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Several Factors of Food Security

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The world population that is currently at 7.6 billion and is expected to reach 9.77 billion by the year 2050 (United Nations, 2017). This growth will put pressure on food security. Several factors are affecting the peoples of this world in their ability to achieve greater food security. The factors affecting food security are the repurposing of agricultural land for the growing biofuel crops(HLPE, 2013; Tenenbaum, 2008). A change in agricultural practices driven by regulation, cost, and limited resources will see the reduction of pesticide and fertilizer usage. Finally, climate change and its associated changes will affect crop yield and survivability.

Factors threating food security

Fertilizers

The primary factor affecting greater food security is the lack of sustainable agriculture and it is the overuse and reliance on nitrogen, phosphorous and potassium fertilizers. The use of nitrogen and phosphorous in agriculture is expected to increase (Tilman et al., 2001). This increase the use fertilizers will likely be unable to deliver an effective increase in crop yield due to inefficient uptake by crops(Tilman et al., 2002) as made evident by a 30% increase in nitrogen application only yields 4% in productivity(Donner and Kucharik, 2003).

Alongside this, the of large-scale use of fertilizers in unstainable of particular importance is phosphorous of which is phosphate rock a finite resource (Cordell et al., 2009). This resource is expected to reach peak production before the year 2040 (Cordell and White, 2011).

In contrast, nitrogen fertilizers are an infinite resource but their production is one that is energy intensive (Mudahar and Hignett, 1985). The use of nitrogenous fertilizer in the future will likely be limited due to the high energy demands of production which will not be able to be met by, given that oil demand is expected to increase and is a decreasing resource (Countries Organization of the Petroleum Exporting, 2017). This with also inflate the cost of nitrogenous fertilizers which will be further exacerbated by increased demand from developing countries(Blanco, 2011).

Pesticides and herbicides

The use of fertilizers in agriculture is required to meet current food demands another requirement to achieve this is the use of pesticides(Popp et al., 2013). Pesticides are associated with benefits and costs. They improve farm productivity through disease control, insect control pesticides also improve food quality(Aktar et al., 2009).

In contrast, pesticides impact human and environmental health. These human costs are difficult to establish but pesticides are likely to be carcinogenic and affect the endocrine system(Nicolopoulou-Stamati et al., 2016). The environmental impact of pesticides includes the contamination of water, soil, and air this also has a negative impact on the following year’s crops. Addition negative effect of pesticides is also present on the natural flora and fauna (Damalas and Eleftherohorinos, 2011).

Countries are now engaging in pesticide reduction programs. Canada has the Pesticide Risk Reduction Strategy. That aims to promote the adoption of new technologies and reduce reliance on chemical pesticides (Pest Management Centre and Pest Management Regulatory Agency, 2003). Similarly, in 2009 the European Union regulation EC 1107/2009 was passed. This regulation aims to protect the human and animal health and prevent environmental damage and ensure pesticides have a genuine benefit to agriculture(European Parliament, 2009). This directive is expected to reduce the number of pesticides available. (Wynn et al., 2010)

Climate change

Equally climate change is predicted to affect food security having both positive and negative effects. Global temperatures are expected to increase by 3ºC – 4ºC(New et al., 2011). An increase in temperature that is between 1ºC – 3ºC will see an increase in crop yield but above 3ºC the crops yield will be affected(Easterling et al., 2007).

In temperate zones, an increase in temperature will result in agriculture moving north. This will be associated with an increased risk of disease and pests (Masters et al., 2010) and increased nutrient leaching and loss of soil organic matter(Olesen et al., 2007). Although the increase in temperature below 3ºC well has a positive effect on agriculture in temperate zones with an increased growing season which is associated with increased yield and quality of crops (Olesen et al., 2007). This is likely associated with an expansion of agricultural areas and the introduction of new crops(Tuck et al., 2006). Within the southern area of temperate zones, climate change will negatively impact crop yields resulting from droughts and irregular weather events(Olesen et al., 2007).

Within the tropical zone, an increase in temperature will have direct effects on crop yield and increase crop failure. Equally within the tropical zone it is likely that crops will be exposed to heat stress and water loss (Gornall et al., 2010). Also, tropical zones will experience extreme temperatures affecting crop yield or resulting in crop failure (Porter and Gawith, 1999; Wheeler et al., 2000)

Climate change is also expected to impact the hydrological cycle causing an increase in average precipitation globally (Donat et al., 2016). This precipitation will highly variable with areas experiencing extended droughts primarily in the subtopics conversely higher latitudes will experience higher levels of rainfall(Trenberth, 2011). These with droughts reduce the yields of crops(Kang et al., 2009) and high levels of rainfall can result in the complete loss of crops and amplify soil erosion and nutrient loss (Falloon and Betts, 2010).

Climate change has shown an increase in extreme weather events which threaten food security. These extreme weather events include flooding, droughts, wildfires, heat waves, heavy precipitation, heavy snowfall, storms and hurricanes all of which are expected to continue (Huber and Gulledge, 2011).

Accompanied by climate change is the increase in sea levels this as a result ice melt(Griggs and Noguer, 2002) and thermal expansion of oceans(Meehl et al., 2005). This will cause tidal inundation of coastal regions resulting in loss of land and increase erosion loss(Nageswara Rao et al., 2011) this will be accompanied with the saltwater intrusion of the land and water table (Chen and Zong, 1999).

It is evident that to achieve food security there needs to be a change in agriculture. To one that increases yield by promoting crop nutrient utilization and provides crops that have greater resistance to abiotic and biotic stress. These goals should be achieved while maintaining environmental integrity and not adversely impact human or animal health. One possible solution to the problems that meet requirements is planted biostimulants.

Plant biostimulants

Plant biostimulants are not well defined but attempts have been made. In 2015 du Jardin produce a description of plant biostimulants based on the available literature. This description of biostimulants states that they consist of a substance that is either a single chemical compound or a group that is of biological origin. A biostimulant may also consist of a microorganism including bacteria or fungi.

Biostimulants are applied to a plant or surrounding area that has a direct positive effect on the plant function(du Jardin, 2015). The European Biostimulants Industry Council (EBIC) also adds this definition that biostimulants may act on the rhizosphere to have a positive effect on the plant (European Biostimulants Industry Council, 2013)

As reviewed by du Jardin in 2015 a number of compounds are classified as plant biostimulants. These compounds include Humic and Fulvic acids, Inorganic compounds such elements and inorganic acids, Biopolymers, Proteins, and nitrogen-containing compounds. Plant biostimulants may also include phytohormones and hormone-like compounds, such as polyamines and sterols.

These compounds contribute to soil fertility, increased or modulate nutrient uptake, protect against abiotic and biotic stress and increase crop yield and quality, likewise fungi and bacteria confer the same effects but this is usually species or strain-specific in their (du Jardin, 2015). In addition, fungi may form hyphal networks within the plant community transferring nutrients between individual plants(Simard et al., 1997). It is also noted that seaweed extract and botanical’s may also act as biostimulants. Contributing plant like hormones such as cytokines, auxins, abscisic acid, and gibberellins.

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