Knowledge for a sustainable world

John F Morton, Ruth Leavett

NRI welcomes the major new report from the UK Government Foresight Programme The Future of Food and Farming: Challenges and Choices for a Sustainable Future.

The report tells us that we are at a unique moment in history as diverse factors converge to affect the demand, production and distribution of food over the next 40 years. A growing world population needs greater access to vital resources such as water, energy and land at a time when these are becoming increasingly scarce. The food system must increase productivity, whilst adapting to climate change and substantially contributing to climate change mitigation. There is a need to redouble efforts to address hunger, which continues to affect so many. Deciding how to balance the competing pressures and demands on the global food system is a major task facing policy makers.

The report has assembled evidence and expertise from a wide range of disciplines across the natural and social sciences to identify choices, and to assess what might enable or inhibit responding to these challenges. In particular it draws on 41 specially-commissioned State of Science Reviews on various topics. NRI, as a centre for excellence in renewable natural resources, has contributed two of these evidence papers. Rick Hodges and Ben Bennett, together with Jean Buzby of the US Department of Agriculture reviewed the significant post-harvest losses and waste of food in developed and developing countries: losses of grains on or near the farm in developing countries typically range between 10% and 25%. The review, which plots a way forward for worldwide sustainable loss reduction, is now published in the Journal of Agricultural Science.

Julian Quan reviewed evidence on the future of small-scale farming. Smallholders and family farms can and should continue to make a significant contribution to global food production, but need support through extension, improved marketing institutions, land reform and better governance. There are examples of good practice in all these areas, which need to be scaled-up.

In addition, the Foresight Report covers many other areas central to the work of NRI, such as intensifying agriculture while reducing its environmental impact, and bio-fortification of staple foods with micro-nutrients (example of NRIs work).