The economic and food crises drastically reminded decision-makers of the eminently strategic nature of agriculture, both strategically and geopolitically. As outlined in Chapter 5 of the recent report published by the French Ministry of Defense under the title “Strategic Horizons”, agriculture represents a key factor in fighting food insecurity and regional imbalances, while remaining a specific economic activity. We highly recommend reading this chapter and are here providing excerpts , as it deserves the credit for re-positioning agriculture in its strategic dimension, while showing that increased price volatility will act as an additional constraint on production capability in a context of growing demand and strengthened speculation. As the authors point out, “Global balance between food requirements and agricultural production will eventually be achieved, but the risks of a sudden failure in the global food balance must not be downplayed.” For momagri, rising to the food challenge is possible, provided an international agricultural and food policy is implemented, giving farmers the necessary visibility to invest massively in agricultural research, so that productivity increases while resources are preserved.
Momagri Editorial Board
Rising to the food challenge
In 2010, one billion people out of the global population of 6.9 billion––or one out of seven persons––suffer from hunger. When the world population could reach 8.8 billion in 2040, a consensus is emerging on the planet’s ability to feed an additional two billion people, as physical limitations of agricultural and water resources do not in themselves present an impediment. The key issue of securing access to resources, as well as balance between supply and demand, will be conditioned by various factors, including that related to the commitment of governments to collaborative strategies.
Resolving the difficult food issue
Driven by both population growth and rising per capita revenues, especially in emerging countries, global demand for agricultural and agro-food products (including fisheries) will experience a strong and rapid increase in the coming decades, while the gradual standardization of food diets will concurrently fuel the demand for products of animal origin and for grain.
Global balance between food requirements and agricultural production will eventually be achieved, but the risks of a sudden failure in the global food balance must not be downplayed and remain largely contingent upon:
• The consequences of climate change;
• The struggle by nations in committing to collaborative strategies: While significant agricultural policies were based on the concept of food self-sufficiency, the share of public development aid earmarked for agriculture collapsed to a current five percent, from 10 percent in 1980;
• Solving the food equation––population growth/farmland availability/yield improvement. This calculation could be slowed down by antagonistic rationales and competition, or even conflicts on land use, all trends that might worsen by 2040, such as:
- Competition between food security and energy security, leading to an increase in biofuel production that might use four percent of global farmland, thus equally reducing land allotted for food crops;
• The price volatility that might persist. In addition, global agricultural markets will be highly dependent on economic developments and the strategies of large producing and consuming powerhouses, such as the U.S., the European Union, India, China and Brazil. The creditworthiness of importing nations will face an upward trend for agricultural product demand and rising production costs (for energy in particular).
- Competition between food security and the fight against global warming, which might interfere with livestock farming––the livelihood of approximately two billion people––but also represents a very high source of GHG emissions;
- Growing water demand, while the often-unfettered irrigation dries up water tables.
Most analyses are moving towards a global scenario of continuing reliance of southern nations on northern nations. The increase in agricultural production by developing countries alone will not be adequate to meet the demand if it does not go hand and hand with an expansion of trade volumes and the implementation of pertinent policies regarding access to food resources for people in the poorer countries.
Various current trends should endure and include:
• The gradual concentration of production factors in some countries or zones that benefit from comparative assets and unequaled competitiveness (Brazil);
• The growing financialization of agriculture, as food security gives in to speculation and to harnessing the intrinsic volatility of agricultural prices.
If nothing is undertaken to regulate the liberalization of international agricultural trade in the next 15 years, the volatility of agricultural commodity prices will rise. The consequences threaten global food security, since this instability will ruin the efforts made by poor countries and will undermine the agricultural potential of developed nations. In addition, it might generate serious risks for food crises that can arise on a much larger scale.
Preventing these developments would require the development of a new durable agricultural model that addresses the issue for the preservation of ecosystems.
Mounting tensions and threats of food crises
Food and water problems might fuel mounting conflicts by spreading existing tensions, fostering economic and social crises, and becoming a determinant factor of destabilization, or even intra- or interstate conflicts.
Food crises will affect vulnerable countries with predominantly rural economies, mainly in Asia and Africa. The most sensitive zones are coastal areas and deltas, megalopolises and semi-desert regions that are home to nomadic cattle herders and sedentary farmers. Overall, close to half of the global population would be concerned by such risks.
Food crisis might result in civil violence (“cost-of-living riots”). Conflicts related to land allocations and protests against wealth distribution systems will continue to be a factor of social and political instability, or even a source of major conflicts. Grey areas could spread due to the loss of livelihood resources or climate crises.
The unequal distribution of agricultural resources could be added to tensions on fisheries resources, since seafood represent 20 to 40 percent of animal protein consumption by man. According to various estimates, the 90 million-ton fishing volumes appear to remain stable, even if the reliability of such figures remains questionable due to the incomplete data provided by some countries. In any event, the overexploitation of some fish stocks could lead to their virtual destruction in the next few years. Fish bearing waters will therefore become sources of growing rivalries in countries where small-scale fishing is the backbone of local economy.
Lastly, in addition to the crisis-generating factors it carries, a deficit of agricultural production could intensify population migrations. One billion people could be forced to flee their habitat because of climate disruptions, shortages of food resources, and the conflicts they will breed.
The stability of some zones could deteriorate in the absence of agricultural growth. The political and migratory balance in Sub-Saharan Africa, and the Mediterranean Basin in particular, will be greatly contingent upon mastering agricultural development. The main issue at stake is continuing agricultural activities that can generate the revenues required to keep people in their home regions.
2 This text comes from the second part (“Rising to the food challenge”) of Chapter 5 of the review “Strategic Horizons 2012) published by the French Ministry of Defense (April 2012 issue).