To end hunger in the world all we need is just a 3% increase in agricultural production.
To end hunger in the world all we need is just a 3% increase in agricultural production. Yet that relatively minor boost should be paired with a radical change in how food is distributed across the globe, scientists say.
Eliminating hunger worldwide is one of the key sustainability goals by the United Nations and yet in 2017 over 821 million people across the globe were undernourished. Quite often zero hunger policies have focused on increasing production, but new research published in Nature Sustainability reminds of another important element: food equality.
To look into the future of food provision, the researchers behind the study created two scenarios for 2030. In one scenario they tried to solve hunger by increasing food production. We can eliminate hunger if we boost production by 20% by expanding the area of land used for agriculture by 48 million acres. However, that will come with a sizeable environmental impact.
In the second scenario they tried to explore whether a wiser approach was possible. This time they included programs like food vouchers, support to the most vulnerable populations, and targeted food provision for school cafeteria with the aim of channeling food where it was needed most. This time a 3% increase in production turned out to be all we’ll need to have zero hunger.
The paths diverge in a number of other ways. Following the first model one would also mean further growth in the number of people who consume more than they need, from 3.1 billion today to 4.9 billion in 2030. That will entail an annual increase of 550 Mt in CO2 emissions, destruction of more forests, more people suffering from lifestyle diseases, and skyrocketing waste due to food abundance.
In the second scenario, however, the researchers found that environmental trade-offs would be negligible while the new system would allow us to cut down on livestock production. And if we combine those efforts with agricultural intensification, reducing overconsumption and curbing food waste, this could lead to an overall decrease in food production by 9%, which fits well with another recent study on the sustainable future of food.
Tomoko Hasegawa, a co-author of the study from Ritsumeikan University, stresses that “only one policy is not enough. We need to combine different policies to avoid unintended negative impacts on others.” Petr Havlik, another co-author of the study who is deputy program director of the Ecosystems Services and Management at the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, notes that “undernourishment is indeed not a problem of agricultural production capacity but of the current economic and political system.”
To achieve the outlined changes the researchers note a need for political will and a fast adoption of new policies that tackle global food challenges at their source.