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November 21 is World Fisheries Day! According to a United Nations report, the world’s population is estimated to grow to 8.5 billion people by 2030, and reach 9.7 billion people by 2050. One of the biggest concerns regarding this rapid population expansion is sustainable food security. Aquaculture, the fastest growing food production sector, could be one such way to ensure this. As of 2016, more seafood is sourced through aquafarming than is being caught in the wild. Aquafarms are uniquely positioned to address the growing demand for seafood protein. However, as they continue to become more prevalent, the need to ensure that their sustainable development also increases. 

What is Aquafarming?

Aquafarming, also known as aquaculture, is the farming of aquatic organisms, such as fish, crustaceans, molluscs and plants. Aquafarming can occur in both marine and freshwater environments. There are numerous aquafarming methods, but most follow the same basic production chain. Beginning at a hatchery, a combination of a laboratory and a farm, the fish are spawned, hatched and cared for until they are large enough to move to the next stage; the farm. The fish remain on the farm where they are fed by food produced at farm mills (another stage of the production chain) until they are ready to be harvested. Once they have reached harvest size, the fish are transported to processors where they are packaged and sent to food retailers. The exact details of the farm-to-table method vary based on species and location. Some farmers choose to farm their fish in net pens or cages in water. This method is sometimes referred to as ‘cage cultures’. These enclosed cages need to be carefully monitored to ensure that they do not harm the surrounding ecosystems. Marine shellfish can be ‘seeded’ on the seafloor, grown in bottom cages, or grown in floating cages. 

Farmers that are farming freshwater fish, or who don’t have access to oceans or estuaries, use ‘pond cultures’. Here the fish are kept in earthen ponds or tanks on land. Ensuring that the fish have continuously filtered and oxygenated water is especially important in these systems. Two ways to ensure this are recirculating systems and integrated multi-trophic aquaculture systems. In recirculating systems, the fish, shellfish and/or plant-life are farmed in ‘closed-loop’ systems that continuously filter the water and recycle waste. In an integrated multi-trophic aquaculture system, several species are farmed in one system, so that the waste or by-products of one species serve as food for another. 

The Benefits of Aquafarming 

According to another UN report, since 1961, the annual increase in fish consumption has been double the population growth of people. To meet this growing demand, the seafood industry will need to increase production by over 1.6 million tons each year. This demand can no longer be sustained by ocean fishing, as many fish stocks are on the brink of collapse from overfishing. Aquafarming is able to bridge the widening gap between seafood supply and demand. 

One of the major advantages of aquafarming over agriculture is that fish require far fewer calories than cows, pigs or sheep. The reason for this is two-fold. Firstly, fish are coldblooded, meaning they don’t expend energy maintaining their own body temperatures. Secondly, fish live in a buoyant environment, so they use less energy fighting gravity than terrestrial animals do. In order to produce one pound of body mass respectively, a cattle farmer will need approximately 6.8 pounds of feed, a chicken farmer will need approximately 1.7 pounds of feed, while a salmon farmer will need approximately 1.1 pounds of feed (this varies between different species). These ratios suggest that farming salmon is almost seven times more efficient than farming beef. 

While most commonly associated with fish farming, aquafarming also involves the farming of shellfish, molluscs and marine plants. A common belief in the sustainability community is that, in order to ensure global food security, people will need to learn to eat further down the food chain more regularly. Shellfish are considered to be one-step up from the bottom of the food chain. They are high in nutrients and omega-3s and low in fats, making them a healthy protein. Shellfish filter excess nutrients (such as nitrogen) which makes more oxygen available for other species. They also feed on phytoplankton (microscopic plankton) which allows more sunlight to reach the ocean floor, as the presence of phytoplankton can physically prevent sunlight from reaching the ocean floor; this in turn increases aquatic vegetation. 

Marine oyster farms have been found to hold more biodiversity than the adjacent wild water. As these farms can be grown in otherwise uninhabited areas, the increased biodiversity within the farms can positively impact the surrounding waters. Another food source that aquafarming can produce is kelp, a nutritious vegetable that is particularly popular in Chinese and Japanese cuisines. The kelp industry in East Asia alone is a USD$5billion industry. Certain species of kelp can grow at incredibly fast rates, some as much as 12cm a day. Kelp farms can be successfully sustained without freshwater, arable land, pesticides or fertilisers. This, coupled with their fast growth rates, make kelp farms more efficient and environmentally friendly than many traditionally grown terrestrial vegetables.  

