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close this bookEnding Malnutrition by 2020: An Agenda for Change in the Millennium - Final report to the ACC/SCN by the commission on the nutrition challenges of the 21st century (ACC/SCN, 2000, 104 p.)
close this folder4. Food, Agriculture and Environment: Future Challenges
View the document4.1 Food as an important determinant of nutritional status
View the document4.2 The constraints to meeting future demands
View the document4.3 Other forces affecting food security: trade, global finance and new technology
View the document4.4 Food production and food security: meeting the challenges

4.1 Food as an important determinant of nutritional status

Access to adequate, nutritious food is obviously a prerequisite for good nutrition. Immediately after World War II, food security was considered only in physical terms (i.e. food production and availability). In the 1970s it became clear that economic access to food is equally important. In the 1980s, we learned that food security has to be considered at the level of the individual, with particular attention to women and children. The importance of environmental hygiene and safe drinking water as well as the intake of micronutrients has also been increasingly recognised. Poor environmental sanitation and unclean drinking water affect adversely the biological absorption and retention of food.

As the Declaration and Plan of Action of the World Food Summit made clear, to ensure a reduction by half of the number of people living with an insecure food supply, the following measures are required:

expanding food production
increasing the income of poorer groups
increasing access to foods of high nutritional quality
limiting the vulnerability of people to episodic poverty which can induce long-term handicaps.

These needs should also be considered in a broader perspective. At a meeting of Science Academies in preparation for the Wood Food Summit in November 1996, it was agreed that national food security systems should ensure:

that every individual has physical, economic, social and environmental access to a balanced diet that includes the necessary macro- and micro-nutrients, and to safe drinking water, sanitation, environmental hygiene, primary health-care and education, so as to lead a healthy and productive life.

that food originates from efficient and environmentally benign production technologies that conserve and enhance the natural resource base of crops, animal husbandry, forestry, and inland and marine fisheries.

FAO estimated in 1999 that some 790 million people in developing regions have inadequate access to food (FAO, 1999b). The causes of food insecurity are many and complex, and a shortfall in food production is often not the issue. Nonetheless, with the rapidly growing world population, the challenges of producing enough food for everyone in the coming century are substantial. FAO estimates that by 2020 we may need an annual production of at least 3,000 million tonnes of food grains, 200 million tonnes of aquatic foods, and large quantities of fruits and vegetables to provide balanced diets for the predicted world population of over 8 billion human beings. This will require large quantities of fuel-wood, fodder, fibre and other agricultural commodities.

Food availability is unevenly distributed among the world's population. Figure 4.1 illustrates the distribution of consumption between the poorest 20% of the world's population, the middle 60% and the richest 20%. The real challenge is to change these patterns of consumption to reduce the pressures on the planet and on society in the next century. The developing countries' pressing needs are likely to lead to increased consumption pressures, so there is a need for the affluent countries to reconsider their strategies.

IFPRI has sought to identify the key challenges for food and agriculture in its 2020 Vision project (IFPRI, 1995). Its 1995 projections show that although the proportion of the world's population who are food-insecure may fall, this will not translate into a reduction in the numbers of people at risk of hunger. This is because the world's population will continue to grow, so that greater numbers will be at risk. In addition, the extra stress on the planet of the additional millions is likely to increase the numbers of people who are involuntarily displaced from their homes and therefore particularly vulnerable to food shortage.


Figure 4.1 Consumption is distributed inequitably

Obviously, agricultural systems, and the physical, social and economic context within which they operate, vary hugely across the world. The following sections present an overview of constraints and opportunities. Regional and country-level analyses of these issues is important for planning national strategies. Section 4.2 outlines some of the many obstacles to increasing food production to meet growing needs. Section 4.3 outlines some of the other trends and conditions which have an impact on food security. Section 4.4 then goes on to suggest some opportunities for meeting these challenges; it also highlights some key ideas for future strategies.

4.2 The constraints to meeting future demands

The required additional food production will have to be achieved under conditions of shrinking per capita land and water and a number of other constraints.

4.2.1 Yield increases are slowing

Significant expansion of agricultural land is not feasible in most parts of the world, so the increased food production necessary to feed the growing population will have to come from more efficient use of land already under cultivation. However, yield increases are beginning to slow. There is progressive degradation of agricultural lands. Depletion of soil nutrients is a critical problem, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa. Thus intensive cultivation is leading to a reduced micronutrient content of the crops, e.g. in India. Fertiliser applications to combat these deficiencies are infrequent because of high prices, lack of domestic production, insecure supplies of imported fertiliser and poor distribution. Total resource management of small farming enterprises, as in China (Box 4.1), parts of Vietnam and Indonesia, is sustainable, labour-intensive and does not pollute. This contrasts sharply with modern westernised farms which seem efficient yet require huge inputs of fossil-fuel energy. Pests are another factor hindering further increases in crop yields. Pre- and post-harvest losses due to pests are large in developing countries. However pesticide overuse and misuse compromises human health, causes environmental damage and can lead to pesticide resistance. Integrated pest management schemes combine biological controls and host-plant resistance with the reduced use of chemicals.

