Millions still live in extreme poverty and billions remain malnourished, even as population increases, conflicts and climate change threaten natural resources and food security.

Despite gains in eradicating global hunger and poverty since the 1990s, those are a few of the troubling trends highlighted in a new report, “The Future of Food and Agriculture: Trends and Challenges,” from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The report sets forth 15 trends that must be considered in refining efforts to end global hunger and poverty.

A recurring theme is that positive progress is often mitigated by negative consequences. For example:

  • Increased agricultural production over the past 30 years has expanded the global food supply, but this has contributed to deforestation, groundwater depletion, soil exhaustion and global warming (via greenhouse gas emissions).
  • Improved food supply chains have made food more accessible, but this has increased both food loss/waste and the number of “high-calorie, but low-nutrient” foods.
  • Economic growth in low-to-middle-income nations has reduced income inequality between nations, but this often leads to “a dietary transition towards higher consumption of meat, fruits and vegetables, relative to that of cereals, requiring commensurate shifts in output and adding pressure on natural resources.”
  • Population growth has offered the possibility of “a huge demographic dividend and massive growth in domestic markets,” but it can contribute to conflict and mass migration because the highest growth rates often occur in the poorest nations.

The report offers several suggestions to help address these trends, including creating a more sustainable agricultural system (production and distribution), improving governance to protect rights and increase opportunity for those living in poverty and addressing climate change.

“One clear message that emerges is that ‘business-as-usual’ is not an option,” the report emphasizes. “Major transformations of agricultural systems, rural economies and natural resource management will be needed if we are to meet the multiple challenges before us and realize the full potential of food and agriculture to ensure a secure and healthy future for all people and the entire planet.”

The full report is available here.

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