Urgent action needed to avert global hunger, says report

January 24, 2011


A UK government-commissioned study into food security has called for urgent action to avert global hunger, warning that population growth and climate change present major threats to food security over coming decades.


Credit: 2007 Morgan Mbabazi, Courtesy of Photoshare

Global food and farming report

The Foresight Global Food and Farming Futures report says the current system is unsustainable and will fail to end hunger unless radically redesigned.

It is the first study across a range of disciplines deemed to have put such fears on a firm analytical footing.

The report is the culmination of a two-year study, involving 400 experts from 35 countries.

According to the government's chief scientific adviser Professor Sir John Beddington, the study provides compelling evidence for governments to act now.

The report emphasises changes to farming, to ensure that increasing yields does not come at the expense of sustainability and to provide incentives to the agricultural sector that address malnutrition.

It also recommends that the most resource-intensive types of food are curbed and that waste is minimised in food production.

"We know in the next 20 years the world population will increase to something like 8.3 billion people," he told BBC News.

"We know that urbanisation is going to be a driver and that something of the order of 65-70% of the world's population will be living in cities at that time."

"We know that the world is getting more prosperous and that the demand for basic commodities - food, water and energy - will be rising as that prosperity increases, increasing at the same time as the population."

He warned: "We have 20 years to arguably deliver something of the order of 40% more food; 30% more available fresh water and of the order of 50% more energy."

"We can't wait 20 years or 10 years indeed - this is really urgent."

Radical changes

Professor Beddington commissioned the study and was among the first to warn of "a perfect storm" of a growing population, climate change and diminishing resources for food production.

The Foresight report says that the food production system will need to be radically changed, not just to produce more food but to produce it sustainably.

"There is an urgency in taking what may be very difficult policy decisions" the authors say.

"(But) 925 million people suffer hunger and perhaps a further billion lack micronutrients. The task is difficult because the food system is working for the majority of people but those at risk of hunger have least influence on decision-making."

Professor Beddington also said he viewed the billion people who overeat and are therefore obese as another symptom of the failure of the food production system to deliver good health and well-being to the world's growing population.

The report says that "piecemeal" changes are not an option: "Nothing less is required than a redesign of the whole food system to bring sustainability to the fore." The authors are calling for food and agriculture to move up the political agenda and be co-ordinated with efforts to tackle the impact of climate change, water and energy supplies and the loss of farm land.

They also warn that there is no "silver bullet" that will solve the problem but concerted action is needed on many fronts.

Facing reality

Professor Beddington said: "We've got to actually face up to the fact that this is a complicated problem which involves vastly different levels of society and we need to be persuading policy makers not to think about food in isolation, not to think about climate change in isolation, not to think about water in isolation, not to think about energy in isolation. All of them are intimately related."

The report adds that new research can play an important role. It also says that the use of any particular technology, such as genetic modification, cloning and nanotechnology should not be ruled out. But it acknowledges that there is resistance to the application of controversial technologies.

"Achieving a strong evidence base (of the safety or otherwise) in controversial areas is not enough. Genuine public debate needs to play a crucial role," the report says.

However, by assessing 40 success stories from Africa the report authors say the spread of existing best-practice could treble food production.

"Ending hunger is one of the greatest challenges to be considered by this project," the report observes.

It calls for protection of the poorest from sharp price increases through government intervention and greater liberalisation of the trade in food in order to offset market volatility.

They also note that China has invested heavily in agriculture and is consequently one of the few countries to have met theMillennium Development Goal (MDG) of halving hunger.

The report also calls for new measures to hold governments and food producers to account. This would involve developing objective measures on how well they are doing to reduce hunger, combat climate change and environmental degradation and boosting food production.

Interview with Government Chief Scientist

In an interview available on the BBC website the UK government's chief scientist Professor Sir John Beddington, who commissioned the report, tells BBC Breakfast that population growth and climate change are the main problems facing food supplies in the future.

PSN comment and call for investment in family planning

Population and Sustainability Network welcomes the recent Foresight 'Global Food and Farming Futures' report commissioned by the UK government.

In recent years the world has already witnessed unprecedented levels of environmental degradation and increased shortages of natural resources, such as fresh water and agricultural land, which is impacting the hardest upon the world’s poor. The growth in the world's population that is projected to take place over the coming decades, combined with climate change, will present even greater challenges for ensuring global food security and promoting sustainable development.

We fully endorse the calls of the UK government chief scientific advisor Sir John Beddington for action to be taken immediately to address the complexity of issues outlined in the report that are likely to contribute to future global food insecurity. The most significant of these are the related issues of population pressures, climate change and overexploitation of natural resources.

It is crucial that population growth is not the 'missing link' when considering complex development issues such as food security, which are intrinsically linked to demand for and availability of natural resources.

