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Radical shift in agriculture critical to making future food systems smarter, more efficient – UN

FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.
FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

Radical shift in agriculture critical to making future food systems smarter, more efficient – UN

Climate change and increasing competition for natural resources have essentially rendered the agriculture model of the past 40 years unsustainable, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has stressed, calling for a ‘paradigm shift’ in food production.

Food systems need to become smarter and more efficient if they are to feed the future, urged FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture this past Friday as part of ‘Green Week’ held in Berlin.

The topic of this year’s forum was ‘The Growing Demand for Food, Raw Materials and Energy: Opportunities for Agriculture, Challenges for Food Security?’

“Business as usual would mean a huge and simultaneous increase in the need for food, energy and water in the next decades: 60 percent more food, 50 per cent more energy and 40 percent more water by 2050,” Mr. Graziano da Silva said in a statement from his Office.

FAO estimates that food production will have to increase by 60 percent by 2050 to feed a population expected to top nine billion. To address this challenge, concerted efforts and investments are needed to support a globe-spanning transition to sustainable farming systems and land management practices.

“But it is important not to forget that biofuel emerged with strength as an alternative energy source because of the need to mitigate fossil fuel production and greenhouse gases – and that need has not changed,” said Mr. Graziano da Silva.

The FAO chief argued for a practical approach to the issue.

“We need to move from the ‘food versus fuel’ debate to a ‘food and fuel’ debate. There is no question: food comes first. But biofuels should not be simply seen as a threat or as a magical solution. Like anything else, they can do good or bad.”

The FAO Director-General noted that thanks to experience gained in recent years, and new biofuel production technologies, countries today are better positioned to evaluate the opportunities and risks of biofuel production and to use it when it pays off socially, environmentally and economically.

He also stressed that in order to avoid conflicts with food production, biofuel policies must be flexible and ‘adjusted according to the reality, the ongoing balance of production, and stocks of the different products used.’

Speaking more generally on the contributions a shift to sustainable agriculture can make, he said the world’s food systems must achieve much greater efficiencies in their use of natural resources, in particular water, energy and land – including reducing food waste.