Shifts Towards Sustainable Agriculture Needed to Meet Demands of 9 Billion by 2050 Tue, Jan 21, 2014

UNEP Executive Director Addresses Global Forum for Food and Agriculture, Meets with Key Ministers

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The world's agricultural production must shift to more sustainable patterns - including greater respect for ecosystems services and less waste - in order to feed the world's rapidly increasing population by 2050, said UNEP Executive Director and UN Under-Secretary-General Achim Steiner as he addressed the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture last week

The Forum, which was held during International Green Week in Berlin, gave hundreds of representatives from the worlds of politics, business, science and civil society chance to share ideas on agricultural policy within the context of food security. 

The Forum's 2014 theme was "Empowering Agriculture: Fostering Resilience - Securing Food and Nutrition"

In the context of the meeting, Mr. Steiner met with a number of key Environment and Agricultural Ministers, including Germany's newly appointed Minister for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, Dr. Barbara Hendricks

They discussed issues related to climate protection, investments for sustainable management and preparations for the first meeting of the United Nations Environment Assembly of the UNEP (UNEA), which will take place in Nairobi in June 2014

Speaking at the Forum during a Working Meeting organized by UNEP, he stressed that, by 2050, the Earth will likely need to feed some 9 billion people with the same amount of land, water and natural resources it has now

He added that, in order for increases in agricultural production to be sustainable, humanity must reduce its massive loss and wastage of food, as outlined in a soon-to-be-launched UNEP study entitled: Food Wasted, Food Lost : Improving Food Security by Restoring Ecosystems and Reducing Food Loss.

"According to the report, as much as 1.4 billion hectares of land are used to produce the total amount of food that is lost and wasted, estimated by FAO at a staggering 1.3 billion tonnes a year", said Mr. Steiner.

"This translates to more than 100 times the area of tropical rainforest that is being cleared every year (13 million hectares) of which 80 per cent is used for agricultural expansion", he added

Food loss occurs mostly at the production stages harvesting, processing and distribution while food waste typically takes place at the retailer and consumer end of the food-supply chain

In industrialized regions, almost half of the total food squandered, around 300 million tonnes annually, occurs because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption

That amounts to more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million hungry in today's world

At the same time, said Mr. Steiner, up to 25 per cent of the world's food production - an amount that could feed up to 2.4 billion people annually - might be lost by 2050 due to climate change, land degradation, cropland losses, water scarcity and infestations

"In order to ensure that food production is increased to meet the demands of the additional 2.6 billion people expected to inhabit the planet by 2050, it is important that food producing ecosystems are protected and degraded ecosystems are restored", said Mr. Steiner

Agricultural production - which is dependent on services provided by healthy natural ecosystems, from pollination and water purification to climate change adaptation - remains the single most important sector in providing the basic necessities for human existence and livelihoods today

It is therefore critical to consider the values of ecosystems and biodiversity to the agricultural sector, as well as to human health, livelihoods and wellbeing

A new study by the Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) and the UNEP World Conservation Monitoring Centre (WCMC), to be launched this year, finds that without healthy ecosystems, agricultural systems may suffer if not collapse entirely.

"A profound change of the global food and agriculture system is needed if we are to nourish today's 925 million hungry and the additional 2 billion people expected by 2050", said Mr. Steiner

"Recognizing that agriculture, water, land, forests , food production and consumption are all connected, the answer to providing food security while maintaining ecosystems lies in pursuing a holistic approach that incorporates climate-smart agriculture and a landscape approach", he added

"A landscape approach means managing the land, water, and forest resources necessary to meet an area's food security needs and promoting inclusive green growth as one integrated system."

For more information, please contact UNEP News Desk at

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