On Day 5, I had the opportunity to hear the world leaders dialogue on ‘how to feed nine billion people’. Some of the panelists participating in the discussions included; Dr. Sylvia Earle (marine biologist and National Geographic explorer in residence), Dr. Jason Clay (WWF US branch), and Ms Monique Barbut (UNCCD).
Despite the fact that ‘producing food has had the greatest impact of the earth’s ecosystems’, the panelists agreed that it was possible to feed a global population of nine billion people within the earth’s ecological limits (carrying capacity). However, significant changes in the behaviour and attitudes of people, particularly in wealthy nations were needed to achieve this.
For example, Dr. Earle highlighted that because society thought of the oceans as bountiful, decades of over exploitation and destructive fishing practices have resulted in significant decline in the number of apex species. Further, the desire to consume species that have not historically been part of an individual’s diet has also meant that some of the most pristine marine wildernesses such as the Arctic and Antarctic are also being fished.
“90% of commercial marine species have now become extinct since the middle of the last century” (Dr. Earle, 2014)
Ms Barbut presented some sobering statistics which highlighted the environmental challenges associated with the current state of food production.
“The amount of food wasted each year is equivalent to emitting 3.3 billion tonnes of CO2” (Monique Barbut, 2014)
Feeding a population of nine billion does not simply mean producing more food as highlighted by Mr. Jason Clay. He argues that policy makers need to identify where global populations are likely to increase, and focus on increasing food production in those areas. Of course, focus should also be directed towards establishing the best food crops and methods for those areas that has the smallest environmental footprint possible.
The final strategy that was discussed which would allow for feeding a global population of nine billion was the issue of land tenure. The lack of land ownership in some local communities mean that the ability to produce food is undermined. Any policies that address land tenure should also in some way promote land tenure rights of women as well.
Land tenure is particularly poignant when it comes to ‘protected areas’ as these have sometimes been implemented in such a way that it prevents the local people from accessing natural resources.
It appears that a population of nine billion can be fed within the earth’s ecological limits, but only if there are fundamental shifts in current attitudes and behaviours about food production and consumption.