Stories tagged: WWF

Farming to feed future populations: eight steps to ensure sustainable food production

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.

New Paper on Improving Agricultural Research

The Global Harvest Initiative has published the first of five policy briefs that address the need for action on global hunger and food security. Building from recent GHI research that suggests the rate of agricultural productivity must increase at a minimum of 24% per year to meet demand over the next 40 years, the policy brief focuses on the innovation and productivity gains necessary to sustainably grow more and better food.

GHI Executive Director, Dr. William G. Lesher, spoke of the pressing need to increase and improve international research in agricultural productivity,

With a surging global population and new demands on food crops, the inadequate and declining support for basic food and agricultural research must be addressed quickly, as the research process takes a minimum of ten years from laboratory to field.

Improving Agricultural Research Funding, Structure and Collaboration” describes the notable returns on agricultural research and the role of research as the primary source for developing solutions. Dr. Jason Clay, WWF Senior Vice President of Market Transformation and a consultative partner of GHI, said,

Research is a first step in acquiring data to measure our real impact and identify alternatives. Half of the world’s farmers are producing below average results and cannot even feed their own families. Learning how to leverage research and data is critical to stimulate innovation, identify new ideas and improve productivity.”

The issue brief also highlights key research areas such as more efficient water use and the reduction of post-harvest losses, and notes that public sector research investments must be on par with private sector research to achieve significant increases in the rate of production worldwide.