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Symposium 2010

Proposal - Meeting the Rising Global Demand for Food

The Challenge

It is becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy the rising global demand for food in a sustainable manner. A number of factors contribute to uncertainty about the world’s ability to meet the food ...

It is becoming increasingly difficult to satisfy the rising global demand for food in a sustainable manner. A number of factors contribute to uncertainty about the world’s ability to meet the food demand of an increasing population: average living standards are rising; land use is shifting from agriculture to urban and industrial uses; the production of nonfood crops for biofuels is on the rise; investments in increasing agricultural productivity are growing slowly; water and arable land are increasingly becoming scarce; and global warming is making it more difficult to produce food in some poor countries. Moreover, the food price crisis of 2008 added fuel to the fire and put food security on top of the policy agenda.

  1. International land deals have the potential to contribute to agricultural productivity by providing the investment urgently needed in the agricultural sector in developing countries. They can also facilitate knowledge and technology transfer to local people if implemented carefully. Nevertheless, there is a need for increased transparency to ensure that local communities benefit from such investments and that not all gains are transferred to the investing country or company. An international body may be needed to define the economic, social and environmental conditions that need to be satisfied to make sure that such investments are beneficial to all and sustainable.
  2. Businesses (both industrial and agricultural) should try to minimize their water footprint on a life cycle basis by employing the latest technologies available. Incentives may be created by governments to ensure that enough R&D budget is devoted to improving the water use efficiency by businesses.
  3. World trade in food should be open, fair and free even under crisis with the contribution of all countries to the WTO Doha Round. Special clauses may be added to deal with trade restrictions under crises and conflict resolutions that stem from these. A virtual food reserve and an intervention mechanism should be created to help avoid price spikes in the future.
  4. The development and application of new techniques to deal with the increasing water scarcity in some regions requires higher investments in agricultural R&D. In particular, the CGIAR centers and the national agricultural research centers should collaborate to identify solutions that are suitable to local conditions.
  5. Genetically modified crop varieties (esp. wheat, corn and soy) that are tolerant to drought and salt are already being developed by businesses and governments alike. These initiatives should be coordinated and tested well before being implemented. Their potential benefits and costs should be made public to ensure that their development does not stall due to unfounded public fear.
  6. Climate change will aggravate the problem of irrigated agricultural production. Especially in North-Africa, Near East and East Asia water scarcity needs to be addressed especially for small scale farmers. Investment and political support should foster production techniques that preserve natural resources that are the basis for agricultural production. Special attention needs to be paid to preserve the fertility and the water retention capability of the soils, and an efficient use of available water resources. This is essentially connected with the preservation of ecological resources that enhance the resilience of agriculture and aquaculture systems. Support should therefore include the development and dissemination of such sustainable techniques with financial incentives from the government and the international community if need be.
  7. The international community should develop criteria to compensate those (farmers, governments or businesses) who contribute to the sustainable production of food while decreasing the pressures on water and land. The preservation of these resources is a global public good that deserves a global policy framework similar to the REDD of the Kyoto Protocol.

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