Food production ‘in jeopardy’ unless new agri-practices are introduced, says FAO

The global population's ability to feed itself could be "in jeopardy" unless new technologies and sustainable agriculture policies and practices are introduced, a new report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has warned.

Released late last week, the Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges report highlights that climate change and an increase in global population could lead to the introduction of resource-intensive farming practices that accelerate the degradation of the natural environment.

In response, the report calls for countries to invest in research & development (R&D) that can introduce new technologies that promote environmental protection during agri-practices and that also cut back at rising food waste amounts.

“Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realise the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet,” the report states.

“High-input, resource-intensive farming systems, which have caused massive deforestation, water scarcities, soil depletion and high levels of greenhouse gas emissions, cannot deliver sustainable food and agricultural production.”

The FAO report calls on countries to align practices with the aims of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in order to eradicate hunger without sacrificing natural resources. It noted that significant progress has been made over the past 30 years to reduce global hunger, but that this has come at a “heavy cost to the natural environment”.

The FAO predicts that production from agriculture – food, feed and biofuel – will have to grow by 50% by 2050 in order to support a population expected to exceed nine billion people. Historically, bigger increases have been recorded, such as between 1961 and 2011, where output more than tripled; although this was at a cost to the natural environment, the report notes.

To combat this, a “major transformation” is needed in how we produce and distribute food globally. Satisfying increased demand using a “business as usual” approach is likely to lead to “intense competition for natural resources” as well as increased emissions from the agri-sector, which the report claims accounts for 30% of global energy consumption.

Wasting away

Rapid technological advancement is one are that offers hope in combining the challenges of future food needs and environmental protection. The report notes that around 117 million hectares, around 8% of global cropland, is covered by conservation agriculture. Public and private investments and partnerships could increase this share further, the report notes.

The report highlights that agricultural R&D increased by 3.1% annually between 2000-2009, reaching $33.6bn. However, 95% of investments over the past 30 years have focused on increasing production, with just 5% set aside for reducing food waste losses.

When considering that globally, around one-third of all food produced is wasted, this becomes an opportunity for investors to realign funding to cut at food waste and enhance production simultaneously.

The report aims to build on positive momentum established by cross-sector platforms. A publication, released on behalf of the Champions 12.3 coalition to tackle food waste, called on nations and the private sector to mobilise and accelerate food waste reductions through ambitious target setting, concentrated data collection systems and inspiring people to act for the cause.

In June last year, the Food Loss and Waste (FLW) standard was officially launched in Denmark, where partners including the FAO, WRAP, the World Resources Institute (WRI) and the Consumer Goods Forum gathered to unveil new international definitions to help companies improve efforts to transport, consume and store food.

Matt Mace

Action inspires action. Stay ahead of the curve with sustainability and energy newsletters from edie