Global human population is projected to increase from 7 billion today to more than 9 billion by 2050. To sufficiently feed these people, FAO projects that food availability will need to increase by at least 70 percent.
Meanwhile, close to one billion of the world’s poorest people remain under-nourished today. Despite its importance, much of the planet’s natural capital has been degraded through the extensification and intensification of food production. This environmental degradation, in turn, can undercut agricultural production; climate change will have profound effects on agriculture, freshwater availability may become a limiting factor for growing food in some areas, and diminishing ecosystem services will lead to reduced productivity.
These trends lie at the intersection of environment and development. Agriculture historically has been an underpinning of national economic development. Many of the world’s poorest people are themselves farmers. And women play a central role in farming, comprising 41 percent of the agricultural workforce worldwide and making up the majority of agricultural workers in South Asia and sub-Saharan Africa.
The convergence of these trends poses one of the paramount challenges―a sort of “great balancing act”―for the next 40 years: How can the world adequately feed more than 9 billion people by 2050 in a manner that reduces pressure on the climate, ecosystems, and freshwater while helping to build livelihoods and benefit women?
The World Resources Institute (WRI) will dedicate its next flagship World Resources Report (WRR) to tackling this question by breaking it into a portfolio of practical and scalable solutions. Each strategy that will be presented by the WRR can contribute to feeding the world in a manner that also helps steward natural ecosystems, protect the climate, sustainably use freshwater resources, advance development and livelihoods, and ensure gender benefits. No single solution will solve the challenge of the great balancing act, and which wedges are relevant will likely vary between countries, regions, and food chains.
Coming out in early 2013, the first WRR installment will pose the overarching challenge, and frame the structure for the rest of the series. Coming out thereafter on a rolling basis, each subsequent installment will delve into a separate piece of the food puzzle and provide concrete advice on how the planet can shift toward a sustainable food system that sufficiently feeds all people.
Photo Credits: WRR 2012-2014 slideshow picture from flickr.com/treesftf. Groundnut farmer picture from flickr.com/ILRI.