The UK government Science & Technology think-tank, Foresight, has produced a report on the future of food & farming predicting a range of outcomes between 2011 and 2050. The most startling aspect of the report is that it aims to model a food industry that will serve over 9 billion people. Almost one billion people are already malnourished and hungry in 2011.
The report states that around 3 billion people have sub-optimal diets, either because of malnutrition or over-consumption. The report also states that many food production techniques are unsustainable and lead to soil erosion, drought, greenhouse gas emissions. The report underlines that the food industry is a global sector and that problem solving must involve a consideration of the inter-related nature of food production through raw materials, subsidies and trade.
The report recommends that the following four areas are addressed immediately to avert a crisis in food security:
- More food must be produced sustainably through the spread and implementation of existing knowledge, technology and best practice, and by investment in new science and innovation and the social infrastructure that enables food producers to benefit from all of these.
- Demand for the most resource-intensive types of food must be contained.
- Waste in all areas of the food system must be minimised.
- The political and economic governance of the food system must be improved to increase food system productivity and sustainability.
Other priorities also include; addressing unsustainable food production, ending subsidies and trade barriers which disadvantage low-income countries and rejecting national self-sufficiency in favour of a globalised system which allows for greater efficiency. The extent of consumption of grain-fed meat, in particular, will provide a significant challenge to the food industry and environment over the next 40 years.
The report expect Brazil, China and India to remain the “superpowers” of global food production with Russia catching up owing to a large amount of unused agricultural land:
“Overall, relatively little new land has been brought into agriculture in recent decades. Although global crop yields grew by 115% between 1967 and 2007, the area of land in agriculture increased by only 8% and the total currently stands at approximately 4,600 million hectares. While substantial additional land could in principle be suitable for food production, in practice land will come under growing pressure for other uses. For example, land will be lost to urbanisation, desertification, salinisation and sea level rise, although some options may arise for salt-tolerant crops or aquaculture.”
The UK Environment Secretary, Caroline Spelman, said in reaction to the report:
“We need a global, integrated approach to food security, one that looks beyond the food system to the inseparable goals of reducing poverty, tackling climate change and reducing biodiversity loss – and the UK Government is determined to show the international leadership needed to make that happen.
“We can unlock an agricultural revolution in the developing world, which would benefit the poorest the most, simply by improving access to knowledge and technology, creating better access to markets and investing in infrastructure.
“To fuel this revolution, we must open up global markets, boost global trade and make reforms that help the poorest. Trade restrictions must be avoided, especially at times of scarcity. And we must manage price volatility by building trust and cooperation – and in particular by creating greater transparency around the true levels of food stocks.”
International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, added:
“The Foresight report estimates that a third of the world’s food is currently being wasted, and that halving food waste by 2050 would have the same effect as increasing food production today by 25 per cent. As part of its response, the UK Government will work with the private sector and other countries to learn and share good practice.”