Aquafarming is particularly important in developing countries, where it both directly and indirectly affects food security. It directly affects food security through the increase of food availability and accessibility, producing a relatively healthy and affordable protein source. Fish is important for developing countries because it contains many of the vitamins and minerals that combat some of the most prevalent and severe nutritional deficiencies. Fish have high fertility rates and low feed conversion ratios, making it a more biologically efficient food source than terrestrial livestock. 

The UN estimates that over 100 million people rely on aquafarming for their living; with the increase in aquafarming in developing countries, more people will have access to job opportunities. Aquafarming acts as a driver for economic development, and through this allows more people indirect food security, as their ability to access food is no longer hindered by economic hardship.

The negative consequences of modern agriculture have been well documented. The habitat destruction, water pollution and the food safety scares due to overcrowding and disease have cast a dark shadow over industrialised farmers. In order to sustain humanity’s growing protein consumption, several studies have suggested that a dietary shift towards sustainable seafood protein could be a solution. It is predicted that seafood consumption will increase by 27% by 2030, and that the aquafarming sector will grow by 62% in the same period. This immense growth offers significant opportunities for many people, but also highlights the need to ensure that the growth of the sector is handled in an environmentally sustainable manner.  

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Downsides of Aquafarming 

During the aquafarming boom of the 1980s, large areas of tropical mangroves were bulldozed to create space for shrimp farms. Mangroves are of critical importance to the health of coastal ecosystems as they protect shorelines from erosion, serve as nursery areas for many different species of fish and invertebrates and support a number of threatened and endangered species. While the destruction of mangroves for shrimp farms has reduced since the 1980s, it is important to ensure that the predicted expansion of the aquafarming industry does not follow in the habitat-destroying footsteps of the agricultural industry. 

A second concern regarding the expansion of aquafarming is pollution. Aquafarming pollution mostly involves nitrogen, phosphorus and dead fish. When a large number of individuals are enclosed in a confined space, their waste matter becomes concentrated. Aquafarming pollution is currently a widespread hazard in Asia, as 90% of farmed fish are farmed there. One way to mitigate the problem of concentrated waste matter is to use an integrated multi-trophic system, recycling one species waste matter as food for another. Another way is to use a recirculatory system, where the waste matter is filtered out and fresh water pumped back in. However, recirculatory systems are expensive to run, often requiring massive water treatment systems and immense amounts of electricity to keep the pumps running. This is costly both for the farmer and the environment, as land will need to be claimed for the water treatment facility and most electricity is generated from fossil fuels. Better technology needs to be developed in order to make recirculatory systems more sustainable, but as they are not one of the most popular forms of aquafarming, it is hard to foresee when/if this technology will be developed. 

As has been seen in agriculture, enclosing large numbers of individuals in a small space creates a breeding ground for bacteria and diseases. In an attempt to combat this, some Asian farmers have been using antibiotics and pesticides. Many of these antibiotics and pesticides  are banned in the US, Europe and Japan, as they are known or suspected carcinogens. It is estimated that the US, which imports 90% of its seafood, only inspects about 2% of the imports. The use of antibiotics and pesticides not only threatens the health of those that eat the fish, but can also increase the prevalence of antimicrobial resistant bacteria (AMR). In a study published in the scientific journal, Nature, scientists found that aquafarms have high levels of AMR, which causes over 35 000 deaths each year in the US alone. It is predicted that these numbers are much higher in developing countries, and that they will continue to increase with socio-economic development. Antimicrobials are often administered to fish through their feed. However, it is estimated that around 80% of these antimicrobials are dispersed into the surrounding environments where they can remain active for months. These concentrations of antimicrobials put selective pressure on bacterial communities, which causes the development of AMR. The study also found that “higher AMR levels of aquaculture-related bacteria were correlated with warmer temperatures”. As ocean temperatures continue to rise as a result of global warming and the aquafarming industry continues to grow, the need for immediate, co-ordinated international intervention to limit the use of antimicrobial drugs in aquafarming is great. 

A point of conflicting views is the effect of aquafarming on greenhouse gas emissions. According to one study, aquaculture has a much lower GHG emissions intensity than ruminant meat, and a similar emissions intensity to pork. However, the study goes on to note that the moderate emissions intensity does not justify complacency, especially as post-farm emissions were not included in the calculations. Another study found that the conversion of rice paddies into aquafarms in China was resulting in a “globally significant [rise] in CH4 emissions.”  Quantifying the effect of aquafarms on GHGs is an intricate process, but given the rapid expansion of aquafarming, it is an area that needs further investigation. 

