[an error occurred while processing this directive]
BBC News
watch One-Minute World News
Last Updated: Saturday, 27 November, 2004, 13:54 GMT
Viewpoints: Food for all?
Corn, AP
Most experts say there is no simple solution

We will need 60% more food to meet the needs of the world's growing population in the next 30 years, according to UN figures.

Although the world's population has doubled since 1960, food production has more than kept up. But pressures are mounting on the land and water resources we need to feed the planet.

BBC News asked a range of experts how we can meet our growing demand for food without destroying the environment.

Dennis Treacy, Smithfield Foods

Tom Oliver, Campaign to Protect Rural England

Stan Wood, Senior Scientist, IFPRI
Peter Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association

Anders Berntell, Stockholm International Water Institute

Josef Schmidhuber, Senior economist, FAO

Corporate farming is the only practical way
Dennis Treacy, Smithfield Foods

In order to provide food efficiently to the growing global population, modern farming techniques and production methods are necessary.

Today's consumers demand safe, high-quality food at a low cost. The best way to meet these demands while protecting the environment is through the economies of scale inherent in "corporate farming".

Corporate farming helps achieve environmental goals through efficient land use, rigorous environmental controls, and innovations in pollution prevention and technology.

To satisfy the environmental expectations of the public, customers and government, and increasingly stringent regulatory requirements, requires significant financial resources.

Corporate farming is the only practical way to satisfy these expectations.

The benefits of corporate farming include management systems to ensure compliance with changing regulations, the ability to implement focused land and water conservation programmes, access to state-of-the-art equipment (such as irrigation equipment), and development of innovative technologies that may improve the way agricultural wastes are utilised for future generations.

We need to eat organic food and less meat
Peter Melchett, Policy Director, Soil Association

How we can feed the world in an environmentally sustainable way starts with only using renewable resources.

We think this is possible. It's got to be possible, otherwise by definition it's not sustainable and it won't last.

It would be a system where all of the nutrients, and all pest and disease control, come from the natural environment - from the Sun's energy, the soil and the system of crop rotation. It would not use GM crops.

It could not feed the world if everyone were to eat like a rich American - if everyone's going to have cheap hamburgers and fries, or to eat intensively reared chicken on a daily basis.

But if people eat a healthy diet, with less meat and no factory farmed meat, then yes it's quite possible to feed the world in a sustainable way.

This wouldn't need more land to be taken into production - most of the land of value to wildlife is being converted to produce feed crops for intensive livestock.

Would it be economically viable? If the real costs of non-organic food - for example the costs of cleaning up pesticides and dealing with global warming - were included in the price of food, non-organic would probably already be more expensive than organic food.

Eating seasonal, local food can help
Tom Oliver, Campaign to Protect Rural England

We have to be clear what the acceptable limits are when it comes to changing the landscape and damaging habitats in the name of food production and distribution.

Given fair trade rules, an absence of distorting subsidies and strong policies for protecting our valued landscapes, the ingenuity of farmers will deliver the food we want.

If we insist on demanding fruit out of season, homogeneous blemish-free vegetables, large quantities of processed foods and low fuel costs, we will make sure that food travels unsustainably long distances and is sprayed and fertilised at levels which poison the environment.

There are two sides to this issue - we need to make sure we protect what we care for, and recognise the consequences of what we buy and where we buy it.

Food production should not degrade water supplies
Anders Berntell, Stockholm International Water Institute

Consumer preferences for water-intensive foods mean competition for water and land resources are intensified.

Today, in many areas, food production is not environmentally sustainable for several reasons.

Production patterns tend to undermine their own resource base and threaten the resilience of ecosystems which support them. For example, river depletion hurts fisheries and biodiversity.

More food must be produced while using and degrading less water. New technologies and methods for farmers must be accessible.

Also, trade-offs have to be dealt with. Withdrawals for irrigation in developing countries, for instance, are positive for economic growth, poverty alleviation and overall food production, but environmentally negative.

