5
How Will We Sustainably Feed Everyone in the Coming Decade and Beyond?

The global population will likely peak at 8 billion to 12 billion in the latter half of this century, up from 6.7 billion in 2008 (Population Reference Bureau, 2008). When global food (and related resource) consumption will crest is unknown, because the quantity of food energy consumed globally and the amount of fossil fuel energy, water, land, and soil resources used to produce these kilocalories is only partially related to the size of the global population (Imhoff et al., 2004b). The critical challenge of sustainable food production and distribution not only depends on knowing how many people live where and how fast populations are growing, but also on the quantities and types of food consumed, the cost of food, and access to food (Bayliss-Smith, 1982; Meyer and Turner, 1992). In general, as incomes rise, people consume more meat and processed foods, demand fruits and vegetables with fewer blemishes, want fresh produce in all seasons, and import foodstuffs from increasingly distant locations (e.g., Leppman, 2005). These changing food consumption preferences are straining global food production and distribution systems, leading to growing concern that these systems will not be adequate to sustainably meet rising food demands in the coming decade (e.g., Tilman et al., 2002; von Braun, 2007).

Changing food consumption patterns interact with agricultural production systems, which are increasingly interlinked across the globe and face a dynamic set of constraints. These constraints include (1) varying abilities to balance production and consumption across regions and countries, (2) accelerating conversions of agricultural land to urban uses, (3) increasing energy-intensive food production methods in a world of shrinking fossil fuel resources, and (4) expanding use of food crops for biofuel production. According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO, 2008), these forces and others (such as financial speculation) have converged to drive a steady increase in global food prices since 2000, with prices rising almost 50 percent between April 2007 and March 2008 (Figure 5.1).1 Since the trajectory of the curve is uncertain in the years ahead, a key question for the future is whether the upward trend will continue, and to what effect. Rising food prices are creating hardships, especially among the poor in market economies, as suggested by the food riots that broke out in several West African cities and beyond in the wake of the 2008 spike in food prices.

On a global scale, per capita food production increased by 0.9 percent annually between 1980 and 2000, but this figure disguises considerable variation in production between regions, not to mention levels of access to the food being produced. Food production per capita during this period grew by 2.3 percent in Asia and 0.9 percent in Latin America, but it declined 0.01 percent in tropical Africa (Kates and Dasgupta, 2007). Data on food consumption in low-income countries are scarce, but an estimated 43 percent of people in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically undernourished, as compared with 22 percent in South Asia and 12-16 percent in other low-income areas (Pinstrup-Andersen and Pandya-Lorch, 1999). At finer spatial scales, additional disparities emerge. Regional differ-

1

The recent rise in food prices should be viewed against a history of even higher (real) price increases for food.



The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement



Below are the first 10 and last 10 pages of uncorrected machine-read text (when available) of this chapter, followed by the top 30 algorithmically extracted key phrases from the chapter as a whole.
Intended to provide our own search engines and external engines with highly rich, chapter-representative searchable text on the opening pages of each chapter. Because it is UNCORRECTED material, please consider the following text as a useful but insufficient proxy for the authoritative book pages.

Do not use for reproduction, copying, pasting, or reading; exclusively for search engines.