4.2.2 There is a shortage of water

Globally, the consumption of fresh water as a proportion of accessible fresh water has almost doubled since 1960 (World Wide Fund for Nature, 1998). Although there is still enough water to meet agricultural needs on a global basis, currently 30 countries are water-stressed - of these, 20 are water-scarce. All developing countries suffer from regional and seasonal shortages. Some regions, e.g. N. Africa, already have a high population for the water available locally and Asia and Kazakhstan are now having to use a high proportion of all the obtainable water in their region. (Falkenmark, 1997). By 2025 water scarcity will cause certain regions, containing 55% of the world's population, to be dependent on food imports (Rosegrant et al., 1998). There are many major gains that can be made by minimising water losses, by altering cropping and agro-forestry to minimise evaporation losses, by using root crops to reduce drainage losses and by altering irrigation schemes. Efficiency of water use can also be improved by agronomic, technical, managerial and policy changes, e.g. in water pricing and legal frameworks.

4.2.3 Degradation of natural resources continues

Soil degradation is a significant cause of crop productivity losses. More than 2 billion hectares of land have been degraded in the past 50 years through overgrazing, desertification, salinization, overuse of agro-chemicals, and population pressure. Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia are of particular concern - between them they contain two-thirds of the world's degraded land (IFPRI, 1995). Almost half the world's poorest people live on marginal lands, where they are often caught in a downward spiral. Past resource degradation deepens today's poverty, while today's poverty makes it difficult to care for or restore the agricultural resource base (UNDP, 1998). Desertification costs the world: $42 billion in lost income, $9 billion in Africa alone, and the livelihoods of a billion people are at risk (UNDP 1998). Forests bind soil to the ground, regulate water supplies and help govern the climate. About a third of the earth's original forests have disappeared and about two-thirds of what is left has been fundamentally changed (UNDP, 1998). There is no consensus as to how much or where forest should be left for future generations and to maintain biological diversity. The experience of the Machakos District in Kenya shows how lands vulnerable to degradation can support a large population provided technological change is supported by a conducive policy framework and much local initiative.

4.2.4 Crop diversity is declining

Food and health systems in the past depended upon a wide range of crops (see Lost crops of the Incas (1989) and Lost crops of Africa (1996)). This diversity helped to provide both balanced diets and insurance against total crop failure. It also meant that crops suited to different agro-ecological conditions were cultivated, thereby avoiding mono-cultures with the same crop over large areas. With the 'advancement' of civilisation and 'modernisation' of agriculture, the crop-mix in the food security basket started shrinking. Today, about 20 crops dominate the global food scenario and trade (Figure 4.2). Wheat, maize, rice and potatoes have become the most widely grown food crops. There has been a drastic reduction in the crop-mix of the food basket, as well as a steep decline in the genetic diversity of crops grown (Figure 4.3).

Box 4.1

Sustainable land use in China

China, with only 8% of the world's arable land, and 22% of the world's population, producing only 4% of greenhouse gases, feeds over 1.2 billion people and has relatively low rates of undernutrition. While there may be pockets of poverty and some undernutrition, this is far less than in India and Bangladesh because most of the food is well distributed. Chinese farmers are leaders in ecological agriculture, wasting little by recycling crop residues, by-products and general waste. The largest irrigation network in the world (built manually) enables China to grow one-third of the world's rice. Several crops are grown in one field in alternate rows, with symbiotic benefit (beans, for example, fixing nitrogen for wheat). Labour-intensive pest control permits limited crop spraying to deal with particular outbreaks.

Self-sufficient communities, such as found in the Pearl River Delta, combine crop growing, stock husbandry, fish farming, and the use of renewable energy. Some fields may have three successive crops a year. Ducks contribute to the fertility offish ponds with their own excreta. Ducks, their eggs and the fish are all sources of high-quality protein. The farming units are self-sufficient in food, fertilizer and energy; they also export their surplus to nearby towns. Banana leaves and sugar-cane fibre serve as fish food and fuel for bio-gas stoves. Villages have large bio-digester devices which break down plant material provided by fast-growing plants such as water hyacinths and Napier grass. Pig manure and human waste also contribute to the production of bio-gas. This eases the demand for fuel wood.

Source: skov (1993); Myers (1995)

4.2.5 Fish stocks are declining

Fish is a key source of protein and other nutrients, especially iron, selenium and iodine. It provides a significant portion of total animal protein intake in the developing world: 22% in low-income food deficit countries (FAO, 1999a). Fish consumption has reached a plateau of about 170 g/week per person in developing countries and 500 g/week per person in industrialized countries. Natural fish stocks cannot keep pace with the increasing demand. Paradoxically, much of the total marine haul capture is unwanted -32% in 1995 (FAO, 1996b). Over-exploitation of natural fish stocks by aggressive and efficient fishing techniques, and severe degradation of marine and coastal environments, have depleted fisheries in many parts of the world. Globally, the average marine fish catch for 1990-95 was double that of 1960 (World Wide Fund for Nature, 1998). Some growth of marine fish production is possible, but only if rapid and sustained efforts are made to improve management and rebuild fish stocks and to restore balance to the marine food chain. Aquaculture (fish farming) is the world's fastest growing food production system, nearly doubling its contribution in the last 10 years. However, aquaculture will not meet the increase in demand for fish in developing countries unless local, low-income communities are involved and aquaculture becomes efficient enough to bring down fish prices.


