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FAO chief urges ‘paradigm shift’ toward sustainable food

By Caroline Scott-Thomas+

20-Jan-2015

"We need to move from the food versus fuel debate to a food and fuel debate," said Graziano da Silva

The whole world must make huge effort and investment to shift toward sustainable farming and food production, FAO director-general José Graziano da Silva has said.

He told delegates at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture in Berlin last week that a paradigm shift was necessary in order to increase food production by about 60% by 2050 – during which time energy needs were likely to increase by half and water needs by 40% to feed an expected population of nine billion.

“The input intensive agricultural development model that we have used for the past 40 years has worked well. But it is unsustainable in the long run. It is time for a paradigm shift,” Graziano da Silva said.

"…Business as usual would mean a huge and simultaneous increase in the need for food, energy and water in the next decades.”

The event’s theme this year was “The Growing Demand for Food, Raw Materials and Energy: Opportunities for Agriculture, Challenges for Food Security?”

The role of biofuels

Although the primary focus for agricultural development should be food security and nutrition, Graziano da Silva said biofuels could also provide income for poor farmers.

He acknowledged that using food crops for biofuel production was known to have contributed to the food price spikes that began in 2008, but said: “We need to move from the food versus fuel debate to a food and fuel debate. There is no question that food comes first.

And there is no question that biofuel should not be simply seen as a threat. Or as a magical solution. Like anything else, it can do good or bad.”

He said that in recent years biofuels had supported food prices, incentivising farmers to plant crops.

“What we can say is that mandatory biofuel policies must have flexibility. They need to be adjusted according to the reality, the ongoing balance of production and stocks of the different products used,” he said.

 The FAO recently set out five strategic objectives to guide its work:

  • Help eliminate hunger, food insecurity and malnutrition
  • Make agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and sustainable
  • Reduce rural poverty
  • Enable inclusive and efficient agricultural and food systems
  • Increase the resilience of livelihoods to disasters

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