THE UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) has thrown down what appears to be an impossible agricultural challenge to expand food output drastically on a planet with depreciating land and water resources.

In order to feed the extra 2.3 billion people expected to be on the planet by 2050, the FAO said last week the world will have to produce 70 per cent more food.

Annual cereal production will need to increase by nearly one billion tonnes to meet this mark, and meat production by more than 200 million tonnes.

About 90 per cent of the necessary increase will have to come from increased crop yields and cropping intensity, according to the FAO discussion paper, while extra arable land will have to be found – 120 million hectares of it in the developing world.

In Australia, director of CSIRO’s Sustainability Agriculture Flagship, Dr Peter Carberry, says the world demand for food and fibre will eclipses climate change as the world’s next great challenge.

The “21st Century Agricultural Revolution” is going to have to repeat the Green Revolution, Dr Carbery says.

But that will have to be achieved with much greater constraints on farming land, irrigation, energy and nutrients – and with the wildcard of climate change added into the mix.

At FAO, assistant director-general, Hafez Ghanem, this week was reported as being “cautiously optimistic” about the world’s ability to meet this challenge, although he was uncertain of the effect of climate change and the impact of biofuels.

The statistics formed part of a discussion paper prior to a “high-level expert forum” on the global food challenge in Rome in October.


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