Food production will need 165-600 million hectares more land to meet demand by 2050

Need to halt deforestation while ensuring food security, says report by FAO

By Shuchita Jha
Published: Monday 03 October 2022
Moving to a more sustainable approach to food production will increase agricultural production in coming years. Photo: WIkimedia Commons__

Food demand to support the global population will be 50 per cent more in 2050 compared with 2012, according to a recent United Nations report. Production will need 165 to 600 million more hectares of land for crop and livestock production, much of which is currently covered by forests and other critical ecosystems.

Food and Agriculture Organization released the report at FAO-Global Landscapes Forum digital forum Transforming agrifood systems with forests September 30, 2022. 

The yield increases alone would be insufficient to meet demand and must be paired with other interventions, the report said. These include restoration of degraded land, forest protection and improved governance to ensure an increase in food security without drastically diminishing forest cover. 

Read more: Food insecurity to worsen for millions in Sri Lanka due to poor harvest, price rise, economic crisis

From 2000-2018, almost 90 per cent of deforestation globally was attributable to agricultural expansion. This negatively impacts associated ecosystem services such as carbon sequestration and biodiversity, the report stated.

“We must build sustainable global agrifood systems based on the synergies between agriculture and forests that provide a win-win outcome for both sectors,” said Tiina Vähänen, deputy director of FAO’s forestry division.

The role of governments is central to bringing about this transformation, the report said. Governments need to create conditions for farmers to change their practices to maximise production while minimising the impact on forests and biodiversity, it explained. 

It also talks about the progress made to curb deforestation put in place by the international community, governments and private sector. 

“Moving to a more sustainable approach to food production will increase agricultural production in coming years while also helping to meet the globally agreed 2030 target for ending deforestation,” added Vähänen. 

The paper summarises approaches for governments to decouple deforestation from agricultural commodities that are associated with deforestation and forest degradation, such as beef, soy, palm oil, coffee, cocoa, rubber and others, stated a press release shared by FAO.

“The report recommends that governments pay special attention to smallholder farmers, who produce roughly 35 per cent of the world’s food, but often live in poverty and cannot afford the costs or interruptions to income incurred through changing the way they work,” it added. 

The world has lost 420 million hectares of forests in the last two decades, as per FAO’s Global Forest Resources Assessment 2022 released earlier this year. 

It is vital to slow the rate of deforestation — standing at 8.8 million ha per year from 2010-2018. It stood at 11 million ha per year from 2000-2010. 

The report also talked about how, when properly integrated, grazing can play a vital role in restoring degraded land with trees, halting desertification and improving wildfire prevention in drylands.

Drylands are home to about 25 per cent of the global population, contain 50 per cent of the world’s livestock, 27 per cent of the world’s forests and are where about 60 per cent of the world’s food production takes place, stated the report. 

Read more: Food affordability improved over last 50 years; but what about nutrition

The benefits of silvopastrolism — which combines animal grazing and trees — and its potential to create alternate livelihoods was also highlighted. It can also help enhance local communities’ food security and income by preventing land degradation.

The traditional knowledge should be shared and updated for ‘peer-to-peer learning and training’, it recommended. 

Woody plants in drylands provide animal feed, timber and fruit as well as help to increase biodiversity and regulate soil and water cycles, the report explained. At the same time, grazing livestock helps control vegetation, reduce the risk of wildfires, accelerate nutrient cycles and improve soil fertility.

“Landscape planners and decision-makers should consider livestock as part of the solution and carefully restore open tree cover — when tree cover is between 30 and 70 per cent — as part of an integrated landscape approach using agroforestry to promote healthy ecosystems,” recommended the report. 

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