Five-course menu served up for sustainable food system

Agriculture and related land-use change generate one quarter of annual greenhouse gas emissions

A new five-course ‘menu of solutions’ to ensure 10 billion people can be fed without increasing emissions, fuelling deforestation or exacerbating poverty has been set out.

The World Resources Institute (WRI) reveals that meeting this challenge will require closing three gaps, which include a 56% “food gap” between what was produced in 2010 and what will be needed in 2050 and a nearly 600 million hectare “land gap” – an area nearly twice the size of India – between global agricultural land area and expected expansion.

It says an 11-gigaton “greenhouse gas mitigation gap” between expected emissions from agriculture in 2050 and the levels needed to meet the Paris climate agreement must also be closed.

As the global population grows from seven billion to a projected 9.8 billion in 2050 and incomes increase across the developing world, the WRI adds overall food demand is on course to rise by more than 50% and demand for animal-based food by nearly 70%.

However, hundreds of millions of people remain hungry today, agriculture already uses almost half of the world’s vegetated land and agriculture and related land-use change generate one quarter of annual greenhouse gas emissions.

The report – produced by the WRI in partnership with the World Bank, UN Environment, UN Development Programme and French agricultural research agencies CIRAD and INRA – calls for significant adjustments in food production as well as changes in people’s consumption and outlines its five solutions to overhaul the way the world produces and consumes food to ensure a sustainable food system by 2050:

  • Reducing growth in demand for food and agricultural products by cutting food loss and waste, eating healthier diets, etc
  • Increasing food production without expanding agricultural land area via yield gains for both crops and livestock
  • Protecting and restoring natural ecosystems by reducing deforestation, restoring peatlands and linking yield gains with ecosystems conservation
  • Increasing fish supply by improving aquaculture systems and better managing wild fisheries
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agricultural production through innovative technologies and farming methods

The report gives policymakers, businesses and researchers a comprehensive roadmap for how to create a sustainable food system, from wild fisheries management to how much beef to eat.

WRI President and CEO Andrew Steer said: “Millions of farmers, companies, consumers and every government on the planet will have to make changes to meet the global food challenge. At every level, the food system must be linked to climate strategies as well as ecosystem protections and economic prosperity.

“While the scale of the challenge is bigger than is often thought, the solutions we’ve identified have greater potential than many realise. There’s reason to be hopeful we can achieve a sustainable food future.”

Latest Podcast