OCR for page 59
5 How Will We Sustainably Feed Everyone in the Coming Decade and Beyond? T he global population will likely peak at 8 billion energy-intensive food production methods in a world to 12 billion in the latter half of this century, up of shrinking fossil fuel resources, and (4) expanding from 6.7 billion in 2008 (Population Reference use of food crops for biofuel production. According to Bureau, 2008). When global food (and related resource) the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO, 2008), consumption will crest is unknown, because the quantity these forces and others (such as financial speculation) of food energy consumed globally and the amount of have converged to drive a steady increase in global food fossil fuel energy, water, land, and soil resources used to prices since 2000, with prices rising almost 50 percent between April 2007 and March 2008 (Figure 5.1).1 produce these kilocalories is only partially related to the Since the trajectory of the curve is uncertain in the years size of the global population (Imhoff et al., 2004b). The ahead, a key question for the future is whether the critical challenge of sustainable food production and upward trend will continue, and to what effect. Rising distribution not only depends on knowing how many food prices are creating hardships, especially among people live where and how fast populations are growing, the poor in market economies, as suggested by the food but also on the quantities and types of food consumed, riots that broke out in several West African cities and the cost of food, and access to food (Bayliss-Smith, beyond in the wake of the 2008 spike in food prices. 1982; Meyer and Turner, 1992). In general, as incomes On a global scale, per capita food production rise, people consume more meat and processed foods, increased by 0.9 percent annually between 1980 and demand fruits and vegetables with fewer blemishes, 2000, but this figure disguises considerable variation want fresh produce in all seasons, and import foodstuffs in production between regions, not to mention levels from increasingly distant locations (e.g., Leppman, of access to the food being produced. Food production 2005). These changing food consumption preferences per capita during this period grew by 2.3 percent in are straining global food production and distribution Asia and 0.9 percent in Latin America, but it declined systems, leading to growing concern that these systems 0.01 percent in tropical Africa (Kates and Dasgupta, will not be adequate to sustainably meet rising food 2007). Data on food consumption in low-income coun- demands in the coming decade (e.g., Tilman et al., 2002; tries are scarce, but an estimated 43 percent of people von Braun, 2007). in Sub-Saharan Africa are chronically undernourished, Changing food consumption patterns interact with a s compared with 22 percent in South Asia and agricultural production systems, which are increas- 12-16 percent in other low-income areas (Pinstrup- ingly interlinked across the globe and face a dynamic Andersen and Pandya-Lorch, 1999). At finer spatial set of constraints. These constraints include (1) vary- scales, additional disparities emerge. Regional differ- ing abilities to balance production and consumption across regions and countries, (2) accelerating conver- sions of agricultural land to urban uses, (3) increasing 1The recent rise in food prices should be viewed against a history of even higher (real) price increases for food. 5

OCR for page 59
60 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET FIGURE 5.1 Extended Annual FAO Food Price Index, 1961­2008 (1998­2000 = 100). The green line traces real value, which adjusts for inflation, while the black line traces nominal value, which reflects the actual price in each year. Note the sharp rise that begins in 2006; the average growth rate over the 2000­2005 period was 1.3 percent per year, but has jumped to 15 percent since 2006. A key question for the future concerns whether the upward trend will continue, and to what effect. SOURCE: FAO (2008). ences in food availability and consumption represent Chapter 4) is converting agricultural land to nonfarm a significant societal challenge—condemning millions uses (Gardner, 1997; Imhoff et al., 2004a). Between in some places to persistent hunger, if not death, and 1987 and 1992, China lost more than 1 million hect- fostering instability. In the coming years, cultivation on ares of farmland to urbanization (Seto and Kaufmann, prime agricultural lands will almost certainly intensify 2003). There is growing concern that urbanization rates worldwide, and marginal lands will increasingly be in the 21st century will place significant new pressure taken out of production (Turner, 2001). This process is on arable land, and that the loss of farmland to urban- already beginning in the high-income countries, often ization will be a threat to yield and total output (Imhoff in situations where critical resources (such as water et al., 2004a). Thus, we need to better understand the from aquifers) have been depleted. Where agricultural links between demographic and economic circum- production continues on marginal lands, it is often stances on the one hand, and agricultural production supported by subsidies. Intensified production relies and consumption on the other. on significant fossil fuel and chemical inputs, as well as The explosive growth in industrialized or high- irrigation. The overall reduction in and intensification input agriculture raises a set of important ques- of agricultural lands are not necessarily being repeated tions. Technologically intensive agriculture uses large in lower income countries in the tropics. There, life- amounts of fossil fuel energy, water, inorganic fertil- sustaining, yet economically marginal farming con- izers, and pesticides to produce large quantities of a tinues to expand into the forest frontier, often following single crop (monocultures) or to raise livestock. The roads built for timber and other extractive industries, or mixed history of industrialized, high-input agriculture corporate and large-scale agriculture seeking to capture helps explain why there was much debate about how to inexpensive land (Lambin and Geist, 2006). There are sustainably address the 2008 global food crisis. Many no clear indications that this process will cease in the of the world’s most influential policy voices called for a near future, although it will surely vary by region. renewed emphasis on food production, and particularly Globally, farmland is being lost to urbanization on increased yields through biotechnology and new at unprecedented rates. The expansion of cities (see green revolution approaches (e.g., Borlaug, 1995, 2000;

