No sustainable development without hunger eradication, says FAO report ahead of Rio+20 Summit

Sustainable development cannot be realised unless hunger and malnutrition are eradicated, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a policy document prepared for the Rio+20 Summit to be held in June in Rio de Janeiro.

The report, Towards the future we want: end hunger and make the transition to sustainable agricultural and food systems, urges governments:

  • to establish and protect rights to resources, especially for the poor;
  • incorporate incentives for sustainable consumption and production into food systems;
  • promote fair and well-functioning agricultural and food markets;
  • reduce risks and increase the resilience of the most vulnerable;
  • invest public resources in essential public goods, especially innovation and infrastructure.

"We cannot call development sustainable while this situation persists, while nearly one out of every seven men, women and children are left behind, victims of undernourishment," said FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

"The quest for food security can be the common thread that links the different challenges we face and helps build a sustainable future. At the Rio Summit we have the golden opportunity to explore the convergence between the agendas of food security and sustainability to ensure that happens," he added.

One of the great flaws in current food systems is that despite significant progress in development and food production hundreds of millions of people are hungry because they lack the means to produce or purchase the food they need for a healthy and productive life, according to FAO's report.

"Improving agricultural and food systems is essential for a world with both healthier people and healthier ecosystems," it says.

Link between hunger and environment
The report stresses that hunger reduction and sustainable development are irrevocably connected, and that better governance of agriculture and food systems is key to achieving both targets.

Agriculture and food systems are already major users of resources. For example, food systems consume 30 percent of the world's energy. The crop and livestock sectors use 70 percent of all water withdrawals.

Three quarters of the world's poor and hungry live in rural areas and most of them depend on agriculture and related activities for their livelihoods. Forty percent of the world's degraded lands are in areas with high poverty rates. "Hunger puts in motion a vicious cycle of reduced productivity, deepening poverty, slow economic development and resource degradation," the report says.

Towards sustainable food production and consumption systems
Food consumption and production systems must achieve more with less. On the consumption side, we need to shift to nutritious diets with a smaller environmental footprint, and reduce food losses and waste throughout the food system.

FAO estimates that global food losses and waste amount to 1.3 billion tonnes per year — roughly one-third of the world food production for human consumption — and correspond to more than 10 percent of the world's total caloric energy consumption.

On the production side, soil, water and nutrient depletion, greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and the degradation of natural ecosystems must be targeted, the report said. Benefits provided by nature such as clean air and water (ecosystem services) need to be protected and harnessed to achieve sustainable growth.

More with less
Agriculture must produce more food but with fewer resources like energy and water. FAO is promoting an eco-system approach called Save and Grow to agriculture that draws on nature's contribution to agricultural growth, for example, soil organic matter, water flow regulation, pollination and natural predation of pests — and applies appropriate external inputs at the right time and in the right amount to improved crop varieties that are resilient to climate change and use nutrients, water and external inputs more efficiently.

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