Looking to the Future

In 2015, the Member States of the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which includes 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The aim of the agenda is “to shift the world to a sustainable and resilient path that leaves no one behind.” Food and agriculture play a key role in achieving all of the 17 SDGs. Many of them are relevant to fisheries and aquafarming, no more so than SDG 14, which is to “conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development.” In order to end poverty by 2030 while mitigating degradation, food production needs to be increased in a way that ensures that practices are sustainable and non-detrimental to the environment. This needs to be the focus of the aquafarming industry moving forward. 

While the expansion of aquafarming is still in its infancy, the concept of using polycultures dates back hundreds of years. Over 1 000 years ago, Chinese farmers developed an integrated multi-trophic system that utilised manure from ducks and pigs to fertilise pond algae. The algae was grazed on by young carp in the pond. When the carp were bigger, they were caught and placed in flooded rice paddies. There they ate insects and weeds, and fertilised the rice with their excrement. Finally, when the carp had grown to a suitable size, they were eaten by the farmers. This system is still used in over seven million acres of rice paddies in China, and perhaps holds an important lesson for the future of aquafarming. In the haste to expand and capitalise on the ever-growing demand for seafood, it is important to take time to understand how the natural world maintains balance between different species, and to ensure that aquafarming policies are aligned with and respect this balance.  

Featured image by: Flickr

With the global population forecast to reach 9.8 billion by 2050, the question of developing effective means of matching the food supply with demand has been on the agenda prior to the Green Revolution. The inability of conventional agriculture to achieve the necessary 70-100% increase in productivity to feed the world by 2050 is worrisome. Rising to the challenge, scientists and agricultural giants have turned their attention to soil- the most complex ecosystem on earth- and its humble microbes to boost crop yields. 

There are around 50 billion microbes in a spoonful of soil. The soil microbiome, consisting largely of bacteria and fungi, greatly influences plants by forming associations with their roots. The zone of soil which fosters interactions between microorganisms and plant roots is known as  the rhizosphere. Here, symbiotic relationships, crucial to the health of crops, are formed.

In 1888 Martinus Beijerinck isolated a type of symbiotic bacteria called rhizobium, which has been implemented into farming practices to boost crop yields as a natural nitrogen fertiliser ever since. Rhizobium colonises roots of legumes, forming characteristic nodules, and turns nitrogen from the air into a ‘bioavailable’ (easy for plants to absorb) form in the ground – a process known as nitrogen fixation. 

Microbes in the soil help to boost crop yields in a variety of ways. They are critical to nutrient cycling, particularly of phosphate, which is essential to crops and cannot be manufactured. There are bacteria which produce antibiotics that defend plants from harmful bacteria and some directly stimulate growth through phytohormones. Others induce epigenetic changes, meaning that they alter the physiology of a plant to the point of modifying its gene expression, making plants more productive and resilient to changes. 

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Microbes also provide plenty of indirect support. For example, they improve water retention by aggregating into sticky colonies called biofilms, which coat soil particles and trap the moisture within while simultaneously creating a fluffy, optimally-structured soil with tiny air pockets.  

Even more fascinating are fungi, notably a specific type called arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF). AMF permeate the roots and the soil with long finger-like projections called hyphae, which act as extensions of the host’s roots, bringing in nutrients. Additionally, through this network of hyphae, collectively called mycelium, fungi protect crops against pathogens, reduce the impact of pollutants and offer greater resistance to environmental changes such as water stress, soil temperature, pH and more. In productive soil, the mycorrhizal mycelium is very developed and serves as a means of sophisticated communication and signalling between plants, like informing about any deficiencies in an area or sending warning signs of pest attacks. It can even increase plants’ resistance to pests. More than 90% of plants form some connections with AMF.  Inconspicuous AMF, themselves, can grow to enormous lengths. The largest organism on Earth is Armillaria ostoyae, a fungus spread over nearly 2 400 acres across the Malheur National Forest, US. 

As mentioned, such relationships of the rhizosphere are symbiotic, or based on reciprocity, meaning plants serve friendly microbes just as much in return. As Ben Brown, a researcher from Berkeley’s Lab working on the AR1K Smart Farm project, puts it, ‘they do an exceptional job of farming their microbiomes’, referencing how plants exude compounds to kill off harmful bacteria and provide carbohydrates for their allies to feed on. It is not far-fetched to compare the rhizosphere microbiome, in its role and importance, to that of a human gut microbiome. In fact, scientists involved in the project dubbed their microbial mixtures ‘soil probiotic’. 

