With the world’s population expected to reach nearly 10bn by 2050, a major new report shows the global food system must undergo urgent change to ensure there is adequate food for everyone without destroying the planet.
The World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future reveals that meeting this challenge will require closing three gaps: a 56% “food gap” between what was produced in 2010 and food that will be needed in 2050; a nearly 600 million-hectare “land gap” (an area nearly twice the size of India) between global agricultural land area in 2010 and expected agricultural expansion by 2050; and an 11-gigaton “greenhouse gas mitigation gap” between expected emissions from agriculture in 2050 and the level needed to meet the Paris Agreement.
To close the gaps, the report urges significant adjustments in the production of food as well as changes in people’s consumption. From wild fisheries management to how much beef to eat, the report gives policymakers, businesses and researchers a comprehensive roadmap for how to create a sustainable food system from farm to plate.
“Millions of farmers, companies, consumers and every government on the planet will have to make changes to meet the global food challenge. At every level, the food system must be linked to climate strategies as well as ecosystem protections and economic prosperity,” said Andrew Steer, President and CEO of the World Resources Institute. “While the scale of the challenge is bigger than is often thought, the solutions we’ve identified have greater potential than many realize. There’s reason to be hopeful we can achieve a sustainable food future.”
“The opportunity to transform the food system should not be ignored. Rewarding farmers for producing more diverse and nutritious foods in a much more sustainable manner will help increase their incomes and create jobs, build healthier societies, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support the recovery essential ecosystem services,” said Laura Tuck, Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank. “Public funding should be examined and if need be, redesigned, to support more sustainable use of natural resources and better align food production with countries’ Sustainable Development Goals.”
Produced by World Resources Institute in partnership with the World Bank, UN Environment, UN Development Programme, and the French agricultural research agencies CIRAD and INRA, the report outlines a menu of solutions to overhaul the way the world produces and consumes food to ensure a sustainable food system by 2050:
- Reduce growth in demand by cutting food loss and waste, eating healthier diets, and more;
- Increase food production without expanding agricultural land area via yield gains for both crops and livestock;
- Protect and restore natural ecosystems by reducing deforestation, restoring peatlands, andlinking yield gains with ecosystem conservation;
- Increase fish supply by improving aquaculture systems and better managing wild fisheries; and
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production through innovative technologies and farming methods.
Many of the report’s findings use the new GlobAgri-WRR model, which quantifies how far each “menu item” can help to increase the availability of food, avoid deforestation, and reduce GHG emissions. The report also identifies a robust series of policies, innovations, and incentives that can take the solutions to scale.
“Technology will be one of the keys to the food system’s future success. There is no realistic potential to create a sustainable food future without major innovations,” said Tim Searchinger, Senior Fellow at WRI and lead author of the report. “Industry is already creating exciting breakthroughs like feeds that suppress the formation of methane in cows’ stomachs. We need both more funding for research and development, and flexible regulations to give the private sector incentives to innovate.”
“This report is clear on what’s happening in the food system and the transformations we urgently need to make. One theme that’s evident is how much the location of agricultural land is shifting, both between and within countries and regions. This shift is making the food and climate challenge tougher to solve. As a result, the world needs to better link efforts to boost agricultural yields with protection of forests and other natural lands,” said Inger Andersen, Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme.
Shifting consumption patterns, increasing the productivity of crops and livestock, and improving the efficiency of inputs like fertilizers can significantly reduce emissions and the demand for land while raising agricultural incomes. To hold global warming below a 1.5°C increase above preindustrial levels would require doing this and everything else on the five-course menu of solutions, plus reforesting more than 585m hectares (1.4bn acres) made available by these demand- and supply-side efficiency gains.
“This report’s call to action can be summed up in three words: Produce, Protect, Prosper. These are not competing interests,” said Achim Steiner, Administrator of UN Development Programme. “It’s possible to produce more food on the same amount of agricultural land as today, protect ecosystems, and do this in a manner that ensures farmers and others can prosper. Creating a sustainable food future won’t be easy – but it can be done.”
The new report contains the complete findings that underpin the synthesis of Creating a Sustainable Food Future, which was released in December 2018 at COP24 in Poland.