Social Unrest Likely Unless Global Food Production Is Transformed, Scientists Warn

A new study from the Food and Land Use Coalition warns that the world has to diversify the current method of food production and consumption or be confronted with supply disruptions that could result in both suffering and social unrest across the globe, according to a report from the World Economic Forum:

“A new global study found the health and environmental benefits of transforming the way we farm would outweigh heavily the cost of doing so, with the authors urging governments to do more to support sustainable agriculture.

“‘A small disruption in supply really can do a lot of damage and leads to huge price increases,’ said Per Pharo of the Food and Land Use Coalition, the global alliance of economists and scientists behind the study.

“‘That creates suffering and social unrest. And it will highly likely also lead to hunger and instability,’ he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.”

One of the main problems is that the world relies on four main crops, which leaves them susceptible to food shortages if those crops fail. And global climate change makes that even more likely, Pharo noted:

“Four different crops provide 60% of our calories – wheat, rice, maize and potatoes. That increases our vulnerability.”

There are also staggering financial costs from the way we currently produce food, the study notes:

“The damage the modern food industry does to human health, development and the environment costs the world $12 trillion a year – equivalent to China’s GDP – the study found.”

To combat these future problems, the study puts forth a series of solutions that include “encouraging more diverse diets to improve health and reduce dependency on specific crops, to giving more support to the types of farming that can restore forests, a key tool in fighting climate change.”

One example cited by the study’s authors can be found in Costa Rica, where the government has helped reverse massive deforestation by eliminating all subsides to cattle farmers and paying farmers who agree to manage their land in a sustainable fashion.

The changes in Costa Rica have already been successful, with the amount of forest cover rising from a quarter of the country’s total land in 1983 to more than half today.

The study also predicts that the total cost of the reforms it suggests would be approximately $350 billion a year. But it would create new business opportunities that could total up to $4.5 trillion. That’s a 15-fold return on investment.

Another major benefit of such changes to how food is supplied is that it would free up at least 1.2 billion hectares of agricultural land for restoration, which is absolutely essential in the fight against climate change and the increasing loss of biodiversity across the planet. Those 1.2 hectares are twice the size of the Amazon rainforest, which covers seven nations.

Pharo says the changes needed may sound challenging, but would be a win-win situation if implemented:

“‘What we’re saying is realistic if the reform agenda is implemented,’ said Pharo, adding that under the proposed changes, consumers would actually get “slightly more affordable food.’

“‘The excuse that we cannot prioritize environment at the same time because we’ve got to focus on development, on human welfare, is simply false. We can deliver both.'”

Featured Image Via Bryon Lippincott/Flickr

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Andrew Bradford

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