Friday, February 04, 2011

the future of food and farming

BIS | Project aim: to explore the pressures on the global food system between now and 2050 and identify the decisions that policy makers need to take today, and in the years ahead, to ensure that a global population rising to nine billion or more can be fed sustainably and equitably.

The global food system will experience an unprecedented confluence of pressures over the next 40 years. On the demand side, global population size will increase from nearly seven billion today to eight billion by 2030, and probably to over nine billion by 2050; many people are likely to be wealthier, creating demand for a more varied, high-quality diet requiring additional resources to produce. On the production side, competition for land, water and energy will intensify, while the effects of climate change will become increasingly apparent. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate will become imperative.

Over this period globalisation will continue, exposing the food system to novel economic and political pressures. Any one of these pressures (‘drivers of change’) would present substantial challenges to food security; together they constitute a major threat that requires a strategic reappraisal of how the world is fed. Overall, the Project has identified and analysed five key challenges for the future. Addressing these in a pragmatic way that promotes resilience to shocks and future uncertainties will be vital if major stresses to the food system are to be anticipated and managed.

The five challenges, outlined further in Sections 4 – 8, are:
  • A. Balancing future demand and supply sustainably – to ensure that food supplies are affordable.
  • B. Ensuring that there is adequate stability in food supplies – and protecting the most vulnerable from the volatility that does occur.
  • C. Achieving global access to food and ending hunger. This recognises that producing enough food in the world so that everyone can potentially be fed is not the same thing as ensuring food securityfor all.
  • D. Managing the contribution of the food system to the mitigation of climate change.
  • E. Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services while feeding the world.
These last two challenges recognise that food production already dominates much of the global land surface and water bodies, and has a major impact on all the Earth’s environmental systems.

In recognising the need for urgent action to address these future challenges, policy-makers should not lose sight of major failings in the food system that exist today.
Although there has been marked volatility in food prices over the last two years, the food system continues to provide plentiful and affordable food for the majority of the world’s population. Yet it is failing in two major ways which demand decisive action:
Hunger remains widespread. 925 million people experience hunger: they lack access to sufficient of the major macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats and protein). Perhaps another billion are thought to suffer from ‘hidden hunger’, in which important micronutrients (such as vitamins and minerals) are missing from their diet, with consequent risks of physical and mental impairment. In contrast, a billion people are substantially over-consuming, spawning a new public health epidemic involving chronic conditions such as type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Much of the responsibility for these three billion people having suboptimal diets lies within the global food system.

Many systems of food production are unsustainable. Without change, the global food system will continue to degrade the environment and compromise the world’s capacity to produce food in the future, as well as contributing to climate change and the destruction of biodiversity. There are widespread problems with soil loss due to erosion, loss of soil fertility, salination and other forms of degradation; rates of water extraction for irrigation are exceeding rates of replenishment in many places; over-fishing is a widespread concern; and there is heavy reliance on fossil fuel-derived energy for synthesis of nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides. In addition, food production systems frequently emit significant quantities of greenhouse gases and release other pollutants that accumulate in the environment.