Knowledge for better food systems

WRI Working Paper: Creating a sustainable food future – The great balancing act

This working paper from the World Resources Institute (WRI) prepared for the forthcoming World Resources Report discusses how the increased demand for food in the future should be met and the various overlapping crises that are impacting the planet's capacity to produce food.  It warns of an imminent global food crises unless changes are made in global industrial agriculture. 

The WRI in this paper focuses on how food can be produced so that it also advances economic development and reduces pressure on the environment. The paper points to three specific needs that need to be met simultaneously:

  • Addressing the gap in food availability and food demand:

The WRI states that “Without successful measures to restrain food demand growth by the world’s more affluent, available worldwide food calories will need to increase by about 60 percent from 2006 levels if everyone is to be sufficiently fed”.

  • Agriculture contributing to inclusive economic and social development:

The working paper suggests that since the agricultural sector employs many of the world’s poor, growth in this sector has a great possibility to help reduce poverty. It is also especially apt to contribute with significant improvements for women. “Because increasing women’s income has disproportionate benefits for alleviating hunger, boosting opportunities for women in agriculture can have significant positive impacts”.

  • Reducing the impact of agriculture on environmental and natural resources:

It is emphasized that the large impact of agriculture on ecosystems, the climate and on water resources has to be tackled appropriately. Failure to address the challenges mentioned above is argued to in turn hamper food production in coming decades.  The working paper warns that water stress is likely to increase due to growing water demand coupled with climate change.

Citation:

Searchinger, T. et al. 2013. “The Great Balancing Act.” Working Paper, Installment 1 of Creating a Sustainable Food Future. Washington, DC: World Resources Institute. Available online at here.

To read the report on the WRI website click here and to read the Guardian article Peak soil: industrial civilisation is on the verge of eating itself discussing this paper click here.

If you want more on this same topic look out for upcoming working papers from WRI. During 2013 and 2014, WRI is releasing on a rolling basis a series of Creating a Sustainable Food Future working paper installments.

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While some of the food system challenges facing humanity are local, in an interconnected world, adopting a global perspective is essential. Many environmental issues, such as climate change, need supranational commitments and action to be addressed effectively. Due to ever increasing global trade flows, prices of commodities are connected through space; a drought in Romania may thus increase the price of wheat in Zimbabwe.

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