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Cutting food waste key to ending crisis - UNEP

[Kenya] The United Nations compound in Nairobi during the 12th session of the United Nations conference on climate change, Kenya, 15 November 2006. UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan told delegates the phenomenon of global warming was as grave a threat as co
Siegfried Modola/IRIN

Environmentally friendly ways of producing, handling and disposing of food would help the world keep up with the growing demand and boost food production, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) said.

More than half the food produced today is either lost, wasted or discarded because of inefficiency, UNEP said in a report launched in Nairobi on 17 February.

"There is evidence … that the world could feed the entire projected population growth alone by becoming more efficient while also ensuring the survival of wild animals, birds and fish on this planet," Achim Steiner, UNEP Executive Director, said at the launch of The Environmental Food Crisis: The Environment's Role in Averting Future Food Crises.


The report, which details a seven-point plan to reduce hunger and rising food insecurity, was released during the 25th session of the UNEP Governing Council/Global Ministerial Environment Forum from 16 to 20 February.

Recycling food waste and deploying new technologies - aimed at producing bio-fuels - could be a key environmentally friendly alternative to increased use of cereals for livestock, notes the report.

"The amount of fish currently discarded at sea - estimated at 30 million tonnes annually - could alone sustain more than a 50 percent increase in fish farming and aquaculture production, which is needed to maintain per capita fish consumption at current levels by 2050 without increasing pressure on an already stressed marine environment," it states.

UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai team up for International Biodiversity Day at the United Nations, Nairobi, Kenya, 22 May 2007.

Allan Gichigi/IRIN
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai team up for International Biodiversity Day at the United Nations, Nairobi, Kenya, 22 May 2007.
Monday, May 28, 2007
Cutting food waste key to ending crisis - UNEP
UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner and Nobel Prize winner Wangari Maathai team up for International Biodiversity Day at the United Nations, Nairobi, Kenya, 22 May 2007.

Photo: Allan Gichigi/IRIN
Achim Steiner (right), UNEP's executive director

Steiner said: "We need a Green revolution in a Green Economy but one with a capital G; we need to deal with not only the way the world produces food but the way it is distributed, sold and consumed, and we need a revolution that can boost yields by working with rather than against nature."

Food losses due to waste, Steiner added, underlined the need for greater agricultural research and development, "which in Africa amounts to just 13 percent of global investment, versus over 33 percent in Latin America and over 40 percent in Asia".

Worse to come?

Unless more intelligent and creative management is brought to the world's agricultural systems, UNEP cautioned, the global food crisis of 2008 could foreshadow an even bigger crisis.

Among the major findings are: the 100-year trend of falling food prices may be over and food prices may increase by 30-50 percent within decades, severely impacting on the very poor, who spend up to 90 percent of their income on food; up to 25 percent of global food production may be lost due to "environmental breakdowns" by 2050 unless action is taken; and, more than one-third of the world's cereals are being used as animal feed, expected to reach 50 percent by 2050, which could aggravate poverty and environmental degradation.

The factors blamed for the global food crisis - drought, bio-fuels, high oil prices, low grain stocks and speculation in food stocks - could worsen significantly in coming decades.

"Climate change emerges as one of the key factors that may undermine the chances of feeding over nine billion people by 2050," Steiner said. "Increasing water scarcities and a rise and spread of invasive pests such as insects, diseases and weeds may substantially depress yields in the future.”

Safety nets

UNEP's plan calls for the re-organisation of the food market infrastructure to regulate prices and generate safety nets, backed by a global micro-financing fund to boost small-scale farming in developing countries.

Climate change vulnerability in Africa.

Anna Ballance/UNEP
Climate change vulnerability in Africa.
Thursday, May 29, 2008
L’Afrique invitée à rejoindre le Réseau pour un climat neutre
Climate change vulnerability in Africa.

Photo: Anna Ballance/UNEP
Climate change vulnerability in Africa

It calls for the removal of agricultural subsidies and the promotion of second-generation bio-fuels based on waste rather than on primary crops, which “could reduce pressure on fertile lands and critical eco-systems such as forests".

Other recommendations include managing and better harvesting extreme rainfall in Africa, for example, and support for farmers who adopt more diversified and ecologically friendly systems.

"Simply ratcheting up the fertilizer and pesticide-led production methods of the 20th century is unlikely to address the challenge," Steiner said. "It will increasingly undermine the critical natural inputs and nature-based services for agriculture such as healthy and productive soils, the water nutrient recycling of forests, and pollinators such as bees and bats."

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