Healthy and sustainable food systems key to fighting hunger, says UN

January 20, 2014


Healthy people need healthy and sustainable food systems, the United Nations said today, calling for agricultural research and development to become more focused on nutrition, as well as local biodiversity and diversified farming systems.


Credit: UN Photo/Cirone 

Current world food production is unsustainable

“Our common approach to food production is simply not sustainable today, or in 2050, when we will have to provide food for a population of 9.6 billion people,” said FAO Deputy Director-General Helena Semedo in a news release.

“We need to produce nutritious food for all people today while also protecting the capacity of future generations to feed themselves,” she added.

Food production has tripled since 1945 and average food availability per person has risen by 40 per cent, FAO said.

Despite the abundance of food supplies, there are still 840 million people that go hungry every day, according to FAO. The health of another two billion is compromised by nutrient deficiencies. This, as another 1.5 billion people are overweight or obese, consuming more food than their bodies need and exposing them to greater risk of diabetes, heart problems and other diseases.

Increasing food demand, increasing environmental pressure

Much of the high food output achieved in the past has placed great stress on natural resources, Ms. Semedo said. These include degraded soils, polluted and exhausted fresh water supplies, encroached on forests, depleted wild fish stocks and reduced biodiversity.

Intensive farming systems, combined with food wastage on a massive scale, have also contributed to greenhouse gas emissions.

Among the challenges highlighted in FAO’s news release is the management of sustainable livestock. Demand for livestock products will grow 70 percent by 2050, the UN agency noted. Consumption of meat, milk and eggs is growing rapidly in developing countries, providing nutritious diets to previously food insecure populations.

Consumers also need help to make healthy food choices, requiring “better governance, based on sound data, a common vision and, above all, political leadership,” Ms. Semedo said.

“If the global community invested $1.2 billion per year for five years on reducing micronutrient deficiencies, the results would be better health, fewer child deaths and increased future earnings,” she added. “It would generate annual gains worth around $15 billion - a benefit to cost ratio of almost 13 to 1.”

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

Population growth and associated food demand to take heavy toll on rainforests

January 20, 2014

SOURCE: Mongabay

Human population growth and associated food demand will likely take a heavy toll on tropical ecosystems unless major shifts occur in how crops are produced and consumed, warns a new review published in Trends in Ecology & Evolution.


Credit: UN Photo/Logan Abassi 

Increasing world population imperils Tropics

Noting that projections published by the U.N. now forecast the human population to swell to 11 billion before the end of the century, William F. Laurance, Jeffrey Sayer, and Kenneth Cassman highlight potential impacts of agricultural expansion on biodiversity in the tropics.

"This growth, together with rising per-capita consumption, will require large increases in food and biofuel production," they write.

Laurence, Sayer and Cassman foresee:

  1. Major expansion and intensification of tropical agriculture, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America;
  2. Continuing rapid loss and alteration of tropical old-growth forests, woodlands, and semi-arid environments;
  3. A pivotal role for new roadways in determining the spatial extent of agriculture; and (iv) intensified conflicts between food production and nature conservation

They cite research suggesting that global food demand could double by mid-century, necessitating anywhere from 120 million to a billion hectares of new cultivated areas.

Most of the expansion is expected to occur in the tropics, where land is cheaper and recent innovations have enabled agribusiness to dramatically scale-up productivity. The Amazon and Congo Basins, dry woodlands of West Africa, and Cerrado and Chaco of South America will be particularly targeted.

Tropics vital to world biodiversity

The problem, argue the authors, is these regions are characterized by high levels of biodiversity and provide critically important ecosystem functions. Therefore conversion of these habitats will have a disproportionate ecological impact.

"Tropical ecosystems are crucial for global biodiversity and provide vital ecosystem services, but are facing unprecedented pressures," they write. "The already-massive global footprint of agriculture is expanding rapidly, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa and South America. Its impacts on terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems will be intense and increasingly pervasive."

In other words, business-as-usual approaches to agricultural expansion seem certain to doom many species and habitats to extinction.

To avoid this fate, the researchers call for new strategies that foster "more ecologically efficient food production while optimizing the allocation of lands to conservation and agriculture."

"We can still identify urgent priorities to protect tropical nature–limiting destructive road expansion into the last surviving wildernesses; protecting nature reserves and their imperilled surrounding habitats; and working actively to slow burgeoning population growth, especially where current population trajectories are likely to elevate human suffering and environmental harm," they write. "To avoid environmental calamity, we must achieve ambitious goals for agriculture while limiting the threats to tropical nature."


