UN Economic Report: Double Worldwide Agricultural Output With Small-Scale, Sustainable Agriculture


The United Nations has released their World and Economic Social Survey for 2011 and on cue from myblog post a few days ago about the need for and emphasis on food self-sufficiency to address global food crises, the report states:

…the main policy focus on the supply side should be promotion and development of sustainable agriculture, with an emphasis on small farm holders in developing countries, since it is in this area that most gains in terms of both productivity increases and rural poverty reduction can be achieved. In developing countries, most food is still locally produced and consumed, placing smallscale farming at the heart of food production systems.

The report summarizes the challenges facing current food systems.

The recent food crises have revealed deep structural problems in the global food system and the need to increase resources and foster innovation in agriculture so as to accelerate food production. Food production will have to increase between 70 and 100 per cent by 2050 to feed a growing population. With current agricultural technology, practices and land-use patterns, this cannot be achieved without further contributing to greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution and land degradation. The consequent environmental damage will undermine food productivity growth.

The survey also highlights the problem of "undernourished" populations in the world which it defines as "caloric intake is below the minimum dietary energy requirement, which is the amount of energy needed for light activity and a minimum acceptable weight for attained height. It varies by country and over time depending on the gender and age structure of the population."

The following chart was, for me, the most telling indicator that something has gone amiss:

Screen shot 2011-07-08 at 10.03.54 AM
Notice that undernourished populations were steadily on the decline as the Green Revolution took hold in the 70's and 80's driven by industrial farming techniques but since 1997 these populations have dramatically risen. The economic crisis and the rise in commodity prices/market volatility in 2008 and 2009 sent that number above 1 billion for the first time in recent history. Gains from industrial agriculture with its emphasis on intensive land use, mono-crops, and chemical inputs have not only stalled, but they seem to be failing the world's most vulnerable.

The UN survey argues that there is a need for a new green revolution in food that is more green than the last one – more ecologically sustainable, more small-scale, more economically stable, and less dependent on fossil fuels.

The report is full of interesting charts and information on economic development. This chart on energy consumption also caught my eye.

Screen shot 2011-07-08 at 8.29.00 AM

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