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The Human Condition

Increasing Demand Spurs Advances and Challenges

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Agriculture is at a crossroads. We are closer than ever before to ensuring adequate global food supplies, but we face conflicting choices in reducing the environmental costs of food production.

The nearly 170 percent increase in global food production over the past four decades has come at a steep environmental cost. Food and water are inextricably linked, and intensive irrigation and other water uses have severely depleted lakes, rivers, and underground aquifers in many areas. And agricultural runoff is a major part of the pollution of freshwater sources.

Can we find a balance between food production and our environment? To some, the answer lies in greater reliance on technology, including crops engineered to resist pests, disease, or drought. Others look to organic agriculture, employing new and traditional methods to grow food without chemical fertilizers, pesticides, or genetic engineering. Each approach has its benefits, and each raises questions that have yet to be answered.

We now produce food in unprecedented quantities. Indeed, many experts believe we may finally be able to end starvation and malnutrition for good. But the challenge lies in finding ways to feed the world without undercutting the land, ecosystems, and water resources upon which all life ultimately depends.

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