In the early 1950s, Norman Borlaug created a high-yielding strain of wheat by genetically modifying the plant. This invention spurred experts and farmers to begin the Green Revolution, a large-scale effort to increase food production and prevent devastating famines in the 20th century. The use of new genetically modified (GM) crop varieties, requiring more nutrient and irrigation input, became the catalyst for the worldwide spread of intensive conventional agriculture. This meant extensive use of chemical fertilisers, a significant increase in water demand and the growth of monoculture cultivation. 

In Asia, the Green Revolution increased yields from 310 million in 1970 to 650 million tons by 1995. Despite a 60% growth in population over the same time period, wheat and rice became cheaper, caloric availability per person increased nearly 30%, and only an additional 4% of farmland was used. Because of these remarkable results, the predicted famine was prevented and in 1970, Dr. Borlaug was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. 

The momentary success of the Green Revolution is indisputable, but its legacy experienced today- land degradation, leaching and eutrophication, greenhouse gas emissions, and genetic diversity loss- impugn the idea of agricultural intensification as a viable solution.  

One of the problems with chemical fertilisers is that it replaces the soil microbes. When plants are simply given what they need, there is no incentive for them to form or maintain relationships with soil life, and so the network of connections disintegrates. Moreover, the cropping practices alone, for example tillage, impact the rhizosphere interactions. In the absence of microbes, crops rely solely on human imitation of their services, as it is done in industrial farming, which soon ceases to be economically or environmentally viable. Therefore, some of the world’s agricultural giants, like Monsanto and Novozymes, are investing in large-scale analyses of soil samples and testing out different mixtures of microbes to be used as seed coatings or soil amendments. As the aforementioned rhizobium, every microbe in the soil has a specific function. Hence scientists are trying out different combinations of microbes to find the optimum blend. In an interview for the Scientific American, these scientists expressed no intention of using GM organisms, but ones derived straight from soil. As a collective effort, 500 000 plots of US farmland were sown with seeds coated in 2 000 different mixtures of microbes in field trials unprecedented in scope. Increased crop yields were successfully obtained, and the companies predict that 50% of US farmland will be using some form of soil microbial crop aid by 2025. 

Healthy soils support healthy crops and produce high levels of soil organic matter (SOM) which stores carbon. Intensive industrial farming practices strip the land off of this organic matter. The buildup of SOM is very important, particularly at the time of global climate crisis, because it prevents carbon from being released into the atmosphere by keeping it in the soil instead. This and other forms of ‘carbon farming’, a recent article states, should be incentivised to decelerate global warming.

In summary, soil microbes not only boost crop yields but offer more resilience to the impacts of climate change. Hence, in answering the question of the future of posterity, the science points down to the soil with emphasis on ecological intensification. 

The UN secretary-general António Guterres has released a policy brief called, “The Impact of COVID-19 on Food Security and Nutrition,” in which he discusses the need to safeguard everyone’s access to food and sufficient nutrition, calling our current food systems ‘broken’. He also urges the world to reshape its current food systems to be more resilient and sustainable to combat the COVID-19 pandemic as well as the climate crisis. 

The brief calls on governments to prioritise actions that will protect people during and beyond the pandemic. Guterres points out that millions were already struggling with hunger and malnutrition before the pandemic; 144 million children around the world under the age of five are stunted mainly due to malnutrition, which is likely to get worse as the world deals with the pandemic. While there is more than enough food in the world to feed everyone, more than 820 million people still do not get enough to eat, numbers which will likely increase, he adds. 

He says, “Unless immediate action is taken, it is increasingly clear that there is an impending global food security emergency that could have long term impacts on hundreds of millions of adults and children.”

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Even in countries with an abundance of food, COVID-19 risks disrupting food supply chains. He says, “Our food systems are failing, and the COVID-19 pandemic is making things worse.”

Earlier in June, the UN predicted that at least 49 million people may fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic, expanding the number of those that are food or nutrition insecure. For every percentage point drop in global GDP, an additional 700 000 children will experience stunted growth. The World Bank predicts that the global economy will shrink by 5.2% in 2020.

