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International Conference on Science and Tecnhnology for Sustainability 2009
- Global Food Security and Sustainability - >>Japanese

Conference Report
  Tsuyoshi Miyazaki
Chair of the Organizing Committee
Professor, Graduate School of Agricultural and Life Sciences, The University of Tokyo

Global Food Security: Balancing Sustainable Production and the Environment

The population of the world, which exceeded 5 billion in 1987, is now over 6.8 billion, and the prediction that it will surpass 9 billion by the middle of this century is becoming steadily more likely. Amidst such a situation, the sharp rise in the price of crops that shook the world from 2007 through 2008, which can be called the food crisis, is still fresh in our minds. At the same time, food contamination issues have occurred in Japan, and concerns over whether the current state of world food will suffice have permeated our daily lives. Furthermore, debate has been growing over whether or not the shift from fossil fuels to biofuels will compete with food production. We would therefore like to look once again at the question of how to ensure the security of food for the whole world.

The structure of the issue is as shown below (Figure). Science and technology that are capable of linking water, soil, biological and artificial resources to sustainable food production are required in order to ensure global food security in a sustainable manner.

Water resources are affected by climate change; destabilizing factors such as the depletion of water resources and the increase in local variation in rainfall are growing. As for soil resources, degradation advances when sustainable management is neglected. It is often reported that in mainland China and Australia, the incidence of disasters due to wind erosion has increased during the 21st century, and analysis of this as an adverse effect caused by large-scale single-crop agriculture is becoming firmly established.

If we consider biodiversity, we find strong support among international opinion for the fact that it is of vital importance to the conservation of the global environment. Artificial materials also possess value as resources in broad terms. Let us look for example at the environmental value of community forests. It has recently become clear that environmental values of a community forest are not exhibited when it is left in its natural state without periodic thinning, but can only be exhibited when “maintenance” is carried out by humans. Agricultural waterways which draw abundant irrigation water to farmland, as well as embankments capable of withstanding once-a-century flooding are examples of artificial resources which prove indispensible for food production.

Rather, environmentally-sound food production systems are required to ensure that food production does not contaminate, deteriorate or deplete these resources. If food production efficiency is prioritized too highly, and chemical fertilization and agricultural chemicals applied in excess, the result will be contamination of soil and groundwater and lake eutrophication, thus damaging biodiversity. Unless we address the conservation of agricultural land, soil erosion will advance, excess earth and sand will flow into rivers and dams, and the lifespan of artificial materials will be shortened.

Individual people, meanwhile, interact with the world as a whole through the society to which they each belong. The 6.8 billion humans, our so-called global community, must maintain food production by providing labor and technology. At the same time, the food produced must be provided in a sufficient quantity, quality, and safety. Guaranteeing sustainability for this entire system, while securing equity not only for the present generation but also for the future generations, are necessary conditions for ensuring global food security.

The interregional inequity appearing among the humans living today is also threatening global food security. In other words, the safety of food can only be secured once equity is achieved in both intergenerational and interregional contexts.

The effects of climate change should also be addressed. Climate change has an enormous effect on agriculture; if it is left unchecked, food prices will inevitably rise again, and the subsequent further increase in poverty and starvation will be unavoidable. Restricting the inappropriate use of land, such as deforestation, and making efforts to reduce the generation of greenhouse gases, as well as contributing to mitigation of and adaptation to climate change are essential for global food security.

Cited with modification from the records (interim report) of 20th Science Council of Japan Issue-oriented Ad hoc committee “Water, Food and Sustainable Society”

Science Council of Japan is an academy of science which spans the multiple fields of humanities and social science, life science and medicine, and physical science and engineering. On six previous occasions since 2003, it has held the International Conference on Science and Technology for Sustainability. This year, as the seventh annual event, it was held under the theme of Global Food Security and Sustainability (the author of this article is the chair of the Organizing Committee of the Conference). The international conference assembled approximately 150 participants, including prominent researchers from abroad who are all contributing to resolution of the food issue in their individual academic field. It featured three sessions, relating to livestock, marine and crop products, with lively discussions held transcending areas of expertise.

