I’m reading Gary Paul Nabhan’s latest book, Growing Food in Hotter, Drier Land: Lessons from Desert Farmers on Adapting to Climate Uncertainty—it’s like a how-to manual for growing food in a hotter and hotter world. While some of the predictions it lays out about the impact of climate change on agriculture are a little bit scary (okay – let’s not mince words, they’re really scary), I’m mostly feeling hopeful about—and invigorated by—the future of agriculture.
Here’s one reason for that hope. In the introduction, eminent environmentalist and writer Bill McKibben says the following: “Even in the best scenarios, though, agriculture is going to get much harder than it is at the present…To cope, we’ll need more hands on the farm. And Gary Paul Nabhan, with both beauty and precision explains exactly why. He has a dozen wise prescriptions in this book for how we might be able to keep growing food in even in very harsh places. But all of them demand people out there working with their hands: building the fredges, sinking the clay jars into the soil. We’ll need to interplant and intercrop and shade and none of that can be done by one farmer piloting a giant combine across a ten thousand acre sea. It will have to be done by caring human hands, connect to very start and nimble human minds.”
The agriculture of the future will be less resource-intensive than it is today and, instead, more knowledge-intensive. Farmers will be required to know more and do more, which means we’ll need more of them working in fields, developing innovations, convening groups to share knowledge, and working with nutritionists, policy-makers, chefs, businesses, and eaters to come up with solutions that can be replicated and scaled up all over the world. These are the folks that look at agriculture as a solution to some of the most pressing challenges the world faces—not only climate change and hunger, but unemployment, unrest among youth, the worldwide epidemic of obesity, crowded cities, and conflict.
We need to be working on cultivating the next generation of agriculture entrepreneurs—the Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition Young Earth Solutions contest, the Buckminster Fuller Challenge, the Ashoka Nutrients for All competition, and a soon-to-be-announced innovation challenge by some young researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison—all recognize the power of young people to make change in kitchens, in laboratories, in classrooms, in boardrooms, in restaurants and businesses, and in fields all over the world.
The solutions are out there, according to Nabhan’s book, but what they ultimately need is more attention, more research, and more funding and investment.