21 Feb 2018
Nature can provide us with all the food we need, but we’re damaging its ability to do so by changing the climate, degrading soil, reducing biodiversity and over-using water. To make sure everyone has enough food, we need to waste less, eat less meat and farm in ways more sympathetic to the environment. We must change how corporate markets control land, and prevent population growth and bioenergy crops from putting too much pressure on our food supply.
Facts about feeding the world
- Producing food on land uses 70% of all the fresh water that people consume. It uses 38% of available land and releases 19–29% of all manmade greenhouse gases.
- A third of the world’s soil is already moderately to highly degraded. This is because of soil erosion, loss of nutrients, changes in the acidity of soil and water, urbanisation, and chemical pollution.
- Fish provide more than 4 billion people with an important source of protein, but around a third of fisheries have collapsed because of over-fishing, and 40% are said to be over-exploited.
- Healthier diets containing more plants, less meat and less junk food are more sustainable. If those of us in wealthier countries reduced our meat consumption, we could feed several billion more people. A shift to healthier, low-meat diets in the UK could prevent 45,000 early deaths each year.
- A small number of multinational corporations steer the world’s food industry. Just three companies control more than 50% of the global market for crop seed, and the four biggest supermarkets in the UK dominate 75% of our food sales.
Feeding the world – the problem
We take for granted that nature will always give us enough food to eat. But soil degradation, pollution, water shortages, land use, climate change and loss of biodiversity are damaging food production systems.
Forests continue to be cut down at an alarming rate. Climate change, acidification of the ocean and over-fishing are rapidly depleting fresh fish supplies.
These problems will get worse if we don’t make changes. The increased demand for meat and dairy to eat, land for bioenergy production, and a growing, wealthier population are putting more demands on nature than it can safely meet.
Big business exerts massive control over farming, food trade and retail, and powerfully influences governments. For many big companies, a quick profit takes a much higher priority than caring for the natural world.
The world’s poorest people suffer most. Enough food is produced to feed everyone yet billions of people are still hungry. Small-scale farmers, who supply the bulk of the world’s food, struggle to compete in markets rigged to favour mass production, despite the damage it causes. Many small farmers are simply kicked off their land to make way for big business.
Politicians are not bystanders in this state of affairs. Their policies are driving it.
Our view on how to feed the world
Politicians, economists, and businesses need to change the way they treat the natural world. It isn’t a machine to bend to our needs; it’s more like a living thing, and it needs protection.
Managed well, our world can be highly productive. But if we keep exploiting it, as we are encouraged to, we’ll damage it beyond repair.
We need to:
- Protect ecosystems – we should not use land for industrial-style agriculture, and must better protect our oceans. In the UK many protected areas can co-exist with offshore wind farms, bringing a dual benefit.
- Make our diets sustainable – we need to eat less meat and dairy. Globally meat consumption needs to halve, and for wealthy countries like the UK reductions of 80% are necessary. Fish we eat needs to come from sustainable fisheries.
- Use ecological farming practices – farming should be rich in diversity, protect soils, manage water sustainably and use natural fertiliser and pest control before chemical solutions. Farms must treat livestock humanely – intensive meat production is cruel and relies on using antibiotics that endanger our health.
- Limit bioenergy crops – these shouldn’t get priority over crops grown to eat. Energy should come from wind, marine, solar and geothermal sources wherever possible.
- Reduce food waste to near zero – surplus food needs to feed people first, and then animals, with only the remainder used for bioenergy. Reducing food losses along the food chain must be a priority.
- Recognise the worth of all ecosystems – we must recognise that different ecosystems provide us with many things like biodiversity and flood defences – as well as food. We need to manage our ecosystems differently.
- Stop big businesses from dominating markets – we must ensure farmers can access the tools and knowledge to farm sustainably; and that crop varieties, seeds, and livestock.