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Trade and Environment Review 2013

Wake up before it is too Late - Make Agriculture Truly Sustainable now for Food Security in a Changing Climate

image of Trade and Environment Review 2013
The 2013 report warns that continuing rural poverty, persistent hunger around the world, growing populations, and mounting environmental concerns must be treated as a collective crisis. Urgent and far-reaching action is needed before climate change begins to cause major disruptions to agriculture, especially in developing countries. The report cites a number of trends that collectively suggest a mounting crisis, including increasing food prices, increased fertilizer use, and a decline in the agriculture growth rate. But most important of all are the persistent problems with hunger, malnutrition, and access to food. Almost 1 billion people currently suffer from hunger, and another 1 billion are malnourished, even though current global agricultural production already provides sufficient calories to feed a population of 12 to 14 billion.

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The role of changes in land use

Land conversions in agriculture are important for food security in developing countries at the present time, and are likely to increase even more in the future. In relation to overall land use, land conversions take place (a) within agricultural land, from meadows or pastures to cropland and to land for producing animal feed or biofuel feedstock; and (b) to agricultural land from other land use types, such as from forests, drylands and wetland areas. The dynamics of these processes are estimated to be in the range of 0.2 to 0.3 per cent of the global land area, suggesting that 26-39 million hectares of land are converted annually. The effects of land conversions on small-scale farming can be both positive and negative. Farmers convert new land for improving their livelihoods, but they are negatively affected by land degradation and the intrusion of built-up areas into agricultural land. Strategies should focus on medium- to low-potential areas in support of small-scale farmers and pastoralists to help them sustainably increase their agricultural production. Land conversion to biofuel feedstock production can provide a moderate additional income, although farmers are likely to be negatively affected by associated land losses. On a global level, however, efforts to achieve economies of scale, density and more intensive production of biofuel feedstock, along with other land deals, may threaten food security. Today's policy incentives disproportionately favour large-scale biofuel feedstock production, mostly for export markets. Innovative arrangements are needed to ensure that land conversions to biofuel feedstock production are made in a responsible manner, and that small-scale farming, including mixed-crop livestock and pastoral systems, can be integrated into global agriculture. Land prices and speculation are likely to increase once land is converted to more economically integrated modes of production, while subsistence-oriented, small-scale farming will remain unattractive and thus will further lose out against more powerful actors if national and international policies do not implement counter-strategies. Overall, the impacts of land conversions on climate are likely to be negative. While small-scale farming and livestock rearing are often climate neutral, deforestation remains extremely harmful, the large-scale rearing of ruminant livestock has negative impacts on greenhouse gases, and so far little is known about the overall impacts of biofuel feedstock production on climate.

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