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UN report sounds alarm on farming land-use crisis

To feed the world’s burgeoning population while saving it from exhausting natural land resources, the United Nations today issued a report for policymakers, “Assessing Global Land Use: Balancing Consumption With Sustainable Supply,” published Jan. 24 by the International Resource Panel of the United Nations Environment Programme.

“Over the past 30 years, we’ve been increasing production on agricultural land, but scientists are now seeing evidence of reaching limits,” says Robert W. Howarth, Cornell’s David R. Atkinson Professor of Ecology and Environmental Biology and a lead author of the United Nations report.

“We need to stop over-consuming land-based products. For example, one of our key challenges is overusing agricultural land for growing meat. There is just not enough land on Earth for everyone in the world to eat like Americans and Europeans,” says Howarth. “We don’t need to become complete vegetarians, but to put this into context and to help sustain feeding a burgeoning global population, we need to reduce our meat consumption by 60 percent – which is about 1940s era levels.”

The U.N. predicts the world’s population will be around 9.2 billion people in 2050, with the world’s less-developed regions contributing the most people. More cropland will be required to feed them. The report explains wide-ranging scientific options for sustainable, global land management. Expanding global cropland forever depletes environmentally needed savannahs, grasslands and forests.

If current conditions continue, by 2050 the world could have between 320 million and 849 million hectares more natural land converted to cropland. “To put things into perspective, the higher range of this estimate would cover an extension of land nearly the size of Brazil,” says the report.

Further, the U.N. report – compiled by noted international scientists – says that decoupling fuel and food markets would be a major component of sustainable resource management. Howarth says that countries must halve their current biofuel expectations to ease potential crises. “With widespread use of biofuels, rising petroleum prices will inevitably also drive food prices because biofuels are derived from cropland,” says the report. “Intolerable price increases for food may lead to spreading hunger, cause riots and sociopolitical disturbances.”

This difficult challenge reaches beyond agriculture and forestry. The report delves into energy, transportation, manufacturing, global health and family planning, climate protection and conservation.

Large areas with degraded soils must be restored, and improved land-use planning must be implemented to avoid building on fertile land, according to the report. An estimated one-fourth of all global crop soils is degraded, but nearly 40 percent of this degenerated land has strong potential for easy restoration.

To ease land pressures, the U.N. suggests more programs for economywide sustainable resource management; promoting a healthy diet in countries high in meat consumption; programs in family planning that slow population growth; and reducing food loss at the production and harvest stage in developing countries by increasing infrastructure, storage facilities and bolstering cooperatives.

7 Comments on "UN report sounds alarm on farming land-use crisis"

  1. Northwest Resident on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 2:26 am 

    “The U.N. predicts the world’s population will be around 9.2 billion people in 2050.”

    That projection is obviously just a simple mathematical calculation using past population growth rates and simply projecting into the future as if all other factors remain the same, including finding more and more oil fields to tap into in order to fuel that growth. Using the same method, I wonder what they project the population will be in 2100 — 15 billion maybe? Sorry, U.N., all growth comes to an end at some point, and chances are that we’ll hit a brick wall way before 2050.

  2. Davy, Hermann, MO on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 10:56 am 

    Jeez, they are now just seeing evidence? The problem is these scientist tend to use exponential projections for population, food, oil, water, and pork bellies. In a paradigm of growth that is “touchy feely” political correct way to make things look normal. You will probably see less of that now because of the horror pictures now showing their face. They will start using more quantum equations in the future.

  3. Steve on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 1:08 pm 

    “…To feed the world’s burgeoning population while saving it from exhausting natural land resources…”
    The UN is either totally unaware of the pernicious attributes of exponential growth (both populatin and economic), or purposely misinforming. I believe we are well into the overshoot phase of the classic overshoot and collape scenario. A report that suggests some tweaking of the various crises will ease things adequately is reflective of either total ignorance or extreme hubris. Or, as the conspiracy theorist in me tend to believe, purposely misleading so as to keep the masses consuming and supporting, as Murray Rothbard calls them, the parasitic caste in society (government).
    Until we recognise and admit that a true crisis is engulfing the globe, most will continue to be ignorant (some purposely) and do little to mitigate the coming collapse. Michael Ruppert, in the documentary Collapse sums it up best when he states that the exponential growth expectations of economics has run up against something stronger than it, finite resources (especially cheap conventional crude oil), yet we continue to believe we can overcome this ‘problem’ with some cosmetic changes.
    Sad to say I don’t have much faith in the-powers-that-be to rectify our dilemma. I think the onus will have to be on grass-roots organisations that prepare locally.

  4. ronpatterson on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 1:36 pm 

    This article, like many books on the subject, tells us “what we must do” to fix everything. Absurd! The world will never do anything, en masse, other than what they are doing now. All people are simply doing what is in their nature to do, and that is live as high on the hog as they possibly can.

    They will change their way of life when events in their lives force them to change, not before. People do not hear alarm warnings and act, they wait until the event actually happens then react.

  5. robertinget on Fri, 24th Jan 2014 8:48 pm 

    Will farmers continue to plant, nurture and harvest? Will farmers, (this is ultimately what this thread is concerned with) will farmers need water, diesel, GMO high yield seeds, fertilizer?
    We are talking Australian,
    Canadian, Argentine, Brazilian and American grains farmers, not subsistence, because these guys can’t afford pesticides, fancy seeds or chemical ferts of any sort.

    Our bodies, sooner or later will tell us that answer.

  6. kervennic on Sat, 25th Jan 2014 11:20 am 

    Stop eating meat, we need to grow more ethanol. The world rich need more SUV and they are in charge.

  7. Kenz300 on Tue, 28th Jan 2014 12:57 am 

    Maybe the problem is the never ending world population growth.

    Family planning services needs to be available to all that want it.

    Solve the over population problem and then every other problem becomes easier to solve.

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