For the millions of hungry and underfed people on the planet, food security is not an issue of insufficient production, but is an issue of inadequate access, according to the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).
In a report release today, and presented with the Rio+20 Earth Summit just weeks away, the FAO argues that the "only way to ensure [global] food security is by creating decent jobs, paying better wages, giving world's hungry access to more productive assets and distributing income in a more equitable way."
Calling for a "transition to sustainable agriculture" the report, Towards The Future We Want, says that will entail world governments making "fundamental changes in the governance of food and agriculture and an equitable sharing of the transition costs and benefits."
The report urges all stakeholders at the upcoming Earth Summit to make firm commitments to eradicating hunger this century, and argues that this could be achieved with adherence to available prescriptions for smarter food systems that are less wasteful and less harmful on natural ecosystems. "Improving agricultural practices is an essential component of the transition to a more sustainable future," the report says. And, in the future, "Agricultural production systems must 'do more with less'."
One of the great flaws in current food systems is that despite significant progress in development and food production hundreds of millions of people are hungry because they lack the means to produce or purchase the food they need for a healthy and productive life, according to FAO's report.
"Improving agricultural and food systems is essential for a world with both healthier people and healthier ecosystems," it says.
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UN's Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO): Towards the Future We Want
In all agricultural production systems, the transition to more sustainable practices requires more careful harnessing of ecosystem services. Ecosystem services comprise all the benefits humans derive from ecosystems – direct benefits such as food production as well as indirect ones such as climate regulation, nutrient cycling or cultural values. Ecosystems sustain human life through a range of services such as providing food and drinking water, preserving and regenerating soils, fixing nitrogen and carbon, recycling nutrients, filtering pollution, and much more (FAO, 2007). They are the underlying basis for agriculture and play a determining role in the productivity and resilience of production systems. They also have a wider impact on human welfare through their effects on regulating climate, the functioning of water systems and biodiversity conservation.
Agricultural ecosystems are by far the largest managed ecosystems in the world. In many cases, management approaches have largely focused on producing agricultural commodities, often at the expense of degrading and depleting other ecosystem services. The full range of ecosystem services that agriculture can provide must be recognized and valued if we are to enhance the sustainability and productivity of agricultural ecosystems.
To harness their full potential, agricultural ecosystems need to be managed as part of wider agricultural landscapes. Reinforcing the natural resilience of landscapes is fundamental. Deforestation, degradation of catchments/watersheds, land degradation, depletion of reefs and coastal ecosystems – especially coral reefs and mangroves – all reduce nature’s defence capacity. Disasters, in turn, contribute to ecosystem degradation and loss, including increased soil erosion, declining rangeland quality, salinization of soils and biodiversity loss. Diversification of varieties, breeds and production activities across agricultural landscapes is another way to increase resilience. Greater diversity in agricultural ecosystems may also lead to healthier and more sustainable diets, which is a particularly important consideration for producers whose consumption is largely drawn from their own production.
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The governments attending the Rio+20 summit in June should commit themselves to speed up efforts to reduce hunger and malnutrition and use the UN's voluntary guidelines on the right to food, the FAO said.
The Rio+20 meeting on June 20-22 is expected to attract more than 50,000 participants, with politicians under pressure from environmentalists to agree goals for sustainable development, in the spirit of the Rio Earth Summit 20 years ago.
Sustainable development is impossible without eradicating hunger in a world where over 900 million people do not get enough to eat, the FAO's Director General Jose Graziano da Silva said in the report.>
"We cannot call development sustainable while this situation persists, while nearly one out of every seven men, women and children are left behind, victims of undernourishment," he said.
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