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Symposium 2015

Solution for Food Security through more Intense Crop Production

The Challenge

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland co ...

In order to secure the demand for food and biomass by a growing population, the production of biomass needs to double by 2050. Recent studies agree that better crop management on today’s cropland could increase biomass production by only about 60% (Bruinsma 2011, Tilman et al. 2011). This may be achieved by, for instance, expanding cropland, changing diets, adopting more efficient agricultural practices, or by using current cropland areas more intensively. This choice involves trade-offs. For instance, expanding cropland into non-agricultural ecosystems may reduce other ecosystem services such as biodiversity, and release greenhouse gases. Therefore, intensifying the use of current cropland areas may be a preferred option. In fact, current studies are able to identify regions where there is a capacity to intensify agricultural production (Zabel et al. 2014). Measures aimed at closing the gap between production possibilities and current production, however, are not sufficiently addressed.

Food security: Contributions of a sustainable bioeconomy

Originally, the concept of a biomass-based economy has evolved with a view to peak oil and depleting natural resources. In recent years, the understanding of the biobased economy has changed fundamentally. The knowledge-based bioeconomy is expected to contribute innovative solutions to meeting society’s/humanity’s grand challenges. As its top priority bioeconomy development needs to foster food security and a healthy nutrition for a growing world population. Considering further climate change mitigation and the recently proposed decarbonization1 processes, experts project a steeply increasing global demand for biomass. Increasing resource productivity and the total production of biomass might appear as a valid solution. However, intensification alone will not be sufficient to feed the world and to provide low-carbon materials and processes. Bioeconomy can contribute to food security in three ways. By sustainably increasing the productivity rates in areas with high potential for improvement, by improving the income and education situation2 and by optimizing value-chains from production to consumption of biomass and especially food (minimizing loss/ waste. Only a well-balanced combination of all three approaches promises success.

1. Sustainable increase of productivity3

Increasing the overall production of agricultural crops can be achieved by the expansion of the arable acreage to include land not previously cultivated or a further increase in the yields from arable land farmed to date. However, this comes with significant trade-offs: The cultivation of additional acreage is linked to a further increase in greenhouse gases, the loss of ecosystems, restrictions to biodiversity and the threat to important genetic or other resources (water, soil) as well as the loss of living space for people. Whereas agricultural productivity can be considered high to nearly optimal in most industrialized countries, there is still considerable potential for improvement in many countries suffering from food crises. Average productivity rates are often only one third or one fourth of the productivity rates achieved in more advanced countries. Especially in these areas, efforts to increase productivity rates in a sustainable way seem very promising. Crop plants and their agricultural cultivation systems need to be adapted and improved in terms of energy and water use and dual use through research and development. Breeding research and plant breeding should aim at the production of nutrient-efficient, climate-adapted, stress-tolerant new varieties. Plant cultivation research should advance sustainable and diversified crop rotation systems. These systems could alternate between crops used for industrial production and those used for food production to protect soil and contribute to biodiversity. Short-rotation plantations, particularly when combined with agroforestry systems, can be an interesting solution at local level. Precision farming can provide further methods and tools to produce more with less input. While increasing productivity, securing the nutritional quality of food remains a vital issue. According to estimates, in 20154 about 0,8 billion people were undernourished; approximately 2 billion people were micronutrient deficient, and about 1 billion adults were obese. Therefore, technologies ensuring adequate levels of micronutrients, such as zinc, iron, vitamins, and macronutrients, such as high quality protein, in food need to be promoted. Technology and innovation driven by the private sector will be able to deliver solutions for these goals, funding programs and policy measures will be required to allow innovations to reach the market.

2. Improving the income and education situation of disadvantaged communities

It is widely accepted that not only the limited availability of food, but also the lack of a sufficient and stable income are key reasons for hunger. The GFFA has stated in its 2015 Communiqué: “The fight against hunger and malnutrition must go hand in hand with the fight against poverty. Only resilient, diversified and sustainable agrifood systems can provide the foundation for achieving the human right to adequate food and for supplying people with adequate amount of nutritious food or enabling them to feed themselves.” By providing new income opportunities for small-scale producers and family farmers, bioeconomy can thus further contribute to food security. This requires the development of new value-chains, linking the agricultural, forest and marine communities with the industrial sector. Examples are the production of bioenergy from forest or agricultural residues in small local grids or the cultivation of industrial crops on marginal land. In order to enable developing countries to move-up the value-chain and generate higher income from their biological resources, capacity building and international collaboration are needed, particularly in biosciences and key enabling technologies (IT, biotechnology, nanotechnology). Furthermore, trade agreements need to provide rules for fair trade in biomass. Sustainability certification and product labels can contribute to sustainable production methods and to improving market access. However, they have to be adapted to the institutional and infrastructure conditions in the country.5 Knowledge in bioeconomy needs be taught in training programs, education and academic studies. New interdisciplinary study programs can be introduced through collaboration between countries that are active in bioeconomy. International sharing of teaching programs can strengthen the worldwide implementation of bioeconomy.

3. Increasing efficiency of biomass use

With a view to food security, international food value-chains still incur significant inefficiencies in the order of 30% and more of total food production. This applies to both, the production side, where high pre- and postharvest losses are reported, specifically in developing countries, and to the demand side, where an incredible amount of “good” food is thrown away by retailers, restaurants and the final consumer, specifically in industrialized countries. Innovative integrated production systems must facilitate efficient food production. The dual and cascaded use of residues should be organized so that it comprehensively reduces the losses. Optimal approaches and possible incentives for reducing losses and wastage should be explored more extensively, with regard to food production, distribution, consumption and to recovering nutrients and energy. Moreover, modern efficiency strategies could also target an increase in the nutritional value per unit of food, thus reducing the per capita amount of food needed to healthily feed a person. The composition of healthy and sustainable diets is an important area for further research. Securing and improving the nutrition of a growing world population is a key issue of the bioeconomy, to which an intensified agricultural production can contribute. However, a carefully designed bioeconomy policy framework is needed to promote green growth, food security and poverty alleviation while ensuring ecological sustainability. In this respect, more intense cooperation with emerging and developing economies is recommended.6 This encompasses technological and institutional innovations and appropriate investment in research in the areas mentioned above. Finally, attention to rule based trade of biomass and related products is important to further the inclusive and efficient utilization of biomass globally. The worldwide development of bioeconomy might involve conflicts between restricted re-sources, societal goals and stakeholder interests. National and local policy-making need to acknowledge and appropriately address these issues. Environmental, economic and social exchanges are, however, not restricted to national borders; they operate on a global level. Therefore, bioeconomy development should be mainstreamed in international policy frameworks and multilateral policy processes.



1 G7 (2015). Leader’s Declaration.
2 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (2015). Final Communiqué.
3 Bioökonomierat (2015). Contribution of Crop Research to Covering the Bioeconomy’s Demand for Biomass.
4 United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization FAO (2015). The State of Food Insecurity in the World 2015.
5 Bioökonomierat (2015). Bioenergy policy in Germany and social challenges.
6 Bioökonomierat (2014). Positions and Strategies oft he German Bioeconomy Council.

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