Environmental threats could push billions into extreme poverty, warns UN

March 17, 2013

SOURCE: The Guardian

The number of people living in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless urgent action is taken to tackle environmental challenges, a major UN report warned on Thursday.


UN Photo/Sophia Paris 

The 2013 Human Development Report hails better than expected progress on health, wealth and education in dozens of developing countries but says inaction on climate change, deforestation, and air and water pollution could end gains in the world's poorest countries and communities.

"Environmental threats are among the most grave impediments to lifting human development … The longer action is delayed, the higher the cost will be," warns the report, which builds on the 2011 edition looking at sustainable development.

"Environmental inaction, especially regarding climate change, has the potential to halt or even reverse human development progress. The number of people in extreme poverty could increase by up to 3 billion by 2050 unless environmental disasters are averted by co-ordinated global action," said the UN.

"Far more attention needs to be paid to the impact human beings are having on the environment … Climate change is already exacerbating chronic environmental threats, and ecosystem losses are constraining livelihood opportunities, especially for poor people. A clean and safe environment should be seen as a right, not a privilege."

Poverty eradicaton agenda can't ignore environmental challenges

The British prime minister, David Cameron, and US president Barack Obama have both made eradicating extreme poverty a key plank in their respective development agendas.

The proportion of people living under US$ 1.25 a day is estimated to have fallen from 43% in 1990 to 22% in 2008, driven in part by significant progress in China. As a result, the World Bank last year said the millennium development goal to halve the proportion of people living in extreme poverty by 2015 had been met ahead of schedule.

Thursday's report says more than 40 countries have done better than previously expected on the UN's human development index (HDI), which combines measures of health, wealth and education, with gains accelerating over the past decade. Introduced in 1990, the index aims to challenge gross domestic product and other purely economic assessments of national wellbeing. Norway and Australia are highest in this year's HDI, while the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Niger are ranked lowest.

The South is driving economic growth and new development routes

Some of the largest countries - including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia, South Africa and Turkey – have made the most rapid advances, it says, but there has also been substantial progress in smaller economies, such as Bangladesh, Chile, Ghana, Mauritius, Rwanda and Tunisia. This has prompted significant rethinking on routes to progress, says the report: "The south as a whole is driving global economic growth and societal change for the first time in centuries."

The report points to cash-transfer programmes in Brazil, India and Mexico as examples of where developing countries have pioneered policies for advancing human development, noting how these efforts have helped narrow income gaps and improve the health and education prospects of poor communities. The presence of proactive "developmental states", which seek to take strategic advantage of world trade opportunities but also invest heavily in health, education and other critical services, emerges as a key trend.

The rise of China and India, which doubled their per capita economic output in fewer than 20 years, has driven an epochal "global rebalancing", argues the report, bringing about greater change and lifting far more people out of poverty than the Industrial Revolution that transformed Europe and North America in the 18th and 19th centuries. "The Industrial Revolution was a story of perhaps 100 million people, but this is a story about billions of people," said Khalid Malik, lead author of the report.

Social policy is as important as economic policy

The report singles out "short-sighted austerity measures", inaction in the face of stark social inequalities, and the lack of opportunities for citizen participation as critical threats to progress – both in developing countries and in European and North American industrial powers. "Social policy is at least as important as economic policy," Malik told the Guardian. "People think normally you're too poor to afford these things. But our argument is you're too poor not to."

He said more representative global institutions are needed to tackle shared global challenges. China, with the world's second largest economy and biggest foreign exchange reserves, has only a 3.3% share in the World Bank, notes the report, less than France's 4.3%. Africa, with a billion people in 54 nations, is under-represented in almost all international institutions. "If institutions are not seen as legitimate, people don't play, or don't play nice," Malik said.

Developing countries now hold two-thirds of the world's US$ 10.2 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, including more than US$ 3tn in China alone, and nearly three-quarters of the US$ 4.3tn in assets controlled by sovereign wealth funds worldwide, notes the report, adding: "Even a small share of these vast sums could have a swift measurable impact on global poverty and human development."

Data and analysis on the report is available from The Guardian. 

