the ecological basis of food security
new report from the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)
has drawn attention to the need to safeguard the underlying ecological
foundations that support food production.
pointing out the current challenges, the report also offers recommendations
to shore up the ecological foundations and create the conditions
for sustainable food production, thereby improving food security.
These include the redesign of sustainable agriculture systems, dietary
changes and storage systems and new food standards to reduce waste.
The report also provides recommendations on the removal of adverse
fisheries subsidies and measures for illegal fisheries, issues that
have complex implications for small-scale fisherfolk in developing
countries and require appropriate responses.
report ‘Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis
of Food Security through Sustainable Food System’ is available at
Report Warns Ecological Foundations that Support Food Security, Including
Biodiversity, Are Being Undermined
to Ecological Basis Can Be Halted Through Sustainable Measures in
Context of Green Economy
16 October 2012 – Nairobi/Hyderabad, 15 October 2012 – The
aim of achieving food security across the globe will become increasingly
elusive unless countries factor the planet's nature-based services
into agricultural and related planning, a report released today from
the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) says.
the underlying ecological foundations that support food production,
including biodiversity will be central if the world is to feed seven
billion inhabitants, climbing to over nine billion by 2050 argues
the study Avoiding Future Famines: Strengthening the Ecological Basis
of Food Security through Sustainable Food System.
along the food delivery chain further complicate the challenge, and
the report highlights that an estimated one-third of food produced
for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 billion
tonnes per year.
debate on food security so far has largely revolved around availability,
access, utilization and stability as the four pillars of food security,
barely touching on the resource base and ecosystem services that prop
up the whole food system.
report aims to increase the focus on these crucial aspects, which
are being undermined by overfishing, unsustainable water use, environmentally
degrading agricultural practices and other human activities. It also
frames the debate in the context of the green economy, calling for
food production and consumption practices that ensure productivity
without undermining ecosystem services.
environment has been more of an afterthought in the debate about food
security,” said UNEP Chief Scientist Joseph Alcamo. “This is the first
time that the scientific community has given us a complete picture
of how the ecological basis of the food system is not only shaky but
being really undermined.”
pointing out the current challenges, the report also offers a clear
way forward to shore up the ecological foundations and improve food
security. It issues recommendations on the redesign of sustainable
agriculture systems, dietary changes and storage systems and new food
standards to reduce waste.
era of seemingly ever-lasting production based upon maximizing inputs
such as fertilizers and pesticides, mining supplies of freshwater
and fertile arable land and advancements linked to mechanization are
hitting their limits, if indeed they have not already hit them,” said
UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.
“The world needs a green revolution but with a capital G: one that
better understands how food is actually grown and produced in terms
of the nature-based inputs provided by forests, freshwaters and biodiversity.”
report, produced in collaboration with other international organizations
including the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD),
the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Bank, the World
Food Programme (WFP) and the World Resources Institute (WRI), took
a holistic approach to analyzing the food system. Twelve scientists
and experts authored the report, covering many different areas of
expertise including food consumption patterns, agricultural production,
marine fisheries and inland fisheries.
found that while agriculture provides 90 per cent of the world's total
caloric intake, and world fisheries provide the other 10 per cent,
these life-supporting industries face many threats, all of which are
exacerbated by underlying driving forces such as population growth,
income growth and changing lifestyles/diets linked to urbanization.
report identified the following specific threats to these systems:
for water. Some experts believe that future food demands need
to be met by additional irrigated land, but there is already strong
competition from rapidly growing domestic and industrial water withdrawals.
agricultural practices have a variety of ecosystem impacts,
such as a reduction of on-farm biodiversity and attendant increase
in pests and disease, soil loss, eutrophication and contamination
of ground water.
agricultural practices, if practiced inappropriately, can lead
to severe land degradation.
change and its impacts will compound the preceding threats to
agriculture by shifting crop-growing zones and bringing an eventual
decrease in crop productivity.
is the foremost force in undermining the ecological basis of fisheries.
The FAO latest report on State of Fisheries estimated that as of
2009, 57 per cent of global marine stocks are fully exploited, 29.9
per cent are overexploited, while only 12.7 per cent are underexploited.
of coastal habitat such as coral reefs and mangrove forests.
