For nearly a decade, an oft-repeated factoid holds that, to feed a growing world population, food production needs to double by 2050.
A new study from Penn State, though, calls that figure into question—not so much disproving the fact, but modulating it to give us more of a holistic view of the way the entire agriculture system will have to change. Well, also, the study sort of disproves the double-by-2050 fact. According to the study, that figure is more like an increase of 25-70%.
The “double food production by 2050” assertion dates back originally to 2009, from a study done by the UN, as well as another one done by an ecologist from the University of Minnesota. But that claim is limited in its scope as it looks specifically at population growth over time and compared to the number of sheer calories needed. That’s a nice baseline figure, but, say the Penn State researchers, it isn’t quite the whole story—and if we’re going to actually feed the planet, we need the whole story.
By reviewing all kinds of environmental and agricultural trends, the Penn State researchers find a few interesting things. First of all, the 2009 study was based on 2005 data, and production hasn’t stood still since then; it’s increased, so we no longer have to double our current production. At best, we’d have to double the 2005 production, which is, depending on which study you’re looking at, somewhere between a 26 and 68 percent increase from the most recent figures, done in 2014.
But even that still doesn’t give us the full picture, because, say the Penn State researchers, it doesn’t include environmental and health impacts of farming. A proper timeline to feed the world population would have to include stuff like reducing water pollution, reducing emissions, and maintaining nutrients in soil. Without taking those environmental factors into consideration, we’d eventually drive ourselves off a cliff: with a damaged environment, returns would begin to diminish, and huge sections of arable land would become un-farmable, thus throwing off any reasonable calculations.
It’s an interesting study, one that’s far from simply trying to prove some oft-cited math wrong. Instead, they’re looking to not only to figure out how to feed the world in 2050—but also in 2051, 2052, and beyond.
A deal aimed to double agricultural production and end hunger in Africa has underestimated the impact climate change will have on the continent’s food production, a report has found.
The African Union’s Malabo Declaration, adopted in 2014, fails to push for investments in Africa’s scientific capacity to combat climate threats, according to a report produced by the UK-based Agriculture for Impact and launched in Rwanda this month (14 June). “Food security and agricultural development policies in Africa will fail if they are not climate-smart”, says Gordon Conway, director of Agriculture for Impact.
Ousmane Badiane, director of Africa at the US-headquartered International Food Policy Research Institute, and a Montpellier Panel member, tells SciDev.Net that: “African smallholder farmers are among the most vulnerable groups to the effects of climate change globally, and they are already feeling the effects.”
He explains that the Malabo Declaration seeks to make 30 percent of farming, pastoral and fisher households resilient to climate change by 2025. It also plans on scaling-up climate-smart agriculture practices that have been shown to work.
Badiane adds that many innovative agricultural practices and programmes are already taking place across Africa, but these can be small in scale and may remain largely unknown. “There is an urgent need for these to be identified and scaled up, with support from both the private and public sectors,” he says. “Governments need to build climate change adaptation and mitigation into their agricultural policies.”
The report highlights 15 success stories from countries such as Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Rwanda, Senegal, Tanzania and Zambia. These include technology and innovation, risk mitigation, and sustainable intensification of agriculture and financing.
Badiane tells SciDev.Net: “It is important that African governments have a voice in the international discussions and commitments on climate change. They also need better access to climate funds such as the Green Climate Funds that can help to implement climate-smart programmes.”
Shem O. Wandiga, acting director, Institute for Climate Change and Adaptation of Kenya’s University of Nairobi, says that the declaration acknowledges the threats posed by climate change but does not recognise the need to integrate resilience into the activities of governments. “No progress towards the goals of the declaration can be achieved without sound scientific knowledge,” he says. “Such knowledge cannot be borrowed. This is often ignored by African governments.”
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