Bite sized wisdom: ET, an alien concept of connectivity

Take a seed, drop it in soil, water it consistently and watch the plant grow. This simple breakdown of a very complex interaction between soil and plant does not take into account some vital factors, which year by year affect our global food supply.

While the above process sounds simple, nature is not simple or straightforward. There are many factors that determine whether or not a plant receives enough water to produce crops, some visible and not so visible to the eye. The combined effect of all factors is known as the ‘evapotranspiration process’- ET. biggest factors to impact ET are: solar radiation, air temperature, air humidity and wind speed. Each of these factors impacts the balance by which water transfers from soil to plant and to the atmosphere.

At the early stages of a plant’s growth much of the water is lost to evaporation from soil. At this stage the plant is small, has almost no leaves to provide shade for the soil, and has undeveloped roots, which don’t absorb a lot of water. During this development stage using drip irrigation (where water is distributed directly to the area where the seed is, or where the stem is starting to sprout), insures that water is not wasted and that the right amount is given directly to the plant.

As the crop matures it requires more water for development. Its roots multiply, it stem grows in height, and its foliage provides shade to the soil below, helping to minimize or lower the rate of water evaporation. In fact, “at the sowing stage of the plant, 100% of ET comes from evaporation, while at full crop cover more than 90% of ET comes from transpiration”

So what is transpiration then? It’s the transfer of water from plant to atmosphere.  A plant ‘breathes’ through its leaves. It takes in water with nutrients from the roots and transports it up throughout the system. At the end of this transfer gases and water vapor escape from the leaf through openings called ‘stomata’.

Due to climate change, temperature rise has put more stress on ET, increasing the rate at which water leaves the soil. Dry soil is unable to retain enough moisture and maintain a high nutrient level to feed the crop. Without enough water and proper soil conditions, crops don’t sprout evenly and yields are significantly cut down.

The ET concept might sound alien to most (pun intended), especially its technical aspects, but the idea in a nutshell is fairly simple. We live in a bubble where each system is connected and influenced by the other. The success of a crop doesn’t just stop at soil and water, it includes, wind, solar radiation, temperature, air humidity and much more.

In our own lives, the success of our development doesn’t stop at education and family status. Much of how we grow depends on our environment, the friends we’re exposed to, the role models we have, and the type of love we get from people that matter. Sometimes, when love is missing within a family we can find it in a teacher or friend who can guide us and steer us to enriching environments.

When faced with a problem, or dealing with individuals who are fighting their own battles, it is easy to jump to conclusions over basic aspects such as – economic, academic and other physical factors. The reality is usually more intricate and some factors are just not visible or comprehensible to us. ET can help us be more understanding of individuals and crops that don’t live up to their full potential. It reminds us that just because it’s the case now, it doesn’t mean that there is something intrinsically wrong with the object, but more often it’s the environment in which it grows.

A recent study showed that we learn best from direct examples, rather than arguments or reasoning (90% to 10%). And if we are not getting the most from what we’re trying to grow, crops or relationships, then it’s time for us to change the atmosphere in which we are developing them, not the plant or person itself. Here’s a quote to summarize the idea: “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower.”

And look at that – I just took a complex reality and simplified it to a quote. I guess certain cycles are difficult to change, but as long as we understand them we can have a more wholesome picture of our life on Earth and how everything is truly connected.

Here’s to connecting with the world and each other.

The Meat of the Issue: Energy week, I described the health risks associated with eating red meat based solely on its nutrient content and only briefly alluded to its environmental impacts. Fact is, the modern meat industry – including poultry, not just red meat – wreaks havoc on our land, air, and water quality; depletes copious amounts of energy; and threatens human health through the additives we feed our animals. As the idea of sustainable eating becomes increasingly popular, it’s important to identify what exactly makes meat so unsustainable. Since there is a lot to cover, I’m just going to start with energy consumption and discuss other aspects in subsequent posts. Keep in mind, however, that most of these consequences stem from large-scale, industrialized agriculture; even if it’s inherently the least sustainable food type, meat could be produced by more Eco-friendly means. agriculture, like any form of food production, requires energy, most of which is attained through fossil fuel combustion. Grain to feed livestock is grown with petroleum-based agrochemicals and then harvested with gas-burning combines. According to the WorldWatch Institute, at least 70% of American grain is grown solely to serve as livestock feed, and “it takes the equivalent of a gallon of gasoline to produce a pound of grain-fed beef” – which requires more grain to produce than any other kind of meat – in the United States. Feed production accounts for more than half of the energy used in intensive meat production (Koneswaran et al.). feed is transported, typically via truck or train, to the livestock ranch, after which even more energy costs are incurred in transporting the animals to slaughter, their carcasses to processing plants, the processed meat to markets, and, finally, from the market to consumers’ homes. Since meat is very sensitive in terms of perishability, storing and transporting it also requires a lot of refrigeration, further drawing on fossil fuels and releasing CO2. Similarly, cooking the meat uses electricity and/or gas, and the plastic packaging that it typically comes in is the result of fossil fuel-intensive manufacture. As Emory University succinctly states, “meat is the least fuel-efficient food we have.”

If you’re a meat-eater, try to find grass-fed, rather than grain-fed meats, which have far lower energy costs associated with its feeding. Additionally, as with any food, try buying local, as this means that the meat doesn’t have to be transported as far or stored as long. And be on the lookout next Tuesday for another meaty article!


4 steps to feed 1-4 billion people

There is more than enough food to feed our current population. There is even enough to provide for the billions of souls that will soon join us on this planet. Outlined below are 4 steps that can help us get there! 1: STOP FOOD WASTE
There are currently 1 billion people on the planet facing hunger. These individuals aren’t isolated to developing countries. USA, one of the most developed countries on Earth, has a population in which 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 5 children face hunger. This country also wastes about 30-40% of its food, which is similar to the global average where 1/3 of all food is wasted. If we can collect all this food, we can feed the hungry 4 times! Read a case study about food waste in the Spanish retail sector to learn more.

Not only does meat take a lot of resources to grow, but livestock feeds on a large percentage of cereals. If the land that is currently used to grow crops for livestock was instead channeled towards human consumption, an additional 4 billion people would be fed! A new study by the University of Minnesota shows that even a small shift of crops from livestock or bio-fuels towards human consumption would improve global food security. 3: BE MORE EFFICIENT
Wasting food leads to wasted resources. Agriculture is using 28% of land to grow food that is wasted (this also includes resources such as energy, water and labor). All this waste means that agriculture is responsible for 20-35% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The new study also highlighted that 60% of nitrogen and almost 50% of phosphorus applications exceeded the norms that are necessary for crop growth. This pollutes our environment. And finally, considering that only 1% of water on the planet is available for drinking, using our limited resources in a more efficient way will help long-term food security. With more efficient and improved irrigation techniques farmers can reduce water demands by 8-15% without compromising their food production.

There area areas of our planet where agriculture has the potential to produce more food than is currently being produced. These areas are known to have ‘yield gaps‘. With improved practices and technology these areas can increase production rates. A new portal, created with the partnership of University of Nebraska, Water for Food and Wageningen, gives an analysis of this problem. The above mentioned study showed that if we close even 50% of these gaps, there will be enough calories to feed an additional 850 million people. More than half of the areas are in Africa, as well as, Asia and Eastern Europe.