UN calls for Green revolution to prevent food crisis

By Sarah Hills

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Food, Agriculture

A major change is needed in the way food is produced, handled and disposed of in order to feed the world's rising population and protect the environment as prices are expected to remain volatile, according to a new UN report.

The factors blamed for the current food crisis - drought, biofuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and in particular speculation in food stocks - may worsen substantially in the coming decades unless more intelligent and creative management is brought to the world's agricultural systems, said the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) study.

Achim Steiner, UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director, said: “We need a Green revolution in a Green Economy but one with a capital G."

Green revolution, with a lower-case g, is a term that usually refers to the spread of new agricultural technologies since World War Two.

However Steiner has a different idea in mind:

“We need to deal with not only the way the world produces food but the way it is distributed, sold and consumed, and we need a revolution that can boost yields by working with rather than against nature.”

He added: “Over half of the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded as a result of inefficiency in the human-managed food chain.

“There is evidence within the report that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient."

Last year food manufacturers faced soaring commodity costs, as prices for key raw materials such as corn and wheat reach unprecedented figures, putting intense pressure on company balance sheets.

The report called: “The Environmental Food crises: Environment's role in averting future food crises”​ warned that food prices may increase by 30-50 per cent within decades. At the same time, 25 per cent of the world’s food production may become lost due to 'environmental breakdowns' by 2050 unless action is taken.

Recommendations

To reduce the risk of hunger and rising food insecurity, it recommends a seven point plan

In the short-term it suggests re-organizing the food market infrastructure to regulate prices and generate food safety nets for those at risk. This would be backed by a global, micro-financing fund to boost small-scale farmer productivity in developing countries.

It also suggests the removal of agricultural subsidies and the promotion of second generation biofuels based on wastes rather than primary crops.

In the medium-term is recommends reducing trade barriers and improving infrastructure to increase trade and improve market access.

It also suggests replacing the use of cereals and food fish in animal feed with post-harvest losses and waste and offering support for more diversified and ecologically-friendly farming systems.

Long term recommendations include steps to limit global warming with climate-friendly agriculture production systems and raising awareness of the pressures that consumption and population trends put on sustainable ecosystems.

Opportunities and markets

Last week another UN report said that despite the economic crisis, the organic market will grow so countries such as Africa need to grow and export more organic produce to help tackle issues of food security and sustainability.

However, this latest UNEP report said that increasing growth and power of international food corporations is affecting the opportunities of small agricultural producers in developing countries.

It added: “While new opportunities are being created, the majority are not able to utilize them because of the stringent safety and quality standards of food retailers, hence barring market entry.”

Related topics: Science, Sustainability

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