2.1 A failing food system

The food system is buckling under intense pressure from climate change, ecological degradation, population growth, rising energy prices, rising demand for meat and dairy products, and competition for land from biofuels, industry, and urbanization.

The warning signs are clear. Surging and unstable international food prices, growing conflicts over water, the increased exposure of vulnerable populations to drought and floods are all symptoms of a crisis that may soon become permanent: food prices are forecast to increase by something in the range of 70 to 90 per cent by 2030 before the effects of climate change, which will roughly the double price rises again (see Figure 1).

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We face the unprecedented challenge of pursuing human development and ensuring food for all, in ways that will both keep the planet within essential ecological boundaries and end extreme poverty and inequalities. Figure 2 illustrates the task at hand.

Even as global population significantly expands, we must:

  • Reduce the impacts of consumption to within sustainable limits, and
  • Redistribute consumption towards the poorest.

Achieving the vision for 2050 requires a redistribution of power from the few to the many – from a handful of companies and political elites to the billions of people who actually produce and consume the world’s food. A share of consumption must shift towards those living in poverty, so everyone has access to adequate, nourishing food. A share of production must shift from polluting industrial farms to smaller, more sustainable farms, along with the subsidies that prop up the former and undermine the latter. The vice-like hold over governments of companies that profit from environmental degradation – the peddlers and pushers of oil and coal – must be broken.

There are three major challenges that must be met:

  • The sustainable production challenge: we must produce enough nourishing food for nine billion people by 2050 while remaining within planetary boundaries;
  • The equity challenge: we must empower women and men living in poverty to grow or to buy enough food to eat;
  • The resilience challenge: we must manage volatility in food prices and reduce vulnerability to climate change.

Running through each are fault lines along which struggles for power and resources will play out. This chapter sets out each in detail.

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