Monday, January 24, 2011

how will we feed the world in 2050?


Video - Oliver Food Glorious Food!

Independent | The finite resources of the Earth will be be stretched as never before in the coming 40 years because of the unprecedented challenge of feeding the world in 2050, leading scientists have concluded in a report to be published next week.

Food production will have to increase by between 70 and 100 per cent, while the area of land given over to agriculture will remain static, or even decrease as a result of land degradation and climate change. Meanwhile the global population is expected to rise from 6.8 billion at present to about 9.2 billion by mid-century.

The Government-appointed advisers are expected to warn that "business as usual" in terms of food production is not an option if mass famine is to be avoided, and to refer to the need for a second "green revolution", following the one that helped to feed the extra 3 billion people who have been added to the global population over the past 50 years.

In the hard-hitting report, commissioned by the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills, the scientists will warn that the era of cheap food is over, and that governments around the world must prepare to follow the leads of China and Brazil by investing heavily in research and the development of new agricultural techniques and practices.

The authors of the Foresight report, Global Food and Farming Futures, will argue that to boost crop yields to the level needed to provide enough food for all by 2050 every scientific tool must be considered, including the controversial use of genetically modified (GM) crops – which have been largely rejected by British consumers.

They will suggest that the public needs to be better convinced of the benefits of GM food, and will advocate an educational campaign to improve acceptance of what they see as one of a set of innovative technologies that can contribute to and improve food security in the coming century. "We say very clearly that we should not tie our hands behind our backs by dismissing GM," said one of the report's authors.

The scientists are expected to recommend that GM technology should be shifted away from the private sector to one that is mostly funded and deployed by publicly funded bodies, in order to avoid what is seen as the stranglehold of large agribusiness companies such as Monsanto.

To combat the huge amounts of food waste – up to 40 per cent of food bought in developed countries ends up being thrown away – the scientists are also expected to recommend changes to legislation covering "sell by" dates. Relaxing these restrictions, the scientists will argue, could help to reduce the enormous amount of edible food discarded by British consumers.

They also want to see a massive injection of funds into agricultural research, to reverse the decline of public funding in recent decades as a result of successive governments viewing agriculture as low priority in times when food was cheap and plentiful.

The report's conclusions and recommendations mirror closely those of a French study published last week on how to feed the world in 2050. The report by two leading research institutes, in a project entitled Agrimonde, found that nothing short of a food revolution is needed to avoid mass famine. "A few years ago the world and Europe was producing too much food, and food was getting cheaper and cheaper. Now world agriculture lies at the heart of major worldwide challenges, and [this report] tells us why business as usual is not an option," said Patrick Caron, one of the Agrimonde authors.

Like the UK's Foresight report, the French study found there is no overwhelming obstacle to feeding a global population of 9.2 billion people, provided food yields are boosted, waste is cut both after harvesting and in the kitchen, and food distribution is improved.

However, the French study also suggested there are two possible routes to feeding the world. One involves unsustainable improvements in crop yields which do not take into account the detrimental impact on the environment, while the other is a sustainable route which will involve people in the developed world consuming less and decreasing their average food intake.

"The world can properly feed 9 billion people by 2050, but it will depend on what's on our plates and what is wasted from our plates," said Sandrine Paillard, who contributed to the Agrimonde study.

People in the developed world could decrease their food consumption – as measured by daily energy intake – by an average of 25 per cent and still have a healthy diet, she said.