Not only do the growing billions of people in the world want to eat, but those in poorer countries want to share in the lifestyles those of us enjoy in the West. They don’t want to be wondering where the next meal for themselves and their families will be coming from; they don’t want to get ill from eating that meal; they don’t want to spend all their waking hours bent double under the sun weeding their crops; they want to be able to buy and enjoy non-food comforts; and they want a varied and interesting diet with more meats and oils.
While writing that list, I inserted ‘above all’ several times, but actually each one of these points is critical to a billion people. In the West, we enjoy food as never before; nobody has three identical meals a day, whether “noodles and yak meat”, or “rice and …”, where the ellipsis is, as often as not, nothing. Largely because of our food and the ways it is grown, handled and processed, our life expectancy during the 19th century increased from 50 years to 75 – to put it more clearly, for every two days later that you were born, you expected to live an extra day. We don’t have big shocks about price or non-availability.
How can though, can our standards be achieved “without trashing the planet”, as Professor Bill Davies from Lancaster has noted, for the world’s population? Plant breeders and farmers selecting improved varieties play a major role, and their work will be supported by geneticists, physiolologists and germplasm experts. . The Phytopractor http://phytophactor.fieldofscience.com/ commented on a previous blog here: without botany, we would be naked, miserable and hungry. The relatively small group of people working in these areas, whether in crops or model species, and certainly including those modelling plant growth and looking at ecology and pathology, can address both systematically and by serendipity the constraints on crop production, and ensure that options are available for sustainable and affordable methods giving the best quality and quantity needed to meet the challenges.