That is why it is key to develop an agriculture model that is suitable for cities.
If urban agriculture can help cities to reach food self-sufficiency, it also has a lot of other advantages: creation of « closed loops » which reduce costs, CO2 emissions and energy consumption, creation of biodiversity within urban areas, learning places for visitors, promotion of sustainable agriculture techniques, etc.
It is in Portugal we discovered the benefits of this type of agriculture while meeting with Noocity. This start-up has managed to create boxes that enable urban citizens to grow their own fruits and vegetables in record time. With the creation of an innovative irrigation system, these boxes lead to an 80% of water saving and cultivated vegetables require very little maintenance.
Orange Bleue and Circul’R in the permaculture garden of Casablanca
The Noocity « Growbed », an efficient self-watering and self-fertilizing gardening system
Food security will be one of the biggest challenges in the coming years with the weakness of the current food supply chain, climate change and the fossil fuels crisis. This issue will affect developing countries as well as developed countries. It is therefore necessary to modify our behaviour and rethink the way we are doing agriculture in order to fight hunger and poverty while promoting sustainable ecosystem development. The good news is that we already have the keys of a sustainable agricultural model as shown by both permaculture and urban agriculture. So what are we waiting for?