Figure 4.2 Global production of food crops - 1996


Figure 4.3 America's lost diversity

4.2.6 Climates are changing

The warmer air temperatures, increased atmospheric CO2, raised sea levels and changes in rainfall patterns resulting from projected climate change over the next 60 years will have a significant impact on crop and livestock production. For some crops, warmer temperatures will reduce yields. On the other hand, higher temperatures will enable some crops to be grown in areas where it has not been possible before. The geographical range of maize, sunflower and soybean crops in Europe, for example, is predicted to extend 700-1900 km northwards (McMichael et al., 1996). The increased concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere will also affect crop yields. Wheat, soybeans, rice and potatoes should experience a fertilisation effect from the extra CO2. Those countries already vulnerable to food insecurity and undernutrition are most at risk from climate change. Particularly vulnerable areas include Sub-Saharan Africa, South and South-East Asia, particularly Bangladesh. Some areas, especially low-lying coastal regions, will be more vulnerable to increasingly common extreme weather events such as flooding, hurricanes or cyclones. Some of the impact of climate change may be minimised by adjustments at the farm, national and global level. Nevertheless, the increasing severity of extreme weather events will have high social and economic costs. Climate change could result in as many as 350 million extra people at risk of hunger by 2060 (Rosenzweig and Hillel, 1998). The cost of extreme weather conditions should stimulate policy makers to accept a range of measures to minimise the impact of climate change on food production. Some agricultural options are given in Table 4.1

Table 4.1:

Possible adjustments to agricultural systems to minimise the impact of climate change

Minor changes

· minor shifts in planting dates (+/-1 month)
· improvements to existing irrigation and drainage systems
· switches to different varieties or species
· changes in tillage practices
· changing crop rotations

Major changes

· large shifts in planting dates
· increased use of fertilisers
· installation of irrigation or drainage systems
· development of new varieties or species

National and international policy options

· creation and maintenance of seedbanks around the world
· flexible support regimes for farmers
· investment in agricultural infrastructure (Research & Development and market flexibility)
· improved climate information systems
· dissemination of conservation management practices

4.2.7 Urban centers are growing

The urban population is expected to exceed the rural population by 2005; by 2020 over 60% of the world's population will live in urban areas. The urban population of developing countries is forecast to reach 49% by 2015. The rapid, unplanned urbanisation of the last few decades has serious implications for public health with urban slum populations escalating in an environment without clean water, sanitation and other amenities crucial to health. Rapid urbanisation decreases the land available to agriculture and increases the demand for processed food. The geographical area of cities in the developing world is predicted to double between 1980 and 2000 (World Wide Fund for Nature, 1998). Figure 4.4 depicts the 26 cities which are predicted to have populations of 10 million or more by 2015. To feed a city of this size today, at least 6,000 tonnes of food must be imported each day. Urban agriculture and gardening may become increasingly important in providing fresh food for the needs of urban communities (WHO Europe, in press).

Issues such as water security, food transport systems, and the proper use of sewer systems are important in meeting the demands of these urban populations in the developing world. It is important to provide formal safety nets for the urban poor, which do not undermine a household's own response in face of threats to food security and which are tailored to the local situation (Ruel et al., 1998). Policies which stem the tide of urbanisation are also needed - that is, measures to enable people to stay in their rural environments. Investment in rural communities is crucial to secure livelihoods and reduce poverty. In developing countries, only 20% of the rural population, on average, has access to sanitation compared to an average of 72% in the urban population (UNDP, 1997). Other amenities like schools, improvements in transport (including investment in roads), are also important. Rural development policies with an emphasis on agricultural support and development are needed.

4.2.8 Demand for meat is increasing

In the past, meat consumption in developing countries has grown with increasing income. Per capita meat demand in developing countries is predicted to grow by 43% by 2020. This presents the prospect of a huge increase in the use of cereals for feeding livestock. In industrialized countries, the production of 1 kg of poultry meat, pork and beef requires about 2 kg, 4 kg and 7 kg of grain respectively. On this basis, a 40% increase in total cereal demand is predicted (Rosegrant et al., 1998). In many developing countries, however, most of the feed that animals consume is unsuitable for human consumption, so more can be done to increase meat production without necessarily diverting cereal production from crops for human consumption.


Figure 4.4 Enormous cities, enormous food needs

By 2015, twenty-six cities In the world are expected to have populations of 10 million or more. To feed a city of this size today - for example, Tokyo, Sao Paulo or Mexico City - at least 6,000 tonnes of food must be imported each day.