OCR for page 59
6 FOOD FIGURE 5.2 Smallhold farm family on break in southern Mali. The pictured field has a mix of crops (sorghum and cowpeas) and trees (shea nut or Butyrospermum parkii), an illustration of the polycropping strategies. SOURCE: William Moseley, used with permission. Sachs, 2006; Annan, 2007). Others saw green revolu- interdisciplinary subfield of land-change science has tion approaches to solving the world’s food problems as been at the forefront of this effort over the past decade flawed because of associated environmental and social (Gutman et al., 2004; Lambin and Geist, 2006; Turner consequences (Yapa, 1996; Das, 2001; Carney, 2008). et al., 2007; Turner and Robbins, 2008). Studies of Better understanding of the issues relevant to this indigenous or traditional agricultural systems (e.g., debate is critical to addressing the challenge of how to Grossman, 1981; Richards, 1985; Bebbington, 1991; sustainably feed a growing population. Grigg, 1995; Mortimore and Adams, 2001) have ad- vanced understanding of farming in the tropics by, for example, documenting the know-how and techniques role oF The geograPhical scieNces of smallhold farmers who often used mixed or poly- Geographical scientists studying food production and cropping strategies that capitalize on agroecological consumption take an approach that is distinctive in relationships (between crops, crops and trees, and several ways.2 F irst, they examine food production crops and insects; Figure 5.2). These indigenous ap- and consumption as a form of human–environmental proaches, once considered backward and primitive, are interaction, an approach distinguished by its treat- now acknowledged to be more efficient from an energy ment of both the social and biophysical sides of this input-output standpoint under most circumstances coupled dynamic and by the use of the suite of systems (Bayliss-Smith, 1982; Pimentel et al., 2002) and have that facilitate the acquisition, storage, and analysis inspired new strategies within the organic farming of geographical information discussed in Part I. The movement that are celebrated in such popular works as Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma (2006) or Barbara Kingsolver’s A nimal, Vegetable, Miracle 2This same geographical approach could be applied to address sustainability questions in other resource (water, energy, mineral, (2007). biological) systems.

OCR for page 59
6 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET Geographical scientists also have contributed and synthesize data on climate, hydrology, soils, and to debates concerning the question of whether food crop yield, which can facilitate the management of production is capable of keeping up with population food production in water-scarce regions. Remote sens- growth. The original work of Malthus (1798/1987), ing can be useful in planning for arable land extension and then subsequent work by neo-Malthusians (such and detecting the incipient stages of water scarcity as Ehrlich, 1968), suggested that population growth and its impacts on crop yield. Looking forward, such would eventually outstrip food supply. Boserup (1965) techniques can help pave the way to the development advanced an alternative proposition, largely based on of a new and integrative science of dryland manage- historical research, suggesting that growing population ment (Reynolds et al., 2008), which can be of use to density often led to the intensification of agriculture policy makers, resource managers, and farmers facing and rising output through increasing labor inputs and the challenge of water scarcity. infrastructure investments (e.g., terracing, irrigation). Third, the work of geographical scientists has also The desire to test these two competing hypotheses provoked researchers to think more broadly about (Malthusian and Boserupian) in the contemporary food supply and agricultural questions by bringing era led geographical scientists to turn to the “natural scale (and the connections between regions and places) experiment” approach, exploring the relationship into the analysis. The historical and comparative work of Carney (2001), for example, has shown how the between population and agricultural change in many agricultural know-how of West African slaves—not different locations. Europeans—was largely responsible for the develop- Mortimore and Tiffen (1995) undertook an inten- ment of a rice export economy in the American South- sive study in one location—Machakos, Kenya—which east in the 17th and 18th centuries. Work of this sort showed that increasingly dense populations were able to demonstrates that seemingly local questions concerning produce more and more food. In contrast, Turner and agricultural change, or the ability of a population to colleagues (1993) examined several cases across Africa feed itself, need to be set within a much broader web with differing outcomes, as did Turner and Shajaat Ali of relationships in space and time. A multiscalar ap- (1996) in several villages across Bangladesh, or Laney proach is also vital to understanding contemporary and (2002) in Madagascar. These studies point to the con- future food challenges. Diana Liverman, for example, ditions under which increasing population can lead to has demonstrated how we can better understand the agricultural intensification and increased output, as impact of global climate change and globalization on opposed to declining productivity and environmental small farmers in Mexico (see Box 5.1). degradation. The impacts of the steep rise in food prices during Second, geographical scientists use spatial analysis spring and summer 2008 hit hardest in urban West to study food production and consumption. They are Africa. Many pointed to declining per capita food attuned to the ways in which food production and production in Africa as the source of the problem consumption systems are often connected across places (Sachs, 2006; Annan, 2007). Others saw the connec- and regions via processes operating at different spatial tions between different regional food markets as being scales. A study by von Thünen (1826/1966) of the important as well (Moseley et al., 2010). As of the 19th-century spatial pattern of food production outside late 1970s, those living in urban West Africa still ate German cities showed that the type of crop a farmer largely locally or regionally produced grains. By 2008 (wanting to maximize his profit) would choose to cul- they were purchasing rice from Thailand or Malaysia, tivate at any location, and the intensity with which it having developed a taste over several years for this rela- would be cultivated, was a function of the distance of tively cheap import (Pearson, 1981; Carney, 2008; Seck, the location from the city, the cost of transportation, 2008). A regional food problem developed when these and the perishability of the crop. Newer approaches imported grains skyrocketed in price. This problem was that are attuned to these relationships have provided caused by a number of factors operating at multiple insight into the changing character of agricultural scales and in several locations across the world, includ- systems, hunger and famine, and consumption. Geo- ing shifts in the global market, agricultural practices, graphic information systems can be used to organize

