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The future of global food and farming under threat

The new report highlights the challenges for the future of the global food system. This farmer in the Kibirichia area of Mount Kenya must be part of the solution. Pic by Neil Palmer (CIAT).
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Jan 25, 2011



The Global Food and Farming Futures report, which was released today, highlights the multiple threats facing the global food system and offers broad and cross-cutting ways to approach the challenges.

The report's premise is similar to the one that forms the basis for the CCAFS program:

  • The food system is becoming volatile, due to new economic and political pressures that come with globalization;
  • Demand for food will increase as population increases from nearly 7 billion people today to 8 billion by 2030 (and up to 9 billion by 2050), and more wealthy people means a shift from a largely plant based diet to more meat and animal products;
  • The effects of climate change create more competition for land water and energy; meanwhile the food system will have to contribute to reducing emissions;
  • An estimated 925 million people currently suffer from hunger; others are over-fed and are facing disease and reduced lifespans;
  • Agriculture plays a crucial role in maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services, but this must be balanced with feeding the world.

The report underlines that "addressing climate change and achieving sustainability in the global food system need to be recognised as dual imperatives." Policy makers are urged take a whole system approach to understanding food: a global view from farm to plate. No issue can be addressed in isolation and it is essential that policy-makers address all areas at the same time.

Existing knowledge and technologies can be part of the solution; new science and technology are also required to raise the limits of sustainable production and address new threats, and new technologies such as GM foods should not be excluded from consideration.

The study looks to African agriculture for examples of how agriculture and aquaculture may increase yields sustainably, make better use of inputs, and build social capital among producers. These will be key strategies in building resilience and adaptability in African agricultural systems. 

The report was produced by the UK's Government Office for Science, which is led by Sir John Beddington, Chief Science Advisor. Sir John will also be chairing the CCAFS-led Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, which begins its work next month. The report mentions calls for the international community to support the Commission in its work to identify the policy changes and actions needed now to help the world achieve sustainable agriculture.

The report's findings are based on a broad based of commissioned evidence, including reports by CCAFS theme leaders Gerald Nelson and Phil Thornton:

Nelson, G. et. al. 2010. Food security, farming, and climate change to 2050. International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI). Click for more

Thornton, P. 2010. Livestock production: recent trends, future prospects. Phil. Trans. R. Soc. B vol. 365 no. 1554 2853-2867.