The expert on Japan, James R. Simpson, who is known for his book Is Today’s Food Situation Good for Japan? Warning From an American Researcher was in attendance at the conference, and emphasized the need to “think outside the box.” Indeed there have not been many cases in which prominent researchers from different fields around the world have participated in a gathering under the same theme, and furthered discussion through mutual understanding. In that sense, this international conference can be thought of as having been a challenging program that provided the occasion to think outside the box. I would like to provide my personal opinions below, taking these discussions into account.

The issue most emphasized with regard to security in livestock products is the drastic increase in consumption of animal protein in the developing countries, referred to as the “Livestock Revolution.” In addition to dealing with the issue of livestock illnesses which easily spread across borders, the development of a recycling-oriented system spanning from animal feed through to rearing and the reuse of livestock waste is required to deal appropriately with this consumption issue. Moreover, the advancing globalization of animal health and illness means that the issue cannot be conquered without a system of cooperation capable of transcending areas of expertise and national borders.

In the area of the security of marine products, global overfishing is considered the most serious issue. Sustainability cannot be maintained in a fishing industry which places importance on catch quantities and aquaculture production volumes as it has up till now. A paradigm shift towards ecological fishing is therefore necessary. If we look at shrimp aquaculture in the Philippines for example, as many as three to nine hectares of mangroves are required to naturally purify the nitrogen emissions of one hectare of farming. China accounts for 70% of the total global consumption of aquacultured seafood, and this tendency continues to grow. We need to implement measures to counter issues such as these. In addition, the trend in Japan to consume tuna which has a high trophic level has been carried to excess. We should therefore move to the consumption of fish with lower trophic levels such as sardine and saury. Such paradigm shifts as these are required now.

The most important goal for the security of crop products is the realization of sustainable crop production that does not constitute an excessive environmental load to the planet. Agriculture during the 20th century reached a level that could indeed provide for the world’s population. On the other hand however, it has developed regions of soil degradation, reportedly with a total area amounting to 2 billion hectares, increased the environmental load from activities such as deforestation, and presented new challenges for sustainable agriculture. Such agriculture also created a starving population in Africa, which is feared to increase to more than 0.8 to 1 billion. Prospects for sustainable agriculture capable of providing for a total world population of 9 billion has simply not been demonstrated. When considered from the perspective of agricultural economics, we find that instead of simple tariff cuts via World Trade Organization (WTO) systems, there is a significant necessity for the creation of trade rules for a comprehensive framework that includes environmental conservation and agricultural sustainability.

In this way, when we consider global food security issues in relation to livestock, marine and crop products, on both an individual and international level, we are surprised by the existence of “common sense within the box” in each case. As for livestock products, we find the introduction of rabbit as a source of animal protein to have very promising potential; in fact, this has already been achieved in Vietnam. Regarding marine products, the evident reality is that the world catch has already exceeded its peak. If we consider crop products, we find that water resources provide a constraint condition on the expansion of paddy rice cultivation in Asia. As such, rice cultivation should be adopted in a water economizing format, such as upland rice, which can be harvested on dry rice fields. These facts may be common sense “within the box,” but when moved “outside the box” they are considered as new information.

Consequently, to many people who have not participated in Science Council of Japan symposiums, this international conference itself is “within the box.” However, the details of it should definitely be brought “outside the box.” To borrow the words of Prof. Rattan Lal of Ohio State University, who gave the keynote speech, it is necessary to change the reality that the food crisis is threatening the political stability and peace of the world, and science and technology must make a contribution to this end. This assertion is in complete agreement with the ultimate mission of Science Council of Japan. We wish to stress once again the necessity of developing an academic approach which transcends areas of expertise in order to achieve global food security.

Footnote: “Nihon Keizai Shimbun” [Keizai Kyoshitsu (Economic Classroom)] “Global Food Security: Balancing Sustainable Production and the Environment”, 29 September 2009, slightly added to and modified.

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