Here’s something to ponder as we mark World Food Day: In the global fight against hunger, the world’s poorest continue to suffer the biggest losses.
The statistics are staggering. One in eight people are suffering from chronic hunger. More than 1 billion people are undernourished, and under-nutrition is to blame for one-third of all child deaths.
As the population booms, we can expect that the food insecurity challenge will only intensify.
According to the FAO, the world will need to produce 50 percent more food by 2050 to feed a projected population of 9 billion people. Changes in diet and consumption are driving up demand. Meat consumption in low and middle-income countries is projected to grow 75 percent from 2005 to 2050, reaching 30 kilograms per person per year. South Asia alone is expected to quadruple its meat consumption in that time period. And according to projections, each person will consume 3,070 calories per day in 2050, up from 2,750 in 2007—so people will not only be eating more meat, but more cereals, vegetable oils, vegetables, fruits, coffee and tea as well. But how can we increase production when overtaxed and inefficiently managed agricultural ecosystems are already straining to meet the current demand for food? In the past 5 years, inadequate supply has driven up food prices, and put nutritious food out of reach for millions of poor people. And we can expect agricultural productivity to drop even further as weather patterns become more extreme. For each degree Celsius of global warming, the potential grain crop yield loss is about 5 percent.
Rising demand for food plus shrinking agricultural production is a formula for continued hunger and poverty, and a problem that requires ingenuity and innovative solutions. Increasingly, we see climate-smart agriculture (CSA) as an approach that can help change the equation.
Very simply, climate-smart agriculture aims to produce more food on less land, and with a minimal environmental footprint. This principle needs to be applied across landscapes—crops, livestock, forests, and fisheries—to be effective. Guided by this approach, we are working with farmers in Ethiopia, Malawi, and Vietnam to implement productive, climate-resilient agriculture ecosystems that also help mitigate climate change by reducing emissions and potentially capturing carbon. This is especially important, because aside from being the sector that’s most vulnerable to climate change, agriculture is also a major cause. Research finds that agriculture, together with the deforestation associated with land conversion, accounts for about 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Scaling up agricultural productivity in a way that mitigates climate change and allows more people to be fed could be transformative.
Early results are promising. The World Bank’s Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration project in Ethiopia, which was jointly administered with World Vision, helped restore 2,700 hectares of a biodiverse native forest while increasing the sustainable production of forest products such as honey and fruit. CGIAR-funded research helped advance the use of fertilizer trees in Africa, an innovative agroforestry practice that improves soil fertility, reduces carbon emissions and increases yields so that more families can be fed. CGIAR scientists have also helped develop a drought-tolerant maize, which is expected to benefit up to 40 million Africans by 2016.
The reality is that we live in a world of finite resources and increasingly severe environmental challenges. So we have to use our farmland, forests and fisheries in innovative and intelligent ways. We need to produce more with less so that the world’s poorest can feed themselves. We also need to limit the negative effects of agricultural activity.
The challenges are clear, but I believe there is an emerging center of gravity toward a more balanced and sustainable approach. There’s no better time than now for governments, agriculture and farmer organizations, the private sector and research organizations to become more active in CSA, which is being increasingly accepted as one path to sustainable food security.
From where I sit, it is gratifying to see a global convergence surface from a previously more polarized debate. I hope we can build on this momentum.
Juergen Voegele is the director of the World Bank's Agriculture and Environmental Services Department.
The farms in the video are participants in a COOPEAGRI project supported by the BioCarbon Fund.