Dear Friends and Colleagues
Challenges for Food and Agriculture in the 21st Century
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the U.N. has issued a report to increase understanding of the nature of the challenges that agriculture and food systems are facing now and will face into the 21st century. It analyses 15 global trends to provide insights into what is at stake and what needs to be done. These trends in turn inform a set of 10 challenges to achieving food security and nutrition for all and making agriculture sustainable.
The bottom line is that "business-as-usual is not an option". The report states, “High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production.”
The report cites the way forward as producing more with less while preserving and enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale and family farmers, and ensuring access to food by the most vulnerable. This entails atransformation towards ‘holistic’ approaches, such as agroecology and agro-forestry, which build upon traditional knowledge.
With best wishes,
Third World Network
THE FUTURE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURE: TRENDS AND CHALLENGES
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
The purpose of this report is to increase understanding of the nature of the challenges that agriculture and food systems are facing now and will face into the 21st century. Its analysis of 15 global trends provides insights into what is at stake and what needs to be done. Most of the trends are strongly interdependent and, combined, inform a set of 10 challenges to achieving food security and nutrition for all and making agriculture sustainable. ‘Business-as-usual’ is not an option. Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet.
A number of global trends are influencing food security, poverty and the overall sustainability of food and agricultural systems.
The world’s population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion by 2050, boosting agricultural demand – in a scenario of modest economic growth – by some 50 percent compared to 2013. Income growth in low- and middle-income countries would hasten a dietary transition towards higher consumption of meat, fruits and vegetables, relative to that of cereals, requiring commensurate shifts in output and adding pressure on natural resources.
Economic growth and population dynamics are driving the structural change of economies.
The decline in the share of agriculture in total production and employment is taking place at different speeds and poses different challenges across regions. Although agricultural investments and technological innovations are boosting productivity, growth of yields has slowed to rates that are too low for comfort. Food losses and waste claim a significant proportion of agricultural output, and reducing them would lessen the need for production increases. However, the needed acceleration in productivity growth is hampered by the degradation of natural resources, the loss of biodiversity, and the spread of transboundary pests and diseases of plants and animals, some of which are becoming resistant to antimicrobials.
Climate change affects disproportionately food-insecure regions, jeopardizing crop and livestock production, fish stocks and fisheries.
Satisfying increased demands on agriculture with existing farming practices is likely to lead to more intense competition for natural resources, increased greenhouse gas emissions, and further deforestation and land degradation.
Hunger and extreme poverty have been reduced globally since the 1990s.
Yet, around 700 million people, most of them living in rural areas, are still extremely poor today. In addition, despite undeniable progress in reducing rates of undernourishment and improving levels of nutrition and health, almost 800 million people are chronically hungry and 2 billion suffer micronutrient deficiencies. Under a ‘business-as-usual’ scenario, without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, some 653 million people would still be undernourished in 2030. Even where poverty has been reduced, pervasive inequalities remain, hindering poverty eradication.
Critical parts of food systems are becoming more capital-intensive, vertically integrated and concentrated in fewer hands.
This is happening from input provisioning to food distribution. Small-scale producers and landless households are the first to lose out and increasingly seek employment opportunities outside of agriculture. This is driving increased migratory flows, especially of male members of rural households, which is leading, in turn, to the ‘feminization’ of farming in many parts of the world.
Conflicts, crises and natural disasters are increasing in number and intensity.
They reduce food availability, disrupt access to food and health care, and undermine social protection systems, pushing many affected people back into poverty and hunger, fuelling distress migration and increasing the need for humanitarian aid. Violent conflict also frequently characterizes protracted crises. On average, the proportion of undernourished people living in low-income countries with a protracted crisis is between 2.5 and 3 times higher than in other low-income countries.
These trends pose a series of challenges to food and agriculture.
High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production. Needed are innovative systems that protect and enhance the natural resource base, while increasing productivity. Needed is a transformative process towards ‘holistic’ approaches, such as agroecology, agro-forestry, climate-smart agriculture and conservation agriculture, which also build upon indigenous and traditional knowledge. Technological improvements, along with drastic cuts in economy-wide and agricultural fossil fuel use, would help address climate change and the intensification of natural hazards, which affect all ecosystems and every aspect of human life. Greater international collaboration is needed to prevent emerging transboundary agriculture and food system threats, such as pests and diseases.
Eradicating extreme poverty, and ensuring that vulnerable people who escape poverty do not fall back into it, requires action to reduce inequalities.
That means addressing inequalities both between and within countries, in levels of income, in opportunities and in ownership of assets, including land. Pro-poor growth strategies, which ensure that the weakest participate in the benefits of market integration and investment in agriculture, would improve their income and investment opportunities in rural areas and address the root causes of migration.
But pro-poor growth must go beyond agriculture, by involving both rural and urban areas and supporting job creation and income diversification.
Social protection combined with pro-poor growth will help meet the challenge of ending hunger and addressing the triple burden of malnutrition through healthier diets. Permanently eliminating hunger, malnutrition and extreme poverty also requires building resilience to protracted crises, disasters and conflicts, and preventing conflicts by promoting inclusive and equitable global development.
A rethinking of food systems and governance is essential for meeting current and future challenges.
Vertically coordinated, more organized food systems offer standardized food for urban areas and formal employment opportunities. But they need to be accompanied by responsible investments and concern for smallholder livelihoods, the environmental footprint of lengthening food supply chains, and impacts on biodiversity. These concerns need to be addressed by making food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient.
On the path to sustainable development, all countries are interdependent.
