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GLOBAL FOOD ISSUES

The worlds population is predicted to hit 9Bn by


2050, up from todays total of nearly 6.8Bn, and
with it food demand is predicted to increase
substantially.

The food price spike of 2008 was a


warning of what is to come. Staple food
prices rocketed wheat up 130%;
sorghum rose by 87% and rice 74%
and caused riots in 36 countries. The
government of Haiti was toppled as
people took to the streets. 2008 saw civil
unrest due to the price of food and
fertilizer.

More people die each year from hunger


and malnutrition than from AIDS,
tuberculosis and malaria combined, and
the World Bank estimates that cereal
production needs to increase by 50% and
meat production by 85% between 2000
and 2030 to meet demand.
In early 2009, food crises persisted in 32
countries from the 36 affected in 2008.
And all at a time global food reserves are
at their lowest levels for 30 years.
Put simply, the world needs to grow more
food now.

PROBLEMS

There are many factors that affect food


production. The post-war second agricultural
revolution in developed countries, and the green
revolution in developing nations in the mid-1960s
transformed agricultural practices and raised
crop yields dramatically, but the effect is leveling
off and will not meet projected demand. Per capita
increases in food production have stalled.

At the same time, many other factors are


having severe impacts on food production:
water stress and desertification is reducing
the amount of arable land; many pests are
becoming resistant to insecticides, but
many of the most effective chemical agents
are now banned under environmental
regulations; underdeveloped infrastructure
means that losses increase further during
transport
and
storage;
consumption
patterns are changing and developing
nations such as India and China have an
increased appetite for meat, and climate
change is bringing new microbial diseases
to food-growing regions along with more
extreme
and
unpredictable
weather

PESTILENCE

Estimates vary, but around 25% of crops can be lost to


pests and diseases, such as insects, fungi and other plant
pathogens.
New pest outbreaks: In early 2009, a state of emergency
was declared in Liberia after it was invaded by a new
species of caterpillar.
The caterpillars in Liberia struck 65 towns, and the
Ministry of Agriculture reported that up to 20,000 people
left their homes, the fields empty and markets devoid of
food that had more than doubled cost in surrounding
areas. The pest was later identified as Achaea
catocaloides .

Another
was
the
African
Armyworm.
Armyworms are a serious pest in Kenya,
Tanzania and surrounding countries in most
years. In particularly bad years, such as 2005,
larval densities exceeded 1000 per square
meter and crops were destroyed in a matter of
hours.

WASTE

Pests may consume large quantities of crops once they are


grown, or prevent them growing at all, but in the developing
world up to 37% of food harvested can be lost before it is
consumed owing to insufficient processing, storage and
transport. Estimates vary, but figures for rice losses include
5-23% in China and 10-25% in Vietnam. And when 20% of
food is lost its not just the food that is wasted its 20% of
the land, water, labor, seed, pesticide and fertilizer so a
financial and environmental loss too.
Similar losses are echoed in the UK. Every day 4.4M apples,
5.1M potatoes, 2.8M tomatoes and 1.6M bananas are binned.

WATER

Countries are keen to divert water to irrigate land


on large scales, for example by building large
hydroelectric dams and mega-canal projects,
because relying on rainfall can adversely affect an
entire continent. In South America, the 2008
wheat production was halved by drought in
Argentina, and persistent dry weather is
adversely affecting prospects for the 2009 coarse
grains in the sub-region. Irrigation has drained
the Aral Sea.

In the Middle East, Turkey and Syria


have both dammed the Euphrates,
which
puts
water
stress
on
downstream Iraq. Furthermore, the
River Jordan, which supplies water to
Israel,
Syria,
Jordan
and
the
Palestinian territories, could shrink by
up to 80% by the end of the century,
sparking tensions in an already
volatile region.

CLIMATE CHANGE

Climate change associated with agriculture is also a


global issue. Agriculture is a significant contributor to
greenhouse gases and is estimated to account for 1012% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Climate
change is predicted to increase desertification.
It should be noted that climate change will benefit
agriculture in some ways: extra CO2 in the
atmosphere will lead to plants fixing more carbon, and
global warming will also lead to huge swathes of land,
particularly in Siberia and Canada, becoming suitable
for industrial-scale farming.

However, a warming world will increase


the amount of desert in the world,
increase localized drought in areas such
as North America, Africa and Australia,
and may exacerbate problems such as
flooding in Indonesia and South
America. The increased temperature
will also increase activity in insects
the principal pests of food which may
mitigate any yield benefits.
Climate change will be good and bad for
food production, but its the pace of
change that makes it a problem. If the
world cant establish new agricultural

SUSTAINABILITY

The
modern
agricultural
practices
argue
that
the
improvements are not sustainable because the increased yields
are tied to intensive application of oil-based fertilizers the cost
of which is closely tied to the price of oil (and natural gas)
which also peaked in 2008. The application of agrochemicals
and irrigation systems also require large inputs of energy
Total fertilizer use has risen five-fold since 1960. Putting aside
the issues of soil erosion, loss of fertility and reduced
biodiversity associated with modern farming, they say the real
problem is that meeting the food security agenda using current
techniques cannot be achieved without serious degradation to
the environment and will act as a catalyst to human-induced
climate change.

CONCLUSION

As National Farmers Union (NFU) President Peter


Kendall remarked at their 2009 conference: We are
in an era when we must produce more, and at the
same time impact on the environment less.
Many of the issues highlighted are global problems.
Meeting the worlds food security challenge will
require a multi-national, collaborative effort to
integrate
the
best
research
from
science,
engineering
and
socioeconomics
so
that
technological advances can bring benefits where
they are most needed.