Source: FAO, 1998b

Research is needed to improve alternative feeding strategies and to provide instruction in good husbandry. Possible approaches include:

the use of household waste, crop residues (i.e. cereal straw, sugar-cane tops, maize stover and bean haulm) or vegetation from scrub, bushes and trees (skov, 1993).

improving the nutritional quality of traditional feed crops or alternative feedstuffs. (Farming techniques to improve the quality of feed crops include ammonia-treated straw. Beef consumption in China has more than doubled between 1991 and 1994 by using this system, and more than 80% of feed has come from crop residues).

the use of alternative sources of meat for human consumption: animals such as rabbits or indigenous birds and wildlife may well be more efficient converters of biomass than poultry.

improving the storage of feeds from times of plenty for times of scarcity.

4.2.9. Sub-Saharan Africa: continuing civil strife and weakened infrastructure

Conflict destroys land, water, and biological and social resources for food production, while military expenditures lower investments in health, education, agricultural and environmental protection (Messer et al., 1998). Resolving hostilities and reversing associated agricultural and economic losses are critical if agriculture and human development outlooks are to improve in the 21st century. Conflict prevention must be a goal of development and emergency assistance programmes. The far greater benefits from investing in social, educational and health initiatives than in spending on military systems need to be set out in stark economic terms for each government which has a low index of human development.

AIDS has compromised or disrupted normal activity at a household, community and national level, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa, because it takes its toll on the productive sector of society. Food production and food security of the family have been affected. The head of the household is often too debilitated and ill to continue to work and many communities are now struggling to cope with the smaller number of adult workers. The intellectual capital of many societies is also being badly eroded. Thus, the region's problems are exacerbated by a weakened infrastructure. Investment in training, capacity-building and institutional development - which have characterised regions such as Latin America, the Caribbean and some Asian countries where progress in nutrition has been made - should be considered for Africa in the 21st century.

4.3 Other forces affecting food security: trade, global finance and new technology

In addition to the growing constraints on producing adequate food, there are a number of other forces which will increasingly have an impact on food security.

4.3.1 Globalization of trade and food supply

A major driving force which has already influenced nutrition and food security, and which will be increasingly important in the future, is the process of globalization. The human food chain is being rapidly transformed into a global market with industrialized countries intent on providing its populations with a huge variety of primary products and processed foods, regardless of season and at ever lower prices. Never before have foods moved so rapidly and been used in such complex ways. Thus a single source of food from a developed or developing country may be used in over 100 different food products which in turn are sold hundreds or thousands of kilometres away.

Trade negotiations with the aim of abolishing artificial barriers and opening borders to international trade began in 1948. The latest round of negotiations - the Uruguay Round of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) - culminated with the establishment of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) in 1995. Although the WTO operates on a "one member, one vote" principle, in reality the power base within WTO lies with the major trading countries - principally North America and the European Union. An analysis of the decision-making process within the W Codex Alimentarius session found that 60% of participants represented northern industrialized countries -collectively home to only 15% of the world's population - (Avery et al., 1993). Furthermore, industrial interests are very heavily represented - in the same study, 140 corporations were represented, compared with 105 nations. Thus, the interests of the developing world are poorly represented.

There are many aspects of the globalization process which may have an impact on food security and nutrition. The huge cross-border flows in international finance and the speculative nature of financial trading have a serious impact on national financial markets and currency valuations. Losses in foreign exchange, for example, will reduce incomes which will, in turn, reduce the capacity to buy food imports. This may result in increasing dependency on aid which is itself under pressure. At the same time, the loss in trade revenue will be felt by governmental programmes to develop the necessary long-term infrastructure. Another example is the effect of the pattern of direct foreign investment. Collectively, North America, Europe, Japan, the eight coastal provinces of China and Beijing have received more than 90% of the total direct global foreign investment (UNDP, 1997). These flows of foreign investment are often tied up with the transfer of new technologies - so large areas of the world (and a large proportion of the world's population) are excluded from technological advancement.

Globalization has resulted in a weakening of economic control by national governments - leaving developing countries vulnerable to economic factors beyond their control - and to fluctuations in world prices. This makes it harder for governments to plan for the future and to invest in other areas necessary for longer-term economic development. A confounding factor is the fact that for heavily indebted countries, foreign creditors may have first claim on any export earnings. Countries which have benefited in the short term from increasing global trade are now more vulnerable to fluctuations in the global market. Given recent intense concern about the future of the global economy, such vulnerability could spell disaster for many countries.

4.3.2 Agricultural trade

Since the Second World War, farmers in North America and Europe have been heavily protected by their governments. These support mechanisms led to over-production and intensification of agriculture in both areas. Their governments responded to the accumulating surpluses by dumping excess products -including grain and dairy produce - on world markets, to the detriment of farmers in other countries where domestic support has not existed.

One feature of the GATT Uruguay Round is that an Agreement on Agriculture was reached. Governments in North America and Europe, however, managed to avoid radical cuts to their producer-support regimes when negotiating the agreement (Consumers International, 1996). Precisely who wins or loses as a result of the liberalisation of agricultural trade depends on a variety of factors including: the types of agricultural produce, the other countries which produce competitive products, and the balance of exports and imports.

There is an incoherence in international policies for developing countries, resulting in effects of trade liberalisation which may directly undermine existing efforts of support. Box 4.2 describes an example of such incoherence, in this case within the European Union, which strengthens the argument that international institutions should establish mechanisms to predict the impact of policy measures and prevent such crises.