This article, published by The Guardian, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

PSDA participates in Post-2015 Global Leadership Meeting on Population Dynamics

March 16, 2013


The Global Leadership Meeting on Population Dynamics convened this week in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and was attended by The Population and Sustainable Development Alliance (PSDA). The draft outcome document is now available, containing a number of recommendations and inputs from PSDA.


Credit: The world we want

Concluding meeting of post-2015 population dynamics consultation

The Global Leadership Meeting took place on 12-13 March, attended by government representatives and a small number of invited civil society representatives, including PSN's Karen Newman who participated on behalf of PSDA representing the sexual and reproductive health and rights community.

Following on from the recent civil society meeting attended by the alliance, the meeting followed a similar format with discussions focusing on the four trends: high fertility and population growth; low fertility and population aging; migration and human mobility; and urbanization.

Leaders at the meeting reached consensus on the meeting’s outcome document, the Dhaka Declaration on the Global Leadership Meeting on Population Dynamics in the context of the Post- 2015 Development Agenda.

summary report of  the meeting is available from the IISD Reporting Service, which notes that a;

"number of issues representing convergence across the four mega-themes emerged during the discussions over
the two days, including: putting humans at the center of
the development agenda and the discussion on population dynamics; the need for public-private partnerships, and inter- ministerial and cross-sectoral collaboration; and support for rights-based and gender-responsive approaches to address the challenges and opportunities associated with population dynamics."

PSDA inputs to the draft report – add yours!

Following the meeting the latest draft of the report and outcome document of the population dynamics consultation is now available for review and comment.

The report contains a number of recommendations which PSDA supports and has been putting forward as part of the consultation, including:

  • The importance of rights-based and gender-sensitive approaches to addressing population dynamics, including investment in sexual and reproductive health.
  • The need for systematic use of population data to develop forward-looking development policies, strategies, goals and targets based on projected changes in population size, location and age structures.

PSDA has commented on the report, welcoming these recommendations and emphasizing that;

"The advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) and gender equality is critical for addressing and seizing the opportunities associated with population dynamics, and for the overall achievement of sustainable development. Population dynamics and SRHR must be recognised as cross-cutting issues that are crucial to each of the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainable development. Only when universal access to reproductive health is realized (MDG 5B), and all women have the ability to choose the number, timing and spacing of their pregnancies can sustainable development be achieved. As such, we recommend that targets and indicators focusing on SRHR, including those relating to access to SRHR services and unmet need for contraception, are integrated across relevant development goals. For example those which population dynamics and SRHR have implications for by shaping demand for, supply and quality of essential resources, and services such as water, food, health and education."

An annex to the report presents key civil society comments and inputs to the consultation, including a number of contributions from PSDA and individual alliance members.


The final report of the consultation on population dynamics in the Post-2015 development agenda has now been published, it includes quotes and recommendations from PSDA.

EuroNGOs position paper: population dynamics in the post-2015 agenda

March 8, 2013


PSN has contributed to a new position paper by EuroNGOs entitled Addressing population dynamics in the post-2015 development framework: fulfilling rights, empowering women, investing in youth, advancing sustainable development.


Credit: UN Photo/Olivier Chassot 

Anchoring population dynamics to SRHR

The paper discusses population dynamics in the context of sustainable development and makes the case for population issues to be an integral part of the post-2015 agenda and to be firmly and explicitly
anchored to sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR).

Produced ahead of next week’s Global Leadership Meeting on Population Dynamics taking place in Dhaka as part of the post-2015 consultations, the paper provides a useful advocacy tool for SRHR advocates.

The paper draws on PSN's policy briefing on population dynamics and SRHR in the post-2015 agenda. PSN contributed to the development of the paper, alongside Commat and several other  members of the EuroNGOs network of European organisations for sexual and reproductive health, population and development.

Policy Recommendations

The paper sets out how the post-2015 development framework can successfully address the challenges and seize the opportunities related to population dynamics by:

  • Fulfilling rights: grounding policies that seek to address population dynamics in human rights, with respect to fundamental freedoms and achievement of universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.
  • Empowering women and girls: recognising that addressing gender inequality and injustice must be central to the agenda and offers opportunities to address and seize the challenges and opportunities associated with population dynamics.
  • Investing in youth: to empower youth to realize their potential and drive positive change to achieve sustainable development.
  • Rights-based integration of population dynamics: by taking into account population-related trends and data by development strategies and planning.

