The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and choices for global sustainability
UK Government Office for Science 2011
From the Introduction
Project aim: to explore the pressures on the global food system between now and 2050 and identify the decisions that policy makers need to take today, and in the years ahead, to ensure that a global population rising to nine billion or more can be fed sustainably and equitably.
The global food system will experience an unprecedented confluence of pressures over the next 40 years. On the demand side, global population size will increase from nearly seven billion today to eight billion by 2030, and probably to over nine billion by 2050; many people are likely to be wealthier, creating demand for a more varied, high-quality diet requiring additional resources to produce. On the production side, competition for land, water and energy will intensify, while the effects of climate change will become increasingly apparent. The need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adapt to a changing climate will become imperative. Over this period globalisation will continue, exposing the food system to novel economic and political pressures.
Any one of these pressures (‘drivers of change’) would present substantial challenges to food security; together they constitute a major threat that requires a strategic reappraisal of how the world is fed. Overall, the Project has identified and analysed five key challenges for the future.
Addressing these in a pragmatic way that promotes resilience to shocks and future uncertainties will be vital if major stresses to the food system are to be anticipated and managed. The five challenges, outlined further in Sections 4 – 8, are:
- A. Balancing future demand and supply sustainably – to ensure that food supplies are affordable.
- B. Ensuring that there is adequate stability in food supplies – and protecting the most vulnerable from the volatility that does occur.
- C. Achieving global access to food and ending hunger. This recognises that producing enough food in the world so that everyone can potentially be fed is not the same thing as ensuring food security for all.
- D. Managing the contribution of the food system to the mitigation of climate change.
- E. Maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services while feeding the world.
- These last two challenges recognise that food production already dominates much of the global land surface and water bodies, and has a major impact on all the Earth’s environmental systems…
8 Priorities for action
A key conclusion of this Foresight Project is that no single approach can meet all of the complex challenges that have been outlined above – decisive action is needed across a wide front. This is perhaps unsurprising, given the diversity and scale of the challenges, and the need for the global food system to deliver much more than just food, and food security in the future. The attention of policy makers will therefore shift to the question of prioritisation – where to focus efforts, and how best to deploy scarce resources.
The following 12 cross-cutting actions (Box 8.1 – these are not in any order of importance) are priorities for policy-makers suggested by the wider analysis of the Project.
Box 8.1 Key priorities for action for policy makers
- Spread best practice.
- Invest in new knowledge.
- Make sustainable food production central in development.
- Work on the assumption that there is little new land for agriculture.
- Ensure long-term sustainability of fish stocks.
- Promote sustainable intensification.
- Include the environment in food system economics.
- Reduce waste – both in high- and low-income countries.
- Improve the evidence base upon which decisions are made and develop metrics to assess
- Anticipate major issues with water availability for food production.
- Work to change consumption patterns.
- Empower citizens.