The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has admitted that its food security goals won’t be met by 2030 in a new report that outlines challenges facing food production.
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Humanity's future ability to feed itself is in jeopardy due to intensifying pressures on natural resources, mounting inequality, and the fallout from a changing climate, according to an FAO report released last week.
The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges paper points out that, although some progress has been made towards reducing the number of people who are hungry worldwide, since the 1980s, "expanding food production and economic growth have often come at a heavy cost to the natural environment.”
"Almost one half of the forests that once covered the Earth are now gone. Groundwater sources are being depleted rapidly. Biodiversity has been deeply eroded," it notes.
In his introduction to the paper, FAO director general Jose Graziano da Silva warns that planetary boundaries may be surpassed unless leaders take immediate action.
However, Graziano da Silva may be behind the times: in 2015, prominent researchers warned that four of the nine planetary boundaries (thresholds beyond which the systems that support human life on Earth will break down) have already been crossed.
The thresholds for extinction rate, deforestation, atmospheric CO2 and disruption to the flow of of nitrogen and phosphorus have already crossed over into dangerous territory.
By 2050 there will be an estimated 10 billion people on Earth. In a scenario with moderate economic growth, this population increase will push up global demand for agricultural products by 50 percent over present levels, according to the FAO, which will only intensify pressures on already-strained natural resources.
According to current dietary trends, more people will also be eating fewer cereals and larger amounts of meat, fruits, vegetables and processed food, which will drive more deforestation, land degradation, and greenhouse gas emissions.
However, experts from Penn State and the U.S. Government last week challenged claims that food producers must double production by mid-century, arguing that this lets agriculture off the hook, when the real task ahead is to secure "major reductions in environmental impact."
Currently, FAO estimates that between a third and one half of all food produced around the world is wasted before it can be consumed, and researchers have said efforts must be made to create more efficient food systems before production is ramped up, and the environmental impacts of agriculture increase further.
"Climate change will affect every aspect of food production," the report adds. This will mean different things for different places, with higher sea levels threatening some places, droughts, stronger storms and flooding.
In the UK, the South-East is predicted to encounter water scarcity, whilst there will be more rain, falling less often but in heavier downpours, causing a greater risk of flooding for the rest of the country
In its latest paper, the FAO questions whether the world's agriculture and food systems are capable of sustainably meeting the needs of a burgeoning global population.
The agriculture organisation believes so, but - arguing the planet's food systems are capable of producing enough food to do so, and in a sustainable way - but urged that unlocking that potential, to benefit all of humanity, will require "major transformations."
The UN’s new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) aim to eradicate chronic food insecurity and malnutrition by 2030, but there is no chance of this happening unless vulnerable people are protected and inequalities reduced, the FAO said. ■