Transition to sustainability: interconnected challenges and solutions (2-3)
Food Security for a Planet under Pressure
The challenge of feeding the world efficiently and equitably is considerable, but not insurmountable.
Achieving food security for all, both now and in the future, depends on putting in place a strong foundation of multi-lateral and cooperative mechanisms that work across disciplines, sectors and national boundaries.
Institutions operating effectively at multiple levels will be at the centre of sustainable food systems; these will need to be flexible, promote appropriate use of innovative technologies and policies, and recognize the increasingly important role of non-state actors in enhancing food systems. Above all, there is need for a strong focus on resilience, equity and sustainability. This brief sets out broad guidelines to help policy and decision makers work towards adopting a more coordinated and integrated approach to food security issues.
Adopting a Food Systems Approach
Meeting the challenge despite a marked increase in global food production over the past half century, around one billion people do not have enough to eat, and a further billion lack adequate nutrition. Continuing population growth over the next 50 years, coupled with increasing consumption by a wealthier population, is likely to raise global food demand still higher. Meeting this demand will be complicated by changes in environmental factors (collectively termed ‘global environmental change’, GEC), including climate, biodiversity, water availability, land use, tropospheric ozone and other pollutants, and sea-level rise. These changes are themselves caused partly by food system activities (e.g., excessive use of nitrogen fertilizers leading to eutrophication of freshwater and coastal systems, greenhouse gas emissions, and loss of ‘wild-land’ biodiversity leading to reduced ecosystem services such as pollination, biological control, etc.).
The effects of these food system ‘feedbacks’ on the environment are exacerbated by GEC interacting with competition for resources from such changing land uses as production of feedstocks for biofuels.
While elements of GEC are allied closely to food production practices, food insecurity is not simply a problem of supply. The world currently produces sufficient food for all, but it is distributed unequally according to resources and wealth as well as changing patterns of supply and demand (see box). However, meeting demand (as expressed by markets) will not address the food needs of the poor; the food-insecure remain so largely because their incomes are too low or prices are too high. The likelihood of increasing food price volatility will continue to affect the poorest more than most.
Furthermore, many vulnerable parts of the world remain in the grip of poor governance and conflict, which undermine physical, social and economic access to food. GEC further compromises food security for those already prone to hunger because it affects all aspects of food security, i.e., the stability of food availability, access and use.
Those whose livelihoods are bound closely with food production and who have low coping capacity are most vulnerable to the effects of GEC, which may include crop failure, attack from pests and diseases, and water shortage. In the short term, climate change will affect food security through more frequent and intense episodes of extreme weather, while longer-term effects include changing patterns of rainfall and temperature as well as soil degradation and biodiversity loss. At the same time, people across the globe may face rising food prices in the absence of a production response to increased demand, disease outbreaks and crises
Changing patterns of supply and demand
In addition to continuing population growth, coupled with increasing consumption by a wealthier population in general, three issues are of particular importance in the food security debate:
Urbanization and increasing wealth
Over half of the world’s population now lives in an urban environment. Where this is associated with increased affluence, it increases consumption expectations, thereby raising food demand per capita and local prices.
However, the urban poor spend a large proportion of their income on food and are acutely sensitive to food price fluctuations. Urban development is also eating into prime agricultural land and, in many cities, nutrients are
accumulating in waste instead of being returned to agricultural areas.
Growing interconnectedness between food, energy and financial markets can lead to greater volatility in global food prices, sparked by both rising demand and competition for resources. Geographic interconnectedness of food markets per se has however increased food availability internationally and is likely to reduce global food price volatility. But its impact in any given country varies, depending on such market conditions and policy measures as import duties, export taxes and subsidies. In cases where such measures hinder the competitiveness of domestic producers, better market access and information systems are needed to help poor producers take advantage of new and emerging opportunities.
By Alula Berhe Kidani, 16/06/2012