Read the paper

Integrated PHE project in Philippines is a success story

March 1, 2013

SOURCE: Sierra Club

An opinion piece by Sierra Club has highlighted a Population Health Environment (PHE) programme integrating family planning with with marine conservation, by Population and Sustainable Development Alliance member Path Foundation Philippines, Inc.


Credit: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN

Population pressures and reproductive health needs

The Philippines, roughly the size of Arizona, is home to 103 million people - compare that to the entire U.S. population of 313 million. The population of the Philippines is expected to double in size by 2080. Rice is the staple food, while fish provides most of the protein.

The Philippines has one of the highest birth rates in the world and the highest teen pregnancy rate in the Asian Pacific. To feed its people, the Philippines imports more rice than any other country on the planet and its oceans show severe signs of overfishing.

Something had to be done, which is why Philippine President Benigno Aquino late last year signed the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012. To poor women in the Philippines, this means that government health centers will have to make reproductive health education, maternal health care and contraceptives available to everyone. It is a life-saving measure that will help end the cycle of poverty in this Southeast Asia island nation.

In the slums of its capital, Manila, it is not uncommon for women to have 12, 16 or even 22 pregnancies. However, many of the children die from treatable diseases, such as diarrhea. One woman, who had 22 pregnancies and has 17 surviving children, said, "Many times, we sleep without eating." One of the reasons for enacting the reproductive health law is to help break the cycle of poverty and provide help to a woman and her 10 surviving children, for example, who comb toxic dump sites for a meager $7 a day to live on.

"The Philippines’ combination of high population growth and limited land area (nearly all of which is near the coast) makes the country extremely vulnerable to the effects of climate change. ... Population growth, climate change and deforestation will only increase the severity of… disasters," reported Hannah Marqusee in "Life on the Edge: Climate Change and Reproductive Health in the Philippines."

"The archipelago’s vast biodiversity is in crisis.… Two-thirds of native plant and animal species are endemic to the islands and nearly half of them are threatened. ... Less than 10 percent of the islands’ original vegetation remains and 70 percent of the 27,000 square kilometers of coral reefs are in poor condition," notes Marqusee.

Integrated programmes demonstrate results

With the help of funding from USAID (U.S. Agency for International Development) and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), pilot studies have shown that integrated population, health and environment programs have made inroads in saving the environment.

In one community supported by a PATH Foundation Phillipines, Inc. family planning program, with funding from USAID, parents were able to choose to have smaller families. There the family size went from an average of 12 children to no more than four children over the first six years of the program. The community set up a marine preserve to protect the fish and eventually boost the declining catch. They monitor for illegal fishing practices such as dynamiting or the use of cyanide or banned nets that destroy the spawning grounds and coral reefs. One man in the community noted that if they can “control the number of children, they don’t need as much fish."

Sam Eaton, maker of the film "Food for 9 Billion: Turning the Population Tide in the Philippines," notes that people empowered by their ability to control their future can make a better future for their children. When children are hungry, people are not thinking about the future but about how they can feed their children today.

Imelda Albano, president of the Philippine Network of Environmental Journalists, commented that, with the reproductive health law, the country will no longer have to depend on international donors but can now do something for itself. She also noted that politicians in the Philippines are running for office with climate change a large part of their platform.

This progress is not without detractors. Eighty percent of the people in the Philippines are Catholic. The Catholic Church is vehemently opposed to the law, has filed suit to overturn it, and has threatened excommunication for the president and any politicians who support it. One 44-year-old woman, a devout Catholic with 16 children, said, "We don’t pay attention to (the Church’s opposition). They are not the ones who are giving birth again and again. We are the ones who have to find a way to care for the children."

With sequestration looming in the U.S., assistance to important international programs supported by USAID and UNFPA are in jeopardy. Population Action International estimates that cuts will deny access to contraceptive services and supplies to an additional 1.68 million women and couples in developing countries overseas, and result in 1,292 more maternal deaths each year.