4.3.3 New threats and opportunities: global food safety standards

In most Western societies, epidemics of food poisoning are steadily gaining ground in association with huge changes in the distribution and use of farm products. Animal foods are now seen as a particular problem, with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), E. coli, Salmonella, Shigella, Campylobacter and Listeria now becoming of great concern in many countries. Response to early concern about BSE brought developments in the EU, Australasia and North America which may induce major restrictions on the free trade of food due to risks from animal products. These products range from meat and milk as such to the huge variety of food and pharmaceutical uses of tallow and gelatine.

Efforts to combat BSE alone may restrict market access for meat products from many developing countries which do not have adequate animal health surveillance systems. Few countries are likely to pass the stringent requirements emerging from EU, Australasian and North American policy-makers. The experience of BSE is also likely to transform attitudes to the potential inflow of other transmissible forms of spongiform encephalopathies which are endemic in a number of wildlife species in many developing countries.

The development of food standards agencies and their amplified power in many countries is likely to place major constraints on importers and food industrialists in the developed world who will bear the responsibility if contaminated foods are transferred from the developing world and incorporated into food or animal feed. There are currently major imports of feed stocks, bones, meat and other animal products into the developed world with little or no assurance of their safety (James, personal communication).

Box 4.2

Exports undermining aid - the beef dumping case

Subsidized European Union (EU) exports were arriving in coastal West Africa at prices 30-50% cheaper than regionally produced beef, and were destroying the market for farmers in neighbouring countries. The EU exports also undermined the many millions of ECU granted from the European Development Fund to support livestock development in West Africa. In May 1993, NGOs in six EU countries launched a campaign to stop beef dumping by the EU in West Africa. Commission officials received visiting African herders, studied the arguments and made cuts in beef export subsidies to the region. Coincidentally the CFA franc (local currency) was devalued by half in January 1994, making imports to West Africa twice as expensive. Beef imports from the EU by West and Central African states fell by 60 per cent between 1993 and 1994.

Source. Robinson (undated)

Vegetable and plant products contaminated by human or animal sewage - in organic farm systems - have also been shown to induce major outbreaks of life-threatening food poisoning. The demand for farm assurance schemes with new requirements to limit or eliminate foods with an inappropriate level or range of micro-organisms may place a heavy burden on the developing world. Western food exporters may also gain preferential access to the urban communities of the developing world on the basis of their claimed food safety, backed by suitable marketing techniques.

Another aspect of the globalization process is the development of global food safety standards, with the WTO and Codex acting as final adjudicator in any disputes over particular food safety or standards issues. It is important to consider how these global food standards might affect consumers and producers in developing countries. A two-tier food safety system may be developing in many countries - where products for export conform to international standards but domestic consumers are left with food which does not meet these standards. Some African countries have already felt a heavy burden of compliance with imposed safety standards, when other countries rejected their fish on the basis of a cholera infection. The Codex Commission decided, however, that this ban was not justified on health grounds.

4.3.4 Structural adjustment programmes, financial crisis and nutrition

The nutritional health of children and adults often deteriorates as a result of cutbacks and austerity programmes imposed by international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF). There is a great temptation to cut budgetary allocations for nutrition programmes, at a time of major nutritional need when the very elements of adjustment may be adding new constraints on the capacity of ordinary people to meet their own food, health and nutritional needs. The IMF-negotiated adjustment programmes normally focus on an immediate balancing of the budgets even at the cost of human hardship. It is evident that this seemingly temporary sacrifice prejudices the lives of future generations - balancing budgets at a cost of unbalancing children's lives.

There is great anxiety that these effects are under way in East and South-East Asia, where international remedies for a short-term liquidity crisis may well lead not only to reduced growth and high levels of unemployment, but also to more undernutrition for vulnerable groups (see Section 1.3). If this happens, the supposed financial benefits may well be outweighed by the hidden costs of the deteriorating nutrition of mothers and children, these costs lasting a generation or more.

Deteriorating nutrition and health can have serious, irreversible long-term consequences. The World Bank now recognises these and is supporting a wide range of analyses on how to maintain, and indeed improve, the social structures of countries during financial crises. In East Asia, the World Bank and other partners are targeting children and pregnant or lactating women as the focus for short-term action in response to the current economic crisis.

Chapter 7 outlines some recommendations for ensuring that structural adjustment and development policies work in the interests of the world's poor. These recommendations need to be considered by the UN Agencies heavily involved in nutrition. Considerable resources have been allocated to the support of 'safety nets'. Notwithstanding these efforts, evidence exists that health and nutritional status have been worsening in parts of East Asia, and in Central and Eastern Europe. As already noted, in Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole prevalences of preschool underweight and stunting have stagnated for many years.

