Statement by UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner at the Feeding Ourselves Now and in the Future Event Fri, Jun 6, 2014

In Celebration of World Environment Day, the International Year of SIDS, and the 60th Anniversary of Bellairs Research Institute of McGill University

Thursday, 5 June 2014

Dr. De Lisle Worrell, Governor of the Central Bank of Barbados and Mrs. Worrell,

The Honourable Denis Lowe, Minister of the Environment, Water Resources and Drainage,

Your Excellency, Richard Hanly, the Canadian High Commissioner

Dr. Hugo Melgar-Quinonez and Dr. Margaret Gilliam, McGill University

Esteemed guests, colleagues, ladies and gentlemen,

I would like to first thank Dr. Del Lisle Worrell and Mrs. Waorrell for hosting this important event on food security, on the occasion of World Environment Day and in the lead up to the International Year of SIDS.

I would also like to congratulate McGill University on the 60th Anniversary of the Bellairs Research Institute - Canada's only teaching and research facility in the tropics - and one of the foremost academic authorities on tropical terrestrial and marine ecosystems.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Every day, more than 840 million people go hungry worldwide. The majority of these live in developing countries, representing 15 per cent of the populations of these countries.

In Small Island Developing States (SIDS), climate change will have a wide range of effects on the environment, which could have knock-on consequences for food production.

Climate change affects not only food security but food quality and quantity, as well as health, culture, transportation, infrastructure, and trade.

Identified in the IPCC IV report as being among the regions most vulnerable to climate change, SIDS will be forced to address food security sooner than many other areas of the world.

Despite a prolonged period of substantial progress on the social and economic front in the Caribbean region, large segments of the population are still suffering from food insecurity and chronic undernutrition.

Persistent inequities in income distribution and access to social protection networks mean that the members of more vulnerable households in the poorer areas receive insufficient food and nutrition, which impedes their normal development.

Worldwide, faced with the daunting task of feeding close to 10 billion people by 2050, we are challenged to produce more food; putting significant pressure on water, land, oceans and entire ecosystems. But the fact of the matter is, the reason the numbers of the hungry are on the increase is not because we do not produce enough food.

For example, while food production has risen steadily in the Caribbean region and exceeded the population's requirements by over 40 per cent in the middle of the last decade, some 45 million people, however, still did not have access to sufficient food, and 4 million children under the age of five were reportedly underweight and over 8 million were short in height for their age. Among the factors behind this fluctuation is an increase in aggregate demand accompanied by persistent inequality and repeated natural disasters.

Ladies and gentlemen,

Research shows that the world produces more food than is actually needed; food that is lost along the supply chain or wasted due to poor consumption decisions.

Both UNEP and FAO have pointed out in recent years that at least one third, or 1.3 billion tones of food produced is wasted - an amount corresponding to over 1.4 billion hectares of crop land.

In January last year, UNEP, FAO and partners launched the Think.Eat.Save: Reduce Your Foodprint campaign in support of FAO's SAVE FOOD Initiative and the UN Secretary General's Zero Hunger Challenge, in order to raise awareness and encourage action to stop food waste. It was the theme of the World Environment Day in 2013 which catalyzed 2,683 registered food waste prevention activities, representing an estimated 1.4 million participants around the world. Wasting food makes no sense economically, environmentally and ethically.

Achieving food security, therefore, is not about increasing global food production, given its large impacts on natural systems. It is about creating better food systems, sustainable production and consumption approaches, more efficient policies and smarter investment patterns across relevant sectors.

Food waste and loss carry direct economic and environmental costs and depletes the natural resource base that underpins food production:

In the UK, tackling household food waste would reduce the volume of greenhouse gas emissions from the atmosphere, equivalent to taking 20 per cent of cars off UK roads.

The water and energy embedded in the production of food that is wasted in the US represents 25 per cent of total water use and 4 per cent of total energy use (Hall et al 2009).

Post-harvest loss in small scale fisheries is generally regarded as being the highest in the food production system. It is caused by poor handling, spoilage and the discarding of by-catch. Spoilage is responsible for an estimated loss of 10 per cent of total global production. The discard of unwanted by-catch produces an additional 20 million tonnes of waste yearly.

Thisis especially significant in the trawl and gillnet fisheries, where the proportion of species caught incidentally can reach 95 per cent of the total catch (FAO, 2012).

UNEP research shows that the protein lost from fish by-catch and discard, if harnessed, could provide enough fish meal to increase current aquaculture by 50 per cent.

Food Consumption and Inequality

People in developed countries, who represent only 18 per cent of the global population, consumed an average of 41 per cent of the global production of animal protein and 30 per cent of grain in 2008 alone, according to FAO studies. Overconsumption in developed countries has direct impacts on global food security.

