‘Revolution’ needed to feed the world

DEFRA secretary Caroline Spelman has called for an agricultural revolution to feed a global population expected to reach 9bn within 40 years.

Opening up global commodity markets would reduce price volatility and benefit the world’s poorest people, she said. An integrated approach to food security was vital to reduce poverty, tackle climate change and reduce biodiversity loss.

“The UK government is determined to show the international leadership needed to make that happen,” said Mrs Spelman.

Unlocking an agricultural revolution in the developing world could be achieved by improving access to knowledge, technology, markets and infrastructure. “To fuel this revolution, we must open up global markets, boost global trade and make reforms that help the poorest,” Mrs Spelman said. “Trade restrictions must be avoided, especially at times of scarcity.”

Price volatility should be reduced by building trust and cooperation – and by creating greater transparency around the true levels of food stocks.

Her comments came as experts said the global food system must be urgently redesigned to feed the world healthily and sustainably.

Much-anticipated findings from the Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures project were published on Monday (24 January).

The project involved around 400 leading experts and stakeholders from about 35 countries across the world. Researchers explored the increasing pressures on the global food system as the world’s population heads towards 9bn by 2050.

Their findings draw upon more than 100 specially commissioned and peer-reviewed evidence papers.

The Foresight report says efforts to end hunger internationally are already stalling. Without decisive action food prices could rise substantially over the next 40 years, making the situation worse, it warns.

Social tensions will increase as more of the world suffers from hunger, says the report, as will the threat of conflict and migration. Wider economic growth will also be affected unless action is taken, it predicts.

Action is needed across many fronts, says the document, from changing diets to eliminating food waste.

The Foresight programme is headed by Professor Sir John Beddington, who is also the government’s chief scientific adviser. The food system was unsustainable, he said, with resources being used faster than they can be naturally replenished.

“It is crucial that a wide range of complementary actions from policy makers, farmers and businesses are taken now. Urgent change is required throughout the food system to bring sustainability centre stage and end hunger.

“It is also vital for other areas, such as climate change mitigation, conflict, and economic growth.”

The report highlights three important areas for change. They include minimising waste in all areas of the food system; balancing supply and supply; and reducing policies that disadvantage poor countries.

An amount of food equivalent to about a quarter of today’s annual production could be saved by 2050 if global food waste was halved, the report says. Balancing supply and demand could include measures that result in consumers choosing products that promote sustainability, it adds.

Reducing subsidies and trade barriers could help to ease restrictions that amplify shocks in the food system, raising prices further.

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