We must act now if we are to feed the world sustainably


Credit: Ed. Quae, 2018

For INRA President Philippe Mauguin and CIRAD President Michel Eddi, shifting to a “healthy” global land use scenario will mean concerted action on the part of a range of stakeholders, notably “cooperation between producers and agrifood firms, civil society and governments” , and “strong public policies” .

They call for the drafting and implementation of:

Food and health policies aimed at boosting consumption of fruit, vegetables, legumes and a wider range of cereals, and cutting that of oils, sugar and animal products (albeit with variations between world regions);
agricultural, environmental and climate policies to encourage agro-ecological practices that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and environmental degradation and centre on the interactions between the biological components of systems rather than on massive chemical input use;
development and land use policies that foster relations between rural and urban areas and create jobs in rural zones.

They stress that “the interdependence of the problems to be addressed and the global environmental impact” mean we need to draft cross-sectoral policies and strategies that are simultaneously “global, national, regional, and territorial” and to build agricultural and food systems that are “much more knowledge-intensive” rather than consuming natural resources. These public policies should be “pragmatic, take into account the limits on resources, the shift to a green economy, the role of soil organic matter and the need for quality food products, but also the complementarity between the public and private sectors”, as specified in ” Land Use and Food Security in 2050: a Narrow Road” (chapter 17, p. 340).

Public investment must be planned in such a way as to steer the private sector towards the “healthy” scenario. Such a scenario will require collaboration between all the economic, social and environmental stakeholders.

The Agrimonde-Terra approach is there to help decision-makers identify the levers for action required in order to move towards “the land use changes that are vitally important to preserve the environment, mitigate climate change, guarantee a healthy diet for all, and foster more inclusive rural development” , Philippe Mauguin and Michel Eddi state in Le Monde .

“This foresight study fuels the dialogue between science and society, to foster knowledge sharing and the construction of a sustainable future for all.”

The global food system needs a rethink

According to the Agrimonde-Terra foresight study, which defined five scenarios*, only the so-called “healthy” scenario will both limit the expansion in land use for agriculture, and consequently deforestation, and alleviate malnutrition and under- and over-nutrition on a global level by 2050, while allowing for climate issues. Providing the global population, which could reach almost ten billion by 2050, with healthy food, in a sustainable and fair way, requires a triple transformation: of diets, of agricultural production systems, and of supply chains.

The current global food system is having a significant impact on the environment, and that impact could increase by between 50 and 90% by 2050 unless specific measures are taken, according to an article published in Nature in October. A previous article by the Milano Group, of which CIRAD is a member, published in August in partnership with INRA, had already called for profound changes in food systems.


* Agrimonde-Terra points out that whatever the scenario, global trade will remain essential for ensuring global food security, as stated in the latest FAO report on agricultural trade, climate change and food security.

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