4.3.5 The challenges of the biotechnological revolution

As we enter a new century, we can look back on the progress made globally and nationally in raising the rate of growth in food production above the rate of growth in population. Economic access, rather than availability of food in the market, has become the more important cause of hunger and undernutrition today. However, there is no room for complacency in relation to the adequacy of the food supply. In 1992 an international conference of experts convened by the World Bank, the UNDP and the FAO concluded that a solution to securing world food supplies while preserving the environment is virtually inconceivable without recombinant genetics and biotechnology (Kendall et al, 1997). Biotechnology has many potential applications, particularly in agriculture. Thus biotechnology could conceivably be of even greater importance for developing countries than for industrialised countries in terms of producing sufficient quantities of nutritionally adequate and safe food for their growing populations (Swaminathan, 1996).

As mentioned earlier, the developing world's agricultural strategy for the 21st century will need to emphasise increasing yields through means that do not produce long-term ecological or social harm. In addition, agriculture has to be a key instrument for producing not only more food but also more income and jobs. The new techniques of genomic and molecular breeding are applied in the search for sustainable advances in crop and farm-animal productivity and quality. The new opportunities created by these advances must be assessed carefully for their benefits and risks.

Research carried out with the new genetic technologies during the last 15 years has shown that they can help improve crops in more precise ways than the traditional Mendelian methods. Designer crops based on novel genetic combinations created by moving genes across sexual barriers are now becoming available. Opportunities for breeding varieties for resistance/tolerance to various stresses, including drought and salinity, and for improved nutritional qualities could be particularly important for farming families struggling to improve yields and quality under unfavourable growing conditions.

Some of the potential benefits of the use of biotechnology in developing countries include:

crops especially adapted to diverse farming conditions and practices which offer greater nutritional value and substantially higher farm income

energy-producing crops which could save natural resources and so conserve the environment

the transfer of nitrogen fixation genes to non-leguminous plants such as wheat, rice and other cereals, reducing environmental pollution from inorganic fertilisers

increased productivity and production of drought crops in other parts of the world

the production of crops which are of higher nutritional value to humans or animals. This might include altering the folate, antioxidant or iron content of crops destined for human consumption, or improving the digestibility of animal forages, thereby increasing the productivity of high-quality animal protein for human consumption

animal biotechnology leading to improvements in growth and feed efficiency, animal health, reproductive efficiency, food product quality and the lactational production of novel or valuable proteins.

The biotechnological revolution is so intense, involving huge capital investments, that the land already assigned to the growing of novel crops in 1998 surpasses the land mass of the UK. During 1999, nearly 40 million hectares were under transgenic crops with most of the area being covered by soybean, maize, cotton and canola. Much of this area (74%) under genetically modified organisms (GMOs) is in the United States of America. The USA has not seen the same degree of consumer concern about GMOs that has been witnessed in, for example, India and many European countries. A group of experts constituted by the Royal Society in the United Kingdom has concluded that consumer confidence will ultimately decide whether or not GMOs will make a significant contribution to feeding the world's population (Royal Society, 1998).

The pace of change is intense, with a huge variety of industrial as well as food crops now grown, so the next decade will see a transformation in agriculture. The developing world will have to rely on major trusts, such as the Rockefeller Foundation, or on the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) for progress and advice. One exception is India, which has invested heavily in agriculture, and has one of the largest public-sector plant-breeding enterprises in the world. Western biotechnology companies will also be assessing how best to gain access to new commercial opportunities in the developing world. There is a need therefore for new public-private cooperation to ensure that biotechnology can be developed to be of direct benefit to the developing world, whilst incorporating the huge assets and knowledge of the Western biotechnology industry.

4.3.6 Safeguarding small-scale farmers

New technologies only suited for large-scale farming could result in a further impoverishment of small-scale farmers, "Gene protection technology" and the growing expansion of proprietary science means that small and resource-poor farming families who normally save seeds for future crops may feel the pressure to purchase new, improved seeds each year. This needs careful consideration and monitoring.

A major proportion of new technological developments are, in practice, covered by intellectual property rights. So proprietary science is unlikely to help resource-poor small farmers, in developing or developed countries. Biotechnology could also increase inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. For example, weeding by hand provides employment, and this would be reduced by the use of herbicide-resistant plants. The introduction of such technology should therefore be accompanied by social reforms, such as land reform and special support programmes for small farmers and those who may lose their livelihood as a result of biotechnology.

Genetically modified products could also reduce the developed countries' reliance on crops from developing countries - further widening the prosperity gap. Tropical agricultural exports could be replaced with genetically engineered products from elsewhere. Thus, genetically produced vanilla flavouring could displace the output of 70,000 small farmers in Madagascar. Genetically improved cocoa varieties could displace thousands of smallholder farmers in West Africa in favour of plantation farmers in Asia. High-fructose corn syrup produced using biotechnology from corn starch, is already being used as a cheaper replacement for cane sugar, a vital source of income for several developing countries. Vulnerable economies must therefore be encouraged to diversify their production structure. This will require more appropriate domestic policies and funds to support diversification. The impact of genetically modified plants on the environment also needs to be assessed. In developing countries there may be no legislation to monitor their effects. This could result in the use of developing countries as unmonitored laboratories.

The potential loss of natural diversity, resulting from undue reliance on a number of genetically-modified plants and the threat to food security, requires an international strategy to preserve plant genetic diversity as part of a new global food security system.

