3.0 Challenges for food and biodiversity

Eradicating hunger and maintaining a stable and sufficient food supply while conserving biodiversity will require both short- and long-term actions.

In the current situation of increasing claims on land, substantial effort is needed on multiple fronts to achieve sustainable development goals. This includes improved yields (especially in areas where yields are low compared to their potential), waste reduction in the food chain, climate change mitigation, better land planning and the expansion of protected areas. Lifestyle changes towards less resource-intensive consumption patterns could also contribute. Finally, to eradicate hunger, it will be necessary to increase access to food for the poorest households.

To implement these actions, four fundamental short-term policy priorities can be defined:

  1. Create conditions to accelerate sustainable agricultural intensification

  2. Ensure a more robust food system to reduce hunger

  3. Mainstream biodiversity considerations in land-use planning and management

  4. Promote changes in consumption patterns

Clearly, these priorities are likely to differ across countries, depending on income levels.

3.1 Eradicating hunger requires only a small increase in food production

The additional amount of food required to eradicate hunger is small compared to the autonomous growth in demand, caused by population growth and increasing incomes, except in the poorest regions.

Redistribution of consumption levels; for example, by encouraging moderate consumption levels for the wealthy while promoting access to food for the poor, would further reduce the need to increase production, as demonstrated in the Decentralised Solutions pathway and the Consumption Change pathway. The difference between these two pathways is more in what we eat (less meat in the Consumption Change pathway) than in how much.

3.2 Attaining the biodiversity target

The pathways all show that it would be possible to arrive at the biodiversity goal by 2050. The three pathways use very different combinations of measures to achieve this goal.

Under the Global Technology pathway, the most important contribution comes from increasing agricultural productivity. Under the Consumption Change pathway, reduction in the consumption of animal products as well as reduced wastage result in less agricultural production and, thus, in less associated biodiversity loss. Under the Decentralised Solutions pathway, a major contribution would come from avoided fragmentation, more ecological farming and reduced infrastructure expansion. Climate change mitigation, the expansion of protected areas and the recovery of abandoned lands are necessary in all scenarios.

3.3 All pathways rely on sustainable agricultural intensification

Some developing countries, in particular in sub-Saharan Africa, have significant potential to boost their yields. Globally, a substantial increase in productivity is needed to feed the increasing population, while preventing a further expansion of agricultural area. This intensification needs to be sustainable to avoid negative impacts on the longer term.

The great diversity in farming systems around the globe, as well as differences in socio-economic contexts, cause sustainable farming practices to also vary (see slides below). Most of the technologies required for sustainable intensification are already being used by best performers or are in an advanced stage of development. Accelerating development and scaling up improvements are key. A first step would be to better enable farmers to make long-term investments; for instance, by improving market transparency, price stability and secure land tenure.

Patches or strips of natural vegetation on cropland

  • Improved pollination and pest control

  • Improved soil and water conservation

  • Increase in biodiversity thanks to corridors connecting natural areas

Rehabilitation of degraded land

  • Provision of more ecosystem services (e.g. water regulation, carbon sequestration, biodiversity, agricultural production)

  • Stop provision of disservices from degraded land (e.g. dust storms, sediment loads in streams)

Soil and water conservation practices

Higher yields and less environmental impacts by preventing loss of runoff water and topsoil, rich in nutrients and organic matter

Crop rotation and intercropping

  • Help to avoid build-up of pests and diseases

  • Improved nutrient recycling

  • More permanent soil cover helps to suppress weeds and protects the soil against erosion and sealing

  • Facilitative interactions between intercrops

  • Mix of varieties can increase resilience compared to monocultures

Precision farming techniques

  • Higher yields and/or lower costs thanks to more appropriate practices, more efficient use of resources, less waste

  • Less environmental impacts by using smarter chemicals, only when and where they are needed

  • Improved trafficability on permanent traffic lanes, supports soil structure improvement between traffic lanes thus decreasing runoff and erosion

Ecological pest control (e.g. push-pull)

Lower pest incidence, less need for chemicals

Improved integration of animal manure in crop production

Improved nutrient recycling:

  • Less need to purchase chemical fertilizers

  • Reduced emissions of nutrients and non-CO2 greenhouse gases

Improved plant varieties or animal breeds

For example, varieties or breeds that are: higher yielding, better adapted to specific environments (e.g. cold, heat, drought, water logging, soil acidity), resistant to pests and diseases, use water or nutrients more efficiently and/or provide improved soil cover

Improved animal husbandry

  • Improved pastures by avoiding overgrazing and soil trampling

  • Improved labour efficiency

  • Improved feed conversion efficiency

  • Reduced emissions per unit produce

Improved sanitary measures and improved housing for livestock

  • Lower incidence of disease and mortality

  • Improved feed conversion efficiency

  • Reduced emissions at systems level

  • Public health benefits of improved sanitation

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The Trend scenario projects a continued decreasing trend for agricultural productivity growth. In all Challenge pathways, a much higher productivity growth would be needed to achieve the goals, especially under the Global Technology pathway where consumption patterns are most resource demanding.

3.4 Food security requires a more robust food supply

In recent years, food prices have substantially increased, albeit with strong fluctuations. Price hikes hurt consumers, especially the poor. Strong price volatility hampers farm investments that are aimed at sustainable productivity increases.

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Food price index

Price volatility could be mitigated by:

  • Improved stock management

  • More transparent and better-functioning markets and with trade regimes, without surprising changes to the rules of the game during cycles of scarcity and plenty

  • Investment in more climate-resilient agricultural systems

  • Monitoring of the land used for bio-energy and acting in case of excessive land claims

Domestic safety nets are crucial to protect the poorest consumers from the impacts of high and volatile prices.

3.5 Integrated land-use planning important for achieving goals

Integration of biodiversity and ecosystem services into land-use planning and management may help to align competing claims on land and make the process more transparent and inclusive.

This requires proper understanding of the different demands and uses related to land, as well as administrative capacity to translate these demands and uses into policies and actions on the ground. For this to work, financial, technical and administrative capacities must be developed. The consideration of ecosystem services in land-use planning could lead to better-informed decisions and a more optimal allocation of land to the various uses.

3.6 International cooperation on protected areas will be needed

Biodiversity hot spots and other protection targets are unevenly distributed across the continents. Mechanisms to facilitate international financing could help to attain a protection level of 17% of terrestrial areas.

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Protected areas

Central and South America, China and Southeast Asia would be required to protect more than 17% of their territorial area, due to the ecological value of their ecosystems, independent of the allocation scheme chosen for expansion of protected areas. Especially in developing regions, establishing effective protection within protected areas is challenging. Globally, however, costs seem to be modest, especially considering the benefits provided by these protected areas; for instance, from ecosystem service management and tourism.

3.7 Promote a shift in consumption patterns

The Changed Consumption pathway shows that trimming down meat-intensive diets form a potentially powerful measure to ease the pressure on agricultural expansion. Interventions to enable such a modification could probably be framed most effectively in conjunction with public health concerns.

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Dr. John Ingram

Levers to directly influence consumption habits would be regulation and economic instruments (taxation on certain types of food or limitations to contents), choice editing (restricting people's choices of products), campaigns (increasing awareness about healthy consumption), and mandatory labelling of food with nutritional information. Businesses and consumers are the primary drivers of sustainable supply chain initiatives. The increased attention by governments for Green Public Procurement could lead to more harmonised standards for sustainable production criteria, which would help to scale up sustainable production and provide a basis for regulation.

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