OCR for page 59
6 FOOD (Easterling, 2007). Climate models are consistent in BOX 5.1 predicting drier conditions over much of the subtropics Farmers Adapting to Changing Climate and and adjacent dryland areas by the mid to late 21st century Political Economy in Mexico (Wang, 2005; Seager et al., 2007; Bates et al., 2008). The drying is driven by increased temperatures and resulting Diana Liverman exemplifies several aspects of what geo- evaporation, and by decreased precipitation. Climate graphical scientists have to offer to agricultural questions. Trained in models have been particularly consistent in projecting both human and physical geography, Liverman has a long-standing drier soil conditions in southwestern North America interest in the human dimensions of global change (Liverman, 1998, 1999, 2008). Born in Ghana, and educated in England, Canada, and to Central America, the circum-Mediterranean and the United States, she was interested initially in the potential and Middle East, Australia, and southern Africa (Wang, limitations of predicting climate impacts using both crop simulation 2005). Although climate model results are coalescing on models and the first generation of global models that allowed for the a consistent picture of drier conditions in the subtropics assessment of climate change impacts. However, as it became clear and adjacent dryland regions in both the Northern and to her that the scientific community’s knowledge of climate impacts Southern Hemispheres, the degree of increased aridity in the developing world was insufficient for modeling, and that some of the most interesting questions were about how people and may also be influenced by changes in ocean circulation places became vulnerable to climate change, much of her work came that are still poorly resolved in current climate models to focus on the vulnerability to drought of farmers in the drylands (Vecchi et al., 2008). Looking forward, spatially explicit of Mexico. By studying small and large farmers in the Sonora and climate research, extending from global to regional Puebla states of Mexico, Liverman was able to quantify the impacts climate models, could help refine projections of which of land tenure and technology on vulnerability to drought. Here she farming systems will be most and least able to cope found that those with access to irrigation have lower drought-related crop losses, and farmers on communally held ejido land are more at with climate change by predicting where aridity will risk from drought than large private farms (Liverman, 1990,1999). increase. Of course technology and land tenure are correlated in Mexico, Understanding which farming systems will be most because the large private farms are more likely to have irrigation than affected by environmental change also requires care- communal (or ejido) land. Furthermore, private landowners are more ful assessment of the location and fragility of current likely to have access to higher quality land, which has a bearing on systems. We know that dryland farming areas, where crop losses during low-rainfall years. Liverman’s work in this area was important because it showed that patterns of crop loss could some 2 billion people currently live, are the most sensi- depart from levels of rainfall because of differences in agricultural tive to changes in precipitation (Oki and Kanae, 2006). vulnerability between households. She also has considered the These sensitive areas are concentrated in the subtropics influence of politics and economics on farming and ranching deci- and adjacent regions—particularly Sub-Saharan Africa sions in the face of changing climatic conditions (Vasquez-Leon and (Sullivan et al., 2003)—but more research is needed to Liverman, 2004; Liverman and Vilas, 2006). understand how they would be influenced by longer term drying trends. As noted by Kates (2000), some low-income countries may be able and inclined to address climate change and protect agricultural pro- and urbanization. Research into the kinds of questions ductions via dams and irrigation schemes, yet these outlined below could enhance our understanding of schemes often have serious consequences for the poor- what happened in 2008 and related food challenges. est farmers who are likely to lose land or have limited access to the water they provide (Gellert and Lynch, 2003). Livelihood systems (broader systems encom- research suBQuesTioNs passing farming and nonfarming activities) developed in dryland regions with highly variable rainfall tend to Which farming systems will be most and least able exhibit the strategies of risk-averse smallhold farmers, to cope with climate change? such as diverse cropping strategies, grain storage, the One of the great challenges of the 21st century is deliberate straddling of multiple microenvironments, to meet the growing demand for food even as climate and the seasonal migration of certain family members change is affecting agricultural and farming systems (Mortimore, 1989; Davies, 1996; Moseley, 2001).