The policy brief makes three recommendations, including governments directing resources to areas most at risk of food insecurity, putting social protection systems in place to ensure that children, breastfeeding and pregnant women and other vulnerable groups have access to nutritious food and finally, investing in more sustainable and efficient food systems. 

Essential Food Services

Countries should designate food and nutrition as essential, while also implementing protections for those who work in the sector to ensure that food systems can continue to function. 

He adds that relief packages should also benefit the most vulnerable members of society, including small-scale farmers and rural businesses. 

Guterres says, “It means preserving critical humanitarian food, livelihood and nutrition assistance to vulnerable groups and positioning food in food-crisis countries to reinforce and scale up social protection systems.”

Reshaping Food Systems

The outbreak of the pandemic came at a time when food security and food systems were already under pressure, with factors such as conflict, natural disasters, the climate crisis and plagues of pests undermining food security. In parts of Africa and Asia, people are facing what the brief calls a ‘triple menace’, as heavy rain hinders efforts to control the swarms of locusts in the time of the pandemic. 

Guterres urges countries to build food systems which address the needs of both producers and workers, and to eradicate hunger by ensuring more equitable access to nutritious food. 

The pandemic underscores the need to transform the world’s food systems. After all, these systems contribute a significant portion to global greenhouse gas emissions- up to a third– and substantial biodiversity loss. Further, livestock contributes 14.5% of all greenhouse gas emissions, of which 44% is methane. Our food systems contribute to, among other things, the mass extinction of species, ecocide, soil loss, land degradation, water and air pollution and the spread of zoonotic diseases (as seen with COVID-19).

Humanity must rethink the way we produce, process, market and consume our food and dispose of waste to create more inclusive, sustainable and resilient food systems post COVID-19. 

To create food systems that are efficient, sustainable and resilient, careful management of land, soil and water is needed; the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) claims that when forest land is converted to crops, soil carbon decreases by 42%, while conversion of pastures leads to a 59% reduction. Post-harvest food loss must be tackled through low-cost handling and storage technologies as well as packaging.

As for resilience to the climate crisis, this can be achieved through water and energy-saving irrigation, conservation agriculture, as well as controlled environment farming, livestock grazing management, energy-efficient cold storage, biogas production and renewable energy. 

Plant-based protein could be a powerful means to solve a global food crisis. A new UBS report states that sweeping technological innovations are transforming the global food industry by changing the way the world produces food. 

The United Nations estimates that the world’s farmers will have to produce at least 50% more food by 2050 as global population is expected to rise to almost 10 billion. Climate change and water scarcity are already having major impacts on global food production, while the world would face substantial declines in agricultural output by 2030 due to extreme weather conditions and water scarcity. 

Plant-based protein and lab-grown meat could be the answers to an impending food crisis and the climate crisis, according to research from Swiss investment bank UBS. 

A report by UBS titled Food Revolution states that the market for plant-based protein is expected to surge to $85bn over the next decade as people seek out alternative options that are more environment-friendly. With the technological revolution in agriculture, the segment will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 28% by 2030, from around $4.6bn last year. 

“Mock meat was an almost comical fad 20 years ago,” Wayne Gordon, a senior Asia-Pacific strategist at UBS Global Wealth Management, says in the 67-page report. “It’s no laughing matter today, given the industry’s meteoric rise in recent years.” 

Plant-based Protein and Climate Change

Unlike past trends, it is people who are driving the call for change and not corporations and governments. UBS predicts the developments in lab-grown meat would be accelerating over the next five years because of the growing calls to produce sustainable foods that have a lesser impact on water resources and climate. Global food production currently accounts for 40% of land use, 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, and 70% of freshwater consumption. Citing a study from Environmental Science and Technology, the report says that lab-grown meat could cut greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture by 78–96% while using 99% less land. 

“The ability to create food that replicates meat, fish, eggs and dairy products — with a lower carbon footprint and without the need to slaughter animals — is likely to become a commercially viable option in the next decade,” the report notes. “While science can’t yet create the texture of a fine steak, processed meat such as burgers, chicken nuggets, and meatballs are getting good reviews and are expected to be available on supermarket shelves within five years.” 

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Vertical farming is one of the solutions that could reduce boost yields and improve crop resilience.

Technological innovations such as gene-editing and 3D food printing could make food much healthier and more sustainable. “We first need to bust the lingering myth that technology is the enemy of natural, abundant, nutritional and affordable food,” the report says. “After all, technology is the only way to secure the nutrition needed without destroying the planet. The good news is that we are on the cusp of a global food revolution. Transformational change, in our view, is about to occur across every aspect of how the sector works and what it produces.”