Food, nutrition and environmental sustainability require "triple win" strategies - the balancing of economic, social and environmental objectives, with reference both to consumption and production patterns.

Policies, investments, incentives and GM crops
Stan Wood, International Food Policy Research Institute

I don't think there's any silver bullet solution.

Demand is growing, rapidly in some places, so farmers need to increase the amount they produce from a given area of land - otherwise we'll expand agricultural land use and destroy more habitats and biodiversity.

At IFPRI, we believe that growing demand could be met sustainably if sufficient and urgent attention was given to designing better bundles of policies, investments and incentives.

Rich countries must continue to strengthen regulatory frameworks and provide incentives for farmers to utilise more environmentally friendly practices. Reducing over-production stimulated by subsidies would lighten the environmental burden.

In developing countries, there are often technologies available to improve productivity, but farmers have few incentives to adopt them. Opportunities are further constrained by rural poverty and underinvestment in other areas - roads, education, health, and rural electrification.

However, even if most farmers adopted current best practices over the next 10-15 years, this would not be enough - we also need new and better technologies.

In the longer run, and where risks have been carefully assessed, this likely includes genetically modified crops.

Sustainable practices and the right policies
Josef Schmidhuber, Senior economist, Global Perspectives Unit, Food and Agriculture Organisation

Globally, the resources in terms of land, water and genetic resources necessary to feed the world in a sustainable way are available - but there are shortages in some regions, particularly in the Near East/North Africa and south Asia.

There is no single solution. But there are a whole host of technical and political options which can be combined.

Technologies include the promotion of sustainable agricultural practices such as integrated plant nutrient systems - which use recycled animal and vegetable waste and other techniques to cut down on fertiliser use, and integrated pest management - using pest-resistant crop varieties and natural pest control methods as well as pesticides.

No-till/conservation agriculture, improved water use efficiency and irrigation technologies can also help. A further expansion of aquaculture and forest plantations may also help save natural forest and fish resources.

Key policy measures include a continuous commitment to agricultural research, with a new focus on marginal areas and the needs of the poor.

OECD countries can help by reducing agricultural subsidies and by increasing overseas aid - especially for agriculture. Developing countries need to continue efforts to reduce or remove the anti-agricultural bias in their domestic policies.

Send us your views:

Your comments.

If you look at regional food production graphs per capita (i.e. total food produced for a geographical region per person) then it reveals a tragedy. In some regions, the great agricultural achievement - a tremendous increase in food production - has been largely absorbed, not in feeding people more adequately, but in feeding more people inadequately. Also, during the past few decades, the rate of grain production increase has slowed and fallen below the population growth rate. Add to this soil/humus loss, erosion, salt build-up, urbanisation and desertification and we get the fuller picture of how exponential population growth can outstrip physical resources.
Nicholas Hemley, Edinburgh, UK

One issue that people seem to have left out is unproductive agricultural land use can be due to political chaos. There are a number of countries that could increase world food production massivel such as the troubled countries of Sudan, Congo , Mozambique, Colombia and Angola. All of these have huge land masses. It is estimated that less 10% of potentially productive land is used in these giant fertile countries. We have not yet reached our agricultural limit. If we are failing to feed ourselves it is not because of natures lack of generosity.
Thai Chitsiga, UK

Perhaps we should ask how population growth can be humanely reduced instead. The demographic transition has occurred in all mature industrial nations (in fact, too much so in Northern Europe and Japan). Shall we assume that it will occur worldwide in good time, or shall we redouble our efforts to educate people to practice responsible reproduction?
Herb Hwang, San Mateo, CA, USA

Your E-mail address
Town & Country

The BBC may edit your comments and not all emails will be published. Your comments may be published on any BBC media worldwide.

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | Africa | Americas | Asia-Pacific | Europe | Middle East | South Asia
UK | Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health
Have Your Say | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific