Environment: Use and protect
Many innovations arise from observations of nature. Genetic resources often serve as inspiration or basis for new products, drugs and mechanisms of action. Agriculture also uses natural cycles, but at the same time influences them. It is in the farmers' own interest to produce in the most environmentally friendly way possible.
Wednesday, November 24, 2021
But there are several challenges: Water scarcity, loss of arable land and biodiversity, and climate change. Smart land use with the latest technologies reduces water loss and greenhouse gas emissions, as well as biodiversity loss. Natural land is most effectively protected if the necessary increase in agricultural productivity can take place on existing agricultural land.
Agriculture accounts for 12 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and is thus a major contributor to climate change. A fundamental problem is the large amount of land required. Soil used for food production can store less CO2 than natural forest soil, for example. Livestock farming and the use of nitrogen fertilizers also contribute significantly to greenhouse gas emissions. One thing is clear: in order to produce enough healthy food for ten billion people and at the same time protect the climate, production must be intensified in a sustainable manner. This means producing more on smaller areas. Extensification of agriculture, on the other hand, requires more land and is problematic for the climate.
Innovation to combat climate change
In order to achieve significantly higher yields on a small area, new technologies are indispensable. Innovations are needed to minimize crop losses. New crop protection products with optimized environmental profiles are just as much a part of this as more climate-friendly fertilizers and more robust plant varieties. Green genetic engineering and, in particular, genome editing help to rapidly breed new plant varieties that can withstand the changed environmental conditions caused by climate change. Technological scepticism, on the other hand, will get us nowhere. Blocking the approval of new and more environmentally friendly plant protection products and the moratorium on genetic engineering harm the climate and the environment instead of helping them.
Every agricultural production, whether organic or conventional, represents an intervention in nature. Where useful plants thrive, there is automatically less space available for other species. This also applies to organic farming. Compared to conventional agriculture, it requires around 40 percent more land to achieve the same yield. Although there are potentially more species living on organic land than on conventional fields, higher land requirements cancel out this advantage. Extensification of production is therefore the wrong way to preserve biodiversity.Sustainable intensification also preserves the natural areas and the wild plants growing there as genetic resources for future food production and innovation.
Sustainability from the laboratory
In order to relieve the burden on nature, it makes sense to rely on the laboratory for the production of certain foods and substances. Countless examples already demonstrate the benefits of synthetics. For example, citric acid is no longer squeezed out of countless lemons, but is produced on a large scale using chemical processes in the laboratory. Something similar could soon happen with meat. In which steaks could be "bred" from the stem cells of cattle in the Petri dish, fewer resources such as land, water or feed would be needed. Similarly, dairy products produced "animal-free" in the lab. Sustainable production from the laboratory will be a crucial piece of the puzzle for environmental protection.
Resource-saving production in and from the research industry
Alternative fuels from plant waste products save CO2 without competing with food production. Flavours can be created from plastic waste: The circular economy is gaining importance. Wherever it makes sense and is more sustainable, animal raw materials are replaced by plant-based raw materials. For example, fragrance ingredients are created from fermented sugar cane instead of animal origin. The research industry develops and operates its facilities in such a way that the evolving state of safety, health and environmental protection is ensured. It strives to develop and manufacture innovative products that can be produced, transported, used and disposed of in a safer and more environmentally sound manner.
The demand for regional products could hardly be greater. This is shown by a new study by the Zurich School of Business. Consumers even consider regional products to be significantly more sustainable than organic or premium products. To keep up with this trend, it is therefore all the more important to promote modern breeding techniques and plant protection products.
The reduced use of plant protection products is causing much smaller wheat and rapeseed harvests. A study carried out by Swiss Agricultural Research reveals that such crop failures can only be offset by state subsidies. This is neither sustainable nor resource-efficient.
The economic interdependence of the world has increased greatly over the past years and decades. Due to the brisk trade activity between the continents, invasive plant and animal species are also spreading faster and faster. This can lead to serious problems for native vegetation and agriculture. According to the FOEN, the canton of Ticino is particularly affected.