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China Daily Website

Environment must be protected for food production: UN

Updated: 2012-10-19 21:51
By Li Lianxing (

Underlying ecological foundations must be protected to support sustainable food production, according to a recent report released by the United Nations.

The report said that ecosystem services prop up the whole food system, and play a central role in food security and in feeding 7 billion people on Earth, a figure expected to increase to 9 billion by 2050.

However, these crucial aspects are being undermined by overfishing, unsustainable water use, environmentally degrading agricultural practices, and other human activities, according to Joseph Alcamo, chief scientist of the United Nations Environment Program.

He said previous debates on food security largely revolved about availability, access, utilization and stability as the four pillars of food security, barely touching the very first and fundamental aspects of the chain.

"The environment has been more of an afterthought in the debate about food security (...) the ecological basis of the food system is not only shaky but being really undermined," he said.

He added that inefficiencies along the food delivery chain further complicate the challenge, and that an estimated one-third of food produced for human consumption is lost or wasted, amounting to 1.3 million tons per year.

"The years of seemingly ever-lasting production based upon maximizing inputs such as fertilizers and pesticides, supplies of freshwater and fertile arable land, and advancements linked to mechanization are hitting their limits, if indeed they have not already hit them," said UN Under-Secretary General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner.

"The world needs a green revolution but with a capital G — one that better understands how food is actually grown and produced in terms of the nature-based inputs provided by forests, freshwaters and biodiversity," Steiner said.

The report, produced in collaboration with the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Food and Agriculture Organization, the World Bank, the World Food Program and the World Resources Institute, said a redesign is needed for sustainable agriculture systems.