OCR for page 59
6 UNDERSTANDING THE CHANGING PLANET A key research question is whether these systems Brookfield, 1987). This research area needs to be contin- c an accommodate more drastic levels of change. ually updated as the nature of the global food economy Furthermore, many systems are now more vulnerable changes. As discussed previously, urban expansion has to environmental variability because they have changed eroded the availability of good agricultural land in many in order to meet regional and global market demands places, but the impacts of this process on food produc- for certain products as a result of increased globaliza- tion are poorly understood. National and subnational tion, leading to a potential double exposure to market geographically explicit agricultural data (including and climate change (O’Brien and Leichenko, 2003). yield trends) could be combined with satellite imagery As such, geographical assessments of vulnerability of to provide assessments of the quality and availability of the type described in Chapter 3 will also be important farmland. Scenarios of urban expansion can be coupled to the effort to understand the adaptability of different with maps of cultivated land to identify hotspots of farming systems. farmland threatened by urban expansion. Urbanization in one area may also be affected by distant points of con- sumption, and can affect agricultural systems in other how do changing consumption patterns, parts of the globe. For example, Asian urbanization and regulations, and costs in one place affect farming industrialization changes local diets and influences the systems, land use, and food security in other places? demand for food and raw materials produced in places Food networks are interconnected, spanning world as far away as Africa (Muldavin, 2007). South Korea regions, as well as urban and rural domains. The past recently acquired plantations in Madagascar to produce two decades have been dominated by continued protec- food for its people (Walt, 2008). tion of agricultural producers in high-income countries Energy costs are an important factor in food pro- and market-oriented reforms in low-income states. The duction systems. Bayliss-Smith (1982) was one of the persistence of protection for farmers in the high-in- first scientists to examine food production systems come countries reflects the power of the farm lobby and around the world from an energy efficiency standpoint. associated input producers (Watts, 2000). Increasing Although industrialized agriculture produces higher free trade in food crops has often led to the demise of yields, it is less efficient in terms of the amount of smallhold producers in low-income countries, as well energy inputs required to produce a unit of output. In as the consolidation of farms (Fitting, 2006). There the United States it takes about 2.2 kcal of fossil fuel is also evidence that certain World Trade Organiza- energy, on average, to produce 1 kcal of plant protein tion, FAO, and World Bank policies have undermined (Pimentel et al., 2002). Furthermore, food producers local control and human rights in some places (Pogge, increasingly ship their products long distances to reach 2008). Research from a geographical science perspec- intended customers. According to the U.S. Department tive, taking into account the linkages between places of Agriculture (Regmi, 2001), the United States im- and policies, can yield a better understanding of the ported 11.6 percent of its vegetables and 38.9 percent of implications of these changes for food security and its fruit in 2001 (up from 4.1 percent and 20.8 percent farming systems, including who is affected by these in 1970). The emergence of a more globalized food practices, where they are located, and how they are system—a phenomenon driven by cheap fossil fuel– affected. Similarly, a better understanding of the food based transportation for nearly two decades (1985 to security implications of more robust local and national 2005)—may change, however, if transportation costs food systems is critical. climb (Rohter, 2008). The notion of virtual water and We also need to understand the spatial and func- energy in food exports and imports (i.e., the amount tional impacts of land-use changes brought about by of water or energy expended to produce an agricultural local and regional factors. Blaikie, who undertook crop) is also important for understanding indirect ex- groundbreaking research on the topic, showed how land change of these resources associated with agricultural degradation and soil erosion in Nepal was not just a local trade (Allen, 2000; Turton, 2000). issue, but a phenomenon influenced by broader social Both spatial and functional interconnections will and economic processes (Blaikie, 1985; Blaikie and affect the evolving global food picture. Many of the