While the Philippines is making forward strides, some of our lawmakers in the U.S. want to take us backward. Numerous suits have been filed opposing contraceptive coverage in the U.S. Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. 

It is vital that all women, here and overseas, have the ability to decide for themselves the size of their families. With pilot programs in the Philippines as an example, we see that women choose smaller families, and that, in the long run, helps the environment.

This article, written by Bonnie Tillery of the New Jersey chapter of Sierra Club has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and additions may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance. 

PSN and PSDA participate in UN population dynamics thematic consultation meeting

February 21, 2013


PSN and other representatives of the Population and Sustainable Development Alliance joined civil society representatives in Geneva this week for the population dynamics civil society global thematic consultation meeting.


The world we want

A global meeting

The meeting on 18-19 February brought together over 40 civil society representatives working on the following areas: population growth, sexual and reproductive health and rights, migration, ageing and urbanization. The meeting was convened by the agencies coordinating the consultation, the UNFPA, the UN Department for Economic and Social Affairs, UN HABITAT, International Organization for Migration, alongside the governments of Switzerland and Bangladesh.

The consultation focused on how population dynamics should be integrated into the post-2015 development agenda. The main purpose of the meeting was to provide an opportunity for civil society organisations to contribute to the draft outcome document for the population dynamics thematic consultation A Call to Integrated Population Dynamics into the Post-2015 Development, Recommendations of the Global Thematic Consultation on Population Dynamics the Post-2015 Development Agenda.

Critical issues for post-2015

Input and recommendations were sought on how population issues can be incorporated in the new development agenda, focusing on the following four major areas:

  • High population growth and large youth populations
  • Population ageing and decline
  • Internal and international migration
  • Urbanization, cities and sustainable development

Working in groups focusing on these areas representatives drafted recommendations to feed into the consultation outcome document.

There were a large number of representatives from the sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) community, including representation from the following member organisations of the Population and Sustainable Development Alliance (PSDA): DFPA, IPPF, PAI, Path Foundation Philippines Inc. and PSN.

As well as working in the population growth group, several representatives of SRHR- focused organisations, including PSN’s Sarah Fisher, joined the other groups to ensure focus on SRHR as a cross-cutting area of importance to all population dynamics.

Next steps for the consultation

The meeting was one of a series held for the consultation, and contributions added to those made previously by the expert group meeting in November 2012, and a meeting in January with the private sector. As well as inputting to the draft outcome document for the thematic consultation currently being worked on by the co-sponsors, the meeting also provided opportunities to provide input to a draft Dhaka Declaration for the High Level Leadership meeting in Dhaka Bangladesh on 12-13 March 2013.

Have your say

  • E-discussions as part of the population dynamics consultation are on-going.
  • UPDATE: The final report of the consultation on population dynamics in the Post-2015 development agenda has now been published, it includes quotes and recommendations from PSDA.

UN to hold special session in 2014 on population

February 21, 2013

SOURCE: Associated Press / The Washington Post

The U.N. General Assembly has decided to hold a special session next year to assess implementation of the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development, adopted by world leaders nearly two decades ago to slow population growth and advance reproductive health and rights. 



Credit: UN Photo

Marking the 20th anniversary of ICPD

The 193-member General Assembly adopted a resolution by consensus summoning heads of state and government to the Sept. 22, 2014 meeting. It will mark the 20th anniversary of the UN International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo when some 180 nations adopted a plan that focused on sexual and reproductive health, development and women’s empowerment.

Since the Cairo conference in 1994, the world’s population has grown from 5.7 billion to about 7 billion. Last month, the UN’s top population official, Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin, Executive Director of UNFPA, said the world will add a billion people within a decade, creating further challenges for sustainable development

ICPD remains as critical as ever

Kenya's deputy UN ambassador Koki Muli, whose country spearheaded approval of the resolution, said the "forward-looking" action plan adopted in Cairo in 1994 set the stage for the UN women’s conference in Beijing in 1995 and remains relevant today. She said there will be no final document from the 2014 session, a move that will avoid contentious negotiations on issues such as reproductive rights for women, sex education, abortion and family planning.

