Nairobi, Kenya (PANA) - Widespread degradation and deepening scarcity of land and water resources have placed a number of key food production systems around the globe at risk.
The risks pose a profound challenge to the task of feeding a world population expected to reach nine billion people by 2050, according to a new FAO report.
The State of the World's Land and Water Resources for Food and Agriculture (SOLAW) noted that while the last 50 years witnessed a notable increase in food production, “in too many places, achievements have been associated with management practices that have degraded the land and water systems upon which food production depends.”
Today, a number of those systems “face the risk of progressive breakdown of their productive capacity under a combination of excessive demographic pressure and unsustainable agriculture use and practices,” the report said.
No region is spared -- Systems at risk can be found around the globe, from the highlands of the Andes to the steppes of Central Asia, from Australia’s Murray-Darling river basin to the central United States.
At the same time, as natural resource bottlenecks are increasingly felt, competition for land and water will become “pervasive,” the report suggested.
This includes competition between urban and industrial users as well as within the agricultural sector – between livestock, staple crops, non-food crop and biofuel production.
Climate change is expected to alter the patterns of temperature, precipitation and river flows, upon which the world’s food production systems depend.
As a result, the challenge of providing sufficient food for an ever-more hungry planet has never been greater, SOLAW said — especially in developing countries, where quality land, soil nutrients and water are least abundant.
“The SOLAW report highlights that the collective impact of these pressures and resulting agricultural transformations have put some production systems at risk of breakdown of their environmental integrity and productive capacity.
"These systems at risk may simply not be able to contribute as expected in meeting human demands by 2050. The consequences in terms of hunger and poverty are unacceptable. Remedial action needs to be taken now,” said FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.
Between 1961 and 2009, the world’s cropland grew by 12 per cent but agricultural production expanded 150 per cent, thanks to a significant increase in yields of major crops.
However, one of the “warning signs” flagged by the SOLAW report is that rates of growth in agricultural production have been slowing in many areas and are today only half of what they were during the heyday of the Green Revolution.
Overall, the report paints the picture of a world experiencing an increasing imbalance between availability and demand for land and water resources at the local and national levels.
The number of areas reaching the limits of their production capacity is fast increasing, the report warns.
SOLAW provides, for the first time ever, a global assessment of the state of the planet’s land resources. Fully one quarter are highly degraded.
Another eight per cent are moderately degraded, 36 per cent are stable or slightly degraded and 10 per cent are ranked as “improving.”
The remaining shares of the earth’s land surface are either bare (around 18 per cent) or covered by inland water bodies (around 2 per cent). (These figures include all land types, not just farmland).
FAO’s definition of degradation extends beyond soil and water degradation per se and includes an assessment of other aspects of affected ecosystems, for instance biodiversity loss.
Large parts of all continents are experiencing land degradation, with particularly high incidences down the west coast of the Americas, across Mediterranean region of Southern Europe and North Africa, across the Sahel and the Horn of Africa and throughout Asia.
The greatest threat is the loss of soil quality, followed by biodiversity loss and water resources depletion.
Some 1.6 billion hectares of the world’s best, most productive lands are currently used to grow crops.
Parts of these land areas are being degraded through farming practices that result in water and wind erosion, the loss of organic matter, topsoil compaction, salinization and soil pollution and nutrient loss.
Water scarcity is growing and salinization and pollution of groundwater and degradation of water bodies and water-related ecosystems are rising, SOLAW also reported.
Large inland water bodies are under pressure from a combination of reduced inflows and higher nutrient loading — the excessive build up of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus.
Many rivers do not reach their natural end points and wetlands are disappearing.
In key cereal producing areas around the world, intensive groundwater withdrawals are drawing down aquifer storage and removing the accessible groundwater buffers that rural communities have come to rely on.
“Because of the dependence of many key food production systems on groundwater, declining aquifer levels and continued abstraction of non-renewable groundwater present a growing risk to local and global food production,” the FAO report cautioned.
-0- PANA DJ/BOS 1Dec2011