Food, resources, fresh water, energy and climate change are entangled issues which must be understood in the context of one another.
- 60% more food is needed by 2050
- Agriculture’s fresh water use will be unsustainable in a business-as-usual scenario
- Global warming may reduce yields by 2% per decade
- Lower yields drives farmland expansion, which triggers large GHG emissions
Eliminating hunger is possible, but successful transformation requires consensus, collaboration, innovation and capacity investments by all stakeholders – at an unprecedented scale.
Underpinned by the megatrends of population growth and increased prosperity, the need for food is growing. With a global population expected to exceed 9 billion in 2050, and dietary changes, food production is required to increase by 60% from a 2005/07 baseline. Even achieving this target would still leave more than 300 million hungry, with major regional imbalances, e.g. in Sub-Saharan Africa. This should further drive policy debates on options to aim for zero hunger.
The fresh water withdrawal from agriculture will, in a business as usual scenario, exceed the global limits of what is sustainably available by 2030. Also, productive farmland in areas close to the market is in scarce supply, and land degradation is an important issue.
Over the past decades, the development of high-yielding farming systems has been key to feeding a growing global population. Being energy and input intensive, high yielding farming increases the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per hectare.
However, deforestation and draining of wetlands is today the single largest source of GHG emissions related to agricultural production. The alternative of growing food by low-input farming with lower yields will lead to land use change and even higher GHG emissions. The net effect of higher yields has been lower GHG emissions than in a low-yield scenario.
According to the 2014 IPCC report, global warming may have a net negative impact on agricultural productivity. Yields may be reduced by 2% per decade, which in itself will be a driver for farmland expansion – again driving GHG emissions. The food price volatility seen over the past years, to a large extent caused by weather extremes, is forecast to become an increasing issue.
More food needs to be produced, but without releasing more greenhouse gases.
As about half the global hungry are themselves subsistence farmers, inclusive growth models for agricultural development are key to create smooth transitions to a food secure future. The current low input farming systems have proved themselves to be insufficient in eliminating hunger and bringing the rural poor into the formal economy. At the global level, smart use of the resource base for high-yield farming is a necessity for long term sustainable food supply.
Innovation as well as massive interventions on locally and regionally adapted levels are all needed to gain the momentum needed. While a precision farming future is an ultimate goal, the here and now also calls for more educated methods, requiring widespread knowledge sharing, infrastructure development and inducement of enabling environments for functional value chains in the agricultural sector in large parts of the world.
A call to action
With FAO, the World Bank, CGIAR and a range of governments endorsing the agenda of Climate-Smart Agriculture, the starting point is promising. It should however be remembered that in spite of a strong global commitment, the millennium goal of decreasing hunger has not been met. Collaborative action is needed and time is of the essence. From the private sector, we are ready to participate. But there is yet a lack of global patrons yielding the strength to combine the so far segregated agendas of climate change, resource scarcity and food security.