For too long, humanity’s two greatest challenges of the 21st century have been presumed to be on a collision course.
On the one hand, we have an urgent need to find some way of feeding a global population that will expand from 7 billion to 9 billion by mid-century. Yet the agricultural systems that we’ll need to ramp up are already major causes of global climate change and the depletion of the planet’s land and fresh water. And, even as farming expands and produces more, the bulk of people in the world’s agricultural areas continue to be mired in poverty.
But what if I were to tell you there is a way out of this stalemate? The truth is that the exodus to a new era of low-carbon, environmentally-friendly agriculture is already happening right here in Latin America—and that increasing food production can actually help reduce overall global greenhouse emissions.
To understand this, we need to begin with just how deeply involved Latin America is on both food security and climate change.
Because of its enormous potential to increase agricultural production, satisfy rising demand for food and keep pantries stocked the world over, Latin America is critical to maintaining global food security over the next few decades. Already an agricultural powerhouse, the continent provides 60 percent of the world’s soybean imports, 44 percent of imported beef and a third of the corn that countries buy from abroad. And experts say the region is fully capable of doubling its farm output by 2030.
But these advancements have come at a price, mainly in the destruction of forests and the depletion of land and water resources, which are already having a devastating impact on the health of our planet. Today, Latin American agriculture is responsible for almost a third of global greenhouse gas emissions that come from land use and land conversion. More than half the forest loss in the world is happening in the region, while deforestation over a recent 15-year period was the world’s fifth highest source of carbon emissions.