At least 35 per cent of mangrove forests and 40 per cent of coral
reefs have been destroyed or degraded over the last decades.
trawling, dredging and destructive fishing practices such as
the use of dynamite and cyanide, which lead to habitat loss or modification.
of coastal water quality. Nutrient runoff causes coastal eutrophication,
zones of severely reduced dissolved oxygen and depleted aquatic
life. Over four hundred dead zones have been identified in coastal
change will lead to warmer water and a more acidified ocean,
with many impacts on marine fisheries. The IPCC projects a global
loss of 18 per cent of the world's coral reefs in the next three
decades, shrinking a crucial fish habitat.
developments such as dam construction in river catchments are
destroying or modifying inland fishery habitats. More than 50 per
cent of the world’s large rivers have been fragmented by dams on
their main channel and 59 per cent on their tributaries.
change and removal of vegetation cover leads to increased runoff,
erosion and sediment pollution of water. Human activities have increased
sediment flow into rivers by about 20 per cent worldwide.
expansion disrupts connectivity between floodplains and rivers
– floodplains provide some of the most productive habitat for inland
runoff and domestic and industrial wastewater discharges are
degrading the quality of many inland waters. Wastewater loadings
to inland waters in Africa may increase by a factor of four to eight
between the 1990s and 2050.
variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms at
the genetic, species and ecosystem levels are necessary to sustain
key functions of the ecosystem. For example, a diverse range of soil
organisms interact with the roots of plants and trees and ensures
food production activities negatively impact on this supporting biodiversity,
run-off, which causes eutrophication, poses a threat to the diverse
life of lakes and coastal areas.
tillage – tilling to greater depths and more frequent cultivations
– has an increased negative impact on all soil organisms, in particular
organisms living in surface areas, such as earthworms.
and pesticide contamination of lands adjacent to farmland degrade
"off-farm biodiversity", impacting pollinators and natural
pest control of crops.
may result in the removal of important components of the ecosystem,
such as algal-feeding fish in coral reef systems, with a consequence
of altered biodiversity and ecological states that may be impossible
activities are also a source of pollution and biodiversity concerns
as they may lead to the introduction of pathogens, strains and/or
species that can alter marine habitats and diversity.
destructive fishing methods mentioned above can disrupt marine ecosystems,
and it may take hundreds of years for vulnerable habitats such as
cold water corals and seamounts to recover from such practices.
the problems are many and varied, the report issues a raft of recommendations
that can shore up the ecological foundations and create the conditions
for sustainable food production.
solutions are to be found along the whole food value chain - from
the farms that need to grow food more sustainability, through the
large companies that need to ensure that their products are from sustainable
fisheries and farms, up to the consumer who needs to think seriously
about switching to a sustainable diet and reduce food wastage,” said
course, we have to deal first and foremost with all the socio-economic
issues having to do with food security - questions of access and affordability
of food, and so on,” he added. “But ultimately we won't have enough
food to distribute unless we find out a way to produce it sustainably
without destroying its ecological foundation.”
the key recommendations for ushering in more sustainable agriculture
and fisheries are the following:
centralized storage and cooling facilities for small-scale farmers
to help get their produce to market faster, thus avoiding food loss.
sustainable diets so as to avoid unhealthy eating habits and the
associated health effects, and reduce impact on natural resources.
In particular, lower consumption of meat and dairy products in developed
countries should be promoted.
food quality standards that lead to unnecessary wastage.
sustainable agriculture, not only on individual farms, but scaling
up to the landscape and national level. Examples include improving
soil management, making agricultural water use more efficient and
promoting integrated nutrient management.
agriculture can be scaled up by supporting farmers, extending land
tenure rights to farmers to encourage stewardship and rewarding
farmers and farming communities for ecosystem stewardship.
strategies consistent with green economy thinking are also fundamental
to scaling up sustainable agriculture, such as:
subsidies that contribute to overfishing (the global fishery sector
receives up to US$25-30 billion) and habitat destruction, and
redirecting funds into investment for sustainable fishery management
and capacity building.
incentives for sustainable fisheries such as beneficial subsidies
for conversion of fishing gears to less-damaging alternatives.
fiscal measures such as taxation and levies on harvest volume
and increased fines on illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing.
small shareholders into the global food economy and make them
part of the system of sustainable practices in agriculture and
technically feasible, maximum sustained yields" of marine fisheries
should be calculated and adhered to with enforcement arrangements
and economic incentives. In poorer countries and for small-scale
marine fisheries, a "co-management" approach can work
in which fishers might agree to fish size or species limitations,
seasonal closures of fisheries.
networks of Aquatic Protected Areas.
marine fisheries by reducing land-based pollution sources that lead
to "dead zones" in coastal areas.
summary, the scientists pointed out that to neglect the ecological
aspects of food security would hamper efforts in its other four pillars.
While we can’t avoid famine simply by making the food system environmentally
friendly, neither can we go on producing food by wearing away its
ecological foundation. In the end we’ll find – no foundation, no food,
says UNEP Chief Scientist.
full report can be downloaded here: http://www.unep.org/publications/ebooks/avoidingfamines/
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