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OVERVIEW There are few areas of human endeavor in which the challenge of sustainability is clearer than in food and agriculture. Farmers and animal keepers must use natural resources―the physical environment of soil, water, and the sun―in ways that generate a continuous supply of food adequate to satisfy people’s biological needs for survival and their economic demands. Degradation of soil, inappropriate management of water, and the use of practices that have negative effects on the climate may increase food security in the short run, but will decrease output over time and threaten the survival of future generations. Sustainable management of natural resources and the environment is fundamental to future food security.1 Action by governments and other agents within and outside the food system may help or hinder sustainability. There is much evidence showing that the current global food system is not sustainable. In Europe, the United States, and other high-income regions and countries, consumers have become complacent about the ability of the food system to deliver the food they want and need when they want and need it. The use of “improved” technologies, incorporating both scientific knowledge and significant capital investment, has enabled producers to generate substantial volumes of food per unit of natural resource input at affordable prices. New storage technologies have reduced losses and, combined with transport improvements, have limited supply disruptions. Processing technologies have multiplied the number of consumable products derived from a particular crop or animal. Wholesale and retail sales operations have become increasingly efficient in providing the final link to the consumer. Together, production, storage, processing, and delivery operations combine in variable ways and form robust, demand-driven agricultural value chains that deliver safe and tasty food, on a reliable basis, to many consumers. Competition among participants in all segments of the chains helps to ensure that costs are controlled and products are affordable to even low-income consumers in those regions and countries. By contrast, in many parts of the developing world, much of agriculture is based upon traditional technologies: seed is farmer selected and saved from year to year, most tillage is done by hand labor, and crops are rain dependent (Pretty, 2006). Yields remain low, storage is rudimentary and inadequate to prevent major losses, and processing is still largely home based or artisanal. Large percentages of the population are employed in agriculture, and families tend to consume what they produce, selling some production into markets or working off-farm to generate needed incomes. Urban wholesale and retail food supplies largely depend on the widely dispersed product collection efforts of networks of traders and dealers. In most of these traditional food systems, quantities produced by farming households are complemented by those produced at a commercial scale by a relatively small number of “modern” farmers and animal operations. Often, these larger-scale operators supply the wholesale markets as well as a small urban-based industrial processing sector. While supermarkets are becoming more important in many developing countries, urban consumers 1 As defined by the 1996 World Food Summit, “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” See http://www.fao.org/wfs/index_en.htm. Accessed on June 6, 2011. 1
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2 A SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGE: FOOD SECURITY FOR ALL purchase much of their food in wet markets or in the surrounding small shops that deal in specific grains and legumes. Foods processed on the street are available for immediate consumption. It is important to note, however, that neither the modern food systems nor the traditional systems assure long term food security for all. Affordability, physical access, and volatility of both supply and price compromise the ability of poor families and individuals to achieve food security. Furthermore, both modern systems and traditional systems use environmental services in unsustainable ways (Pretty, 2006). Many of the traditional, family-based systems fail to produce enough food or income to assure that even the producing family has access to a nutritionally adequate diet. Furthermore, surpluses produced by more commercially oriented small-holder farms are not sufficient, in many countries, to assure that all consumers have access to locally sourced, nutritionally adequate supplies at all times at prices they can afford. These countries must, to some extent, rely on imports of food. Low-productivity traditional systems often over-use or mismanage the environmental resources on which future productivity depends: applying insufficient fertilizers to replace nutrients extracted as crops, overgrazing pasturelands held in common, and using groundwater inefficiently. Modern food systems are more successful in producing reliable supplies of food, but even wealthy, surplus-producing countries do not assure that food is available cheaply enough for all consumers. Supplementary public assistance, such as food stamps, is necessary to cover the affordability gap. Nor are many of the highly developed, industrial food systems sustainable in environmental terms. Damage to the productive capacity of natural resources is rarely integrated into the product pricing structures. Lowering of the groundwater level, pesticide pollution, the effects of poorly managed contaminants, and other environmental impacts generated by the system are rarely included in the price the consumer pays for the food. Rather, these costs are borne by the population at large or result in uncompensated degradation of the natural environment. In effect, failure to include environmental costs into costs of production results in transfers from future to current generations; that is, future generations will face higher costs of production because of the failure to incorporate environmental costs now. On the other hand, incorporating the costs of environmental degradation would increase food prices, and if inappropriately managed, could cause increasing hunger and malnutrition in current generations of low-income people. The rapid rise in global food prices in 2007-2008 and more recent price volatility have reminded the world of the continued importance of having nutritionally adequate food supplies that are affordable, available in sufficient quantities, and predictably available. It is generally agreed that in the next decades, growing populations and economic expansion will inevitably create supply disruptions and put upward pressure on prices unless agricultural production and productivity are increased; trade mechanisms become much more efficient; and policies are changed to reduce the affect on food crops, for example, those promoting the processing of food crops into biofuels. It is also generally agreed that the process of climate change will have a negative impact on the production potential of much of the tropics and sub-tropics, the area of the world in which population growth is currently most rapid. While greater productivity in temperate zones could partially compensate for this decline, it is not clear that redistribution from supplying areas to consuming areas could occur at affordable cost, nor is it clear how natural resources would be affected.
