A bleak report on the global food system
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A bleak report on the global food system

The world faces unprecedented strains on food production by the middle of the century, writes Asia Sentinel’s John Berthelsen

The global food system faces almost insurmountable problems in feeding what will probably be more than 9 billion people by 2050, with competition for land, water and energy intensifying at a time when climate change and land degradation will play an ominous role, according to a new report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

The 221-page report, titled Foresight. The Future of Food and Farming and written by the Government Office for Science in the United Kingdom. Released on Jan. 25 and produced by about 400 leading experts and stakeholders from about 35 low-, middle and high-income countries across the world, it makes for bleak reading.

Already, despite the fact that birth rates are falling dramatically in many parts of the world, there appears little chance that they will fall enough to have a real effect on the numbers of people on the planet in the next four decades, and it is likely that an increasing number of them will be hungry, and that the Millennium Development Goals set for 2015 are highly unlikely to be met. Already 925 million people – 13.2 percent of the population – experience hunger today, with another billion people malnourished. Together, they account for 27.5 percent of the global population. At the same time, as Asia Sentinel reported on Sept.23, 2009, another billion people are substantially overconsuming, leaving themselves open to Type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.


Pic: AP.

While these nearly 2 billion people are either malnourished or starving, the entry into the middle class of hundreds of millions of people in India, China and other newly prospering countries means they are increasingly likely to add proteins such as grain-fed meat to their diet. These food items require considerably more resources to produce than others. Different studies have predicted that per capita consumption of meat4 will rise from 32 kilograms today to 52 kg by the middle of the century.

“Much of the responsibility for these three billion people having suboptimal diets lies within the global food system,” the report states. “Many systems of food production are unsustainable. Without change, the global food system will continue to degrade the environment and compromise the world’s capacity to produce food in the future, as well as contributing to climate change and the destruction of biodiversity.”

Although the report carefully treads away from assigning blame for the situation, a long series of bad decisions as well as unwillingness to make hard choices by the world’s governments goes to tell why the food system is endangered.