The magnitude of the challenge has already been raised several times: to meet the demand of the 10 billion people who will inhabit the Earth in 2050 (compared with 7 billion in 2010), the supply of food should increase by more than 50 %, and that of animal foods even 70%. But today, while world hunger is far from being eradicated, agriculture is responsible for a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions. Furthermore, it is seriously threatened by climate change, as droughts, floods and rising water are reducing arable land.
To feed the planet by improving the environmental impact of the sector, it is necessary to fill three gaps, says a report prepared by the think tank American World Resource Institute (WRI), in collaboration with the World Bank, the United Nations Program for the Environment, the United Nations Development Program, the United Nations Center for International Cooperation in Agricultural Research for Development (CIRAD) and the French National Institute for Agricultural Research (INRA), a summary version of which was published on December 5 (the long version is scheduled for spring of 2019).
First of all a "food gap": the one between the amount of food produced in 2010 and that "Probably" necessary in 2050, since the WRI estimates that the amount of calories produced will have to increase by 56%. Hence, the disproportion between the area of land cultivated in 2010 and those that will be needed in 2050 "if crop and pasture crops continue to grow at the pace of the past", 593 million hectares – twice the size of India. Finally, the difference between the annual greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) predictable for agriculture if nothing changes, 15 gigatons of CO2 equivalent and those compatible with the goal of limiting global warming to 2 ° C, 4 gigatons of CO2 equivalent.
"To keep warming below an increase of 1.5 ° C, this 4 gigatonnes goal should be achieved and hundreds of millions of hectares will be released for reforestation," the report added.
More vegetarian diets among 22 solutions
If tackling these three challenges at the same time is anything but simple, a set of 22 solutions would still satisfy the growing demand for food "stabilizing the climate, promoting economic development and reducing poverty", Say the WRI and its partners. To reach the "remarkable progress" necessary, require each "action of millions of farmers, companies, consumers and all governments". But the potential of these solutions, and in particular their social, economic and environmental benefits, "is often underestimated", underlines the report.
The study summarizes these solutions in five "recipes". First of all it supports promote a slowdown in the growth rate of demand for agricultural productsincluding the reduction of food waste and the promotion of more vegetarian diets, but also "avoiding a further expansion of biofuel production" is "improve the access of women to education and health to accelerate voluntary fertility reduction". The reduction in meat consumption is expected to be concentrated in ruminant livestock (cattle, sheep and goats), according to the report, as it monopolizes two-thirds of agricultural land and is responsible for about half of all greenhouse gas emissions. greenhouse of agriculture.
"To fill the gaps in the mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions and land availability, by 2050, 20% of the world's population, potentially a large consumer of ruminant meat, should reduce average consumption by 40% compared to 2010", writes the WRI.
Today, however, we anticipate a global increase in demand for 88% between 2010 and 2050.
Raising crops, a fundamental question
The report therefore emphasizes the need forimprove the productivity of the agri-food system, in order to increase food production without expanding the surface of agricultural land.
"This means increasing crop yields at rates above historical (linear) rates and drastically increasing milk and meat production per hectare of grazing, per animal – especially for cattle – and kilogram of fertilizer".
This problem is fundamental:
"If the levels Production efficiency had to remain constant until 2050, feeding the planet would erase most of the remaining forests in the world, eliminate thousands of other species and emit greenhouse gases. The greenhouse gases exceed 1.5% of Celcius and the 2-degree Celsius heating targets in the Paris Agreement – even if the emissions of all other human activities have been completely eliminated, "warns the report .
To reduce greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss, "Governments must explicitly combine efforts to increase crop and pasture crops with the legal protection of forests, savannahs and peatlands" adds the study, which includes a third set of actions under this common goal. To keep the temperature rise below 1.5 degrees Celsius would include hundreds of millions of hectares of reforestation, he says.
In order to feed the planet without destroying it, it would still be necessary increase fishery resources improving the management of fisheries and aquaculture, recalls the WRI, but above all it encourages or imposes "on a large scale" installation measures to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from their main agricultural sources present, namely enteric fermentation of ruminants, manure, nitrogen fertilizers and energy consumption.
Innovation at the center of the transition
In order to achieve all the objectives proposed in the report, innovation plays an important role, says WRI. Among the "opportunities", the study cites better fertilizers that reduce nitrogen outflow, new crops with reduced emissions of greenhouse gases, organic sprays that retain food for longer, plant substitutes of animal proteins …
But "upgrading requires a significant increase in R & D funding, as well as flexible regulation that encourages the private sector to develop and commercialize new technologies," he notes.
"Although the challenge is enormous, a sustainable food future is achievable if governments, the private sector and civil society act with speed, creativity and conviction" concludes the report.