25% Reduction in Global Food Production by 2050: Organic Agriculture Part of the Solution

photo: International Rice Research Institute via flickr

Amid concerns about weird weather, sea level rise and changing precipitation patterns, perhaps just as serious a concern (if not more so in some ways) is changes in global food production. With the world population continuing to grow at unsustainable rates, access to food and water is likely to be a serious problem in some places and one made worse by climate change. The UN Environment Programme has issued a new report detailing how much worse it could get:In its report, The Environmental Food Crises: Environment's role in averting future food crises, the UNEP found that:

The Era of Cheap Food is Over!
The 100 year long trend of falling food prices is likely over, with food price rises of 30-50% likely within decades. Those living in extreme poverty may end up spending 90% of their income on food.

Up to 25% of world food production could be lost to "environmental breakdowns" by 2050 unless action is taken.

50% of Grain Production Will Go to Livestock, Increasing Poverty
Cereal yields worldwide have stagnated, while one-third of these are used as feed for livestock. This figure is expected to rise to 50% by 2050, with environmental degradation and poverty rates increasing. Instead of feeding cereals to livestock, the report recommends "recycling food wastes and deploying new technologies, aimed at producing biofuels, to produce sugars from discards such as straw and even nutshells could be a key environmentally-friendly alternative to increased use of cereals for livestock."

Increase in Aquaculture Needed to Maintain Current Levels of Consumption
The amount of fish currently discarded at sea (30 million tonnes annually) could sustain a 50% increase in fish farming and aquaculture: An amount needed to maintain per capita fish consumption without increasing stress on marine ecosystems.

UN Fires a Shot Across the Bow...
You may have heard this sort of info before, if not the exact numbers, but it's really the solutions that are important and some of which are a departure from the idea that industrial agriculture, which high mechanization and chemical inputs are the way to increase crop yields.

Organic Agriculture Increases Yields 128% in East Africa

Medium to long term measures include managing and better harvesting extreme rainfall on Continents such as Africa, alongside support to farmers for adopting more diversified and ecologically-friendly farming systems - ones that enhance the 'nature-based' inputs from pollinators such as bees as well as water supplies and genetic diversity.

A recent report by UNEP and the UN Conference on Trade and Development surveyed 114 small-scale farms in 24 African countries, publishing our findings in late 2008.

Yields had more than doubled where organic, or near-organic practices had been used, with the in yield jumping to 128 per cent in east Africa.

The study found that organic practices outperformed traditional methods and chemical-intensive conventional farming and also found strong environmental benefits such as improved soil fertility, better retention of water and resistance to drought.

The research also highlighted the role that adapting organic practices could have in improving local education and community cooperation.

Additional and equally important steps recommended in the report include:

Establishing a food safety net for those people most at risk of hunger. This would be backed by a "global, micro-financing fund to boost small-scale farmer productivity in developing countries."

Removal of agricultural subsidies and the promotion of second generation biofuels to reduce pressures to convert croplands to biofuel production, as well as prevent deforestation.

At the instigation of a commenter, I tracked down the source of the UN quote about organic farming in East Africa. It seems there's a slight miscommunication going on: My original source quoted above said organic farming increased yields 128%, while the Policy Brief from UNCTAD I found states the increase was 116%. Still a solid endorsement of the potential of organic agriculture if you ask me.

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Tags: Agriculture | Economics | Farming | Global Warming Effects | Poverty | United Nations

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