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Food: 4. Methods of increasing food production and improving sustainability and the environment

Doc Brown's Biology exam study revision notes

There are various sections to work through, after 1 they can be read and studied in any order.

Sub-index of biology notes on population growth, food security, sustainability and food production

4. Ways of tackling food production to avoid food insecurity

A lack of sustainability is a major factor for the world's food production

Can we increase food production rates without endangering the needs of future generations?

I realise the preceding section sounded all very negative, but there are ways to help the situation with good practice in land and sea management and protect the environment for the future.

We must be POSITIVE in our outlook and we are an intelligent animal that can solve these problems!

Methods of how to appropriately increase efficiency in food production

BUT there are still issues to be addressed!

We need sustainable methods of food production to provide enough to feed the world's growing population.

Sustainable food production means producing enough food to give everyone food security without consumption outstripping supply AND without damaging the environment and its ecosystems.

This includes using, as far as possible, renewable resources of food, materials and energy.

We need a variety of methods to increase food production and avoid food insecurity because situations differ around the world.


Plants are the producers at the start of any food chain.

Producers (mainly plants) take in the chemicals they need from their environment.

Molecular compounds like water, carbon dioxide and mineral ions e.g. nitrate for nitrogen, phosphate for phosphorus and small quantities of metal ions like magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium and zinc.

If plants don't get enough of theses nutrients their growth is inhibited giving lower crop yields.

There can be lack of nutrients in soil due the previous uptake of them by the previous crop or the soil is poor in nutrients in the first place.

Farmers can replace the missing nutrients used by the previous crop or enrich poor soils by applying artificial fertilisers - but this can adversely affect the environment.

Overuse of fertilisers and pesticides can lead to pollution problems.

see biodiversity notes.

By boosting soil nutrition, growth is increased and the subsequent yield increased.

Note: Yield can be defined as the quantity of food produced by a specified area of land (the growing time might be specified too).

Increased crop yields means increased food production, whether the yield is measured as a grain crop directly for food or the plant crop is fed to help raise herds of animals.

See also Photosynthesis, food chain importance explained

Parts 4(a) to 4(j) outline ways to help food production

BUT, there are often issues to take into account,

with advantages and disadvantages to take into consideration.

(a) GM crops can help, but it is only one approach to increasing food production:

(b) Organic fertilisers best, but poor soil improved with inorganic fertilisers, but overuse causes environmental problems.

(c) An assortment of agrichemical and pharmaceutical products to increase yields

(d) You can use biological methods to control pests.

(e) To avoid overfishing and keep fish stocks at sustainable levels, fish farms?

(f) Livestock management

(g) Mycoprotein - another application of biotechnology using fungi

(h) Growing plants in soil in greenhouse/glasshouses

(i) Hydroponics - growing plants without soil in a large shed or greenhouse

(j) Ways in which farmers can increase the nitrate content of soil

Summary of learning objectives and key words or phrases

Methods of increasing food production and improving sustainability.

Be able to answer questions such as:

How can we increase food production?  

How can be devise sustainable agriculture?

 What are the problems in increasing food production?

  • Know and understand that at each stage in a food chain, less material and less energy are contained in the biomass of the organisms.

    • Realise that this means that the efficiency of food production can be improved by reducing the number of stages in food chains.

    • As you move up a food chain, at every stage you lose biomass and therefore energy, so the greater the number of stages in food chain from producer to final consumer, the food production becomes less and less efficient.

    • Because of the fewer stages in the food chain, it is more efficient to produce food by growing crops than raising herds of animals if you compare the efficiencies of equal areas of land.

    • However a healthy diet should be varied diet, so meat or meat substitutes are important, but it is possible to grow cereal crops with a higher protein content.

    • Also, not all land is suitable for growing crops and poor quality land in upland areas of wild moorland may be more suitable for sheep for mutton and deer for venison.

  • Know and understand that humans often upset the balance of different populations in natural ecosystems, or change the environment so that some species find it difficult to survive.

  • Know and understand that with so many people in the world, there is a serious danger of causing permanent damage not just to the local environments but also to the global environment unless our overall effect is managed carefully.

  • Know and understand that humans rely on ecosystems for food, water and shelter.

  • You should be able to use your skills, knowledge and understanding to:

    • analyse and interpret scientific data concerning environmental issues,

    • evaluate methods used to collect environmental data and consider their validity and reliability as evidence for environmental change,

    • There is a considerable amount of climate data being collected around the world every day and many weather records go back tens and even hundreds of years.

    • Thermometers provide temperature data of the air and oceans, water collectors for rainfall, snowfall records, glacier size and their rates of melting, satellites can map rain clouds, storm patterns, glacier areas etc.

    • So, we are not short on data, and the consensus is that the Earth is warming, and by 1-2oC over that past 100-150 years. It doesn't sound much, but a 1oC rise does represent a huge amount of extra energy in our global weather system!

    • It is important that the data record is as long and accurate as possible. Computer modelling of the climate and trying to make predictions is not easy because there are so many variables and many not very predictable.

    • evaluate the methods being used to feed and provide water to an increasing human population, both in terms of short term and long term effects,

    • evaluate the use of biogas generators,

    • You should have considered a number of biogas generator designs ranging from third-world generators supplying a single family to commercial generators,

    • you should understand how the output from a biogas generator might be affected by climatic conditions,

    • evaluate the positive and negative effects of managing food production and distribution, and be able to recognise that practical solutions for human needs may require compromise between competing priorities,

    • You should consider:

      • the differences in efficiency between producing food from animals and plants,

      • the pros and cons of factory farming of animals,

      • the implications of ‘food miles’ - some food imports have come from thousands of miles away from the source of food production.

      • There are several issues which makes this an undesirable situation It adds extra costs to the consumer.

      • The transport costs increase the price of the food.

      • There is environmental damage from burning more fossil fuels - carbon dioxide -global warming - climate change.

      • These food imports often originate from third world countries where this is pressure to increase the national income from selling cash crops to foreign countries, BUT, many of the people in these exporting countries do not access to good food supplies - its the richer important countries who often benefit the most.



INDEX of biology notes on population growth, food security, sustainability and food production


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