Human activity now has such a profound effect on the Earth's climate and environment to have raised calls for there to be declared a new geological epoch - the Anthropocene; a time in which human influence dominates, and climate change is proceeding at an unprecedented rate.
Modern high-input agriculture, through the emission of greenhouse gases and other pollutants, is a major factor in environmental change and the breakdown of natural ecosystems.
The agricultural revolutions of the twentieth century changed the world. In particular the development of synthetic nitrogen fixation and use of nitrogen fertiliser, that through improved food security allowed the population to more than double, and today reaching 7 billion.
But paradoxically the use of fertilisers and other high input systems that have benefited humanity in the past, also threatens it today. The release of atmospheric nitrous oxide from agricultural use accounts for 67% of human nitrous oxide emissions. In the atmosphere nitrous oxide acts as a greenhouse gas and is a major contributor to climate change.
There is clearly an urgent need to increase agricultural productivity in regions of widespread hunger and poverty. Also important to the alleviation of food insecurity is the application of sustainable agriculture. As many communities' livelihoods depend on farming, their fate is tightly interwoven with their environment. Practices which exacerbate environmental degeneration, such as slash and burn agriculture and land mismanagement must therefore be substituted with ones that would compliment both people's lives and the environment. We require an immediate effort to reform our current agricultural systems, in a manner which will dramatically ameliorate environmental damages. How can we transform modern agricultural systems? More specifically, how can we make agriculture high-yielding and sustainable, particularly to developing communities that are vulnerable to food scarcity, malnutrition and poverty?