William F. Laurance, Jeffrey Sayer, and Kenneth Cassman (2013). Agricultural expansion and its impacts on tropical nature. Trends in Ecology & Evolution 2013 Dec 30. pii: S0169-5347(13)00292-9. doi: 10.1016/j.tree.2013.12.001.

PSN welcomes new network member!

January 17, 2014


PSN are delighted to welcome Conservation Through Public Health (CTPH), into our network. For the last 10 years, CTPH has been delivering Population, Health, and Environment (PHE) programmes in Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.



10 years of PHE success

CTPH work to bring health and livelihood interventions to people while protecting mountain gorillas around Virunga and Bwindi Impenetrable National Parks.

Its innovative approach focuses on the interdependence of wildlife and human health in and around one of central Africa’s most important biodiversity hotspots.

Home to half of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas, Bwindi Impenetrable National Park is surrounded by “some of the most densely populated areas of Uganda” explains Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, wildlife veterinarian and CTPH founder. "People and animals frequently cross park boarders and enter each other’s territory".

To prevent cross-species transmission of diseases, CTPH created village health and conservation teams in order to improve hygiene, treat infectious diseases, and increase access to sanitation for the people living in surrounding communities. 

Many communities living near protected areas depend on livelihoods based upon the gorilla tourism industry, which in turn depends on the gorilla’s health and survival.  

Providing integrated interventions

After observing how thinly the resources of the region’s large, impoverished families were stretched, Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka recognised that improving access to family planning could advance CTPH’s conservation goals and improve the well-being of these families.

The health and conservation teams began providing access to family planning information and commodities to those families who requested them, accompanied by information and discussions about the far-reaching benefits of family planning. This has led to a number of positive outcomes for families, the wider community and the wildlife and environments upon which they depend.

CTPH uses integrated wildlife conservation and community public health interventions to implement three strategic and inter-linked programmes: Wildlife Health Monitoring, Human Public Health and Information, and Education and Communication.

Welcome to our new network member

PSN is delighted to welcome CTPH as a new member, and we look forward to exploring ways that we can work more closely together to advance joint aims.

Read more about CTPH’s work on their website.

Watch CTPH speaking at the Woodrow Wilson Center. 

Predicting the future of global water stress

January 13, 2014


Researchers from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) use new modelling tool to calculate the ability of global water resources to meet future water needs. They predict that by 2050 more than half the worlds population will live in water-stressed areas and about a billion or more will not have sufficient water resources.


Credit: UN Photo/Eskinder Debebe

Climate change to affect water availability

Population growth and increasing social pressures on global water resources have required communities around the globe to focus on the future of water availability. Global climate change is expected to further exacerbate the demands on water-stressed regions.

In an effort to assess future water demands and the impacts of climate change, MIT researchers have used a new modelling tool to calculate the ability of global water resources to meet water needs through 2050.

The researchers expect 5 billion (52 percent) of the world’s projected 9.7 billion people to live in water-stressed areas by 2050.

They also expect about 1 billion more people to be living in areas where water demand exceeds surface-water supply. A large portion of these regions already face water stress — most notably India, Northern Africa and the Middle East.

The study applies the MIT Integrated Global System Model Water Resource System (IGSM-WRS), a modelling tool with the ability to assess both changing climate and socio-economics — allowing the researchers to isolate these two influencers.

Mapping future water demands

In studying the socio-economic changes, they find population and economic growth are responsible for most of the increased water stress. Such changes will lead to an additional 1.8 billion people globally living in water-stressed regions.

“Our research highlights the substantial influence of socio-economic growth on global water resources, potentially worsened by climate change,” says Adam Schlosser, the assistant director of science research at the Joint Program on Global Change and lead author of the study. “Developing nations are expected to face the brunt of these rising water demands, with 80 percent of this additional 1.8 billion living in developing countries.”

Looking at the influence of climate change alone, the researchers find a different result. Climate change will have a greater impact on water resources in developed countries. This is because, for instance, changes in precipitation patterns would limit water supplies needed for irrigation.

Developing countries most at risk

When researchers combine the climate and socio-economic scenarios, a more complicated picture of future water resources emerges. For example, in India, researchers expect to see significant increases in precipitation, contributing to improved water supplies. However, India’s projected population growth and economic development will cause water demands to outstrip surface-water supply.

“There is a growing need for modelling and analysis like this, which takes a comprehensive approach by studying the influence of both climatic and socio-economic changes and their effects on both supply and demand projections,” says Schlosser. “Our results underscore this need.”

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