Other technological solutions

The report also lists a number of other solutions that would mitigate climate crisis and solve the food crisis: 

Satellite-enabled systems

Precision farming technologies, including the use of data from high-resolution satellite images, meteorological records, and soil nutrient sensors, can help farmers both to reduce costs and enhance production yields. 

Smart farming

Vertical farming and algae aquaculture could reduce resource use, boost yields, and improve crop resilience. 

Supply chain innovation

Blockchain, food delivery apps, Internet of Things (IoT), and bioplastics could reduce food waste, improve provenance, limit fraud risks, and increase traceability. 

Water-saving technology

Digital and analytics technologies, like smart sensors in crop fields and satellite images to glean information about soil conditions, could enable producers to understand their water availability and utilise it with precision, hence reducing water waste. 

Big data and connectivity

Connected devices like IoT and sensors make it possible to gather vast amounts of data, such as humidity, local rainfall rates, and temperature variations, which can be used to optimise many processes.

A new UN report has warned that climate change could trigger a global food crisis. The report outlines possible solutions including sustainable land management and increasing food productivity.

How will climate change affect food production?

The United Nations climate report warns that the world might face a food crisis due to climate change and overexploitation of land and water resources. A steady increase in global temperatures will make things worse, as floods, drought, storms, and other types of extreme weather threaten to disrupt the global food supply. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, prepared by more than 100 experts from 52 countries and released in Geneva last week, reveals that humans affect more than 70% of ice-free land and a quarter is already degraded. Rapid agricultural expansion has led to destruction of forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other ecosystems. Soil erosion from agricultural fields is 10 to 100 times higher than the soil formation rate. Such rapid land degradation has created spinoff effects.

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“When land is degraded, it becomes less productive, restricting what can be grown and reducing the soil’s ability to absorb carbon,” says the report. “This exacerbates climate change, while climate change in turn exacerbates land degradation.”

The report also reveals that an estimated 23% of all greenhouse gas emissions that significantly warm the planet are caused by agriculture, cattle rearing, and deforestation. 

A warming atmosphere intensifies the world’s droughts, heat waves, wildfires, and other weather patterns, and it is further speeding up the rate of soil loss, land degradation, and desertification. “Since the pre-industrial period, the land surface air temperature has risen nearly twice as much as the global average temperature,” the report says “climate change, including increases in frequency and intensity of extremes, has adversely impacted food security and terrestrial ecosystems as well as contributed to desertification and land degradation in many regions.”

Possible solutions 

Warning that the window to address threats of climate change, food security, and land degradation is closing rapidly, the report offers a variety of solutions to address the challenges. 

Tactics like improving food productivity and increasing the carbon content of soil can simultaneously mitigate climate change, help regions adapt to warming, stop desertification, reverse land degradation, and enhance food security.

“The options with medium to large benefits for all challenges are increased food productivity, improved cropland management, improved grazing land management, improved livestock management, agroforestry, improved forest management, increased soil organic carbon content, fire management, and reduced post-harvest losses,” the report says.

Enhancing food productivity means using less land for agriculture, which could help preserve forest land retaining a natural carbon intake system. Those forests move moisture through the biome and help regulate temperature, reducing the impacts of warming. Trees in the preserved forest anchor the soil, slowing erosion and preventing desertification. That stabilising effect in turn helps reduce volatility in crop yields, enhancing food security.

Sustainable land management is an effective solution. “Land management can prevent and reduce land degradation, maintain land productivity, and sometimes reverse the adverse impacts of climate change on land degradation. It can also contribute to mitigation and adaptation,” says the report. “Reducing and reversing land degradation, at scales from individual farms to entire watersheds, can provide cost-effective, immediate, and long-term benefits to communities and support several Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with co-benefits for adaptation and mitigation.” 

Reducing food waste is another important solution. The report estimates that over 30% of food is lost or wasted, which has environmental costs as food waste accounts for upward of 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. If the world were to drastically limit food waste, farmers would need less land, less fuel, less water, and less fertiliser, all of which would translate to a smaller environmental footprint. “Technical options such as improved harvesting techniques, on-farm storage, infrastructure, transport, packaging, retail, and education can reduce food loss and waste across the supply chain,” the report states. “By 2050, reduced food loss and waste can free millions of square kilometers of land.”

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