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January 12, 2011

Realistic Agricultural yield increases can sustainably feed everyone in 2050 and another study shows we can house them too

(12 page summary)

Agrimonde describes the findings of a huge five-year modeling exercise by the French national agricultural and development research agencies, INRA and CIRAD.

The French team began with a goal – 3000 calories per day for everyone, including 500 from animal sources – then ran a global food model repeatedly, with and without environmental limits on farming. The aim was to see how the calorie goal could be achieved. The model suggested that realistic yield increases could feed everyone, even as farms take measures to protect the environment, such as preserving forests or cutting down on the use of fossil fuels. The key will be to tailor detailed solutions to different regions.

"We found three main conditions," says Hervé Guyomard of INRA. "The biggest surprise was that some regions will depend even more on imports", even as their production rises. This, he says, means that we will need to find ways to counter excessive fluctuations in world prices so that imports are not hindered.



The world will have to make farming more productive but less dependent on harmful chemicals, curb food losses and waste, protect the environment and reduce agriculture's exposure to disastrous price swings
The Agrimonde study said that North Africa and the Middle East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, all with fast-growing populations today, will be heavily dependent on imported food in 2050

Under a business-as-usual scenario, all regions in the world would enjoy strong economic growth, invest heavily in research, innovation, education, health and infrastructure. But, under this scenario, there is not a high priority to the environment, with resulting damage to ecosystems.

Under the second scenario, environmental integrity is a key factor.

To achieve this goal in sustainability, rich countries in particular would have to reduce excessive consumption that leads to obesity and tackle loss and waste in food distribution and use that today runs at around 25 percent of production.

Agriculture everywhere would have to be more economical in fossil fuels and make less use of chemicals.

Genetic manipulation of plants to boost yields would be necessary. However, smarter ways of traditional cross-breeding are emerging as good alternatives to genetic engineering, which is a hot political issue in many countries, he said.

There would have to be changes in trade rules so that the food supply line to importing countries becomes stronger and more resilient, thus easing the price shocks that hit producer or customer.

AGO supposes that yields will palpably increase by 2050, albeit at lower rates than those observed over the 1961-2000 period except in two regions, the former USSR and sub-Saharan Africa. For the planet as a whole, yields should increase by 1.14% per year in the AGO scenario, or half as fast as in the 1961-2000 period (2.01%).Annual yield gains will be much more modest in the AG1 scenario, at a global average of 1.14%, and ranging from 0% in Asia and the OECD countries to a maximum of 1.33%
in the former Soviet Union

2. The UK's Institution of Mechanical Engineers has a report out this week shows how humanity already has at its disposal all the tools to make room for as many as 9 billion people.

There are "no insurmountable technical issues in meeting the needs of 9 billion people... sustainable engineering solutions largely exist", the engineers write in Population: One Planet, Too Many People?

Energy, food, water, urbanisation and finance are the five areas which will be significantly affected by the effects of population growth. These are dubbed Engineering Development Goals (EDG) and should be the next step for the UN’s Millennium Goals (MDG), the report says.

Switching the world to low-carbon energy, for instance, does not require more research breakthroughs. We need instead to fix "market failures" that prevent widespread adoption of extant technologies, like concentrated solar energy and nuclear power.

The report even sidelines some traditional engineering solutions. Forget large dams, it says – increased water storage should come from recharging aquifers with treated waste water and flood waters.

Slums need help to improve, not by demolition ball. The report says the world should adopt a series of engineering goals to sit alongside the United Nations' existing millennium development goals.

Four key areas in which population growth and expanding affluence will significantly challenge society are: food, water, urbanisation and energy.

Food: An increase in the number of mouths to feed and changes in dietary habits, including the increased consumption of meat, will double demand for agricultural production by 2050. This will place added pressures on already stretched resources coping with the uncertain impacts of climate change on global food production.

