As the global population rises and diets and consumption levels change, there is a substantial challenge to the world food system. Globally, we are going to need to produce more food.
The need to produce more food, more sustainably, has become part of a larger debate about the idea of moving towards a greener economy.
The UK has demonstrated international leadership in relation to food security. In June 2011 the Natural Environment White Paper "The Natural Choice‟, committed government to a practical initiative to scope out and address the key issues faced by the natural environment within the food system in England. The project was led by Defra, working with the food, farming, retail and hospitality industries, and environmental and consumer organisations.
The project was intended to build a platform for a more strategic approach to food policy across all sectors.
The Green Food Project group focused primarily on “reconciling how we will achieve our goals of improving the environment and increasing food production” in England.
The Foresight Report on the Future of Food and Farming set out the challenge of managing a food system at a time of an “unprecedented confluence of pressures”. A growing, and in some cases increasingly affluent global population, alongside the increasing demand for limited resources such as water, energy, land and the pressing need to address key environmental challenges such as climate change, water availability, soil degradation and biodiversity loss, means that food security is seriously and increasingly threatened.
In theory, the world currently produces enough food for everyone, however there are many social, economic, political and environmental factors that cause problems with access to and distribution of food and thereby lead to continued hunger.
A recent report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO, "How to Feed the World in 2050") estimated that if current patterns of food consumption persist, 60% more food will need to be produced globally by 2050 (compared with 2005). Producing more food through a "business as usual‟ approach is not an option. We will need to do so in a way that does not degrade the environment and, as a result, compromise the world‟s capacity to produce food in the future.
The Future of Food And Farming, Government Office for Science, 2011
How to Feed the World in 2050, FAO, 2009
The food chain has a major impact on climate change, biodiversity, soil, water and the wider environment and will itself be affected by climate change.
The National Ecosystem Assessment showed that increases in the productivity of farmed land have resulted in declines in other ecosystem services. The Climate Change Risk Assessment has shown us how climate change could could cause further losses in both productivity and ecosystem.
In designing the new Rural Development Programme for England Defra will, within the framework laid down by the reformed Common Agricultural Policy, adopt the approach of the Green Food Project to move towards outcome focused geographically tailored solutions where that will enhance benefits and value for money.
The Project Group recommended that Government should develop a more strategic approach to decisions about agricultural land use policies. This would enable different Departments to work more closely together to discuss issues such as the diversion of agricultural production from food to other uses.
The intention of the Project Group is not to be directive about what privately owned land should be used for and how it should be managed. Rather, they want to develop policies that support land-owners to manage their land in a way that delivers the greatest benefit to them and society at large.
The Project Group recognises that 'getting more from our land' both in terms of production and environmental benefits will require taking a ‘landscape-scale approach’.
This will be especially important where the benefit is a public good not provided by the market and has to be paid for by limited public funds, for example perhaps carbon sequestration or the provision of biodiversity.
The key funding mechanism for this will continue to be the Rural Development Programme, which is overwhelmingly the largest public fund over which Defra has some discretion to influence improved land management, and provides opportunities to fund activities that help protect and enhance ecosystem services.
As existing agreements came to an end, Defra would, within any constraints set down by the reformed CAP, move towards greater targeting of scarce public resources to practices which deliver higher levels of competitiveness and environmental improvement.
This links to the results of the Making Environmental Stewardship More Effective (MESME) project which aimed to improve the delivery of environmental outcomes from the Environmental Stewardship agri-environment scheme.
An improved valuing of ecosystem services will enable Defra to do this much more clearly and ensure that schemes are broadly accessible to as wide a range of farming businesses as possible.
At present many policy interventions operate at farm scale. Impact of on-farm actions will vary between farming systems and regions. Sustainably increasing production at a national scale requires a broader assessment of where there is the capacity to increase production without breaching environmental and legal limits.
Future demands on land for energy production could have further impacts on food production. The project steering group recognises that the demands on land for bioenergy cannot be considered in isolation from food production, and that England needs to exploit the opportunities that bioenergy production can provide including for improved profitability and carbon reduction - but without compromising the country's capacity to continue to meet food production needs.