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article imageUN: World security at risk unless food production is increased

By Karen Graham     Mar 11, 2014 in World
The UN Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) issued a stern warning to the world on Monday, saying food production must be increased a staggering 60 percent by mid-century to avoid mass starvation, social unrest and terrorism.
Hiroyuki Konuma, assistant director-general of the UN-FAO, Asia-Pacific, said it is estimated the world's population will exceed 9.0 billion people by the year 2050, an increase of 2.3 billion people from 2009. Most of this growth is expected to occur in developing countries.
Agriculture, in turn, is going to face numerous challenges, all intertwined and all necessary to the overall end-result of avoiding food insecurity and the potential for civil unrest and terrorism. Increased food demand has come at a time when we are spending less money and research in agriculture worldwide.
Konuma, speaking at a week-long regional food security conference in Ulan Bator, Mongolia said, "If we fail to meet our goal and a food shortage occurs, there will be a high risk of social and political unrest, civil wars and terrorism, and world security as a whole might be affected."
There have been some successes in curbing world hunger. Vegetable production in Asia and the Pacific, where more than three-quarters of the world’s vegetables are grown, rose 25 percent over the past decade. Yet there are still over 842 million people suffering from malnutrition, and over two-thirds of this number live in the Asia-Pacific region.
The rise in developing countries
Over 90 percent of the worldwide population increase is forecast to occur in developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa will have the largest increase, with a 114 percent rise in population. Additionally, urbanization is expected to rise at an astounding rate, accounting for 70 percent of the world's population by 2050. This is up from the present 49 percent now.
With increased urbanization, it is only natural that per-capita incomes in developing countries will also increase, according to analysts. This trend will lead to a reduction of income-inequality, yet the gap between the haves and have-nots will become more pronounced. The UN report cites the growing numbers of "wealthy" people as causing an increase in the demand for higher calorie foods by the year 2050.
Climate change and arable land
Even though the UN is calling for increased agricultural production, the arable land we have now is being fully exploited, yet productivity is slowing. One example cited was productivity rates for rice and wheat, staples around the world. During the 1980s, production of these two commodities grew 3.5 percent annually, yet in the past 20 years the rate has been stuck at 0.6 to 0.8 percent. "The growth rate needs to be stable at around 1 percent if the world is to have a theoretical chance to avoid serious shortages," said Konuma.
Climate change has made the situation worse, with big harvest losses occurring in Australia, Canada, China, Russia and the United States, due to floods and droughts the past several years. Added to this is the increasing scarcity of water, particularly in China, causing some farmers to shift production from food to bioenergy. Bioenergy is becoming a popular option in an attempt to cut the emissions of climate-changing greenhouse gases.
Combating food insecurity
Cost and diversity of food comes high on the list of issues discussed in the UN report. With increased wealth worldwide comes a divergence in diets, resulting in a reliance on a smaller number of crops. This will lead to world food supplies becoming vulnerable to insects, disease and inflationary costs. Luigi Guarino, a spokesman from the Global Crop Diversity Trust, told the BBC earlier this month that, "As the global population rises and the pressure increases on our global food system, so does our dependence on the global crops and production system that feeds us. The price of failure of any of these crops will become very high."
Some environmentalists suggest that we need a better food distribution method. Food waste is costly, not only to a governments economy, but in food insecurity. In February, the FAO, World Bank and World Resources Institute estimated that the world is losing 25 to 33 percent of the food it produces. This is nearly 4 billion metric tons annually.
It goes without saying that food security is a primary goal globally to ensure the world's population will survive. But it is obvious that it will take more, much more than better productivity and wiser use of arable lands to meet that goal. There are political differences between countries, as well as the effects of climate-change to contend with. The progress toward raising food consumption in developing countries will also lead to an increase in health problems from eating an energy-dense diet.
Energy-dense diets are typically high in fat, sugar and salt and low in dietary fiber. This kind of diet, seen in the developed countries of the world, is often associated with an increase in diet related health problems, such as obesity, Type 2 diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Health care will become a major issue in developing nations coping with newly acquired food security. In some ways, progress in raising average food consumption will also become a mixed blessing.
More about Global food production, Famine, Food security, Population growth, Drought
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