FAO: Land, Water Scarcity Pose Growing Danger to Food Security

30 November 2011

Agricultural production will need to increase by 70 percent by the year 2050 in order to cope with the pressures of climate change, a growing world population, and limited resources, according to the first-ever UN report on land, water scarcity, and food.

The report, released by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) on 28 November, found that many of the countries that will need to produce food for feeding this population are, consequently, the countries facing the most land degradation.

About 40 percent of degraded lands lie in regions with high poverty rates, where small-scale farmers must pay the price for unsuitable land. "The distribution of land and water resources does not favour those countries that need to produce more in the future," the report states.

The report also warns that many agricultural systems face "the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agriculture use and practices."

These pressures have already led to the beginnings of a degradation process - with the report estimating that 25 percent of the earth's lands are degraded; 1.6 billion hectares of land are currently used to grow crops. With these lands suffering a large toll, governments and organisations will have to find ways to incentivise sustainable agricultural procedures, the UN agency noted.

Resource degradation could increase inequality

Some farming practices may have contributed to processes of erosion, nutrient loss, topsoil compaction, salinisation and pollution. Although governments have tried to help farmers produce in a ‘greener' fashion, the report argues that many of these policies benefit large-scale famers who have unfair access to resources.

This leaves many small-scale farmers to suffer from resource degradation, despite the fact that many of these farmers come from the growing nations that will need to produce more in the future.

Almost one billion people are undernourished, mostly in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa, meaning that global production of food will need to rise faster than population growth to reverse the consequences of poor food policy. However, the report states that much of the farming land already in use will have to sustain future production in coming years.

Since 1960, the expansion in area of land use for crop cultivation has been only 12 percent, while world agricultural activity has increased between 150 and 200 percent - illustrating the intensified pressure on the same land to increasingly produce more.

Upon the report's publication, FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf stressed that steps to address these stresses facing agricultural production systems must be taken immediately. "The consequences in terms of hunger and poverty are unacceptable," he said.


Increased efficiency of water use and innovative farming practices will be key to providing sustainable crop production for the coming years. Hubert George, Technical Officer for Land and Environment Information Systems at the FAO, commented in an interview that building awareness and making green initiatives profitable for farmers - through easier access to technology and carbon trading, and payments for environmental services - were possible strategies for tackling the major issues.

The report also highlighted the need for an improved and more transparent trade policy that would, in turn, encourage sustainable agriculture by offering incentives to those who do not harmfully exploit land.

Policies must also focus on securing market access for small scale farmers and those using ‘green' farming practices, the FAO noted.

ICTSD reporting; "Land, water scarcity threaten food security - UN," REUTERS, 28 November 2011.

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