An Uphill Path: The Future of Food and Agriculture
May 2, 2017
Vimlendra Sharan, Director, FAO Liaison Office in Washington, DC
The irony of looking for life on Mars when life on earth is wasted due to poverty and hunger can escape no one.
With nearly eight hundred million people around the world sleeping hungry and another two billion suffering from malnutrition and not likely to achieve their full economic potential ever, we must understand that poverty and hunger only give the world wasted resources, unrealized human potential, social and political unrest, misery and death.
How did we reach such a pass and why do we accept it morally? But, more important, how do we chart our way out of it? To successfully do so, and break the shackles of the intergenerational cycle of hunger and poverty, it is necessary to have a clear understanding of the future trends and challenges facing us.
By 2050 the world be home to nearly 9.5 billion. Even on a conservative scale this would see an increase of nearly 50% in agriculture demand. Increased urbanization with nearly 75% of the world’s population living in urban areas by 2050 would result in a major dietary shift towards meat and dairy, putting the already fragile natural resource base under tremendous strain. For the policy makers, increasing agricultural production and improving productivity while ensuring a sustainable natural resource base will be a daunting task. Complexities presented by negative impacts of climate change, low investment in research, increased threat of transboundary pests and diseases of plants and animals further complicate matters as do the dwindling resources being allocated to combat them. All this when conflict and protracted crisis refuse to abate. The swiftly changing paradigm calls for an intensely coordinated and concerted effort by all stakeholders – governments, multilateral agencies, NGOs, private sector and academia, if we want to deliver upon the Sustainable Development Goal of eradicating hunger and malnutrition by 2030.
The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations has played a pivotal role in bringing the issue of hunger and nutrition front center on global platforms as well as in the national policy landscape of all its member nations. Over the years, FAO has worked with member countries towards increasing agricultural productivity sustainably to meet the ever increasing demand and has succeeded in more than halving world hunger over the last two decade. It has successfully partnered with relevant stakeholders to make food systems more efficient, inclusive and resilient; improve income earning opportunities in rural areas and build resilience to protracted crisis, disasters and conflicts. Yet, much needs to be done still – 700 million people, most of them living in rural areas, are still extremely poor today. In addition, despite progress in combating hunger and malnutrition, almost 800 million people are chronically hungry and 2 billion suffer micronutrient deficiencies. At the current rate of commitment, both financial and human and without additional efforts to promote pro-poor development, some 653 million people would still be undernourished in 2030.
Needless to say, for the myth of Sisyphus to be transformed and sustained prosperity and food security be attained, immense political will and substantive financial investments will be needed. “Business as usual” is not an option. Major transformations in agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resources management are necessary. On the path to sustainable development, all countries are interdependent. Are we, the nations of the world committed to it?