Commentary: Going down the wrong road
In a news release that wasn’t very new, a major global study released last week by the United Nations and several partner organizations concluded that the world’s population will need 70 percent more food calories by the midpoint of the 21st century to feed the more than 9.6 billion people expected to be alive in 2050.
The target date is not that far away; however, the increase in edible calories most assuredly is.
How to achieve this monumental expansion of food production? Through improvements in the way people produce and consume food, according to the report.
“Over the next several decades, the world faces a grand challenge and opportunity at the intersection of food security, development and the environment,” said Andrew Steer, president of the World Resources Institute, which produced the report in conjunction with UN agencies and the World Bank.
The crisis will be especially severe in certain areas of the world, the WRI report predicted. Given currently projected population growth, for example, sub-Saharan Africa will need to more than triple its crop production by 2050 to provide adequate per-capita nourishment.
“To meet human needs, we must close the 70 percent gap between the food we will need and the food available today,” Steer said. “But we must do so in a way that creates opportunities for the rural poor, limits clearing-cutting of forests and reduces greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture.”
He had me, then he lost me.
The report, titled, “World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future,” acknowledged that increasing food crop and livestock productivity on the world’s existing agricultural land is critical to preserving forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But later in the report, the researchers said that it is “unlikely” the food gap could be addressed with yield increases alone.
For example: Although the world harvest of what the UN calls “cereals and coarse grains” — corn, wheat and rice — increased by 8.4 percent in 2013 versus 2012, that is most likely a one-time spike. According to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization, over the last decade (from 2002 to 2102) the average annual increase in global grain production has been only slightly more than 2 percent.
That tepid rate of growth won’t get the job done.
On multiple fronts
Thus the report included recommendations that focused not just on yield but also on reducing food loss and waste, improving agricultural practices (whatever that means) and following other “climate-smart” guidelines, which means — wait for it — “reducing excessive demand for animal products.”