Despite daunting challenges, the application of contemporary food production and processing practices along with scientific advances combined with appropriate social policies can underpin sustainable food production systems. Clearly, the solution to the challenge of meeting future food demands lies in increased agricultural productivity everywhere, but particularly among small-holder farmers, of whom there are millions worldwide. Mixed crop and livestock production systems produce about half of the world’s food supply. Targeting these systems should be a priority for policies to sustainably intensify production by carefully managed inputs of fertilizer, water, and feed to minimize waste and environmental impact, supported by improved access to markets, new varieties, and technologies.
The global food system is extremely complex and the gap between developing and developed nations is not only in economics but also in science, governance, and public information. Thus, to tackle these issues, a number of areas must be addressed urgently:
- Science and research; There has been a global decline in agricultural R&D in the past four decades. There is now an urgent need to redouble the agricultural research effort. The new food producing system has to be science-based with low resource input. To ensure this occurs there must be definable career paths to encourage the next generation to enter agriculture and food research.
- Economics and education; Increased economic development is required in developing countries hand-in-hand with education. These improvements will ultimately decrease the birth rate. In many economies, women manage the food cycle and their recognition and education should be a priority. In developed economies, education will be equally important as consumer attitudes will be very important to the eventual acceptance of new technologies and adoption of different patterns of food consumption. Part of the economic equation must be to pay farmers more for their products.
- Sustainable diet; Part of the solution to feeding the planet is the development of consumption patterns that meet requirements in a safe, nutritious and affordable manner. In developed countries this will mean learning to eat sustainably with less reliance on meat. Through the application of the tools of molecular biotechnology, future nutrition will be personalised to account for individual variation and to improve health and well-being.
- Waste; Postharvest losses of plant foods can be substantial in developing countries and amount to 30 to 50 % of production due to a lack of storage infrastructure. In developed countries we throw away a similar proportion of all food produced. The combined loss would feed about 3 billion people. Reducing wastage will provide breathing space to allow the development and adoption of new food production technologies.
- Governance: Addressing these complex issues will take commitment and collaborative efforts at both an international and national government levels. It must also involve government agencies, private enterprise, and nongovernmental organizations. An atmosphere of collective good will ensure that research investment is appropriate and will enable the development of policy to allow integrated implementation of new food production systems.