Weather events such as extreme temperatures and drought caused global agricultural losses of 11.4 billion dollars in 2011, while 12 million hectares of farmland are lost to land degradation every year, and unsustainable agricultural practices contribute to the emission of greenhouse gases.
These and other data provided by a report released Wednesday in London by leading scientists from 13 countries raise the question of how to curb the environmental crisis, guarantee broad access to quality food, and mitigate the global effects of climate change.
By 2050, the global population is expected to reach nine billion people, posing a tough test for meeting the challenge of an adequate diet for all.
Currently, one-third of the food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted: an average of 1.3 billion tonnes in losses a year, the study says.
The challenge over the next few decades will be to incorporate science in the fight to boost food security, Carlos Nobre, one of Brazil’s leading authorities on climate change, told IPS. Nobre is national secretary of R&D policies and programmes in Brazil’s ministry of science and technology.
'Science has a fundamental role to play. Agriculture must become more resilient and the development of scientific knowledge must bolster sustainability and food security,' he said.
Nobre is one of the members of the independent Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, made up of prominent scientists from 13 countries, who offer, in the report presented Wednesday at the 2012 international Planet under Pressure conference, a detailed set of recommendations for policy-makers on how to achieve food security.
The conference, running Monday Mar. 26 through Thursday Mar. 29 in London, is being held to provide scientific leadership towards the 2012 U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20), to be hosted by Rio de Janeiro in late June.
The report offers specific strategy proposals for feeding the world as the population and poverty grow and the devastation of ecosystems increases.
Two decades after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, the experts urge governments 'to agree to financial commitments for regional programmes that support and facilitate research, implementation, capacity building and monitoring to improve agriculture and food systems.'
Most of the growth in the world population this century will occur in low-income countries, the report notes. For example, it adds, Africa’s population is projected to double, from just over one billion in 2010 to around two billion by 2050.
And projections indicate that demand for cereals will rise by 70 percent by 2050, and will double in many low-income nations, the scientists say.
'Our aim is to integrate food security and sustainable agriculture in national and global policies,' said Nobre. 'If that is achieved, it will reflect a change in paradigm.'
Science, he said, should be placed at the service of the development of agriculture that is more resilient in the face of climate change.
'We have already started experiencing heat waves caused by global warming. In the future we will see even longer-lasting climate swings, which cause huge crop losses,' he said.
'That’s why agriculture has to be adapted to survive changes such as longer dry seasons,' he added.
The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change is calling for a significant rise in global investment in food production over the next decade.
One of the challenges, the scientists say, will be to intensify agricultural production without causing greater environmental damage.
'Over the next decade we have to make bigger investments in sustainable agriculture and step up production, trying not to contribute to emissions of greenhouse gases,' Nobre said.
'That is what we have to do in Brazil, for example, without expanding the agricultural frontier to the detriment of the rainforest,' he said.
Nobre said his country has the biggest stock of farmland in the world: currently two million square km are used to grow crops and raise livestock.
'Brazil can be one of the leaders in making sustainable agriculture the new priority,' he said, adding that an emphasis must be on food with high nutritional value, because low-quality food causes health problems.
The study reports that while 925 million people were undernourished in 2010, 1.5 million adults were overweight.
The report also refers to water use, noting that agriculture consumes 70 percent of the freshwater taken from rivers and aquifers, and that it will increasingly compete for water with industry and households.
Nobre said that 1.4 billion people live on less than 1.25 dollars a day, and two billion people live in dryland areas. He also noted that of the 4.9 billion hectares of agricultural land in the world, 3.7 billion are used for pasture and raising crops for livestock.
© Inter Press Service (2012) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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