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Agricultural Production 'Not Suitable' for Food Challenges of the 21st Century

25 February 2015

GLOBAL - While the numbers of the chronically hungry have been reduced by 100 million over the past decade, 805 million still go without enough to eat on a regular basis.

That was the sobering message from FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva as he addressed delegates at the International Forum on Agriculture and Climate Change.

Increasing production has long seen as the natural pathway to ending hunger - but today, even though the world produces enough food to feed everyone, hunger remains a problem, he pointed out.

"Since food production is not a sufficient condition for food security, it means that the way we are producing is no longer acceptable," said Graziano da Silva.

"What we are still mostly seeing is a model of production that cannot prevent the degradation of soils and the loss of biodiversity - both of which are essential goods, especially for future generations.

"This model must be reviewed. We need a paradigm shift. Food systems need to be more sustainable, inclusive and resilient," he added.

Climate change a clear and present danger

Agriculture has a potentially large role to play not only in guaranteeing food security but also in building resilience to the affects of climate change and in reducing humankind's emissions of global warming gases, according to the FAO Director-General.

"The impacts of climate change are no longer an anticipated threat. They are now a crystal-clear reality right before our eyes," he warned, adding: "Climate change will not only affect food production but also the availability of food and the stability of supplies. And in a global, interdependent economy, climate change makes the global market for agricultural products less predictable and more volatile."

In his remarks, the FAO Director-General underscored the important role played by healthy soils. "Soils host at least one quarter of the world's biodiversity and are key in the carbon cycle. They help us to mitigate and adapt to climate change," he said.

2015 has been designated by the UN General Assembly as the International Year of Soils, and FAO is the lead agency for coordinating the year's activities.

New approaches

One promising new approach, said Graziano da Silva, is what is known as "climate-smart agriculture" - adjusting farming practices to make them more adaptive and resilient to environmental pressures, while at the same time decreasing farming's own impacts on the environment.

FAO is home to the Global Alliance on Climate-Smart Agriculture, a broad coalition of stakeholders, including governments; farmers and food producers, processors and sellers; scientific and educational organizations; civil society actors; multilateral and international agencies and the private sector established last September by the UN General Assembly.

The alliance is working to promote sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes; build greater resilience of food systems and farming livelihoods; and achieve reductions or removals of greenhouse gas emissions by agriculture.

The FAO Director-General also highlighted "agro-ecology" as a promising way to move food production onto a more sustainable path. The approach uses ecological theory to study and manage agricultural systems in order to make them both more productive and better at conserving natural resources.

Headline image: FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva.

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