OCR for page 59
65 FOOD future research questions in this vein are inherently Critics of GMCs are concerned about corporate control geographical, and given increasing food prices, growing of seeds, the access of the poor to GMC packages, and landlessness, urbanization, and rising (food-price re- genetic contamination of wild species (McAfee, 2003; lated) civil unrest, research at the human–environment Roff, 2008; Sitko, 2008). Early studies in South Africa interface will become more pressing. indicate that genetically modified cotton was initially adopted with great success, but that later most farmers Where are genetically modified crops (gmcs) being were abandoning the crop because agricultural exten- most rapidly adopted and with what consequences sion services were inadequate and net profits were less for food supplies and rural livelihoods? than those obtained with conventional cotton (Gouse et al., 2008). In 2008, Burkina Faso became the second Even though multiple factors contributed to the African state to openly adopt GMCs, essentially the food crisis of 2008 (including use of grain crops for same genetically modified cotton that failed in South ethanol production, financial speculation, increasing Africa (Dowd, 2008). meat consumption in the low-income states, rising Charting the social and environmental conse- energy prices, and a growing population), many of the quences of such experiments in coming years could proposals for avoiding another food crisis focus on reveal the positive and negative impacts of GMC technological fixes, particularly the expanded use of adoption in different regions. Studies integrating GMCs. GMCs often elicit a bifurcated response—they the physical and human dimensions are particularly are either cast as beneficial to both the environment needed, as one of the critical underresearched issues and food production (Federoff and Brown, 2004) or concerns the changing biogeography of genetic con- criticized for their corporate origin and control, and tamination (Parker and Markwith, 2007). Finally, the their potential negative effects on agriculture.3 Evalu- GMC approach needs to be compared to other agri- ating these different claims requires geographically cultural methods, such as the system of rice intensifica- grounded empirical studies at multiple scales (house- tion, which was initially developed in Madagascar and hold, village, region) in regions where GMCs have is now being tested in Asia and West Africa (Broad, been introduced. 2008). While the green revolution approach (involving the use of hybrid seeds, irrigation, fertilizers, and pes- summarY ticides in low-income countries) increased yields, it also created a host of environmental and social problems. Sustainably feeding Earth’s population over the coming Proponents of GMCs argue that these crops not only decade and beyond requires better understanding of increase yields, but also they avoid many of the envi- how food systems interact with environmental change, ronmental problems associated with the green revolu- how they are connected across regions, and how they tion approach, including pesticide and fertilizer runoff. are influenced by changing economic, political, and technological circumstances. The geographical sci- 3The top GMCs in the world in 2006 by area were soybeans, ences’ analysis of food production and consumption, maize, cotton, and canola (with soybeans accounting for over half when coupled with recent conceptual and method- of this area). The world’s leading producers of GMCs are the United States, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, and China (with ological advances, can provide new insights into this the United States having nearly three times as much hectarage as critically important research arena. Argentina in such crops). Other significant producers are Paraguay, South Africa, Uruguay, and Australia (GMO Compass, 2007).

OCR for page 59