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OVERVIEW 3 In sum, “food security for all” is a significant sustainability challenge. Data on health and nutritional status, especially of children under 5 years of age, indicate that a substantial portion of the world’s seven billion people are not currently nutritionally secure. Data on ecosystem health and use of nonrenewable materials indicate that more natural resource-efficient means for producing the additional volumes of food are needed now to be prepared to feed a global population in excess of nine billion people expected to be reached by 2050 (FAO, 2010b). In order to better understand how sustainable food security could be achieved, the National Research Council’s Science and Technology for Sustainability Program hosted two workshops addressing the sustainability challenges associated with food security for all. The first workshop was titled Measuring Food Insecurity and Assessing the Sustainability of Global Food Systems. A second workshop was titled Exploring Sustainable Solutions for Increasing Global Food Supplies. The workshops were held on February 16-17, 2011 and May 2-4, 2011. Organized by a committee of experts appointed by the National Research Council, the first workshop involved presentations and discussions with a diverse group of experts who explored the availability and quality of commonly used indicators2 for food security and malnutrition, poverty, and natural resources and agricultural productivity as well as the data sources used. The overarching objective of the first workshop was to contribute to global efforts toward sustainable food security through the improvement of indicators used to assess and monitor progress in improving food and nutritional security and to review projections for increasing agricultural productivity while protecting the long term viability of critical natural resources. The specific objectives were: • To help establish the dimensions of the sustainable food security challenge; • To review commonly used indicators from the point of view of the data used (quality, frequency, consistency), construction of the metric or indicator and to analyze methodological strengths and weaknesses; • To review current uses and misuses of the indicators; • To identify options for improving existing processes and developing better data and indicators to meet the needs of users; and • To explore possible peer review mechanisms for improving the metrics3 and indicators and assuring the proper use for policies and programs. The first workshop was organized around the three broad dimensions of sustainable food security: (1) availability, (2) access, and (3) utilization. Within these topics, the workshop aimed to review the existing data (i.e., what we know and what we think we know) to encourage action and identify the knowledge gaps. The workshop was organized around the following topics: • Metrics for food insecurity and malnutrition, including both food consumption indicators and outcome indicators • Measures of national and global poverty and their use in policy making 2 Indicator is defined as “a characteristic that indicates a quality or state of a system (something that indicates something useful to someone based on one or more metrics, observations or both).” www.srl.gatech.edu/education/ME4171/IndicatorsMetrics.ppt. Accessed on June 6, 2011. 3 Metric is defined as “a quantitative measure or derivation from two or more measures, which may not necessarily indicate something useful to particular observers (a measure of something that does not necessarily indicate something useful).” See www.srl.gatech.edu/education/ME4171/IndicatorsMetrics.ppt. Accessed on June 6, 2011.
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4 A SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGE: FOOD SECURITY FOR ALL • Measures of agricultural productivity and natural resource use with regard to sustainable food security • Composite indicators for sustainable production and natural resource use • Plausible trajectories for sustainably increasing food supplies Throughout the workshop there were discussions about who uses these measures and for what; what metrics or data various decision makers really need and whether current indicators provide that information; what the priorities are for further research and investments in data collection and data development; whether numbers are comparable between countries and over time; and how good is good enough. Breakout sessions were organized to examine possible ways forward: how the right data and information can be provided within the right institutional and organizational system; how existing and new data collection efforts can be developed to efficiently provide needed information; what additional research is needed to inform processes and to develop more appropriate indicators; and what institutional arrangements are needed. On the theory that “you can’t manage what you can’t measure,” consideration during the first workshop was given to the metrics of: undernutrition or “hunger,” malnutrition, poverty, farm productivity, natural resource productivity (land, water, soil quality, etc.), and food supply chain efficiencies and losses. Participants noted that there were different ways of understanding and measuring these concepts and relating them to each other (e.g., household poverty and children’s heights) in meaningful ways. The use of different geographic scales was particularly striking, as relevant data on production and productivity, for example, related variously to households, fields, farm, landscapes, river basins, nations, regions, or continents. By being “spatially explicit,” it was believed that data and information relevant at smaller scales could also be meaningfully aggregated to meso- and macro-scales. Many workshop participants suggested that: • The quality of metrics is not as good as it needs to be for accurately understanding, monitoring, or predicting food security and the sustainability of food production processes given natural resource conditions, policies, and market incentives. • Suites of metrics/indicators are needed to understand the phenomena associated with sustainable food security (both availability of food and access of poor populations to it), although even existing suites of metrics are rarely integrated adequately for decision makers today. • There are few integrated sets of relevant data that are widely accessible and that allow analysts to work at sufficiently broad scales as well as at more local (including household) scales. While recognizing the critical importance of access to food, the second workshop, held in May 2011, focused on the question of sustainable food availability and the related natural resource constraints and policies. Individual and household food security depends on access to the food needed to meet food and nutritional needs, a condition strongly related to household income. Food availability is necessary, but not sufficient, for achieving food security. However, availability of sufficient food for current and future generations is critical and must be based on sustainable methods of production and distribution, that is, using available resources in such a way that their availability for production and distribution in the future is not compromised or
