You could say that food is the ultimate technology. Food may not have circuits, touch screens, or an app store, but of all the technology that man has ever developed for himself, nothing else has had such a direct and significant impact on human progress as a species. It is agriculture, or the cultivation of edible things, that made it possible for humans to progress from nomadic hunter-gatherer tribes to develop settlements, cities, and civilization in general. Later, advances in agricultural technology produced factors like grain storage, steel plows, and mechanical threshers, and this allowed us to produce food surpluses, support larger populations, and eventually go out to colonize every corner of this planet.
Food is undoubtedly one of our greatest technological achievements. But like all technology, it can also be a double edged sword. Human agricultural success has brought humanity to a tipping point. The world’s population is expected to grow to roughly over 2.3 billion people towards 2050. To feed all those hungry mouths, global food production will need to scale up in a big way. Unfortunately, the 21st century is seeing a world where oceans are already overfished or being fought over, arable land is increasingly scarce, and pollution and unmanaged garbage dumping is making crop yields unstable and unpredictable.
So, can technology win in this uphill battle to boost production to meet the planet’s rising demand for food without exacerbating the problems modern agriculture already faces? There’s no simple answer to this question. However, recent technological innovations from truly concerned scientists provide a grain of hope.
Just as inventions like the tractor, the sprinkler, and chemical fertilizers helped farmers to meet rising demand in the past, new technologies might help us meet demand in the future. Right now, scientists all over the globe are leveraging a new generation of technological tools such as gene editing, artificial intelligence, and flying agricultural harvest robots to ensure that our food future may be secure in the future.
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Genetic modification has been attempted for centuries, but now, new tools like CRISPR, scientists now are pushing the practice into even newer territory. Hopefully, the near future will see drought tolerant, disease-prone, ultra-yield crops. New indoor farm trends can now produce high volumes of fresh produce without relying on heavy use of herbicides, pesticides, or even the presence of the sun. The practice of also growing vast amounts of food crops indoors in urban areas will cut down on overuse of rural lands and have big savings on shipping to city-dwelling consumers.
Animal agriculture is still important because everyone still eats meat in spite of it being a top cause of environmental destruction around the world. So, scientists are racing to develop lab-grown meat alternatives that taste exactly like the original, saving on the requirement for slaughtering of livestock. Agricultural robots – even the flying ones – can cut down on operation costs and accomplish more with smaller work forces.