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
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).
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
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
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
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.
A global nutrient security strategy
A strategy to preserve nutrient security should:
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
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
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
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
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
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