Nav: Home

How can we feed the world without overwhelming the planet?

September 11, 2019

Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 calls for ending hunger, achieving food security and improved nutrition, and promoting sustainable agriculture. The environmental challenges posed by agriculture are however massive, and many fear that they will only become more pressing as we try to meet the growing need for food worldwide. IIASA researchers and colleagues from Japan propose alternative hunger eradication strategies that will not compromise environmental protection.

Despite encouraging progress made in reducing the number of people that go hungry worldwide, one in nine people remain undernourished, more than 30 million children under the age of five are dangerously underweight, and poor nutrition is responsible for the deaths of nearly 3.1 million children under five each year. Across the globe, an estimated 821 million people were undernourished in 2017, and by 2050, the world will likely have two billion more mouths to feed. One approach to meeting the dietary needs of a rapidly growing world population is by increasing food production through agricultural intensification and expansion. This will however inevitably have negative effects on the environment such as air and water pollution, biodiversity loss, and increased greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, it is well known that hunger is much more a result of unequal access to food across populations, even within single countries where undernourishment often coexists with obesity, rather than lack of agricultural production overall. This fact is however too often forgotten when hunger eradication strategies are being considered.

In their study published in the journal Nature Sustainability, IIASA researchers collaborated with colleagues from Ritsumeikan University and the National Institute for Environmental Studies (NIES) in Japan to explore different ways to end hunger by reducing the inequalities in access to food rather than increasing agricultural production, thus reducing the potential conflicts with environmental protection.

The first alternative hunger eradication strategy explored in the study, focuses exclusively on bridging the nutrition gap of the undernourished population, which can be realized through targeted government support in the short-term. Such a strategy would include food and nutrition programs that provide food in-kind transfers, school-feeding programs, vouchers for food, income support programs, and safety-nets, without the need to wait for economic growth. This more immediate strategy is termed, support-led security. In this scenario, eradicating hunger by 2030, means providing sufficient food to an additional 410 million people who would otherwise remain undernourished under a business as usual scenario. When focusing on the undernourished only, the additional global agricultural production necessary would only be 3%, with corresponding limited negative effects on the environment.

These negligible effects are in strong contrast with an alternative scenario, where hunger eradication is achieved through a general increase in food consumption typically associated with sustained economic growth leading not only to a reduction in the prevalence of undernourishment, but also to an increase in over-consumption. Apart from the fact that such a strategy would not allow the timely achievement of SDG2 (2030), as many decades of economic growth would be necessary, it would require a seven times higher (+20%) growth in food production. This would in turn require 48 Mha of additional agricultural land and also increase greenhouse gas emissions by 550 Mt CO2eq/year in 2030.

"This paper demonstrates that providing enough food to the undernourished requires an only marginal increase in overall agricultural production and thus also has very limited trade-offs with the environment. Undernourishment is indeed not a problem of agricultural production capacity but of the current economic and political system. This means that there are no good excuses not to tackle it," says Center Head for Environmental Resources Development and Deputy Program Director of the Ecosystems Services and Management Program at IIASA, Petr Havlik, who is one of the authors of the study.

Additional analysis shows that if equity of food distribution is accompanied by a reduction in over-consumption and food waste, as well as improved agricultural intensification, undernutrition can be eradicated while at the same time reducing agricultural production, thus leading to multiple benefits for environmental sustainability.

"The required amount of food for hunger eradication and the negative impacts on the environment are much reduced by combining hunger eradication with improved equity in food distribution such as reduced food waste and over-consumption, together with agricultural research and development to increase crop yields in developing regions," says study lead-author Tomoko Hasegawa, a researcher at IIASA, Ritsumeikan University and NIES. "Our research shows that to achieve multiple goals, only one policy is not enough. We need to combine different policies to avoid unintended negative impacts on others. This implies that to end hunger without pressuring the environment, we need not only policies that address hunger, but also policies related to food waste and over-consumption, as well as ones related to agricultural research and development to increase crop yields in developing regions."
-end-
Reference

Hasegawa T, Havlík P, Frank S, Palazzo A, Valin H (2019). Tackling food consumption inequality to fight hunger without pressuring the environment. Nature Sustainability DOI : 10.1038/s41893-019-0371-6