The Cairo conference shifted international focus on population from numerical targets to promoting choices for individual women and men, and supporting economic development and education for girls. One factor underlying the shift was research showing that educated women have smaller families.

Osotimehin of the UNFPA, called last month for governments to do more to ensure that women have access to family planning and for girls to receive “comprehensive sexuality education.”

A comprehensive approach

The Cairo conference recognized for the first time the need for a comprehensive approach to addressing rapid population growth and broke the taboo on discussing sexuality, adolescent sexual behaviour and the real concerns of women and families.

At the heart of the 1994 action plan is a demand for equality of women through education, access to modern contraceptives as part of comprehensive rights-based sexual and reproductive health services, and the right to choose if and when to become pregnant. The only reservation added at the conference was that this should be in accordance with national laws, religion and culture.

The document established the right to reproductive health and access to family planning, and stressed the need to raise the status of women and give girls equal education. It also recognized that abortion is practiced around the world and should be treated as a major public health issue and indicated that affordable and acceptable family planning is central to achieving safe motherhood.

This article, published by the Washington Post, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.  

Beyond2015 population dynamics position paper

February 20, 2013


PSN has contributed to a position paper on population dynamics in the post-2015 development agenda by the global civil society campaign Beyond2015. 

The world we want


The paper recognizes that population dynamics and sexual and reproductive health and rights will have a major impact on the post-2015 development agenda and the achievement of socially inclusive and environmentally sustainable development.

Providing an overview of the significance of various population dynamics, including population growth, migration, urbanization and ageing the paper argues that population dynamics determine the size and shape of development challenges.

A comprehensive list of recommendations are made for addressing population dynamics in the post-2015 agenda in ways that respect and protect human rights.

The briefing is part of a series of papers developed by the Beyond2015 campaign, focusing on each of the post-2015 thematic consultation areas.

PSN is a member of the Beyond2015 campaign and PSN’s Sarah Fisher contributed to the paper as a member of the drafting committee.

Download the paper from the Beyond2015 website. 

Towards universal access to reproductive health in the Philippines

January 23, 2013

SOURCE: Huffington Post

The Executive Director of the UNFPA reflects on a reproductive health bill in the Philippines, which has taken 15 years to pass and will allow poor women access to affordable contraception for the first time. 


Credit: Jason Gutierrez/IRIN

Breakthrough for women's health and rights

A new law that went into force on January 16 in the Philippines requires the government to meet the unmet need for voluntary family planning information and supplies, especially for the country's poorest people and marginalized groups. The law also requires that age-appropriate sexuality education be taught in all public schools.

Advocates hail the law as a breakthrough for women's health and rights and say it will reduce maternal deaths and unplanned pregnancies, especially among teenagers, bolster development and enable all segments of society to decide freely and responsibly when, whether and how often to have children.

This is in line with the International Conference for Population and Development Programme for Action, a landmark consensus reached by 179 governments, including the Philippines, nearly two decades ago. This consensus reinforced an international agreement reached in 1968 at the International Conference on Human Rights, where the Philippines delegation was led by Raphael Salas, who later became the first executive director of UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund.

Poor women feel the burden of unmet need

The unmet need for voluntary family planning among the Philippines' poor has been high, leading many women and adolescents to become pregnant earlier and more often than they intend. On average, the country's poorest women have two more children than they say they want. The fertility rates among the poor are nearly three times higher than among the country's rich, who have for years enjoyed access to family planning through private providers.

In the Philippines - and everywhere else - the toll that unplanned pregnancies takes is high, especially for girls, who may drop out of school, get trapped in low-wage jobs, and are at increased risk of potentially fatal complications. Women who lack the power and means to decide how many children often become caught in a life-long downward cycle of poverty, exclusion, poor health, and even maternal death and disabilities.

The latest The State of World Population report, published by UNFPA, reminds the world that family planning is a long-established human right that unlocks the door to other rights and opportunities. And because it is a right, it must be made available to all, not just the wealthy or otherwise privileged. But across the developing world, family planning is still out of reach for 222 million women. Laws like the one just passed in the Philippines can go a long way towards enabling women, especially the poor and marginalized, to exercise their fundamental rights.

