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FAO: 'Revolution' in Agriculture Vital to Meet Food Targets

  • Ron Corben

Farmers dump a pile of rice on the ground during a rally, outside a Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives in Bangkok, March 11, 2014.

Farmers dump a pile of rice on the ground during a rally, outside a Bank for Agriculture and Agricultural Cooperatives in Bangkok, March 11, 2014.

The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization [FAO] says the world needs to boost agriculture production by 60 percent to meet its estimated food needs over the coming decades. The FAO says declining amounts of arable land and fresh water resources, however, create challenges.

The FAO says improving food security levels by 2050 may require a second "Green Revolution" to boost agricultural yields and feed the world’s expected nine billion people.

The so-called "Green Revolution" of the 1960s came with the introduction of industrial farming practices and high-yielding plant varieties, which helped farmers stay ahead of fast-growing populations.

Targeting devloping countries

Since then in Asia and the Pacific, food production has risen by 300 percent, although it has come at an environmental cost.

Hiroyuki Konuma, FAO assistant director general and Asia Pacific regional representative, said the challenge of lifting food production further will be especially acute for developing countries.

"We estimate that by 2050 the world needs to increase food production by 60 percent that will meet the demand at that time," said Konuma. "This is worldwide. But when we look at only developing countries, we estimate a 77 percent increase is needed -- it's a more important fear because 98 percent of worldwide population increase will be happening in developing countries."

Konuma said access to arable land is a key problem. In the Asia Pacific, most land is already fully exploited, while in regions such as China, land for agriculture is already on the decline. Also, regional and global water resources are declining amid signs of increasing water scarcity.

But Konuma is optimistic the food production target could be reached given the gains made in the Asia Pacific since the 1960s.

"The FAO estimates theoretically we can meet this food production by increasing yield per acre [hectare], productivity growth, by agriculture research. Rice and wheat alone there are still yield gap that can be narrowed from the potential. We are now looking at only 60 percent in a 40-year time frame to 2050," said Konuma.

Agriculture production

At the same time climate change is already affecting agricultural production in landlocked Asian nations and rising sea levels for Pacific island states.

The most vulnerable land locked nations are Afghanistan, Bhutan, Laos, Mongolia and Nepal. Among the 15 island states at risk, the Maldives in the Indian Ocean was the most susceptible to climate change.

The FAO says 840 million people globally, or one person in eight, still suffer from chronic hunger. More than 30 percent, or more than two billion people, suffer from other nutrient deficiencies.

FAO's Konuma said the poor are especially vulnerable.

"It's not really a matter of production or supply sides - it's access issues - poor people in particular, and those who are disadvantaged living at the bottom of society," he said. "They do not have enough access to purchase food that they need or even farmers who do not have enough land to grow food for their own consumption."

At the same time, some 1.5 billion people globally are seen as overweight, with 500 million individuals suffering from obesity, and more than 40 million children under the age of five years faced with weight problems. Changing dietary habits has also led to a rise in chronic diseases such as diabetes and cancers.

FAO officials say a massive effort is required to end hunger in the Asia and Pacific, despite gains in nations such as Thailand, Vietnam and China.
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