Exploitation of indigenous genetic resources without appropriate compensation is another area of potential concern. Multinational companies or external research groups may gain control of genes of plants native to the developing world free of charge and then use them to produce superior patented varieties which would then be sold back at high prices. Binding national and international regulations, therefore, need to be developed. One suggestion would be to channel compensation into development co-operation or the CGIAR system in order to create agricultural value in the region where the genes came from (Swaminathan, 1999).

The important political, ethical and trade questions raised by biotechnology, although not all unique to modern biotechnology, must be resolved at government and intergovernmental level by developing a global regulatory framework which takes account of financial resources. To clone a single gene costs approximately $1 million. In developed countries, sales are large, patents protected and risks low, but there is no profit to be made in developing countries. Therefore public-private co-operation may be needed in the developing world as well as technology transfer units in universities and elsewhere, to facilitate technology transfer.

4.3.7 Public health and environmental hazards

Recombinant DNA technologies resulting in genetically -modified organisms (GMOs) have aroused widespread public concern in several areas: direct effects of the transferred genes on the recipient organisms, new possibilities for unfavourable recombinations, effects on environment and biodiversity and the nutritive properties of the food produced by GMOs. One potential problem upon release of GMOs may be "onward gene transfer" with detrimental effects of the transferred gene or an associated marker gene (e.g. antibiotic resistance) passed from plants to the microflora of animals. Similarly, plant-to-plant transfer could result in transfer of herbicide resistance to 'wild' relatives, which would then become 'serious' weeds.

There are genuine public concerns about the potential adverse impact of GMOs on the environment, biodiversity and human health and there is a clear need to improve the assessment of potential environmental and health hazards. The legally binding Convention on Biological Diversity calls for an internationally agreed protocol on biosafety. Recent attempts to agree on such a biosafety protocol failed. However, in January 1999 Indian policymakers and scientists called for a national commission to be established to deal with bioethics, biosafety, biosurveillance, food safety, consumer choice in terms of labelling and new mechanisms for involving the public in a transparent way. The French Government has decided to adopt the following three principles with respect to GMOs: adoption of a precautionary principle, surveillance of the technology in the large scale, and increased openness with regard to consumers and the public. This led to the Montreal agreement on biosafety protocols in January 2000.

4.4 Food production and food security: meeting the challenges

The challenges which face the world in feeding the growing population are varied and numerous. The previous sections have outlined many of these challenges in brief. What are the options for food and agriculture in the future? How should new strategies tackle these issues and meet the challenges. The following sections suggest some general approaches to increasing food production to meet growing demands; to conserve biodiversity (and thus nutrient security); to promote fish as a food source while conserving fish stocks; and to protect food security and public health in a global economy.

4.4.1 A need for an ever-green revolution

A further revolution in agriculture will be required to adapt food production systems to growing needs and the changing environment. This new revolution (Box 4.3) must take socio-economic and environmental factors into account by focusing on three components: production, sustainability and poverty reduction. This approach has also been called the triple green revolution (Vosti and Reardon, 1997).

4.4.2. Widening the food basket and ensuring global nutrient security

Given the dramatic reduction in the crop-mix of the global food basket there is a need to widen the food basket once more and broaden the genetic diversity of crops grown. This will confer multiple benefits which include: addressing micronutrient deficiencies, insuring against total crop failures, matching crops to specific agro-ecological conditions, revitalising on-farm conservation of agro-biodiversity, and preventing nutritious crops from becoming 'lost crops'. A range of actions is necessary to help achieve a widening of the food basket. Taken together these could form a global nutrient security strategy (Box 4.4).

Box 4.3

An ever-green revolution

Key aspects of the new approach to food production to improve food security include:

Increased investment in agricultural and natural resource management. The strengthening of agricultural research and extension systems will be vital. This runs counter to the substantial reduction in funding of agricultural research in the developed world where a crude link has been made between investment in agricultural research and the economic costs of all the food surpluses and export subsidies. The acknowledgement that developed countries will benefit from investing in tropical and sub-tropical agricultural research needs to be established along with much closer links to the needs and experience of small, local farmers.

Research and dissemination of new knowledge, appropriate technology and novel techniques to farmers. Strong national and international support for innovation is vital.

Development of total resource management (as in some Chinese villages), integrated pest management and soil fertility programmes to ensure that progress in food production is sustainable over the longer term.

Policies that ensure property rights to land, improved access to credit, effective and efficient markets and temporary fertilizer subsidies (where prices are high), to prevent further degradation of land.

Reconsideration of less-favoured lands. These are the rain-fed rather than irrigated bread basket regions. Studies suggest that the marginal returns on government investment are higher in these areas (Fan and Hazell, 1997).

Reform of water policies at the local, national and international levels to avoid conflict. Improved irrigation, integrated catchment management schemes and the development of ground water resources should yield substantial benefits in improving access to water for food production. The feasibility of water pricing should be considered by local government.

Community involvement in agricultural development. If technology is to be transferred successfully to local food producers, it is essential that it meets their needs and is suitable for local conditions. In particular, the involvement of female food producers in agricultural development should be actively encouraged.

