Earlier this year, we interviewed Dr. Jason Clay, Senior Vice-President of Markets at WWF, for Farming First TV. In his interview he talked to us about food security and the need for sustainability in food production – you can watch the interview here.
In his interview, he stressed that we will have to figure out how to reduce the impact of producing food, such as deforestation and water consumption.
In his recent article in Nature, Dr. Clay identified eight steps that, if they were all implemented, could enable farming to feed ten billion people in a sustainable manner. In his article, he talks about eight ‘wedges’, which need to be overcome to ensure maximum efficiency, and applies these to Africa.
These ‘wedges’ are:
– Genetics. Ten crops account for 70-80 per cent of all calories consumed globally. Dr. Clay is “convinced that to increase production, we can’t afford to ignore genetics” and believes that the genomes of staple African crops, such as yams and cassava, should be mapped as a first step to doubling or tripling their productivity.
– Better practices. For every crop, the best producers globally are 100 times more productive than the worst. Dr. Clay stresses that it takes too long for better practices to be passed along within the farming community in Africa. Technology such as mobile phones can help farmers connect to shared information hubs.
– Efficiency through technology. Dr. Clay says we need to double the efficiency of every agricultural input, including water, pesticides and energy. There are technologies which can do this, but in Africa, many technologies are two or three generations behind those used elsewhere.
– Degraded land. Rather than concentrating on farming in new areas, Dr. Clay says that we need to rehabilitate degraded, abandoned or underperforming lands; we should be rehabilitating 100 million hectares by 2030. Most farmland in Africa has been degraded over the past century, but this can be reversed through planting trees and grasses.
– Property rights. Dr. Clay stresses that the lack of clear property rights is a significant barrier to food security in Africa; how many farmers will invest in land they don’t own? By 2020, according to Dr. Clay we should be aiming for fifty per cent of African households to have a title to the lands they cultivate.
– Waste. Globally, we waste 30-40 per cent of all food produced, or one in three calories. Dr. Clay claims that if we could eliminate waste, we would halve the amount of new food needed by 2050. In rich nations individuals and institutions waste food, but in countries such as Africa most food waste results from post-harvest losses and lack of infrastructure. The goal in Africa should be to halve post-harvest waste in half by 2030.
– Consumption. One billion people globally don’t have enough food, yet one billion eat too much. Both of these figures need to be halved by 2030, according to Dr. Clay, with the most urgent focus on those with not enough to eat.
– Carbon. Soil carbon, or organic matter, is key to conserving farmland for future generations. The single best measure of rehabilitated soil is increasing organic matter from less than 0.5 per cent to two per cent or more; however, half of the world’s top soil (in which the most carbon resides) has been lost in the last 150 years. Carbon markets for agriculture need to be introduced, with a goal of food producers selling 1 billion metric tonnes per year by 2030.
In his article, Dr. Clay says that developing regions will bear the heaviest burden if these steps are not implemented; therefore it is in these regions that solutions should be applied first.