Planning for the future is vital, especially considering that by 2050 nearly 10 billion people will live on the planet. The big question, however, is whether we can produce enough food to ensure food sustainably. The World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future shows that it is possible.
The report states that as the global population grows from 7 billion in 2010 to a projected 9.8 billion in 2050, overall food demand is expected to increase by more than 50% if incomes grow across the developing world. The demand for animal-based foods will increase by nearly 70%.
The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (UNFAO) estimates, however, that about 815 million people of the 7.6 billion people in the world remain hungry, and that the agricultural sector already uses almost half of the world’s vegetated land. The report further states that agriculture and related land-use change generates one-quarter of the annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
How to secure a sustainable food future?
This report is proposing a number of possibilities that could allow the world to achieve a sustainable food future by meeting growing demands for food, avoiding deforestation, and restoring abandoned and unproductive land.
This then, helps to stabilise the climate, promotes economic development, and reduces poverty.
Achieving these goals requires closing big “gaps”, including…
- The food gap is the contrast between the amount of food produced in 2010 and the amount needed to meet the expected demand in 2050. The report estimates this gap to be 56% more crop calories than were produced in 2010.
- The land gap is the difference between the global agricultural land area in 2010 and the area required in 2050, even if crop and pasture harvests continue to grow at past rates. An estimated 593 million hectares is needed to close this gap which is almost twice the size of India.
Closing these gaps simultaneously is harder than often recognised. The report explains that based on the world’s growing need to produce more food, protect biodiversity, and maintain existing carbon storage (so, not sacrifice more trees and natural areas), a few prior analyses overestimate potential crop produce growth, and underestimate or even ignore the challenge of pastureland expansion.
In spite of this, the possibility of potential solutions is often underestimated.
According to the report, prior analyses have generally not focused on the promising opportunities for technological innovation and have often underestimated the large social, economic, and environmental benefits.
This report lists a 22-item “menu for a sustainable food future,” which it divides into five “courses” that together could close these gaps:
- Reduce growth in demand for food and agricultural products;
- Increase food production without expanding agricultural land;
- Exploit reduced demand on agricultural land to protect and restore forests, savannas, and peatlands;
- Increase fish supply through improved wild fisheries management and aquaculture; and
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production.
The reports emphasise that, to ensure food sustainability, action by millions of farmers, businesses, consumers, and all governments is required.