One of the greatest challenges is achieving coherent, effective national and international governance, with clear development objectives and commitment to achieving them. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development embodies such a vision – one that goes beyond the divide of ‘developed’ and ‘developing’ countries. Sustainable development is a universal challenge and the collective responsibility for all countries, requiring fundamental changes in the way all societies produce and consume.
HUMANKIND'S ABILITY TO FEED ITSELF, NOW IN JEOPARDY
IPS World Desk
Mankind's future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, warns a new United Nations report.
Though very real and significant progress in reducing global hunger has been achieved over the past 30 years, "expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment," says the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) report ‘The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges', issued on Feb. 22, 2017.
"Almost one half of the forests that once covered the Earth are now gone. Groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly. Biodiversity has been deeply eroded."
As a result, "planetary boundaries may well be surpassed, if current trends continue," cautions FAO Director- General Jose Graziano da Silva in his introduction to the report.
By 2050, humanity's ranks will likely have grown to nearly 10 billion people. In a scenario with moderate economic growth, this population increase will push up global demand for agricultural products by 50 per cent over present levels, intensifying pressures on already-strained natural resources, The Future of Food and Agriculture projects.
At the same time, the report continues, greater numbers of people will be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food - a result of an ongoing global dietary transition that will further add to those pressures, driving more deforestation, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions.
Alongside these trends, the planet's changing climate will throw up additional hurdles. "Climate change will affect every aspect of food production," the report says. These include greater variability of precipitation and increases in the frequency of droughts and floods.
The core question raised by the new FAO report is whether, looking ahead, the world's agriculture and food systems are capable of sustainably meeting the needs of a burgeoning global population.
The short answer? Yes, FAO says, the planet's food systems are capable of producing enough food to do so, and in a sustainable way, but unlocking that potential - and ensuring that all of humanity benefits - will require "major transformations."
According to the report, without a push to invest in and re-tool food systems, far too many people will still be hungry in 2030 - the year by which the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) agenda has targeted the eradication of chronic food insecurity and malnutrition, the report warns.
"Without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, reduce inequalities and protect vulnerable people, more than 600 million people would still be undernourished in 2030," it says.
In fact, the current rate of progress would not even be enough to eradicate hunger by 2050.
Where Will Our Food Come From?
Given the limited scope for expanding agriculture's use of more land and water resources, the production increases needed to meet rising food demand will have to come mainly from improvements in productivity and resource-use efficiency, says FAO.
However, there are worrying signs that yield growth is leveling off for major crops. Since the 1990s, average increases in the yields of maize, rice, and wheat at the global level generally run just over 1 percent per annum, the report notes.
To tackle these and the other challenges outlined in the report, "business-as-usual" is not an option, The Future of Food and Agriculture argues.
"Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet," it says.
"High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production," adds the report.
More With Less
The core challenge is to produce more with less, while preserving and enhancing the livelihoods of small-scale and family farmers, and ensuring access to food by the most vulnerable.
"For this, a twin-track approach is needed which combines investment in social protection, to immediately tackle undernourishment, and pro-poor investments in productive activities - especially agriculture and in rural economies - to sustainably increase income-earning opportunities of the poor."
According to the UN body, the world will need to shift to more sustainable food systems which make more efficient use of land, water and other inputs and sharply reduce their use of fossil fuels, leading to a drastic cut of agricultural green-house gas emissions, greater conservation of biodiversity, and a reduction of waste.
This will necessitate more investment in agriculture and agri-food systems, as well as greater spending on research and development, to promote innovation, support sustainable production increases, and find better ways to cope with issues like water scarcity and climate change, it underlines.
Along with boosting production and resilience, equally critical will be creating food supply chains that better connect farmers in low- and middle-income countries to urban markets - along with measures which ensure access for consumers to nutritious and safe food at affordable prices, such as pricing policies and social protection programs, it says.
On this, Kostas Stamoulis, FAO Assistant Director-General for Economic and Social Development, when asked about the most important challenge of tomorrow regarding food and agriculture at a media briefing, said that it is climate change.
"This demands change in practice of agriculture and developing agriculture that is more adaptable to climate change."
Kostas Stamoulis and the other two authors of the report, Rob Vos, Director of the Agriculture Economics Development Division, and Lorenzo Bellu, Team Leader, Global Perspective Studies, organised on Feb. 21, a briefing session for the media to explain the key issues the new document includes.
Top Trends and Challenges
The FAO report identifies 15 trends and 10 challenges affecting the world's food systems:
* A rapidly increasing world population marked by growth "hot spots," urbanization, and aging.
* Diverse trends in economic growth, family incomes, agricultural investment, and economic inequality.
* Greatly increased competition for natural resources.
* Climate change.
* Plateauing agricultural productivity.
* Increased conflicts, crises and natural disasters.
* Persistent poverty, inequality and food insecurity.
* Dietary transition affecting nutrition and health.
* Structural changes in economic systems and employment implications.
* Increased migration.
* Changing food systems and resulting impacts on farmers' livelihoods.
* Persisting food losses and waste.
* New international governance mechanisms for responding to food and nutrition security issues.
* Changes in international financing for development.
* Sustainably improving agricultural productivity to meet increasing demand.
* Ensuring a sustainable natural resource base.
* Addressing climate change and intensification of natural hazards.
* Eradicating extreme poverty and reducing inequality.
* Ending hunger and all forms of malnutrition.
* Making food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient.
* Improving income earning opportunities in rural areas and addressing the root causes of migration.
* Building resilience to protracted crises, disasters and conflicts.
* Preventing trans-boundary and emerging agriculture and food system threats.
* Addressing the need for coherent and effective national and international governance.