The development of stronger property rights for land, water and other natural resources. People invest in resources that they own or can trade. This helps to prevent further degradation of the resources.

An impetus from international agencies to push world food systems into preparing for the forthcoming changes in global climate. The impact of climate change will vary from location to location, but adaptive changes in agriculture can help minimise the negative effects.

Improved climate information systems and dissemination of information to food producers, to help offset the predicted increase in the 'extreme' weather events which often constitute disaster for farmers.

Exploration of public/private co-operation so as to involve private enterprise in tackling the problems of the world's poor.

The CGIAR institutions hold over 600,000 accessions of genetic strains of food crops. There is a new need to analyse these crops for their nutrient content (CGIAR micronutrients project). Such steps may also help in matching crop choice and agronomic practices with specific agro-ecological conditions, such as arid and semi-arid areas. In addition to global food stocks, local grain banks comprising millets, grain legumes and minor crops could be created to provide nutrition security. These local-level grain banks will help both to provide producer-oriented marketing opportunities and to prevent distress sales and/or panic purchase. Clearly these issues are complex, requiring very different approaches in different regions of the world with a need for evaluation. Guidelines need to be developed at a country or regional level. Unfortunately many of these issues are seen simply as matters of production or trade. Their implications for poverty or undernutrition have been seen as an afterthought if considered at all.

One additional aspect of widening the food basket should be the promotion of fish food sources. This will require a responsible approach to marine and fresh water resources and research and development of aquaculture. The Commission recognises the need to enhance the direct human consumption of fish already caught rather than its use as animal feed. Better enforcement of the existing marine fisheries agreements is also imperative. Regulations and economic incentives to reduce waste of unwanted fish should be adopted. The United Nations should consider establishing a World Ocean Affairs Observatory to police the seas. This is important to preserve the major nutritional, health and economic benefits offish and fish products. A "blue revolution" is therefore required to allow local communities and low income groups to benefit from the production as well as consumption of fish.

Box 4.4

A global nutrient security strategy

A strategy to preserve nutrient security should:

Refocus national priorities in agricultural research to encourage diversity of crop use as well as intensity of production. Horticulture and meat production without the diversion of cereal crops to animal feed need to be higher priorities for development.

Revitalize the pre-market traditions of cultivating and consuming a wide range of cereals, millets, grain, legumes, oilseeds, vegetables, fruits and tuber crops both by education and creation of markets for such nutritious food crops.

Promote the development, manufacture and sale of processed and semi-processed foods based on a mixture of nutritious crop to help overcome micronutrient deficiencies.

Include neglected and 'minor' crops in global and national food security reserves and in public distribution systems, to provide an economic stake in the cultivation of a wide range of food crops.

Redesignate 'coarse cereals' as 'nutritious cereals' (and other minor and currently neglected crops) in order to improve the image of such micronutrient-rich crops in public perception. Terms such as coarse grains, minor crops, minor millets, famine foods and feed grains are all inappropriate names. These crops can often withstand drought and relatively unfavourable growing conditions so are vital to future food security.

Promote the in situ and ex situ conservation of seeds and strains of a wide range of food crops, so as to prevent them from becoming 'lost crops.'

Promote breeding efforts designed to increase the micronutrient content of crops like rice, wheat and maize.

Promote mixed cropping and multiple cropping sequences in the tropics and sub-tropics which provide space in the cropping system for under-utilized but nutritionally desirable crops.

Encourage a better balance between developed and developing countries in world food production, thereby relying more on production from presently under-producing areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa.

The UN needs to encourage better methods to ensure that global food stocks are maintained effectively and with appropriate nutritionally balanced stocks. These should allow those countries with particular food crises after drought, pests or wartime destruction of food supplies, to obtain good quality supplies at affordable prices. The current tendency for Europe and North America to provide whatever stock surpluses they have accumulated as a result of pricing and trade policies is unsatisfactory. The ACC/SCN should explore how best to set optimum proportions or ranges of different foods in these global food stocks.

4.4.3 Ensuring that free trade is fair

Re-negotiation of world trade rules is due to begin in 1999. The Commission welcomes the establishment of the Global Forum on Sustainable Food and Nutritional Security, which has recently been formed to prepare for this review and collate evidence of the impact of the WTO with a strong Southern perspective. These negotiations should recognise the differing needs of industrialized and developing countries. The rules should distinguish between countries which support over-production by the creation of surpluses and those countries seeking only to achieve self-sufficiency and promote food security. The rules should allow the latter to protect their markets to some degree while they strive for food security. Food safety standards should be developed to meet the needs of the poor countries as well as the needs of the richer countries. A number of other measures are required to ensure that food security and nutrition are adequately protected in the increasingly global economy, These are set out in Chapter 7.

The Commission concludes that new safeguards are needed, as food markets open, to protect public health in terms of food standards, the safety of genetically-modified crops, the protection of the nutritional quality of food and to control the influx of virulent microorganisms. This requires a new approach by health ministries and the developing world to the work of the FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius as part of the WTO agreements.