Family planning: a critical investment

The potential rewards from universal access to family planning are numerous and indisputable. Research shows that family planning can empower a woman and transform her life, through higher incomes and educational attainment, better health, and greater involvement in her community and in her own household's affairs. Family planning is clearly one of the most critically important investments that we can make in health, in women's rights, and in the life trajectories of young people.

Expanding access to voluntary family planning and ensuring that all individuals, regardless of income or status, are able to exercise sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights, is no small undertaking and requires more than simply increasing supplies of contraceptives. It is also necessary to tear down economic, social and other barriers that prevent hundreds of millions of women, men and young people from accessing information and services. The new law in the Philippines will help tear down some of these barriers and enable the country to move closer to achieving the Millennium Development Goal target of universal access to reproductive health by 2015.

The Philippines - and the entire global human community - has spoken: Family planning is here to stay. The next great challenge is to make it available to all, for the sake of equity, health, rights and empowerment.

This article, written by Executive Director of the United Nations Population Fund Dr. Babatunde Osotimehin and published by The Huffington Post, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

Son preference drives population growth in India

January 14, 2013

SOURCE: Guttmacher Institute

A new study has highlighted that preference for sons in India is undermining desire for smaller families and slowing decline in population growth. 


Credit: UN Photo/P. Sudhakaran 

Desire for sons is driving large families

Despite a strong family planning program and a growing desire for smaller families, women in India often have more children than they would like because of a longstanding preference for sons over daughters.

A new study exploring this issue finds that continued childbearing driven by son preference accounts for 7% of all births in the country. According to the research, women were more likely to stop having children if their last child had been a son rather than a daughter. The author also found a strong relationship between family size and the proportion of female children in a family.

Son preference has come into conflict with the desire for smaller families in many parts of South, East and Central Asia, where a much higher value is placed on men than on women. This analysis, which used data from India's 2005–2006 National Family Health Survey on women aged 35–49 who had at least one child, found that the desire for sons is a key driver of women having another child. Indian women without any sons are more likely to continue having children than those without any daughters.

For example, women whose first child was a daughter were more likely to have another child than those whose first child was a son, and women whose first two children were daughters were more likely to have another child than those whose first two children were sons.

Social norms driving gender inequalities must be addressed

Indian girls are more likely to grow up in larger families than boys do; in such families, fewer resources are available to each child, and girls are likely to receive a smaller share of those resources than their brothers, leading to gender disparities in health, education and other outcomes.

Given that India is expected to become the world's most populous country by 2025, it is critical that government policies help families achieve their childbearing goals. To date, while programs aimed at increasing women's education have been linked to declines in unwanted births, the preference for sons still leads couples to have larger families than they would like.

The author highlights South Korea as an example of a country where urbanization and rapid economic development reversed an imbalance in the sex ratio through their impact on underlying social norms. Chaudhuri argues that it is imperative for government programs to reduce the preference for sons by challenging perceptions that sons are more valuable than daughters and continuing to improve women's status in society.

Read the full study

The study The Desire for Sons and Excess Fertility: A Household-Level Analysis of Parity Progression in India by Sanjukta Chaudhuri, is currently available online and appears in the December 2012 issue of International Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health published by the Guttmacher Institute.

This article, published by Guttmacher Institute, has been reproduced by PSN. Minor changes and cuts may have been made for the purpose of brevity and relevance.

Global food waste must be addressed to feed growing world population

January 10, 2013


Up to fifty per cent of all food produced worldwide goes to waste, according to a new report by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (UK) highlighting a crucial issue to be overcome if the increasing demands for food over coming decades are to be sustainably met. 


Credit: IMecheE

Feeding the 9 billion: the tragedy of food waste

Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not published today by the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (IMechE) examines the tragedy of global food waste, particularly given the increasing pressures humanity faces to produce more food due to changing consumer preferences and the world's population being expected to reach 9.3 billion by the middle of this century, up from today’s 7 billion. By mid-century a 70% increase in demand for agricultural production will have emerged, the report states.

By the end of the century there could be an extra three billion mouths to feed, a period in which substantial changes are anticipated in the wealth, calorific intake and dietary preferences of people in developing countries, at the same time as changing demographic trends in developed countries will have implications for food production and security.

