Agriculture. An activity that has been around since the dawn of time, and the mastery of which has played no small part in our ability to grow, expand and evolve to what we are today. As our populations rose and technologies improved, agriculture and farming techniques have also improved – leading to several issues. From soil fertility issues to fertilizer use and their compounding effects, agriculture is in a unique position whereby it could be responsible for both our rise and demise.
Whilst we have progressed in our own ability to control the local environment and maximise yields to benefit our own growing consumption, several problems have cropped up as a result of our continued interference with a range of variables. The use of fertilizers and pesticides has been linked to a myriad of nefarious side effects with even more dangerous knock-on effects — including but not limited to: declining bee populations, reduced soil fertility, land degradation, exhaustion of water supplies, chemical runoff and health risks.
Two of the more important issues: a noticeable drop in the number of bees, and continued fertilizer runoff have been touted as having the potential to drastically alter our lives. Just this year, runoff from farms in the American Midwest have led to one of the biggest dead zones in recorded history in the Gulf of Mexico, whilst colony collapse disorder created by use of pesticides has raised questions about our ability to slow the decline of bee populations.
But why are both these issues of importance? How could the loss of a specific species of insect or the introduction of chemicals to our waterways be that bad?
Bees are incredibly important in maintaining our crops and most other plant life by pollinating them. Should the species find itself extinct tomorrow, scientists believe the human race would soon follow as our agricultural industry would struggle to produce enough food to feed the 7 billion people on the planet. On the other hand, chemical runoff has a wide range of issues on both land and sea capable of having a devastating effect on us.
Continued overuse of fertilizers have drastically changed the composition of the soil to the point which once fertile lands are no longer suitable for any type of agriculture, leading to large swathes of land being unable to produce any type of food. Meanwhile, dead zones in the oceans have been known to wreak havoc on coastal fisheries and ecosystem health, negatively affecting both the local economy and environment – an overall reduction of ecological strength that, compounded with other issues such as climate change, could lead to more serious consequences.