Considerable opportunities do exist to reduce world population growth, yet this is a critical policy issue that is not considered in depth by the report. Worldwide there is a vast unmet need for contraception, with an estimated 215 million women who want to avoid pregnancy but who do not have access to contraception. Urgent investment in voluntary family planning services is required to address this gap and enable all women to plan and space their pregnancies as they wish. Increased investment in voluntary family planning programmes that respect and protect rights offers a proven and cost effective strategy for slowing population growth and helping achieve other development goals, and must be actioned in tandem with other measures to promote environmental sustainability and food security.

The full report is available here.

PSN and NGOs welcome new UNFPA Director

January 18, 2011


PSN alongside other NGOs has sent a letter to Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, welcoming him as the new UNFPA Executive Director and sharing recommendations for placing population issues on the global sustainable development agenda.

Credit: Eskinder Debebe/UN Photo

UNFPA meeting on population and sustainable development

In December 2010, UNFPA convened a group of civil society organizations to discuss population dynamics and sustainable development. As the world gears up for Rio+20, the UN Conference on Sustainable Development that will take place in Brazil in 2012, the meeting sought to build partnerships to advocate for the inclusion of population issues into the agendas of upcoming international environmental events. PSN's Karen Newman gave a presentation at the meeting on Experiences in linking population, gender and climate change.

Letter congratulates Dr Osotimehin

As an outcome of the meeting, a letter has been sent to Dr Babatunde Osotimehin, the new UNFPA Executive Director who began his UNFPA leadership on 1 January. Drafted by PSN’s Karen Newman and Roger-Mark De Souza of PAI on behalf of the various NGOs participants of the meetings, the letter congratulates Dr Osotimehin on his appointment and wishes him all the best for his leadership of the UNFPA.

Integrating population and sustainable development issues

The letter shared with Dr Osotimehin ideas and recommendations from the December UNFPA meeting on population and sustainable development issues, on issues that Dr Osotimehin may wish to prioritise as he takes up his UNFPA leadership responsibilities.

Key recommendations from the meeting included:

  • Regain strong leadership on population
  • Prioritize action leading to Rio+20 building on support from global Parliamentarians
  • Support building evidence to highlight population linkages to key sectors
  • Respect and protect human rights as an important organizing framework
  • Continue successful civil society engagement
  • Regenerate the Cairo agenda
  • Incorporate a gender focus in order to enhance sustainable development
  • Recognize youth as a positive force of change, and recognize the value of reaching both young men and women
  • Develop urgency regarding key priorities

Dr Osotimehin responds

PSN and the other NGOs that contributed to the letter are delighted to have already received a response from Dr Osotimehin, thanking us for the letter. In his correspondence Dr Osotimehin expressed that he will take the issues we raised into consideration as the UNFPA moves forward, and looks forward to working with the NGO collective in the future.

Further information about PSN’s work to place population issues on the Rio+20 agenda will be available on this website in the future.

Population growth ignored by MDGs, says development committee

January 13, 2011


The UK International Development Committee has published a report of the 2010 Millennium Development Goals Review Summit, urging that that future development targets take account of the need to address world population increase.


Credit: DFID

Reviewing the MDGs and looking beyond 2015

The report, published last month by the International Development Committee (a UK parliamentary committee of the House of Commons), shares the findings of an enquiry into the outcomes of the 2010 Millennium Development Goals Review Summit held in New York last September.

The report also examines the role of the UK Department for International Development (DFID) in helping achieve the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Looking ahead beyond 2015, the target year for achievement of the MDGs, proposals are put forward for a new international development framework.

Strong conclusions are made by the report about the lack of focus upon population growth within the current MDG framework, and about the need for a focus upon population issues by a future development framework.

The report highlights that the MDG framework does not explicitly address the issue of population growth, and that the summit outcome document didn't mention population at all. This is referred to as a “major oversight, given that the world’s population is growing and that many developing countries have high fertility rates.”

Future planning for how to accommodate extra people's needs is therefore highlighted as essential by the report.

DFID urged to prioritise addressing population growth

The fact that like the MDG Framework, DFID’s stated priorities do not explicit address the issue of population growth, is criticised by the report.

On this issue however, the report explains that; “The Secretary of State [UK International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell] agreed with us that DFID's current efforts to prioritise women's health should simultaneously seek to address population growth.”

Since the International Development Committee published the report, DFID has launched its strategy for improving reproductive, maternal and newborn health in the developing world. In the framework the UK government pledges to enable at least 10 million couples to access family planning over the next five years. The need to address population growth does command some attention in the reproductive health strategy, as recently reported by PSN.

The report urges DFID to take on a strong role in encouraging the international community to address population growth;

“As 2015 draws closer, we recommend that DFID advocate strongly that the post-2015 framework give sufficient attention to the issue of population growth so that future targets take account of the need to address the world's increasing number of people.”

The International Development Committee also report how contributors to the enquiry expressed concern about the lack of focus upon climate change.

Since the MDGs were created a decade ago awareness about the level of carbon emissions and changes to the world's climate has grown substantially. Climate change is now a major factor affecting sustainable development and poverty reduction strategies. As such the committee recommend that a post-2015 framework make climate change, the environment and biodiversity a priority.

