Food security increasingly difficult

  • UN report concludes that environmental issues must be at forefront of food security goals

THE AIM of achieving food security across the globe will become increasingly elusive unless countries factor the planet’s nature-based services into agricultural and related planning, a new UN Environment Programme (UNEP) report claims.


The study, entitled “Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis of Food Security through Sustainable Food System”, concludes that safeguarding the underlying ecological foundations that support food production, including biodiversity will be central if the world is to feed seven billion inhabitants, climbing to over nine billion by 2050.


Inefficiencies along the food delivery chain further complicate the challenge, and the report highlights that an estimated one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion tonnes per year.


The report is published on World Food Day, October 16th, which is focusing on agricultural cooperatives.


While pointing out the current challenges, the report also offers a clear way forward to shore up the ecological foundations and improve food security. It issues recommendations on the redesign of sustainable agriculture systems, dietary changes and storage systems and new food standards to reduce waste.


Also among the recommendations is the promotion of sustainable diets and, in particular, “lower consumption of meat and dairy products in developed countries”.


The debate on food security has largely revolved around availability, access, utilization and stability as the four pillars of food security, barely touching on the resource base and ecosystem services that prop up the whole food system, said UNEP.


Previous studies have attempted to put a value on the services provided by ecosystems, with the TEEB report valuing natural services at $2 trillion to $5 trillion a year. WWF’s Living Planet Report also shows how quickly natural resources are being depleted.


The new UNEP report aims to increase the focus on the services provided by the natural world, many of which are being “undermined by overfishing, unsustainable water use, environmentally degrading agricultural practices and other human activities”. It also frames the debate in the context of the green economy, calling for food production and consumption practices that ensure productivity without undermining ecosystem services.


“The environment has been more of an afterthought in the debate about food security,” said UNEP chief scientist Joseph Alcamo. “This is the first time that the scientific community has given us a complete picture of how the ecological basis of the food system is not only shaky but being really undermined.”


  • For a recent analysis on sustainable diets, click here.