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The World Food Day Challenge: Feeding More People with Fewer Resources

Juergen Voegele's picture
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Climate-Smart Agriculture

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.


“What’s wrong? Everybody on Earth is in denial about our biggest problem … population growth. Too many new babies, a net of 75 million a year. And we’re all closet deniers — leaders, investors, billionaires, the 99%, everybody. Yes, even Bill McKibben’s global team. The U.N.’s 2,000 scientists know overpopulation is Earth’s only real problem.
Get it? Earth has only one real problem, there’s the one main dependent variable in the scientific equation. But we refuse to focus on it. So, yes, even scientists are science deniers too. They know population growth is the killer issue, but are avoiding it too. Thousands of scientists have brilliant technical solutions to reducing the impact of global warming. But avoid the root cause. They keep solving the dependent variables in their climate-change science equation. But population growth is the cause of the Earth’s problem, not the result.” Paul Farrell

Submitted by Jason Taylor on

This is so terrible to read this. It is in fact a very informative article but to really read about the hunger worldwide is kind of frightening. Some people don't really appreciate what we have

Submitted by Steven Earl Salmony on

Somehow we have got to do many things differently, do them much more ably, and do all of them simultaneously, collaboratively, better and fast. Ready or not, like it or not, we are presented with a planetary emergency. This is the time for making necessary behavioral changes by thinking globally and acting locally. Science and common sense will give us direction. What we cannot do is sit on the sidelines. No, we cannot afford to sit this one out. All hand are needed on the deck at this critical moment in the history of our planetary home. Our generation is simply not stepping up to the challenges before us. The consequences of our failures appear colossal and profound with regard to the prospects for future human well being and environmental health. The very last thing a responsible person is to do in such circumstances is consciously and deliberately choose to remain silent, I believe. Are we not participants in and witnesses to yet another preposterous failure of nerve? When are the leaders going to speak out in an intellectually honest way and act with a sense of moral courage? How terrible are things going to have to become on Earth before the-powers-that-be begin to talk about and do the right things, according to the lights and best available knowledge they possess? Whatsoever is real and true must be acknowledged if we are to respond ably to climate destabilization, pollution, biodiversity loss, resource dissipation, environmental degradation and overpopulation,but the manufactured ‘nothing is wrong’ reality is well-established and those who speak truth to power are consistently marginalized and ignored. It is difficult even to imagine how much can be done in such unfavorable circumstances. Still our efforts are vital because the-powers-that-be are living in a fool’s paradise, and the stakes are such that the things that are not being acknowledged will likely destroy life as we know it on Earth. We know how to stop overpopulation humanely.The gravity of this and other looming human-driven global threats are understood and could be confronted with a long overdue determination to do what is necessary. All of the world’s human resources, including overrated intelligence and technology, need to be deployed in order to overcome the emerging and converging wicked problems looming ominously on the horizon.The-powers-that-be could save the world if they acted with the intellectual honesty, moral courage and power they possess to sound alarm bells, forcefully warn the world, and call out loudly and clearly for changes toward sustainable lifestyles and right-sized corporate enterprises. But most of the necessary changes are unlikely to happen, The-powers-that-be want to maintain the status quo, come what may. They lack the moral courage and the imagination to save the world we are blessed to inhabit as a fit place for habitation by children everywhere and coming generations.

The AWAREness Campaign on The Human Population was founded in 2001. Since that moment I have seen it as a moral imperative to continue the work I’ve been doing for many years now: getting the message out and explaining to as many people as possible that human overpopulation of the Earth is occurring on our watch, that it poses profound existential risks for future human well being, life as we know it and environmental health, and that robust action is required starting here, starting now to honestly acknowledge, humanely address and eventually overcome.

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