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Water is essential to agricultural sustainability, and thus to our survival. But around the world, including in Florida, the supply faces increasing threats from a variety of sources. / Florida Food & Farm file photo

How important is agriculture to the world’s population? According to the United Nations, “Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world, providing livelihoods for 40 percent of today’s global population.”

Ensuring a steady, reliable supply of food — in other words, agricultural sustainability — requires a variety of factors. Chief among them are the proper amount of sun and water (whether from rain or another source), as well as effective pest control, efficient harvesting methods, and crop rotation.


With “ag” providing livelihoods for 40 percent of the world’s populace — not to mention providing the vast majority of the planet’s food supply (commercial fishing being its main complement) — we need to ensure that agriculture continues to thrive.

The United Nations (UN) offers some sobering thoughts in the “Sustainable Development Goals” section of its website (un.org/sustainabledevelopment): Goal 2 (there are 17) is “End hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture.”

What we must do

The site continues, “Our soils, freshwater, oceans, forests and biodiversity are being rapidly degraded. Climate change is putting even more pressure on the resources we depend on … A profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish today’s 815 million hungry and the additional 2 billion people expected by 2050 (italics added).

Are we up to that challenge? Much depends on the answer being “yes.” The June 2017 UN publication World Population Prospects warns, “The current world population of 7.6 billion is expected to reach 8.6 billion in 2030, 9.8 billion in 2050 and 11.2 billion in 2100.”

If 7.6 billion people are over-stressing our resources now, what will happen when Earth’s population hits 11.2 billion?

This is Splash, the mascot recently introduced by South African water officials to persuade residents, especially those in Cape Town, to conserve water. / Contributed

Evidence of degradation and depletion of our resources is everywhere. So we sorely need “a profound change” — in many ways.

Some specifics

Examples of problems abound, especially about water: Cape Town, South Africa, is expected to run out of water in early July. An extended drought has almost emptied the main reservoir serving this city of 4 million. (Read the full story at floridafoodandfarm.com/featured/water-shortages).

The oyster industry in the Florida Panhandle (the city of Apalachicola, in particular, has been hard hit) has been hurt because of reduced water flow from the Apalachicola River. The source of that river is in northern Georgia, and Peach State authorities are using the water to supply Atlanta, as well as farmers in southeast Georgia.

The reduced flow into Florida is the subject of a long-running lawsuit that Florida filed against Georgia. The U.S. Supreme Court is scheduled to hear that suit during its current term. (Read the full story at floridafoodandfarm.com/featured/u-s-supreme-court-will-hear-floridas-water-war-lawsuit-vs-georgia).

The oyster industry is crucial to the economy of Apalachicola, Fla. But Apalachicola Bay now has higher salinity, due to reduced water flow from Georgia. / Courtesy of the Apalachicola Bay Chamber of Commerce

In early February, the British Broadcasting Corp. (BBC) listed Miami, Fla., as one of “11 cities most likely to run out of drinking water” around the world. Saltwater intrusion — caused by sea-level rise —  is the main culprit, according to the article (www.bbc.com/news/world-42982959).

Is anyone optimistic?

Yet, there is hope. The closing sentence of the introduction to the United Nations’ Goal 2 reads, “The food and agriculture sector offers key solutions for development, and is central for hunger and poverty eradication.”

In coming months, Florida Food & Farm (floridafoodandfarm.com) will report on the problems facing agriculture. We also will detail how various elements of the ag industry — farmers, ranchers, researchers and others — are meeting those challenges.