11 March 2019

Society must reconsider the role of agriculture. Major investment is required in innovation, not only to feed the world’s increasing population, but also to avoid more wars and crises, claims LiU researcher Per Frankelius in the scientific journal The Lancet.

The UN assessment of necessary increases in various agricultural productsThe UN assessment of necessary increases in various agricultural products Photo credit Per Frankelius, Agtech 2030The development of agriculture is a fundamental requirement for peace and freedom. Per Frankelius has conducted a literature study of the theories concerning why wars begin, and this forms the basis of the correspondence article. He concludes that the causes of war are neither factors such as religion nor the availability of weapons: the conflicts that subsequently become wars arise from scarcities of vital resources such as energy, water and – not least – food.

Per Frankelius conducts research into business administration at Linköping University, and is process leader for the Vinnova-financed initiative Agtech 2030.

“Agriculture is a hot potato in most countries, which is clear by the temperature of societal debate. One trend is that increasing numbers view agriculture as environmentally unsound. Animal husbandry, for example, and those who conduct it, have been accused of being a threat to the climate. What is seldom mentioned is the significance of the availability of manure, and thus the supply of organic material to agricultural land”, Per Frankelius points out.

“The same people advocate both a reduction in meat consumption and an increase in eco-friendly production. It’s difficult to solve this equation, simply because of the important role that manure plays in ecological cultivation”, he says.

One way forward

Calculations by the UN show that a considerable increase in agricultural products (both meat and grain) will be required between now and 2050, when the Earth’s population is Freshly harvested wheatFreshly harvested wheat Photo credit Per Frankeliusexpected to be 9.6 billion. In addition to the increase in population, loss of agricultural land due to climate change will make the challenge even more serious.
Per Frankelius believes that there is only one way forward. He argues in The Lancet that a major investment in agricultural innovations all over the world is now needed, and that these innovations must be spread also to the world’s poorest countries.

“There is a serious risk that today’s decision-makers are focussing on treating symptoms, rather than taking measures to solve the fundamental problems”, says Per Frankelius.

Agriculture an important cog

He points out that agriculture is not an isolated island, but a centrally placed cog in the machinery of both society and the natural world. He suggests that it acts as a guarantor for peace and freedom. But farmers today here in Sweden are company managers under pressure who must deal with stiff competition, complex technology, staffing shortages, a challenging work environment and – not least – extreme administrative pressure that follows from legislation, regulations and the requirements of government agencies.

“In Sweden, and in the East Sweden area in particular, we have a solid basis for innovation and development with several innovative companies and products such as new suspension systems for mower conditioners, cranes for the rapid loading of seed into planting machines, and camera-based row sensing systems. Robots for precision cultivation are an extremely interesting innovation. We must reconsider and debate the role of agriculture”, concludes Per Frankelius.

The article: Back to the root causes of war: food shortages, Per Frankelius, Lancet 2019. DOI 10.1016/S0140-6736(19)30018-2

Translated by George Farrants


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