Sustainable intensification of global agriculture is essential to feed the growing population.
Photo: FAO/R. Faidutti

Strategies to feed the nine billion mouths

With the world population set to exceed the nine-billion mark by 2050 in the not too distant future, a range of measures are becoming necessary to address the problem of sufficient food for all. At the same time, ecological threats to the planet are growing. Improved co-ordination of agricultural food security and climate change policy can help provided that a more focused food security strategy is in place.

The world’s population will reach 9.1 billion by 2050, 34 percent higher than today. The problem of feeding this massive population frequently grabs the headlines. The recent crisis in the Horn of Africa highlights the vulnerability of millions of poor people around the world. Further, as the global resource landscape shifts, there is growing apprehension that an era of sustained high resource prices and its related sustainability (environmental, social and economic) risk is likely to emerge. Thus, agriculture is under pressure due to the demand dynamics, supply factors and a few of the unsustainable features known to be associated with the sector. The challenge includes producing more food, fibre and fuel to feed an affluent population whose consumption patterns are dynamic. This has to be done with a smaller rural labour force and under the conditions of increasing competition for ecosystem services. Further, the challenge is to adapt to climate change, adopt efficient and sustainable production methods to scale and ensure that the poorest people are no longer hungry and micronutrient malnourishment is minimised. Underlying challenges include building resilience to changing food prices, improving livelihood opportunities for the poor and strengthening basic services, such as education, healthcare, and sanitation.

The Table on pages 28–29 delves into the immediate and underlying causes of this multifaceted problem of feeding the nine billion mouths along with a sustainability assessment of the strategies in place.

Discussion and conclusion

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) states that the required increase in food production can be achieved if the necessary investment is undertaken and policies conducive to agricultural production are put in place. It further suggests that these must be complemented by policies that enhance access to food by reducing poverty. The need for a sustainable intensification of global agriculture in which yields are increased without adverse environmental impact and without the cultivation of more land has been highlighted by the Royal Agricultural Society of England.

Due to the scale of the challenge, no technology should be ruled out, and different strategies may need to be employed in different regions and circumstances. Bringing about better uniformity between agriculture, food security and climate change policy-making at national, regional and global levels will help. A food security strategy backed by choices that relies on a combination of increased productivity in agriculture, greater policy certainty and broad-spectrum openness to trade is needed. In addition, adopting an ecosystem approach, a focus on local strategy and ensuring inter-sectoral co-ordination and co-operation is crucial to an effective solution to the problem – feeding of the nine billion. Supporting farmers in developing diversified and resilient eco-agriculture systems that provide critical ecosystem services will help to deliver adequate food to meet local and global consumer needs.
The views expressed herein are the personal views of the authors and are not intended to reflect the views of any organisation.

Bedanga Bordoloi,
Corporate Sustainability Advisor Novozymes A/S

Etali Sarmah
Market Services and Product Manager, FMC Corporation
Bangalore, India

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