The hidden beauty of plants that nourish the world

The hidden beauty of plants that nourish the world

From salad to dessert, most of the food you’ll find on your plate can be traced back to carefully cultivated plants. Even the meat you eat probably comes from the animals that feed the crops, pushing energy from the sun up the food chain.

But modern agriculture has enormous environmental costs. Crops such as corn and soybeans are often grown individually on large farms using fertilizers and pesticides made from fossil fuels. By cutting and burning forests that can capture carbon dioxide, more carbon dioxide is pumped into the air. Intensive plowing destroys the fungal networks that hold the soil together, leads to a loss of water supply, which is already under stress, and causes further erosion. These are just a few examples of the impact of our diet on climate change. According to recent estimates, agriculture contributes more than 30 percent to greenhouse gas emissions.

On September 23, the United Nations Food Systems Summit convened to address the issue. Sustainable solutions for agriculture were discussed during the virtual meeting. The goal: “Everyone in the world must commit and work together to make a difference in the way we consume, produce and think about food.”

As part of the move towards more sustainable agriculture, more and more food producers and investors are turning to advanced technologies and some technologies from the distant past that are used in what is known as “renewable agriculture”. Such techniques, in which the genetic diversity of plants is enhanced and the cultivation of “cover crops” that extract nitrogen from the atmosphere and release it into the soil, can contribute to healthier soils and retain more carbon dioxide in the ground.

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Read also: Food forests: an alternative to intensive farming?

As a teacher, photographer, and lifelong lover of small nature, I investigate the fascinating relationship between the food crops we depend on and climate risks and associated solutions. I look at them at the smallest scale using an electron microscope and try to use these wonderful and wonderful images to draw attention to current environmental problems and encourage people to commit to solving them.

This article was originally published in English at nationalgeographic.com

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