UNEP: Eight steps to feed a growing world

By Tierney Smith
RTCC in Hyderabad

Protecting the environmental foundations of the world’s food systems will be crucial to feeding a growing population, according to a new report from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Last year, the world population hit seven billion and is expected to rise to nine billion by 2050.

One billion people continue to go hungry, while two billion suffer from ‘hidden hunger’ where they do not get the nutrients needed for a healthy diet.

The latest report, Avoiding Future Famines, warns that unless nature-based services, such as fertile land, freshwater supplies and nutrient recycling, are built into agriculture and fishery planning the world will not be able to feed the growing population.

Overfishing, unsustainable water use, environmentally degrading agricultural practices and other human activities are all putting the security of our food system under threat.

Agriculture provides 90% of the world’s caloric intake, but the industry faces threats from unsustainable practices.

Food shortages are not just a future problem. Drought in the US this summer caused rises in food prices across the world, as grain crops failed.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimate that by 2030, agricultural land in the developing world will increase by 120 million hectares. Climate change will continue to exacerbate the threats facing agriculture however.

Over-use of water in irrigation systems, poor land management and the use of fertilisers could all threaten future agricultural systems.

In the oceans, 32% of fish stocks are either over exploited, depleted or recovering from depletion, while 35% of mangroves and 40% corals are also destroyed and degraded.

Unsustainable fishing practices, including bottom trawling and dredging, continue to threaten fish stocks.

“The era of seemingly ever-lasting production based on maximising inputs such as fertilisers and pesticides, mining supplies of freshwater and fertile arable land and advancements linked to mechanisation are hitting their limits, if indeed they have not already hit them,” said 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, freshwater and biodiversity.”

Eight recommendations to feed the world

The report offers recommendations to shore-up the natural foundations and improve food security:

– Build centralised storage and cooling facilities for small-scale farmers to get produce to market quicker and avoid waste.

– Promote sustainable diets, in particular the lower consumption of meat and dairy products in the developed world.

– Re-consider food quality standards that lead to unnecessary waste.

– Design sustainable agriculture not only at local, but national level including improved soil management and efficient water use.

– Develop economic strategies including eliminating subsides which contribute to over-fishing and habitat destruction, providing incentive for sustainable fisheries and increasing taxation on harvest volume and fines on illegal fishing.

– Introduce maximum yields of marine fishing.

– Create networks of Aquatic Protected Areas.

– Reduce land-based pollution that lead to dead-zones in coastal areas.

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