Such a projection presents mankind with wide ranging social, economic, environmental and political issues that need to be addressed today to ensure a sustainable future for all. One key issue is how to produce more food in a world of finite resources.

Today, we produce about four billion metric tonnes of food per annum. Yet due to poor practices in harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as market and consumer wastage, it is estimated that 30–50% (or 1.2–2 billion tonnes) of all food produced never reaches a human stomach.

Furthermore, this figure does not reflect the fact that large amounts of land, energy, fertilisers and water have also been lost in the production of foodstuffs which simply end up as waste. This level of wastage is a tragedy that cannot continue if we are to overcome increasing pressures on land, water and energy usage and succeed in the challenge of sustainably meeting our future food demands.

In less-developed countries, such as those of sub-Saharan Africa and South-East Asia, wastage tends to occur primarily at the farmer-producer end of the supply chain. Inefficient harvesting, inadequate local transportation and poor infrastructure mean that produce is frequently handled inappropriately and stored under unsuitable farm site conditions.

As the development level of a country increases, so the food loss problem generally moves further up the supply chain with deficiencies in regional and national infrastructure having the largest impact. 

In mature, fully developed countries such as the UK, more-efficient farming practices and better transport, storage and processing facilities ensure that a larger proportion of the food produced reaches markets and consumers. However, characteristics associated with modern consumer culture mean produce is often wasted through retail and customer behaviour.

Major supermarkets, in meeting consumer expectations, will often reject entire crops of perfectly edible fruit and vegetables at the farm because they do not meet exacting marketing standards for their physical characteristics, such as size and appearance. Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tonnes of food waste annually in this way.

Of the produce that does appear in the supermarket, commonly used sales promotions frequently encourage customers to purchase excessive quantities which, in the case of perishable foodstuffs, inevitably generates wastage in the home. Overall between 30% and 50% of what has been bought in developed countries is thrown away by the purchaser.

Recommendations for addressing food waste

Rising population combined with improved nutrition standards and shifting dietary preferences will exert pressure for increases in global food supply, with increasing pressure on finite resources of land, energy and water. Yet the report highlights that engineers, scientists and agriculturalists do have the knowledge, tools and systems that will assist in achieving productivity increases and states that there is the potential to provide 60–100% more food by simply eliminating losses, while simultaneously freeing up land, energy and water resources for other uses. 

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 a number of important recommendations for how food waste must be overcome in order to help to sustainably meet the increasing demands for food over coming decades associated with changing consumer preferences and world population growth.

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, including for food security and environmental sustainability. Governments should consider and implement as necessary the ways highlighted by the report to addressing food waste, which must  play a role in helping meet the challenges of ensuring food security for the 9 billion world population projected before 2050, which may exceed 10 billion by the end of the century.

Developed countries must take drastic measures to overcome the considerable waste at the market and consumer end of the food chain due to retail and customer behaviour. Developing countries must be supported to develop more efficient harvesting and local transport networks to address the wastage occurring at the farmer-producer end of the supply chain. These measures  help to achieve food security and also advance environmental sustainability, given the wasteful use of resources and unnecessary pressures on the environment associated the production of foodstuffs which only go to waste.

Overlooked by the report, we also emphasise that advancement of sexual and reproductive health and rights, including access to family planning, offers opportunities to reduce population growth before the world’s population reaches the projected level assumed in the report, which notably is not based on the most recent UN projections which revised previous projections upwards. The medium term of the UN population projections published in 2011 project that the world population will in fact reach 10.1 billion by the end of the century, rather than peaking at 9.5 billion by 2075 as assumed in the report.

The vast majority of world population growth over coming decades is projected to take place in developing countries, where food and water shortages are most prevalent. Yet an estimated 222 million women in developing countries want to avoid pregnancy but have an unmet need for modern 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 unsustainable and inequitable patterns of production and consumption, including in the current food production and distribution systems.

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

This article by PSN summarises the Global Food: Waste Not, Want Not report, based drawing from the report’s executive summary and other materials by the Institute of Mechanical Engineer. The commentary about PSN’s response to the document has been added by PSN.