Oct 17, 2012
A UN report has warned ecological foundations that support food security, including biodiversity, are being undermined.
The aim of achieving food security across the globe will become increasingly elusive unless countries factor the planet's nature-based services into agricultural and related planning, a report released from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says.
Safeguarding the underlying ecological foundations that support food production, including biodiversity will be central if the world is to feed seven billion inhabitants, climbing to over nine billion by 2050 argues the study Avoiding Future
Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis of Food Security through Sustainable Food System.
Inefficiencies along the food delivery chain further complicate the challenge, and the report highlights that an estimated one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes per year.
The debate on food security so far has largely revolved around availability, access, utilization and stability as the four pillars of food security, barely touching on the resource base and ecosystem services that prop up the whole food system.
The report aims to increase the focus on these crucial aspects, which are being undermined by overfishing, unsustainable water use, environmentally degrading agricultural practices and other human activities. It also frames the debate in the context of the green economy, calling for food production and consumption practices that ensure productivity without undermining ecosystem services.
“The environment has been more of an afterthought in the debate about food security,” said UNEP Chief Scientist Joseph Alcamo. “This is the first time that the scientific community has given us a complete picture of how the ecological basis of the food system is not only shaky but being really undermined.”
While pointing out the current challenges, the report also offers a clear way forward to shore up the ecological foundations and improve food security. It issues recommendations on the redesign of sustainable agriculture systems, dietary changes and storage systems and new food standards to reduce waste.
“The era of seemingly ever-lasting production based upon maximizing inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, mining supplies of freshwater and fertile arable land and advancements linked to mechanization are hitting their limits, if indeed they have not already hit them,” said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “The world needs a green revolution but with a capital G: one that better understands how food is actually grown and produced in terms of the nature-based inputs provided by forests, freshwaters and biodiversity.”
The report, produced in collaboration with other international organizations including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the World Resources Institute (WRI), took a holistic approach to analyzing the food system. Twelve scientists and experts authored the report, covering many different areas of expertise including food consumption patterns, agricultural production, marine fisheries and inland fisheries.
They found that while agriculture provides 90 per cent of the world's total caloric intake, and world fisheries provide the other 10 per cent, these life-supporting industries face many threats, all of which are exacerbated by underlying driving forces such as population growth, income growth and changing lifestyles/diets linked to urbanization.