More info/Links

http://www.iiasa.ac.at

Contacts:

Researcher contact

Petr Havlik
Head of Center for Environmental Resources and Development and Deputy Program Director
IIASA Ecosystems Services and Management Program
+43(0) 2236 807 511
havlikpt@iiasa.ac.at

Press Officer

Ansa Heyl
IIASA Press Office
Tel: +43 2236 807 574
Mob: +43 676 83 807 574
heyl@iiasa.ac.at

About IIASA:

The International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) is an international scientific institute that conducts research into the critical issues of global environmental, economic, technological, and social change that we face in the twenty-first century. Our findings provide valuable options to policymakers to shape the future of our changing world. IIASA is independent and funded by prestigious research funding agencies in Africa, the Americas, Asia, and Europe. http://www.iiasa.ac.at

International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis

Related Agriculture Articles:

Digital agriculture paves the road to agricultural sustainability
In a study published in Nature Sustainability, researchers outline how to develop a more sustainable land management system through data collection and stakeholder buy-in.
Comparisons of organic and conventional agriculture need to be better, say researchers
The environmental effects of agriculture and food are hotly debated.
EU agriculture not viable for the future
The current reform proposals of the EU Commission on the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) are unlikely to improve environmental protection, say researchers led by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research (UFZ) and the University of Göttingen in the journal Science.
Global agriculture: Impending threats to biodiversity
A new study compares the effects of expansion vs. intensification of cropland use on global agricultural markets and biodiversity, and finds that the expansion strategy poses a particularly serious threat to biodiversity in the tropics.
A new vision for genomics in animal agriculture
Iowa State University animal scientists helped to form a blueprint to guide the next decade of animal genomics research.
New pathways for sustainable agriculture
Diversity beats monotony: a colourful patchwork of small, differently used plots can bring advantages to agriculture and nature.
The future of agriculture is computerized
Researchers at the MIT Media Lab Open Agriculture Initiative have used computer algorithms to determine the optimal growing conditions to improve basil plants' taste by maximizing the concentration of flavorful molecules known as volatile compounds.
When yesterday's agriculture feeds today's water pollution
Water quality is threatened by a long history of fertilizer use on land, Canadian scientists find.
How does agriculture affect vulnerable insect-eating birds?
Aerial insectivores -- birds that hunt for insect prey on the wing -- are declining across North America as agricultural intensification leads to diminishing insect abundance and diversity in many areas.
Brazil's Forest Code can balance the needs of agriculture and the environment
If fully implemented, Brazil's Forest Code, an environmental law designed to protect the country's native vegetation and regulate land use, will not prevent growth in Brazilian agriculture, according to new IIASA-led research.
More Agriculture News and Agriculture Current Events

Trending Science News

Current Coronavirus (COVID-19) News

Top Science Podcasts

We have hand picked the top science podcasts of 2020.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Listen Again: Reinvention
Change is hard, but it's also an opportunity to discover and reimagine what you thought you knew. From our economy, to music, to even ourselves–this hour TED speakers explore the power of reinvention. Guests include OK Go lead singer Damian Kulash Jr., former college gymnastics coach Valorie Kondos Field, Stockton Mayor Michael Tubbs, and entrepreneur Nick Hanauer.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#562 Superbug to Bedside
By now we're all good and scared about antibiotic resistance, one of the many things coming to get us all. But there's good news, sort of. News antibiotics are coming out! How do they get tested? What does that kind of a trial look like and how does it happen? Host Bethany Brookeshire talks with Matt McCarthy, author of "Superbugs: The Race to Stop an Epidemic", about the ins and outs of testing a new antibiotic in the hospital.
Now Playing: Radiolab

Dispatch 6: Strange Times
Covid has disrupted the most basic routines of our days and nights. But in the middle of a conversation about how to fight the virus, we find a place impervious to the stalled plans and frenetic demands of the outside world. It's a very different kind of front line, where urgent work means moving slow, and time is marked out in tiny pre-planned steps. Then, on a walk through the woods, we consider how the tempo of our lives affects our minds and discover how the beats of biology shape our bodies. This episode was produced with help from Molly Webster and Tracie Hunte. Support Radiolab today at Radiolab.org/donate.