Avoiding a global food crisis

by Jan 31, 2011 No Comments
Beyond the Headlines: Environment
Action needed now to avoid world hunger

The notion that we are heading toward a global food crisis might not be new, but the Foresight Report on Food and Farming has for the first time given firm analytical weight to the argument that action is needed.

Commissioned by the UK Government, the report is the result of a two-year study involving 400 experts from 35 countries including Scotland. The aim of the project was to get a better idea of the food pressures facing the world between now and 2050 and identify the decisions that needed to be taken as soon as possible to help make sure it can cope with a population expected to rise to nine billion.

The report concluded that global food production faces five main challenges: balancing future demand and supply; ensuring stability in food supplies and protecting the vulnerable from instability; ending world hunger; minimising food production’s contribution to climate change and maintaining biodiversity.

It found that there were two existing problems that also needed to be tackled before future problems could be addressed. Firstly, with 925 million people currently experiencing hunger while one billion others are “substantially over-consuming”, this imbalance needs to be addressed. Secondly, many currently used systems of food production are unsustainable, causing environmental damage and in some cases helping to contribute to future woes. Problems such as soil erosion, loss of soil fertility, water shortages, over-fishing and reliance on fossil fuels for producing nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides.

Arguing that the food system needs to be viewed as a “partially self-organised collection of interacting parts”, the report concludes that interconnected policy-making between countries is “critical” and says that self-sufficiency is simply not an option. It also calls for investment in new technologies, demand for the most resource-intensive types of food to be contained, waste to be minimised and for climate change and food sustainability to be recognised as “dual imperatives”. On this final point, the report states: “Nothing less is required than a redesign of the whole food system to bring sustainability to the fore.”

NFU Scotland argues that action to address the crisis is already being taken at a Scottish level. It launched its Producing more with less document earlier this year in collaboration with Quality Meat Scotland and the Scottish Agricultural Organisation Society. The document outlined the three organisations’ commitment to fighting climate change.

Responding to the report, NFU Scotland President Jim McLaren said that for Scottish farmers to play their part in meeting future food requirements, “evolution rather than revolution” would be required.

He said: “The reality is that Scottish farmers are already delivering on the report’s central theme of a sustainable intensification of farming. Improving efficiency and reducing waste on Scottish farms has already seen our farmers produce more food while using fewer inputs.”

McLaren also stated that the biggest barrier to further change was the “dysfunctional nature of many of our supply chain arrangements”. Action on this will be needed to ensure Scotland can pull its weight as the demand for food intensifies.

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