Food security on the line

01 Sep, 2014 02:00 AM
A business-as-usual approach to agriculture is no longer an option

GLOBAL agriculture requires a radical shift akin to a military about-face sooner than most people realise, in order to feed an exploding population while preventing dire social and environmental outcomes.

That was the stirring message delivered by World Bank Group vice president and Special Envoy for Climate Change Rachel Kyte who was lead speaker at the Crawford Fund's annual conference in Canberra last week.

Ms Kyte said the world faced a fundamental and daunting challenge on how to nutritiously feed a rapidly growing population in “uncertain times”.

She said to feed and nourish the 9 billion people who are expected to inhabit the planet by 2050 farmers must produce as much food as they have over the past 8000 years, but “without destroying or taking a hefty toll on the environment”.

Global nutrition is failing

However, the world is already failing to feed today's population, she said. One in eight people suffer from chronic hunger and more than 1 billion people - the majority women and children - are undernourished.

Ms Kyte said most of these undernourished people live in Africa and South Asia - two regions of the world particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and urbanizing at an unprecedented rate.

Her speech to agricultural heavyweights outlined a range of future and immediate challenges from global food waste to global warming. She said those challenges, spurred on by a growing population with a rising middle class hungry for meat, “are leading us down a dangerous path”.

“Unless we chart a new course, we will find ourselves staring volatility and disruption in the food system in the face - not in 2050, not in 2040, but potentially within the next decade,” she said.

“A business-as-usual approach to agriculture is no longer an option. It will not enable us to feed and nourish the world's growing population, nor to protect the planet.

“To chart a new course we first need to face the fact that agriculture and land use change are responsible for 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.

“They have to move from being a part of the problem to the core of the solution.

“That doesn't mean that mitigation should come at the expense of production. In fact, I'm suggesting the opposite.

“I am talking about increased efficiency leading to lower emissions per calorie or kilo of food.”

A new agricultural paradigm

Ms Kyte said a new global agricultural paradigm would involve an integrated, holistic approach that enabled new food systems to be built where nutrition, climate change and sustainability come together and feed an increasingly urbanized population.

“At the heart of this solution is what we term ‘climate-smart agriculture’ - an approach that refutes the idea that preserving vital natural resources, reducing carbon emissions, and nourishing people is a zero-sum game,” she said.

“It offers farmers a future, a path through uncertainty.

“Climate-smart agriculture offers a triple win: increased productivity, improved resilience, and greater climate change mitigation.

“Climate-smart agriculture combines sustainable intensification, producing more and better food with fewer resources, with a landscapes approach, so that progress on farms does not come at the expense of forests, streams, and biodiversity - the loss of which will impact farmers' productivity and resilience down the line.

“The reality is if we continue to fund crop expansion on the one hand, and natural resources conservation on the other, outside of a landscape approach, we will cancel ourselves out.”

Urban challenges

Ms Kyte said obesity was generally considered a rich-country problem.

But according to the FAO the number of overweight and obese people in developing countries was 904 million which has more than tripled since 1980, overtaking the number of malnourished people (842 million).

She said a study published in The Lancet earlier this month found that one-third of the world's population was now overweight or obese and 62 per cent of them live in developing countries.

Meanwhile global cities are growing at “breakneck speed” with 70 million people moving into urban areas in developing countries each year, she said.

“In the space of 30 years, 2 billion people will move to urban areas in emerging economies, doubling the global urban population,” she said.

“Built-up urban areas will increase by 1.2 million square kilometres; which is nearly triple the global urban land area in 2000.”

But Ms Kyte said as urban people become increasingly affluent, their food preferences change rapidly which meant they would eat more meat.

“In low and middle-income countries, meat consumption is projected to grow 75pc from 2005 to 2050, reaching 30 kilograms per person per year,” she said.

“This growing demand has major environmental consequences.

“For every one kilo of change in demand for meat, up to 10 kilos of additional feed is required, intensifying pressure on crop lands and forests and increasing emissions.

“A CGIAR-funded study found that beef and dairy cattle account for 77 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions from livestock - but animals in the developing world require more food to produce a kilo of protein than do livestock in wealthy countries.

“This raises questions about how to balance food wants and needs with those of the environment and how to balance individual choice with costs to the community.”

Ms Kyte said big business, small farmers and government policymaker must all take responsibility for creating a food system that was climate-smart, people-focused and planet friendly.

“The world's future security is at stake,” she said.

Colin Bettles

Colin Bettles

is the national political writer for Fairfax Agricultural Media
Date: Newest first | Oldest first


1/09/2014 6:57:49 AM

And yet the value of farm commodities year on year is falling at an alarming rate, to the point where the next gen sees no future in it. The answer to global food shortages and climate pressure has now and always will be human contraception. There is way more to overpopulation than just food issues.
X Ag Socialist
1/09/2014 8:00:50 AM

There is no food security issue I know this because wealthy people are not starving .
1/09/2014 8:19:50 AM

We keep hearing the numbers 9 Billion, and 2050. I wonder what the experts reckon happens after these numbers are reached.
farmer joe
1/09/2014 8:37:37 AM

What a load of rubbish! Agriculture is essential, but the effort needs to be put onto consumers to save their planet. I am told I can't use HGPs anymore because the consumer does not want them, but HGPs improve feed conversion efficiencies and reduce my enterprise GHG emissions. Which do you want, A cooler planet or some unscientific sentimental market? Ms Kyte is half right, but unless people will pay for food properly and prioritise it the way the world truly needs, there is little farmers can do.
farmers' daughter
1/09/2014 11:05:28 AM

'sustainable intensification'; try & get that accepted by the very people who have it in for primary producers & their practices already in place, which have been devised to provide more premium grade food & at a price people are prepared to pay. urban expansion eating up productive land is part of the problem too.
1/09/2014 11:21:39 AM

There will come a day where end users and consumers realise that paper shorts do not have the same calorific value of grain commodities. Until there is a loss in confidence of the US dollar and printing presses, we will have to get used to grain prices always reverting back to close to the cost of production. That is why it is so important to lock away profitability when it stares us in the face. Markets dodged a bullet by encouraging a big cereal plant globally this year. Oilseeds will likley be the next bull market late in 2015. There will be a big swing to barley in 2015 in Australia
1/09/2014 1:42:44 PM

Looks like good times ahead for the middle man and supermarkets when and if there is a food shortage. The AU farmer will never get a share of the profits, ag in AU is unprofitable and this will never change while we have Governments that want to destroy ag at every opportunity.
1/09/2014 2:43:53 PM

'An integrated holistic approach' as advocated by Ms Kyte is a euphemism for taking decision making power away from producers and businesses involved in the production and distribution of food and concentrating that power in the hands of the governing elite.A governing elite consisting of people just like…... Ms Kyte. Its not as though this hasn't been tried before, often with disastrous results such as the famines in China and the USSR. The source of the alleged food shortage, catastrophic climate change, is a convenient fiction designed to con politicians into adopting destructive policies.
1/09/2014 3:44:33 PM

govt has to stop expecting agriculture to sell on a world market income, yet buy on a regulated income. the rules for buy and sell for a farmer have to be the same. until we do that, things will just get worse as I have seen them for over 40 years now on this present policy of discriminating against agriculture in favour of urban consumption.
Bushie Bill
1/09/2014 7:08:36 PM

There is no food security threat. It is a crock, engineered by RARAs to justify an ever growing stream of "special" benefits to the self- claimed "special" people.
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