A five course menu to feed 10 billion people

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As the UK prepares to leave the European Union (EU), agricultural policy is preparing for a transition towards providing ‘public money for public goods’. A move towards reducing diffuse water pollution and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is visible in proposed government policy; with the phasing out of direct payments (subsidies based on the amount of land farmed) in favour of more concentrated funding for activities which benefit the environment. With an increasing population, productivity and sustainability will need to be balanced in order to secure food for the future.

A five course menu to feed 10 billion people

Global population growth is projected to reach 9.8 billion by 2050. Consequently, this means that the overall anticipated demand for food will increase by more than 50%. With agriculture already utilising almost half of the world’s vegetated land – and generating one-quarter of annual GHG emissions – the World Resources Institute’s (WRI) latest report ‘Creating a Sustainable Food Future’, presents the major challenges facing global farming systems in the future, if they are to prioritise sustainability and improve productivity without expanding agricultural land.

Within the report, the three challenges facing the global food system are outlined as food supply, land use and GHG emissions.

Linked in to all three of the challenges is the need to raise productivity and the efficiency of production. However, alongside these efforts, the report identifies demand for food as an area that needs to be managed. This involves reducing food loss and wastage along the supply chain to maximise the amount of food reaching human consumption, as well as shifting diets towards plant-based foods.

In addition to managing demand, the report explores the use of technological innovations to maximise food production without expanding land area. These include crop breeding, improved fertiliser application, solar based processes for making fertiliser, organic preservation sprays and plant-based meat substitutes.

In order to reduce the gap between the amount of food currently produced, and that which will need to be produced by 2050, the WRI present a ‘five course’ solution.

In particular, courses two and five provide ‘supply-side solutions’ which could be adopted to increase the sustainability and resilience of both the global and UK food supply chain.

Course 2 promotes an increase in productivity and efficiency to close the food gap without increasing agricultural land use. At present, farmers across the world raise 1.7 billion cows and buffalo, 2.2 billion sheep and goats, 1 billion pigs and 61 billion chickens annually in order to feed the world population. Total land use amounts to over 3 billion hectares of pasture land and hundreds of millions of hectares of cropland globally. The report highlights that pastureland is expected to rise by approximately 401 million hectares in an optimistic prediction, with the potential to reach an increase of 523 million hectares over the period 2010 to 2050. However, the WRI look to limit agricultural land increase, by utilising the following actions:

  1. Increasing yield of meat and milk per animal and per hectare through improved feed quality, grazing management and other animal husbandry practices;
  2. Accelerating crop yield improvements through advancements in crop breeding;
  3. Boosting yields on drier land by improving soil and water management practices, for example by using agroforestry and water harvesting; and
  4. Increasing production by getting more than one crop harvest per year from existing cropland or by leaving less land fallow, when conditions allow.

Productivity of livestock production is predicted to rise in the period 2010 to 2050, due to developing countries utilising irrigation and fertilisers, and developed countries benefitting from both updating technology and using technology more efficiently. However, the report presents the increasing concern that climate change could result in reduced production, increased disease, increased animal stress and reduced water availability. Utilising legumes to increase forage protein content, and strip grazing to increase consumption of forage when it is most nutritious are discussed within the report. Other options to maximise productivity include supplementary feeding, introducing more digestible crop residues and concentrating feed quality.

The report also shows the link between productivity gains and emission reduction; a reduction in GHG emissions per animal from an increase in milk yield produced. Off the back of this, Course 5 links closely to Course 2. Course 5 calls for increased management of GHG emissions in agriculture from ‘enteric’ methane, manure and fertiliser from agricultural production. New technologies, manure management, fertiliser efficiency, crop management, carbon sequestration, increasing energy efficiency and concentration on non-fossil fuel energy uses are all outlined within the report as ways to combat GHG production.

Sustainability of food production is at the heart of ADAS. The Sustainable Food and Farming team work closely with organisations across the food supply chain in order to help businesses address their sustainability challenges. Senior Sustainable Food Consultant Harriet Illman, states:

“Reports such as these highlight the challenge that we will face in the coming years; by 2050, the food system will need to be able to produce enough food for nearly 10 billion people, whilst minimising damage to biodiversity and natural ecosystems, and also significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In order to achieve this, we need to start preparing for the future now. Our Sustainable Food and Farming team works with food and agricultural businesses to address sustainability challenges across a variety of areas, including climate resilience, emissions reduction, sustainable pesticide use, water use efficiency, and reducing food loss and waste in the supply chain. By working together with the agriculture industry, and players across the food supply chain, we are able to support in preparing for the sustainable food future the WRI discuss in this report”.

Find out more

Cohesion of organisations along the supply chain is crucial in order to reduce emissions and meet the food gap successfully. Strategic advice on how to make your business more sustainable can be found from the Sustainable Food and Farming team.

For more information on improving productivity, accessing grants, improving nutrient management, and on-farm climate mitigation advice, can be accessed through contacting the ADAS Land Management team.

If you would like more information, please see the WRI website

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