16 October is World Food Day.
As population increases, food security is increasingly uncertain. The world set itself a considerable challenge as it adopted the Sustainable Development Goals: to ‘end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition, and promote sustainable agriculture by 2030.’ A goal that is ever more challenging to achieve as the implications of climate change are more and more visible.
World Food Day 2016 captures that problem in its theme: ‘Climate is changing. Food and agriculture must too.’ Those hit hardest by rising temperatures and changing weather patterns are the world’s poorest. They are also the majority of the one in nine that are chronically undernourished.
To make matters worse, the global population is projected to increase past 9.7 billion by 2050, creating an even greater demand for food.
The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) believes that the agriculture and food systems in the world need to be adapted to the adverse effects of climate change. Such adaptability would create a resilient, efficient and sustainable food production system that meets the demand of all to end hunger once and for all. While we agree that there is much to win in the existing food sector by reducing waste, improving farming methods and changing consumption patterns, this is not in itself sufficient to guarantee food security for all.
We argue that not only should we adapt our food industry to the unavoidable effects of climate change to guarantee food security, but we should also ensure that agriculture does not contribute to further climate change. The expansion of crop land and the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides intensify both climate change and environmental degradation.
Moreover, it may be impossible to realise such opportunities in densely populated areas, due to a lack of space and competition with the building sector.
That potential conflict draws attention to the most obvious variable that needs to be considered in any food security question: human population.
Population growth exacerbates every existing challenge. Every individual emits carbon, requires food and water and needs a roof over their head, and with limited space this means it is impossible to create a truly sustainable society in which both humans and nature thrive in the long term, when population size increases.
Consequently, it is necessary that governments across the globe consider population stabilisation as a key component of improving food security. Attention to climate change and its implications for food security is a good start, but the FAO should not forget the influence of population size on both.