Feeding a growing and hungry world
Imagine all the food produced over the past 8,000 years by mankind. We need to produce the same amount again. Not in 8,000 years, but in just the next 40 years — to feed a growing and hungry world.
Currently, there are seven billion people living on Earth. Just 13 years ago there were six billion.
The world’s population is growing by 77 million people a year — a city the size of Beijing every six weeks; a country size of Indonesia every three years. By 2050, we will be living on a planet of 9 billion.
Every day more than 850 million people go to bed hungry — is not just unacceptably high, but a stain on our collective conscience. And that’s without mentioning another billion people who do not get sufficient nutrients in their diet.
The lifetime health implications for those unfortunate enough to be affected are obvious; add to that the negative impact on economic productivity and the costs of healthcare, and the economic effects are considerable too. To alleviate this, global food production will need to be increased by 70 percent by 2050.
The planet is already stressed and the majority of the next two billion will be born in areas where the stresses are greatest.
In 2050, the United Nations expects India, China and Nigeria to be the world’s most populous nations.
And things are not getting any easier. The agricultural sector accounts for 70 percent of water use and up to 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions.
Climate change could reduce yields by more than 20 percent in many areas within developing countries. It is also contributing to food price volatility, something that has a direct impact on the poor and on child nutrition.
Agriculture therefore faces the dual challenge of becoming more sustainable on a dwindling resource base while having to feed an increasing number of people. To provide food and nutrition security in the coming decades requires a major and sustained effort by all stakeholders, including business.
The good news is that food security is now firmly on the political agenda of the G8, G20 and at the UN Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio+20).
The Mexican G20 Presidency has, for example, made food security one of its key priorities at the Los Cabos G20. Importantly, business has been invited to contribute.
As co-chairs of the B20 Food Security Task Force we have led a group of CEOs and other stakeholders to provide actionable recommendations for the G20 to achieve a 50 percent increase in production and productivity by 2030.
We have proposed detailed recommendations to encourage governments to adopt national food and nutrition security programs (supported by public-private partnerships).
Most critically, as business, we have committed to investing US$15 billion to deliver against the ambition of boosting agricultural productivity by 50 percent by 2030.
We have identified five priority areas: increasing investment in agricultural productivity; improving the functioning of markets; ensuring more sustainable food production (including water resource management); accelerating access to technology; and integrating and prioritizing nutritional needs.
This productivity growth must deliver food and nutrition security for all in an environmentally sustainable manner, while also ensuring improved livelihoods and income for farmers. We know that farmers will have to double the annual yield increase going forward — we need reach out to 500 million smallholder farmers who produce most of the agricultural output in developing countries.
Women make up 43 percent of developing world farmers — so we need targeted programs to help them increase their productive and earning potential. The protection of land tenure rights and access to finance are key enablers of this.
Between 30 and 40 percent of agricultural products get lost between the farm and the consumer. We need to strengthen capacity along the value chain to reduce waste, while improving the nutritional value and food safety for consumers to boost productivity.
Considerable areas of the world are clearly food-deficient — we need to make transporting goods from suppliers to these areas easier and to promote the development of local sourcing. We need a trade policy that will increase the trade of sustainable agricultural goods.
Reducing trade-distorting support and protection can provide significant opportunities for farmers, while also expanding consumers’ access to affordable foods. Expanding local sourcing also helps to develop local markets and reduce urban migration.
The world faces unprecedented challenges. Resources for food production will be scarce in the future. How we respond to the global challenges in a sustainable way is the acid test for companies everywhere — not just producers, but for suppliers and retailers. And not just for companies, but for international organizations, governments and NGOs, even citizens.
We all need to work together to accomplish our objectives. Bodies like the World Economic Forum have the opportunity to really prove their worth. The G20 can help us all implement concrete actions. A hungry world expects nothing less.
The writer is Unilever CEO, and co-chair of the B20 Food Security Task Force for the G20.