For example, the inefficient conversion of cereals to animal feed or biofuels is a diversion of food resources. According to the Worldwatch Institute (WRI), the total global grain harvest of 2004, if used directly for human consumption, would feed 6 billion people. If this same amount of grain is used for animal feed, the meat produced would only feed 2.6 billion.

Moreover, overconsumption in developed countries and across more affluent societies drives up food prices, causing more poor people to suffer hunger.

What drives these trends?

In addition to growing populations and migration to urban areas, increased incomes is an important factor in driving trends that impact food security.

While poverty remains unacceptably high - particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia - the UN reports that the percentage of the population living in households below the poverty line has decreased worldwide since 1990. Additional progress has been made in transitioning low-income households to the ranks of the middle class (UNDESA).

The increase in expendable income has considerable effects on the global consumption of food.

For example, global meat and dairy consumption doubled between 1950 and 2009. If this trend continues, global animal protein consumption will increase by a factor of four by 2050 (Bouwman, 1997).

The Agro-ecological Resource Base

The increase in consumption of resource-intensive agricultural foodstuffs is directly responsible for the rising pressures on land, water and other natural resources used in food production:

The global production of food occupies nearly one quarter of all the habitable land on earth.

It is responsible for more than 70 per cent of freshwater consumption; for 80 per cent of deforestation and is the largest single cause of species and biodiversity loss.

More than 20 per cent of all cultivated land, 30 per cent of forests and 10 per cent of grasslands are undergoing degradation due to unsustainable agriculture.

Deforestation, resulting from turning forest into crop land contributes to more than 30 per cent of total global greenhouse gas emissions.

Globally, the agro-food system accounts for nearly 30 per cent of end-user available energy.

FAO reports that fish consumption has reached an all-time high with the contribution of fish to global diets reaching nearly 17 Kg per capita and supplying at least three billion people with 15 per cent of their average animal protein intake. But 75 per cent of the world's major marine fish stocks are either depleted or overexploited.

Aquaculture, which most often utilizes wild caught fish as feed for farmed species, does not relieve pressure on wild stocks. For example, 20 kg of wild-caught feed is generally required to produce just 1 kg of farmed tuna (FAO, 2011). Global production of fish from aquaculture grew by more than 60 per cent between 2000 and 2008. Today, more than 50 per cent of the world's fish consumption comes from aquaculture.

The Future

At present, studies suggest that the current unsustainable trends and patterns of food consumption will remain unchanged.

In the next few years, food consumption is expected to increase by around 30 per cent due to population growth, while the effects of climate change are expected to reduce agricultural yields by up to 5 per cent in some areas.

The production of food is entirely dependent upon well-functioning ecosystems in the form of healthy arable land, healthy soils, plentiful water and resilient fisheries.

Unsustainable production and consumption patterns threaten the resilience of life's support systems and limits the expansion potential of cropland, rangeland and fisheries.

To bring about the vision of a truly sustainable world we need to transform the way we produce and consume our natural resources.

The restoration of ecosystems will not only increase the amount of food produced, but will also improve the state of the environment upon which food production is dependent.

Cutting the rate of food loss and waste in half by 2050 would close 20 per cent of the food gap, according to studies by the World Resources Institute (WRI) and UNEP.

Reducing excessive demand for animal products, particularly by developed countries, would spare hundreds of millions of hectares of forests that otherwise would be cleared for grazing.

Farmers can increase crop yields on existing agricultural land by implementing a suite of soil and water management practices, such as agroforestry and water harvesting.

Increasing farmers' efficiency levels through capacity building and access to technology can help reduce waste through the supply chain, while improving the livelihood of small-holder farmers.

Identifying innovative ways of safely capturing and converting food waste into animal feed provides one of the greatest opportunities for improving future food supplies and minimizing the global environmental footprint. Freeing cereals, currently used as animal feed, for direct human consumption could increase available food calories by as much as 70 per cent, according to UNEP studies.

But how do we create a holistic approach to solving the food waste problem?

As a key product of the Think.Eat.Save campaign, the FAO/UNEP Sustainable Food Systems Programme, as well as the SAVE Food initiative, UNEP is publishing this month a Guidance document that provides clear and comprehensive steps for governments, businesses and other organisations to develop strategies, programmes and activities to prevent and reduce food and drink waste and achieve the associated financial savings, reductions in environmental impacts and increased food and nutrition security.

This Guidance document will be Version 1.0 and it will be updated in the future, as best practices in food waste prevention and reduction continue to be implemented throughout the world. The objective of this Guidance will be to catalyse action around the world by sharing proven methodologies for food waste prevention. My colleagues, James Lomax and Dr Richard Swannell, from Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) will be giving you more information about this in the next session today.

Ladies and gentlemen,

We need to take immediate action to save food, improve livelihoods and conserve the environment.

Solutions and opportunities exist. But we need to seize the moment and create the needed momentum.

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