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Future food security is dependent on water and energy management

Measures to address water shortages, rising energy prices and poor transport infrastructure will be necessary to ensure global food security in decades to come, the government’s chief scientific advisor Sir John Beddington said this week.

Water first

By 2050 the world will need 40% more food, 30% more water and 50% more energy, he said, speaking as the Government Office for Science published its Global Food and Farming Futures report.

“It is growing pressure on water supplies that is likely to be experienced first,” says the report. “Incentives to encourage greater efficiency of water use and the development of integrated water management plans need to be given high priority.”

Rates of water extraction for irrigation are exceeding rates of replenishment in many places, and the production of nitrogen fertilisers and pesticides relies heavily on fossil fuel-derived energy, the report says.

This pressure on resources is expected to grow much stronger in the future. The report says demand for water for agriculture could rise by over 30% by 2030. Moreover, major non-renewable fossil aquifers in arid regions such as in the Punjab, Egypt, Libya and Australia are being depleted and cannot be replenished.

Debate avoided “for too long”

Energy prices will also threaten food security, as they are projected to rise and become more volatile as global energy demand rises by 45% between 2006 and 2030. The production of nitrogen fertiliser is highly energy intensive and therefore particularly vulnerable to higher energy costs. Fishing will also become much less financially viable as energy costs increase.

The Renewable Energy Association (REA) said policy makers have avoided this debate “for too long”. “The REA has consistently said that there is an urgent need to make the whole of agriculture more sustainable,” it said in a statement.

The report also said physical infrastructure such as roads, ports, irrigation and storage facilities must be improved in middle and low-income countries to give access to export markets.

In landlocked African countries, transport costs can be as high as 77% of the value of exports, the report said. The report identifies meat products as being especially resource-heavy.

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