Over the next decade and beyond maintaining global food security will become much more difficult as the population increases. We must double food production in a sustainable manner. Greater quantities of food will need to be produced with reduced inputs of water, energy and nutrients on the same or reduced area of arable land in a changing environment. To do otherwise will court significant human conflict.
The increasing urbanisation of the global community exacerbates this situation as more and more people become isolated from the land and farming. Moreover, urban populations are more vulnerable to disruptions in the food supply chain. City folk need to understand where their food comes from. This will require education that is starting to happen with the realisation that nutrition is an important component of human health. The nutrients supplied in our food reflects agricultural practises and food processing.
The link between human health and agriculture is through food; its sources, composition and distribution. Food sources include both plant and animal and the availability and composition of the latter is largely determined by the cost of plant-based feedstuffs. It is not surprising therefore, that any consideration of population demographics demonstrates the importance of agricultural production as a major determinant of public health. This would appear to be a straight forward proposition, embracing the adage ‘we are what we eat’, especially in developing societies. However, the relationship between agricultural production and human health is complex in a modern, developed society and measuring the impacts is difficult.
Our relationship with food must change. We will need to reinvent our diets to meet our nutritional requirements for optimal health and in so doing consume fewer calories and less meat. To maintain a viable food supply we must be prepared to pay realistic prices and reduce waste throughout the food supply chain. All of the required changes must be underpinned by rigorous research. This will require substantial public and private sector investment.
Visionary public policy, both national and international, must be a major instrument if our food systems are to evolve in a sustainable manner.