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Unit 5

5.11 Challenges of Contemporary Agriculture

4 min readapril 21, 2021

Pooja Kalyan


AP Human Geography 🚜

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The nature of modern agriculture and our food-production techniques are rapidly changing, which will be a main focus in this section. We will look at the debates surrounding the use of agricultural innovations, what influences food production and consumption, the challenges of providing food for all, and economic factors that affect food-production. 

Debates Surrounding Agricultural Innovations

*These innovations have raised questions about their sustainability, soil and water usage, effect on biodiversity, and extensive use of chemicals. 
  • Biotechnology 
    • Arguments for: 
      • More efficient crop production 
      • Prolonged freshness of products 
      • Can design/modify organisms for specific purposes 
    • Arguments against: 
      • Consuming large amounts of GMO foods could reduce the effectiveness of antibiotics and affect the ecological balance of agriculture 
      • Genetically modified plants and animals could interbreed and contaminate food supplies 
  • GMOs 
    • Arguments for: 
      • Higher yields 
      • More nutrient dense varieties 
      • Resistant to pests 
      • Tolerant to droughts 
      • Tolerant to herbicides 
    • Arguments against: 
      • Environmental hazards 
        • Unwanted gene transfer to other organisms 
        • Unintended harm to other organisms 
      • Human health risk 
        • Unknown or unintended health effects 
      • Economic concerns 
        • Patents by agrichemical companies 
        • GMOs are more expensive to produce and take longer to bring into the market 
  • Aquaculture 
    • Arguments for: 
      • Fish and marine plants can be used to rebuild species populations 
      • Plants grown in aquaculture provide material that can be used for pharmaceutical nutritional, and biotechnology purposes 
      • Could be used for treating sewage and wastewater (by using fish like prawns and carp that gain nutrients from waste) 
    • Arguments against: 
      • Can lead to overfishing 
        • Certain fish species can become extinct 
        • Marine ecosystems can be affecting by upsetting the food chain 
      • Can pollute water systems (due to large concentrations of fish) 
      • Can change the landscape for marine life 
      • Expensive practice 
      🎥 Watch: AP HUG - Rural Land Use

Influences on Food Production and Consumption

What we choose to eat greatly affects food production and consumption patterns, and there are plenty of “movements” related to individual food choices that influence these patterns, such as urban farming, community-supported agriculture (CSA), organic farming, value added specialty crops, fair trade, local-food movements, and dietary shifts. 
  • Community-Supported Agriculture (CSA) 
    • A network or association of individuals who have agreed to support one or more local farms 
    • Both growers and consumers share the upsides and downsides that come with food production 
  • Organic Farming 
      • No genetically modified organisms 
      • No artificial/harsh chemicals (pesticides, antibiotics, fertilizers, synthetic hormones) 
      • Less costly to grow 
      • Has little effect on the production of staple foods 
      • Questionable standards and sustainability 
      • Prices out smaller farms because subsidies favor larger farms with more diverse ecosystems (since chemicals can’t be used)
  • Value-added Specialty Crops 
    • These have something “special” in them that makes them unique and priced higher 
      • Something different in the production of the product that “enhances its value” 
    • Examples: 
      • Organically produced (oftentimes seen as “better,” so people are willing to purchase it at a higher price) 
      • Jams (these are special because fruits are changed into something delicious in production) 
      • Cotton-candy grapes (the name itself says specialty, and you don’t find them everywhere either! side note- you must try these when they’re in season!) 
  • Fair Trade 
    • Promotes sustainability 
    • Fair everything! (Emphasizes small business) 
      • Fair worker wages 
      • Permits union organizing 
      • Must comply with minimum environmental and safety hazards 
    • When you see “fair trade” on product labels, this means that the product producers are getting a fair price for their goods 
  • Local Food Movements 
    • Local farmers markets 
      • Food is the main attraction, but they also provide a sense of community and are generally an enjoyable, fun experience 

Food for All (What’s wrong with this?) 

*You should know the challenges of trying to feed an entire world’s worth of population (7 billion people is a lot!) 
  • Lack of/Unequal Food Access 
    • Food insecurity 
      • Plenty of children and families around the world are food insecure 
      • It means sparse physical, social, or economic access to healthy food needed to meet dietary standards  
    • Food deserts 
      • Areas with very little access to (or even no access to) nutritious, affordable food such as fresh fruits and vegetables 
      • *Know this: There are areas only surrounded by fast food restaurants and run-down gas stations -> how are people in poverty supposed to stay healthy, let alone afford this?! 
  • Issues with Distribution Systems 
    • Certain areas may receive more product than others, which is especially unfavorable to those living in remote, isolated regions
  • Unpredictable/Unfavorable Weather Conditions
    • Food may not reach these areas as readily
    • Farmlands may be located very far away, making it difficult for regions located in harsh climates to get access to fresh produce 
  • Suburbanization 
    • Results in loss of land, and as a result, decreased farmland and crop production 

What Economic Processes Affect Food-Production? 

To put it simply, you should know that the way food is produced is largely determined by the location of food-processing facilities, economies of scale, distribution systems, and government policies. 
🎥 Watch: AP HUG - Development of Agriculture

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