Water: Extra pressure will come not only from increased requirements for food production, which uses 70% of water consumed globally, but also from a growth in demand for drinking water and industrial processing as we strive to satisfy consumer aspirations. Worldwide demand for water is projected to rise 30% by 2030, this in a world of shifting rainfall patterns due to global warming-induced climate changes that are difficult to predict.

Urbanisation: With cities in the developing world expanding at an unprecedented rate, adding another three billion urban inhabitants by 2050, solutions are needed to relieve the pressures of overcrowding, sanitation, waste handling and transportation if we are to provide comfortable, resilient and efficient places for all to live and work.

Energy: Increased food production, water processing and urbanisation, combined with economic growth and expanding affluence, will by mid-century more than double the demand on the sourcing and distribution of energy. This at a time when the sector is already under increasing pressure to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (on average across the globe to 50% of 1990 levels), adapt to uncertain future impacts of a changing climate and ensure security of future supply.

In meeting these needs and demands, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers recommends the following:

1. The adoption by governments of five Engineering Development Goals alongside the UN Millennium Development Goals. In the key areas of food, water, urbanisation and energy, engineers have the knowledge and skills to help meet the challenges that are projected to arise. There is no need to delay action while waiting for the next great technical discovery or a breakthrough in thinking on population control. In this report we present five Engineering Development Goals for priority action and crisis prevention. Governments around the world must adopt these goals and start working with the engineering profession on delivery targets if we are to build on The Millennium Development Goals.

The Institution's Five Engineering Developing Goals are:

Energy: Use existing sustainable energy technologies and reduce energy waste. Don't wait for new technologies to be developed

Water: Replenish groundwater sources, improve storage of excess water and increase energy efficiencies of desalination

Food: Reduce food waste and resolve the politics of hunger

Urbanisation: Meet the challenge of slums and defending against sea-level rises

Finance: Empower communities and enable implementation

2. Provide all nations and leaders with engineering expertise. Many governments around the world lack high-quality engineering advice and guidance to make informed decisions for implementation of the Engineering Development Goals (recommendation 1). Many developed nations already provide assistance in areas of medical knowledge and primary/secondary education with great success – the UK does via Department for International Development (DFID). The Institution recommends that the remit of DFID be expanded to train and second civil, mechanical, water, agricultural and electrical engineers to provide other governments with low-cost, practical and up-to-date engineering expertise.

3. Help the developing world to ‘leapfrog’ the resource-hungry dirty phase of industrialisation. The majority of future economic and population growth is projected to occur in the South. However, knowledge of potential sustainable solutions, and experience of the failings from unsustainable dirty industrial activity, are currently concentrated in the North. If economic market forces are left to be the sole or major driver of intervention and action is delayed, then the same errors are likely to be made. Nations in the developed world, such as the UK, must help the developing world to leapfrog the high-emissions resource-hungry phase of early industrialisation to reduce the environmental impact on us all.

Successfully Transforming Slums

The internationally renowned Favela-Bairro neighbourhood improvement programme in Rio de Janeiro has brought basic infrastructure and municipal and social services to the slums of that city. The first phase in 1995 concentrated on infrastructure improvement that included water, sewage and transportation improvements along with maintenance issues such as refuse collection. The second phase concentrated on more social aspects such as the construction of child-care centres, the training of community members in hygiene along with action on property rights, highlighting the importance of security and tenure in community development.

One of the most proven routes to success in the redevelopment of slum areas is the inclusion of the inhabitants in the decision-making and planning process. This approach has been taken in Thailand with the national Baan Mankong (secure housing) programme aimed at targeting the Millennium Development Goals. Instead of direct intervention by local or regional government, the programme channels infrastructure financing and housing loans direct to poor communities, who plan and carry out improvements, thus handing the communities a central role. Programmes in this style also have the benefit of altering the relationships between the community leaders and the administration of the cities, instilling confidence in the urban poor groups that they can influence solutions.

The full 48 page report

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