A long way from sustainable agriculture

November 14, 2019

A long way from sustainable agriculture

Produced by VirginiaTech, the document identifies the problems related to sustainable agriculture, food production and the potential solutions. 

According to the Global Agricultural Productivity Report (GAP) prepared by the Global Harvest Initiative (GHI), a VirginiaTech non-profit organization, one of the leading US universities, global agricultural production needs to increase by 1.73% per year in order to feed 10 billion people by 2050. The GHI was founded in 2010 to study strategies to enable sustainable agriculture to keep pace with global population growth and is considered an important institution for the study and implementation of sustainable agriculture.

At the moment, say the authors of the report, the amount of food produced in China and South Asia is growing, but it is falling in particular in low-income countries, where there are high rates of food insecurity, malnutrition and poverty among the rural population.

The crisis needs to be addressed urgently: according to VirginiaTech experts, soil erosion and desertification have reduced productivity in some parts of the world by 50%, with an estimated loss of 400 billion dollars a year. As Barilla Foundation has also been reporting for a long time, we are witnessing one of the most significant food paradoxes: the coexistence of over 150 million hungry children under the age of 5 with more than 38 million overweight children of the same age.

Key messages

Even though a plant-based diet is preferable, given food requirements and existing habits, and in order to provide sufficient food of animal origin while achieving global objectives in terms of nutrition and environmental protection, productivity growth needs to be accelerated, particularly in small and medium-scale livestock farming, dismantling large farms. 

According to the US experts, productivity growth is achieved by using technology that allows agriculture to be sustainable through precision, improving seeds and adopting more efficient livestock feeding and animal welfare practices. Productivity is also supported by maintaining ecosystems, for example by protecting bees and preventing erosion.

Sustainability strategies

Environmental sustainability initiatives should prioritize regions with rapidly growing populations, low rates of agricultural productivity and significant changes in consumption patterns, as they are the main drivers of sustainable agriculture. In low income countries, the situation is alarming: productivity is only increasing by 1% a year, far below the United Nations target.

If the production gap remains this large precisely where the population is greater and where food consumption practices are also changing, it will be impossible to go back, permanent harm will be done to the vitality of the agricultural sector and, looking ahead, it will be harder to reduce poverty, malnutrition and obesity” says Ann Steensland, author of the 2019 edition of the GAP Report.

The study also identifies strategies to cope with the problems: it is essential to invest in research in the field of public agriculture, but also in services and consumer education. It is important to improve infrastructure and market access (from transport to the means to reduce waste and costs both for producers and consumers) as well as to build lasting partnerships between the public and private sectors, particularly for the management of natural resources, for commercial agreements on a regional and global scale, implementing transparent policies to facilitate the movement of services and products.