Report: Urgent action needed to avert global hunger

A UK government-commissioned study into food security has
called for urgent action to avert global hunger.

The Foresight Report on Food and Farming Futures says the
current system is unsustainable and will fail to end hunger unless radically
redesigned.

It is the first study across a range of disciplines
deemed to have put such fears on a firm analytical footing.

The report is the culmination of a two-year study,
involving 400 experts from 35 countries.

According to the government’s chief scientific adviser,
Professor Sir John Beddington, the study provides compelling evidence for
governments to act now.

The report emphasises changes to farming, to ensure that
increasing yields does not come at the expense of sustainability and to provide
incentives to the agricultural sector that address malnutrition.

It also recommends that the most resource-intensive types
of food are curbed and that waste is minimised in food production.

“We know in the next 20 years the world population
will increase to something like 8.3 billion people,” he told BBC News.

“We know that urbanisation is going to be a driver
and that something of the order of 65-70% of the world’s population will be
living in cities at that time.

“We know that the world is getting more prosperous
and that the demand for basic commodities – food, water and energy – will be
rising as that prosperity increases, increasing at the same time as the
population.”

He warned: “We have 20 years to arguably deliver
something of the order of 40% more food; 30% more available fresh water and of
the order of 50% more energy.

“We can’t wait 20 years or 10 years indeed – this is
really urgent.”

Radical changes

Professor Beddington commissioned the study and was among
the first to warn of “a perfect storm” of a growing population,
climate change and diminishing resources for food production.

The Foresight report says that the food production system
will need to be radically changed, not just to produce more food but to produce
it sustainably.

“There is an urgency in taking what may be very
difficult policy decisions,” the authors say.

“(But) 925 million people suffer hunger and perhaps
a further billion lack micronutrients. The task is difficult because the food
system is working for the majority of people but those at risk of hunger have
least influence on decision-making.”

Professor Beddington also said he viewed the billion
people who overeat and are therefore obese as another symptom of the failure of
the food production system to deliver good health and well-being to the world’s
growing population.

The report says that “piecemeal” changes are
not an option: “Nothing less is required than a redesign of the whole food
system to bring sustainability to the fore.”

The authors are calling for food and agriculture to move
up the political agenda and be co-ordinated with efforts to tackle the impact
of climate change, water and energy supplies and the loss of farm land.

They also warn that there is no “silver bullet”
that will solve the problem but concerted action is needed on many fronts.

Facing reality

Professor Beddington said: “We’ve got to actually
face up to the fact that this is a complicated problem which involves vastly
different levels of society and we need to be persuading policy makers not to
think about food in isolation, not to think about climate change in isolation,
not to think about water in isolation, not to think about energy in isolation.
All of them are intimately related.”

 

The report adds that new research can play an important
role. It also says that the use of any particular technology, such as genetic
modification, cloning and nanotechnology should not be ruled out. But it
acknowledges that there is resistance to the application of controversial
technologies.

“Achieving a strong evidence base (of the safety or
otherwise) in controversial areas is not enough. Genuine public debate needs to
play a crucial role,” the report says.

However, by assessing 40 success stories from Africa the
report authors say the spread of existing best-practice could treble food
production.

“Ending hunger is one of the greatest challenges to
be considered by this project,” the report observes.

It calls for protection of the poorest from sharp price
increases through government intervention and greater liberalisation of the
trade in food in order to offset market volatility.

They also note that China has invested heavily in
agriculture and is consequently one of the few countries to have met the
Millenium Development Goal (MDG) of halving hunger.

The report also calls for new measures to hold
governments and food producers to account. This would involve developing
objective measures on how well they are doing to reduce hunger, combat climate
change and environmental degradation and boosting food production.

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