The report warns that “progress on other targets will depend on addressing the wide-ranging impacts of climate change, such as crop failure, the increased incidence of natural disasters and new patterns of evacuees and refugees.”

“We encourage the UK Government to participate in discussions relating to such approaches at this early stage so that negotiations do not become rushed as 2015 approaches.”

PSN welcomes the report

Population and Sustainability Network welcomes the International Development Committee’s report and fully endorses its recommendations that the pressing issues of population growth and climate change must command urgent attention as part of any new development framework.

Intrinsic links exist between reproductive health, population and climate change adaptation and mitigation issues. We would encourage the International Development Committee and DFID to seek to increase awareness of these links and to advocate for the necessary integrated approaches. Given that rapid population growth can undermine the capacity of countries most affected by climate change to adapt, increased investment in voluntary family planning offers a clear opportunity for supporting adaptation to climate change, and promoting climate resilient development.

The full report is available at the UK parliament website.

Engineering solutions posed to address world population pressures

January 12, 2011


A groundbreaking report has been published by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (UK), putting forward urgent engineering solutions to the expected consequences of projected global population increase over the coming decades.


Credit: 2008 Martin Albrecht, Courtesy of Photoshare

World pressured by population growth

Population Explosion: Can the Planet Cope? is the first report of its kind by the engineering profession, published today by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE ).

Based on future population projections, the report warns that the world is hurtling towards ‘population overload’ with world population expected to peak in the latter half of the 21st century at around 9.5 billion, up from today’s level of 6.9 billion. This will place immense pressure on the environment and resources, putting billions at risk of hunger, thirst and slum conditions. There will be impacts for all countries, not only those with higher rates of population growth.

Urbanisation will soar. ‘Mega-cities’ of more than 10 million people will rise to 29 by 2025 and the urban population will increase from 3.3billion (2007) to 6.4 billion (2050).  Food will also become an increasingly precious commodity and developed areas such as the UK will be forced to stamp out its ‘throwaway’ lifestyle. Water consumption will increase by 30% by 2030 and there is projected to be a 50% hike in water extraction for industrial use in Asia. This, the report states, could create civil unrest and land battles for resources as climate change exacerbates these issues, potentially displacing up to 1 billion people over the next 40 years.

Engineering solutions hold the key

The report puts forward engineering solutions to the anticipated pressures exerted by population growth. Unless these are urgently implemented the report argues, then the projected 2.5 billion more people on earth by the end of this Century will crush the earth’s resources.

“The challenge is how to apply engineering knowledge, expertise and skills around the world to build a new sustainable future,” said Dr John Bongaarts, Vice President of the Population Council in New York. He worked along with Dr Fox and a 70-strong delegation of engineers around the world to compile the research.

“To have the public knowledgeable about it (the report) is crucial. Political actors in every country should bring this to the attention of their government. Societal infrastructure cannot keep up, in fact it is crumbling.”

According to the report, 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 Development Goals (MDG), the report says.

“Population increase will be the defining challenge of 21st Century, a global issue that will affect us all no matter where we live.  Britain is in a currently in a prime position where it has, at its fingertips, some of the most groundbreaking engineering solutions in the world – and the brightest and most educated engineers. We need to work right now with the Department For International Development to set up a knowledge ‘swap-shop’ of engineering skills with other countries.”

The Five Engineering Development Goals

These goals, proposed by the report are:

  1. Energy: Use existing sustainable energy technologies and reduce energy waste
  2. Water: Replenish groundwater resources, improve storage of excess water and increase energy efficiencies of desalination.
  3. Food: Reduce food waste and resolve the politics of hunger.
  4. Urbanisation: Meet the challenges of slums and defending against sea-level rises.
  5. Finance: Empower communities and enable implementation.

PSN comment and calls for investment in family planning

Population and Sustainability Network welcomes the report by the Institute of Mechanical Engineering that sets out how engineers can respond to the difficulties posed by future world population growth and increasing urbanisation.

The growth in the world’s population that is projected to take place over the coming decades will present a great range of developmental challenges. It is vital that governments consider and implement as necessary, the important roles highlighted by the report that engineers can play in helping meet the challenges of ensuring food, water, shelter and energy for the future world population. Support must be made available to countries of the global South to help them to utilise sustainable technological solutions.

We also emphasise that opportunities to reduce world population growth do exist, before the world’s population reaches the projected level assumed by the report. There are an estimated 215 million women worldwide who want to avoid pregnancy but do not have access to contraception. Urgent investment in voluntary family planning services that respect and protect rights is required to address this vast unmet need, to ensure that women are able to makes choices about their own fertility. This strategy offers a proven and cost effective strategy for slowing population growth and helping achieve other development goals, and must be pursued alongside efforts to address the consequences posed by world population growth.

The full report is available on the Institute of Mechanical Engineering’s website.