The intent of this core article is to encourage the generation of a set of associated articles focused on the challenges and opportunities facing humankind in addressing food needs, worldwide.
Whether referred to as Food Security or as Food Insecurity, the Earth's growing population is now forced to undertake serious rethinking of how to best manage food production, as well as food-related resources and distribution. The lead image appearing above gives small indication of the range and complexity of factors and drivers that pose both challenges and opportunities to feed ourselves in the long term on planet Earth.
The terms Food Security and Food Insecurity refer to the lack of stable access to food supplies required for healthy nourishment and well-being. This can mean the inability to access sufficient calories or a sufficient variety of food types or nutrients for healthy diet and lifestyles.
It is not clear how many people on the planet live under conditions of food insecurity but estimates of 800 million to 1 billion of the world's estimated population of 7 billion are common. The factors behind food insecurity are many and complex. Worldwide, food production has outpaced population growth over the past several decades. However, many factors have kept the numbers of undernourished people high, including wastage, poverty, and corruption. Further, a number of factors make the continued increase in food production very challenging over the long term. For example, limited amounts of arable land not already under cultivation, water supplies, energy prices, environmental degradation of existing farm land, and climate change. Still, there are many ways in which food supplies can be expanded—and for existing food supplies to provide healthy nurishment to a larger number of people.
Achieving secure food resources is an ambitious—but necessary—goal for the future of humankind. This article is designed to begin asking the question “Where can inroads be made to effect a serious rethinking of the complex interfaces of a baffling array of food-related problems, issues, challenges and opportunities?”
Critical challenges of sustainable agriculture, rural development, and human and environmental support systems (all within a multilayered context of economic and social systems, climate change, the energy crisis, the rise in global population and food insecurity) need the most comprehensive attention possible. This complex landscape is characterized by the boundaries of paradigms, policies, practices and management actions that converge in such a way as to threaten the condition and well-being of humankind and of ecological systems, globally.
What can be more compelling than food? It is no mistake that foods are known as staples (that is, they are major parts, elements or features) of all human activity, aspiration and undertaking. Take away these staples and civilization disappears–completely. Without food, there can be no reasoned, sustained development; there can be no trade; there can be no life. The focus of our efforts is, therefore, most fundamental to humanity.
We as a species take great comfort in utilizing reductionist approaches to the measurement and observation, and to the mitigation or resolution of questions. Such reductionist approaches have served–and continue to serve–human inquiry and subsequent action relatively well (they are tried, if not always true). Nonetheless, from such approaches we are reminded continually of the sheer complexity of the world around us.
Arising from this growing recognition of the complexity of things, physical and biological processes, and social constructs, there is corresponding growth in recognition of the need for integrative tools (and integrative mindsets). Such tools, based in science and in technological practice–and in social dynamics–now look through more inclusive lenses to include a wider complement of stakeholders that are enmeshed in taking decisions and in undertaking solutions under illuminated, participatory mindsets.
Significantly, scientific and technological development is not enough in itself to make a hungerless world. It is critical to make sure that sustainability and poverty reduction remain the guiding principles for this and other food-related goals. Humanking needs to use our resources; but, also we need to harness our intellect and ethos—and direct our knowledge—to benefit the poor and the marginalized as well as industrial complexes. Importantly, wide networking and knowledge sharing among all stakeholders must be encouraged and undertaken. In a wider, practical realm, there is a requirement for the strengthening of practical democratic governance, crisis prevention and recovery, development of processes for reducing poverty, and bridging the gap between traditional knowledge and Western approaches to scientific inquiry and assessment, worldwide.
These observations hint at the beginnings of a roadmap to address the central foci of achieveing food security and equity.
In summary, humankind and the ecological systems that embody Earth are facing one of the toughest challenges of the current century: how to feed over 9 billion people by 2050—in the face of climate change, energy shortages, economic and financial crises, and growing competition for the use of natural renewable and non-renewable resources. The challenges are even more crucial, given that in the past decade humankind has not come close to achieving the Millennium Development Goal of halving the number of people living in extreme poverty and hunger by a 2015 milestone.
Now, scientists and concerned stakeholders of all persuasions are voicing a clear message: that multiple challenges the world is facing in terms of food insecurity, climate change, degradation of ecosystems, social strife and economic recession require an integrated response and an urgent transition of the world economy towards a sustainable, inclusive and resource efficient path.
This is truly significant as we keep in mind that the recent food crisis, combined with emerging energy and climate-change issues, is threatening the livelihoods of millions of poor people as well as the economic, ecological, social and political seesaw in developing as well as developed nations and regions of the globe. This crisis complex is exposing the vulnerabilities of households, governments and the international system to food and nutrition insecurity.
Addressing these challenges will require humankind to develop increasingly productive and sustainable food and agricultural systems. On a long-term basis, these challenges beg for innovative, multifaceted, science-based, technological, economic and political approaches in theoretical thinking, decision making and action. It is encouraging that food insecurity and agricultural and rural development are now crucial issues of theoretical as well as policy relevance.
The overarching major perspective of this article is that paradigm and policy shifts at all levels are needed urgently. This is based on the evidence that resource management—that is, natural, ecological and human—in the twenty-first century will be undergoing significant, wrenching demands, arising largely from the need to increase the global food enterprise, while adjusting and contributing to responses and adaptations to such drivers as climate change to maximize chances for long-term global viability.
Success in meeting these demands will require a comprehensive approach of technical, regulatory and financial innovations, such that adaptation as well as mitigation strategies are consistent with efforts to safeguard food security, maintain ecosystem services, provide such responses as carbon sequestration and emissions reductions. These approaches exist, can be improved, and should be incorporated–and, where possible scaled up–into national, regional and international policies, development, disaster relief, climate and decision making processes, and management actions.
Ideally, it is the goal of this germinative article to stimulate description of a spectrum of experiences with regard to the key issues addressed briefly above.
- 2009 International Conference on the Integration of Sustainable Agriculture and Rural Development in the Context of Climate change, the Energy Crisis and Food Insecurity.
- 2011 International Conference on Climate Change, Agri-Food, Fisheries, and Ecosystems: Reinventing Research, Innovation and Policy Agendas.
- The New Harvest: Agricultural Innovation in Africa
- Global Food Insecurity: Rethinking Agricultural and Rural Development Paradigm and Policy.
- Food Security in the Encyclopedia of Earth.
- Agroforestry in the Encyclopedia of Earth.
- Marine biodiversity and food security in the Encyclopedia of Earth.
- Changes in the Landscape of Arctic Traditional Food in the Encyclopedia of Earth.
- Food Insecurity, Worldwide (News) in the Encyclopedia of Earth.
- Svalbard Global Seed Vault in the Encyclopedia of Earth.
- Global Environment Outlook (GEO-4): Environment for Development (e-book) in the Encyclopedia of Earth.
- 12th National Conference on Science, Policy and the Environment: Environment and Security, January 18-20, 2012.