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OVERVIEW 5 precluded. Recent and current debate surrounding recent food price volatility and the impact of climate change on the future food supplies makes the topic very timely and important. The overall objective of the second workshop was to identify (i) the major barriers to expanding food production to meet future food demand without damaging the future productive capacity and (ii) policy, technology and governance interventions that could reduce these barriers and promote sustainable food availability as a basic pillar of sustainable food security. The second workshop involved a diverse set of participants: researchers, analysts, academics, and development leaders in a wide range of fields—food production, resource management, environmental conservation, climate, and others. Per Pinstrup-Andersen highlighted several themes elucidated during the workshop discussions. For example, although food supplies must be expanded to meet increasing demand arising from population growth and rising incomes, this increase in food supplies could—but may not—be done sustainably. While there was no agreement on how much future food prices would change, continued price volatility is expected. Most participants noted that the increase in production could come from more efficient use of land, water and labor. Sustainable intensification—increasing productivity without damaging the productive capacity of natural resources—is likely to be far more important, according to many participants, than the expansion of land devoted to agriculture. As much as 70 to 85 percent of the needed increase in production is likely to come from intensification. The remaining production increases may come from expanding land use sometime into areas poorly suited for agriculture, with serious environmental consequences. Some participants noted that additional research is warranted in order to reduce yield gaps and lift yield ceilings. Many workshop participants stressed the importance of farm-level intensification and improvements in soil quality and fertility. Lower levels of soil fertility are a particular problem in Sub-Saharan Africa, where soils have been severely mined over time. It is also important to recognize and manage critical ecosystem services and the need to internalize ecological costs. Many participants noted that such costs, as well as benefits, should be factored into prices to assure sustainable food supplies. Most workshop participants recognized the potential value of agro-ecological systems in reducing or avoiding continued natural resource degradation. However, adhering to the organic farming practices as defined in the United States and EU cannot provide the needed productivity increases. And if pursued on a scale needed to meet today’s demand, such practices would have significant environmental ramifications. Furthermore, organic production methods may result in larger emission of greenhouse gases. Most participants thought that farmers should consider using all scientifically viable methods, including GMOs (genetically modified organisms). Most participants stressed the need for investments in public goods, especially rural infrastructure (e.g., roads that would support expanding) and more efficient supply chains, and they also emphasized the importance of securing property rights for family farms. The private sector was seen by many to have a critical role in providing tools, new technologies and investments in the agricultural sector. There was considerable discussion about the importance of reducing post harvest wastes and losses, estimated to be as high as 30-40 percent of production, as a strategy to sustainably expand food supplies. A few participants suggested a number of ways to reduce these losses, noting that opportunities will vary by crop and by location. Participants also stressed the importance of understanding and adapting to climate change. Many noted that the effects of climate change are already being seen, with significant warming in many regions and changes in precipitation making it more difficult to increase
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6 A SUSTAINABILITY CHALLENGE: FOOD SECURITY FOR ALL productivity, especially for key food crops. Recent weather and agricultural production fluctuations illustrate the impact of climate change. Finally, some of the major factors identified by workshop participants that are likely to constrain the expansion of food supplies include the low priority given to agriculture by many developing country governments; inadequate international financial commitments to agriculture and agricultural research; institutional and infrastructure barriers to action by the private sector, including small holders; continued natural resource degradation; and many location specific challenges. Throughout the report, these themes are expanded upon. ORGANIZATION OF THE REPORT This report is divided into two parts. Part I is a summary of workshop one—Measuring Food Insecurity and Assessing the Sustainability of Global Food Systems. Part II is a summary of the second workshop—Exploring Sustainable Solutions for Increasing Global Food Supplies. Each of these sections includes a selected bibliography, workshop agenda, list of workshop participants, and biographies of speakers. In addition, for workshop one there is a background paper—What Do We Really Know? Metrics for Food Insecurity and Nutrition and a brief description of various household surveys cited in the report. The appendixes to the full report include biographies of the planning committee and the roster of members of the Academies Roundtable on Science and Technology for Sustainability. The report is limited in scope to the presentations, workshop discussions, and background documents distributed to the participants. The report does not necessarily reflect the views of the committee or the workshop participants as a whole.