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New York, Sep 23 2009 12:05PM

Farmers need to increase global food production by some 70 per cent in the coming decades to feed an additional 2.3 billion people by 2050, warned a paper published by the United Nations food agency today, which calls for urgent investment in agriculture.

With the world population expected to balloon by one-third to 9.1 billion people, the Food and Agriculture Organization (<“”>FAO) underscored the importance of using scarce natural resources more efficiently and investing in agriculture to combat a deepening hunger and poverty crisis.

The FAO is slated to organize a high-level expert forum next month in Rome to explore strategies on “How to Feed the World in 2050,” which is aimed at preparing the ground work for the World Summit on Food Security in November.

“FAO is cautiously optimistic about the world’s potential to feed itself by 2050,” <“”>said the Rome-based agency’s Assistant Director-General Hafez Ghanem, spotlighting several significant challenges to achieving the goal.

Global projections show that in addition to large-scale investments in agriculture, further significant outlays will be needed to improve access to food to avoid some 370 million people – 5 per cent of the global population – remaining malnourished in 40 years from now.

FAO highlighted the challenge of the expanding global population, with sub-Saharan Africa expected to grow by 108 per cent, or 910 million people, by 2050.

Global population growth, nearly all of which will occur in developing countries and urban areas, and rising incomes will increase the demand for cereals by almost 50 per cent to 3 billion tons and meat production by over 200 million tons to 470 million tons, according to FAO.

The FAO paper also pointed to the need to increase the amount of arable land to around 120 million hectares in developing countries, mainly in sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, while agricultural land in developed nations is expected to decline by 50 million hectares.

Globally, there are still sufficient land resources available to feed the future population, said FAO. However, the agency cautioned that much of the potential land is suitable for growing only a few crops, not necessarily the crops with highest demand and it is concentrated in a few countries.

FAO called for greater efforts to speed up progress towards reducing and finally eliminating the number of hungry and poor people around the world, urging investment in primary agriculture as a top priority since agriculture not only produces food but also generates income and supports rural livelihoods.

Poverty reduction also requires investments in rural infrastructure – roads, ports, power, storage and irrigation systems – in institutions, research and extension services, land titles and rights, risk management, veterinary and food safety control systems; and non-agricultural investment including food safety nets and cash transfers to the most needy, said FAO.

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Author: Willem Van Cotthem

Honorary Professor of Botany, University of Ghent (Belgium). Scientific Consultant for Desertification and Sustainable Development.

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