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New report on Solutions to Close the Global Food Gap

New research by the United Nations Environment programme UNEP, United Nations Development programme UNDP, World Resources Institute WRI and the World Bank presents solutions to meet the world's growing food needs, while advancing economic development and environmental sustainability.

The analysis presented in the new interim report of the World Resources Report: Creating a Sustainable Food Future finds that the world will need 70 percent more food, as measured by calories, in order to feed a global population of 9.6 billion people in 2050. The report also finds that boosting crop and livestock productivity on existing agricultural land is critical to saving forests and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, but that the world is unlikely to close the food gap through yield increases alone. Crop yields would need to increase by 32 percent more over the next four decades than they did in the previous four to avoid more land clearing.

The report includes recommendations to close the food gap both by reducing excessive consumption and by improving food production. When it comes to consumption the key messages are:

  • Reduce food loss and waste: 25 percent of food calories for human consumption is currently lost or wasted. Cutting the rate of food loss and waste in half by 2050 would close 20 percent of the food gap.
  • Shift diets: Increasing demand for pasture land caused more than half of all agricultural expansion since the 1960s, and beef consumption is projected to grow by 80 percent between 2006 and 2050. Reducing excessive demand for animal products, particularly by developed countries, would spare hundreds of millions of hectares of forests that otherwise would be cleared for grazing.
  • Achieve replacement level fertility: Sub-Saharan Africa will need to more than triple its crop production between 2006 and 2050 to provide adequate food per capita, given projected population growth. Helping sub-Saharan Africa in its efforts to reduce fertility rates through improvements in healthcare and education could help close the food gap by 25 percent in the region.

On the matter of improved food production the report suggest the following action points:

  • Improve soil and water management: Farmers can increase crop yields on existing agricultural land by implementing a suite of soil and water management practices such as agroforestry and water harvesting. Such practices, for instance, have doubled yields of maize and other grains in Burkina Faso, Niger, and Zambia over the past decade.
  • Improve pastureland productivity: Pastures and grazing lands for livestock occupy twice the amount of land area than croplands worldwide. Farmers can increase milk and meat production on existing pasturelands through sustainable intensification practices such as using rotational grazing, improving livestock health care, and integrating shade trees and nitrogen-fixing shrubs into pastures, which reduces animal stress and improves grass quality.
  • Use degraded lands: The world has many "low-carbon degraded lands," areas where native vegetation was cleared long ago and that now have very low levels of carbon, biodiversity, and human use. Any future expansion in agricultural area should focus on restoring these degraded lands into productivity, with the consent of local communities.
  • Avoid shifting agricultural land from one place to another: New satellite data show that even when total agricultural land area in a region remains steady or declines, agriculture shifts within the region causing millions of hectares of deforestation.
  • Leave no farmer behind: Yield gaps, the difference between a farm's actual yields and its potential yields, still exist in many places. Focusing on bringing the most inefficient farmers up to standard farming efficiency levels will help close yield gaps and improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. Ensuring that women farmers have access to the same resources such as fertilizer, seeds, finance, and land as male farmers is an important step.

What do you think should be the key priorities to ensure that we can feed the word in 2050? Please share your views and comment on the usefulness of this report either in our forums (note that you have to be signed in as a member to do so) or post a comment below this article on the website.

You can download the full report here and read more about what the World Resources Report is here. UNEP has also written a blog post about the report here. For more information about the participating campaign and institutions involved in this work, click on the links below:

Read more about food security on our website here and tap into our resources on sustainable intensification here. We also have links to resources concerning projections of agricultural production and demand here.

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