The Agenda on Food

To tackle world hunger, the international community must roll out an ambitious agenda and undertake a wide-ranging, participative reform of the whole food production industry – from how food is grown to how it is processed and delivered.

This year marks the 70th anniversary of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (UNFAO). Since its inception, it has made significant contributions to strengthening global food security. Through close work with member states, it defines credible policies, provides support to countries in need, and assists the poor and hungry.

Since 1990, the number of hungry people in the world has fallen by 209 million. Access to food has improved dramatically in countries that are making economic progress – both Eastern and Southeast Asia over the past decade, as well Southern Asia and Latin America – but especially in countries with adequate safety nets and other forms of social protection for the rural poor.

But despite this progress, the Organization has still found that about 805 million people, or one in nine people on the planet, do not get enough food to lead a healthy lifestyle. Several regions continue to struggle to combat this problem. In Sub-Saharan Africa, for example, more than one in four people remain chronically undernourished, while Asia, the world’s most populous region, is home to the majority of the world’s hungry, an astonishing 526 million people.

Member Countries of the United Nations committed themselves to halving the number of undernourished people by 2015. This goal is still within our reach, but only if appropriate and immediate efforts are taken. To date, 63 developing countries have reached the Millennium Development Goal target, and six more are on track to reach it by the end of 2015.

Current UN projections indicate that the world population could increase by more than 2 billion people over the next 35 years, reaching 9.15 billion by 2050. Incomes will grow even faster. To meet increased food demands, UNFAO projects that global agricultural production in 2050 will need to be 60% higher than it was in the period from 2005 to 2007. This is a smaller increase than the agricultural sector has achieved over the past half century, but it still raises concerns about sustainability.

More than 85% of production increases over the next 40 years are expected to come from improved yields rather than through the expansion of arable farmland. Some gains will also come from higher crop intensity, predominantly in developed countries.

Save Resources, No Waste

In 2015, UNFAO is promoting the International Year of Soils, a United Nations initiative to raise awareness and encourage more sustainable use of this critical resource. The problem is too important and cannot be neglected. It is worth noting that one-third of all soil is degraded due to erosion, compaction, sealing, salinization, organic matter and nutrient depletion, acidification, pollution, and other processes caused by unsustainable land management practices. Unless new approaches are adopted, the amount of arable and productive land per person will drop to one-fourth of 1960 levels by 2050.

Water is another critical resource. The area equipped for irrigation worldwide has doubled since the 1960s to 300 million hectares, but the potential for further expansion is limited. While water resources are abundant on a global scale, they are extremely scarce where they are most needed, like in the Middle East and North Africa.

A key challenge in achieving food security for our growing population is climate change. Climate Smart Agriculture addresses this by prioritizing sustainable lifestyles as well as climate change adaptation and mitigation. The recently launched Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, supported by the UNFAO, is a step in the right direction. Its goal is to systematically incorporate climate change into an agricultural development pathway that supports food security and the production of non-food products, while safeguarding natural resources and ensuring the survival of people and their managed ecosystems in the short and long term.

Particular attention needs to be paid to family farmers, as they play a key role in global food security. The International Year of Family Farming 2014 provided an excellent opportunity to highlight their part in eradicating hunger and conserving our natural resources.

Sustainability is the key to our future development. The UN will discuss strategies for achieving sustainable development at the highest level this year. UNFAO is fully engaged in these discussions. In order to feed the growing population and preserve our planet for future generations, we need to develop agriculture as efficiently as possible. Our activities should be based on the following principles:

  • Agricultural production should focus on the cultivation of nutritious food; 
  • The use of natural resources in agrifood systems – particularly water, energy, and land – must be more efficient; 
  • Concerted efforts are needed to improve soil and land management, which are the basis for the sustainable production of both food and non-food products; 
  • We must supporting the production systems and livelihood of family farmers, who play a central role in natural resource management and the production of nutritious food.

We should better utilize agricultural products. Every year, roughly one-third of the food produced for human consumption – approximately 1.3 billion tons – gets lost or wasted. Food loss and waste amount to roughly $680 billion in industrialized countries and $310 billion in developing countries, or nearly $1 trillion in total. Consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million tons) as the entire net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa (230 million tons). The amount of food lost or wasted each year is equivalent to more than half of the world’s annual grain crops (2.3 billion tons in 2009/2010).

Since 1990, the number of hungry people in the world has fallen by 209 million. Access to food has improved dramatically in countries that are making economic progress – both Eastern and Southeast Asia over the past decade, as well Southern Asia and Latin America – but especially in countries with adequate safety nets and other forms of social protection for the rural poor. But despite this progress, the Organization has still found that about 805 million people, or one in nine people on the planet, do not get enough food to lead a healthy lifestyle

Forty percent of food losses in developing countries occur during the post-harvest and processing stages, while in industrialized countries more than 40% of losses happen at the retail and consumer levels. At the retail level, large quantities of food are wasted due to quality standards that over-emphasize appearance. Even if just one-fourth of the food currently lost or wasted globally could be saved, it would be more than enough to feed all of the 805 million hungry people in the world.

Last November, UNFAO was proud to host a high-level global intergovernmental meeting, the Second International Conference on Nutrition (ICN2), jointly organized with the World Health Organization. The Conference directed public attention to the persistent and unacceptably high levels of global malnutrition. FAO is determined to make the nutrition agenda a priority in order to address and overcome the world’s malnutrition problem.

This is an ambitious but essential agenda for us. To tackle the challenges ahead, UNFAO has undertaken a wide-ranging, participative reform process. The Organization is now more cost-effective and works in a more integrated manner to address the interlinked challenges of achieving more sustainable food production, enhancing food systems and value chains, increasing adaptability, and meeting food security and poverty reduction goals.

Official partners

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