By 2050, an estimated 9 billion people will populate the planet—2 billion more people than today. Feeding this ever-growing population will be increasingly difficult as governments delay action to address food insecurity. Food security will be further destabilized by the effects of climate change, which will damage crops and arable land through highly variable and extreme weather events, such as flooding and drought.
The recent report, Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change, commissioned by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), outlines changes to the current food system that will be essential if the international community hopes to adapt to climate variability. In fact, CGIAR says it is time to change the way we think about everything in the food consumption chain—from how we grow our food to how we dispose of food waste.
Challenges exist at every step of the food supply chain. In Vietnam, according to CGIAR, rice production during the average wet season achieves only 63 percent of its economic yield potential and only 50 percent of its potential yield for the region’s climate.
Low-income countries depend on agriculture as the main source of employment. Yet investment in agriculture has been declining, both from local governments and from international donors. This further jeopardizes the power and representation that small-scale food producers have in the global trade markets, and may contribute to increased poverty.
At the other end of the spectrum, residents of the United Kingdom waste about 22 percent of household food and drink annually. Worldwide, 1.3 billion tons of the food produced each year, is wasted. This is equivalent to approximately a third of all the edible food produced globally.
This contrast reveals widespread food inequality. According to the report, nearly a billion people are chronically undernourished while another 1.5 billion are overweight, contracting diseases as a result of the excess calories and fat in their diets.
Such inequity begs the question: how can we make food sustainability a reality—reducing waste where it occurs and preventing hunger elsewhere? The solution is complex but involves elements of the following: improving resiliency to climate shocks and food price volatility, halting land degradation, boosting productive assets and infrastructure, and transforming the global food system at the global and local levels.
Such measures can improve food security. In Tanzania, for example, the cultivation of drought-tolerant maize helps farmers produce crops that are adapted to future climate conditions and can survive greater water variability. And in China, a 10 percent annual increase in research and development (R&D) spending since 2001 has boosted agricultural productivity while also reducing poverty. In a push to combat the forecasted 12–14 percent decrease in global rice production by 2050, China transitioned to high-yield rice breeds, adopted water-saving technologies, and used straw to make biomass feedstock for producing fuel, goods, and power.
Other initiatives work to ensure equitable land rights for women, as women farmers are critical to food production and food security in many countries. In southern Africa, the Women and Land Rights Project helps women farmers gain clear rights to their land, thereby improving crop yields, the economy, and the farmers’ investment in sustainable farming methods.
These are only a few of the many strategies being implemented worldwide. Through their different approaches and innovations, communities are improving food security one project at a time.
(Written by Nina Keehan; Edited by Antonia Sohns)