Due to a rapidly changing climate caused by global greenhouse gas emissions, managing and providing for food security through innovative methods must be a key focus of international actors in the years to come.
Following up on a study published in 2011 on “World Food Security in 2050,” two prominent French agricultural research institutions have renewed their focus on the issue with a new study incorporating land use into the question of food security in the years to come.
The subject has particular importance due to the uncertainties about the ability of the planet to provide food to a quickly growing population – projected to reach nearly 10 billion people by 2050. How will agricultural land use change in the next 40 years, globally and regionally? What tensions will this cause between food and nutritional security and climate change mitigation in 2050? The study’s goal was to answer these questions, putting into focus potential solutions.
In order to answer these questions, the researchers at the National Institute of Agronomic Research (INRA) and the Center of International Cooperation in Agronomic Research for Development (CIRAD), focused on five key factors of land use (agronomic potential, access to land, degree of intensity of land use, distribution of land between different uses and services provided). Then, they developed five different scenarios combining several different possible hypotheses about how these factors might evolve by the year 2050. This allowed the report to construct a narrative about the future of land use and agricultural production in 2050 and to draw conclusions about the impacts of changes to land use and agriculture policy.
Here’s a brief synopsis of the five possible scenarios envisaged, followed by the conclusions the researchers took from the different scenarios:
The first three are based on current trends and wouldn’t necessarily require a systemic break from the status quo.
- The “Metropolization” scenario links the growth of large cities through rapid urbanization to the increased use of ultra-processed foods and the marginalization of small farmers.
- “Regionalization” predicts the rise of medium-sized cities with a network of rural areas, creating a regionalization of the food system.
- “Household” links mobility between rural and urban areas to the emergence of diets where both family farms and cooperatives are major actors in land use.
The last two scenarios represent bigger changes from current practices and could change the entire land use and food security system.
- “Healthy” predicts that rising levels of malnutrition will force a shift toward healthy diets driven by international cooperation and public policies in the framework of climate change stabilization, causing a reconfiguration of agricultural systems.
- “Communities” shifts the focus away from cities and links the growing risk of climate destabilization with the emergence of small towns and rural communities with common agricultural management to ensure food security.
The researchers were able to conclude that there is no single way to ensure food security for a growing planet faced with increased climate destabilization, but a menu of possible options that could mitigate the problem – each requiring significant systemic changes to ensure that everyone has enough to eat. According to the researchers, changes to supply and demand will be required to move toward widespread availability of diverse, healthy diets. Additionally, securing access to a wide array of farming practices and the further prioritization of rural development will be key to a future 2050 teeming with 10 billion hungry people.