Producing food sustainability

Photo credit: SciDevNet

Global loss of Net Primary Productivity in degrading areas,

1981–2003 [6]

Sustainable food production: Facts and figures

Speed read

    • Soil damage, climate change, water and energy availability are all challenges for farming
    • S&T have made key contributions to increasing food production, but new strategies are needed
    • Sustainable agriculture can benefit from ‘system’ approaches and farmers’ participation


    Hunger and malnutrition affect every aspect of human development and persist for various reasons including unequal access to land, to sufficient and nutritious food, and to other productive resources. Adequate food production is necessary but insufficient to ensure national nutritional security. In India, for example, millions of households suffer from chronic undernourishment and malnutrition despite the fact that favourable years produce more than enough grain, and there is a public distribution system designed to supply poor households with subsidised grain. [3]

    Agricultural production needs to increase to address this unequal access to food and resources, and to meet the needs of a growing world population. It may need to increase by an estimated 70 per cent globally and by 100 per cent in developing countries by 2050 in order to keep pace with population growth and shifting diets.

    Reformed agrifood systems will also need to navigate complex resource limits imposed, in part, by environmental degradation to which modern agriculture has contributed.

    So the challenge for agriculture is three-fold: to increase agricultural production, especially of nutrient-rich foods, to do so in ways which reduce inequality, and to reverse and prevent resource degradation.
    S&T can play a vital role in meeting these challenges — for example, by developing innovations that smallholders with limited resources can afford and use.

    Land and water pressures

    – See more at: SciDevNet 

Author: Willem Van Cotthem

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

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