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A seven-point plan to reduce the risk of hunger and rising food insecurity in the 21st century is outlined in a new report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
Changing the ways in which food is produced, handled and disposed of across the globe- from farm to store and from fridge to landfill - can both feed the world's rising population and help the environmental services that are the foundation of agricultural productivity in the first place.
Unless more intelligent and creative management is brought to the world's agricultural systems, the 2008 food crisis - which plunged millions back into hunger - may foreshadow an even bigger crisis in the years to come, says the rapid assessment study.
The report, entitled 'The Environmental Food crises: Environment's role in averting future food crises' has been compiled by a wide group of experts from both within and outside UNEP. It supports UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's task force on the world food crisis.
- The one hundred year trend of falling food prices may be at an end, and food prices may increase by 30-50 per cent within decades with critical impacts for those living in extreme poverty spending up to 90 per cent of their income on food. These findings are supported by a recent report from the World Bank stating that if agricultural production is depressed further, food prices may rise.
- Up to 25 per cent of the world's food production may become lost due to 'environmental breakdowns' by 2050 unless action is taken. Already, cereal yields have stagnated worldwide and fish landings are declining.
- Today, over one third of the world's cereals are being used as animal feed, rising to 50 per cent by 2050. Continuing to feed cereals to growing numbers of livestock will aggravate poverty and environmental degradation.
- The report instead suggests that recycling food wastes and deploying new technologies, aimed at producing biofuels, to produce sugars from discards such as straw and even nutshells could be a key environmentally friendly alternative to increased use of cereals for livestock.
- The amount of fish currently discarded at sea - estimated at 30 million tonnes annually - could alone sustain more than a 50 per cent increase in fish farming and aquaculture production, which is needed to maintain per capita fish consumption at current levels by 2050 without increasing pressure on an already stressed marine environment.
The report shows that many of the factors blamed for the current food crisis - drought, biofuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and especially speculation in food stocks may worsen substantially in the coming decades.
Climate change emerges as one of the key factors that may undermine the chances of feeding over nine billion people by 2050. Increasing water scarcities and a rise and spread of invasive pests such as insects, diseases and weeds - may substantially depress yields in the future.
This underlines yet another reason why governments at the UN climate convention meeting in Copenhagen in some 300 days time must agreed a deep and decisive new global deal.