Unless major changes are made – including the way food is produced, handled and disposed of around the world – last year’s food crisis which plunged millions back into hunger may foreshadow an even bigger crisis in the years to come, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said in a new report.
The Environmental Food Crisis: The environment’s role in averting future food crises, released at the 25th session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum in Nairobi, outlines a plan to reduce the risk of hunger and rising food insecurity for this century.
The agency predicts that food prices may increase 30 to 50 per cent within decades, forcing those living in extreme poverty to spend 90 per cent of their income on food.
The report, compiled by a wide group of experts from both within and outside UNEP, stressed that changing the ways in which food is produced, handled and disposed of across the globe – from farm to store and from fridge to landfill – can both feed the world’s rising population and help the environmental services that are the foundation of agricultural productivity in the first place.
“We need a Green Revolution in a Green Economy but one with a capital G,” said UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
“We need to deal with not only the way the world produces food but the way it is distributed, sold and consumed, and we need a revolution that can boost yields by working with rather than against nature,” added Mr. Steiner
He noted that over half of the food produced today is lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain.
“There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet,” said Mr. Steiner.
The report also underscored the fact that over one-third of the world’s cereal harvest is being used as animal feed and by 2050 the ratio will rise to 50 per cent.
“Continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation,” UNEP warned in its press statement.
Among the key points in its plan, the report suggested that recycling food wastes and deploying new technologies, aimed at producing biofuels, to produce sugars from discards such as straw and nutshells could be a key environmentally-friendly alternative to increased use of cereals for livestock.
The amount of unwanted fish currently discarded at sea – estimated at 30 million tons a year – could alone sustain more than a 50 per cent increase in fish farming, a rise needed to maintain per capita fish consumption at current levels by 2050 without increasing pressure on an already stressed marine environment.
The report highlights a number of other measures, including the reorganization of food market infrastructure to regulate prices, a micro-financing fund to boost small-scale farming, the removal of agricultural subsidies, managing and better harvesting extreme rainfall and adopting more diversified and ecologically-friendly farming systems.
Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appealed to environment ministers gathered in Nairobi to help promote a green economy to tackle climate change and wasteful resource consumption, as well as re-energize economies, creating opportunities for new and better livelihoods.
“Soaring food prices brought intense focus not just on the issues of agriculture and trade but on the inflationary role of biofuel production,” Mr. Ban said in a message to the weeklong meeting.
“Wildly fluctuating crude oil costs illustrated once again our dependence on the fossil fuels that are causing climate change, and the short-sighted economic vision that has precipitated the current financial turmoil is also bankrupting our resource base,” he stated.
“UNEP has been instrumental in developing the concept of the green economy, and is now identifying the tools for achieving it, but UNEP needs your support,” Mr. Ban stressed.
During the Forum, UNEP and technology giant Microsoft signed an agreement to work together using information and communication technology (ICT) solutions to help address today’s environmental challenges.
The partnership focuses on helping environmental organizations, such as UNEP, Governments, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and researchers, work more effectively by making use of new technologies.
“We view our partnership with Microsoft as key to delivering solutions on a scalable level to a community of more than 190 nations and the UN system as a whole,” said Mr. Steiner.
“Without equitable access to information and the capacity for developing countries to engage on an equal level in negotiating key agreements like the climate change treaty or the biodiversity convention, we will not make much progress,” he added.