Pinstrup-Andersen (Scott Series Lecture #1)

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The Global Food System: Perspectives for the Future


Population growth, diet transition and societies’ desire to assure sustainable management of natural resources as well as attempts to mitigate or adapt to the consequences of climate change, will continue to put considerable pressure on the world’s food systems. These systems are also called on to eliminate existing deficiencies of dietary energy and nutrients in the diets of many millions of people and reverse the rapidly increasing trend in the prevalence of obesity and related chronic diseases. Several activities and decisions made outside the food systems, such as macroeconomic and trade policies and armed conflict may have very important impact on the future food situation.

It is my assessment that the productive capacity of the world’s agriculture, together with continued research and related innovation, will be able to feed future generations even, as expected, the world population will grow to about 11 billion people before the growth rate begins to fall around the end of this century. However, whether the assessment will turn out to be correct, will depend on the behavior of the key stakeholders in the food systems, including but not limited to governments, private sector agents operating in the value chain, civil society, farmers and consumers. The issue is not whether the world has enough resources to assure that all world citizens can obtain a healthy diet now and in the foreseeable future, but what action is taken by the relevant stakeholder groups.

So what action is needed? On the demand side, it is critical to empower consumers (all world citizens) with the incomes, wealth and knowledge needed to acquire healthy diets. That implies employment, access to productive resources within and outside food systems, lessening women’s time pressures, reduction of food waste, enhanced education and transfer of knowledge. In response to the rapidly growing urban population, there is a need to shift the relative emphasis of action to assure a healthy diet, from rural to urban populations. On the supply side, the main challenges are to expand production, to adapt to climate change, to cope with new biotic and abiotic stresses in agricultural production and the post-harvest supply chain, to assure sustainable management of natural resources, to adjust the supply chain to dietary transitions and nutrition and health goals, to reduce food losses and to cope with anti-science sentiments.

The drivers of the future global food supply include the following: Climate change, biofuel and energy prices, research, development and innovation, ownership and user rights to land and water, efficiency in water use, investment in infrastructure, consumer demand and misinformation. Large food price fluctuations since 2007 and recent dramatic drops in food prices influence current action related to the food system.

A set of supply-related priority actions are suggested, with emphasis on specific areas of research, innovation and government policy. The presentation concludes with the recommendation that efforts to improve the global food system should be based on a solid understanding of the behavior of key stakeholder groups and how food-related goals can be made compatible with the goals they pursue.

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A brief Bio for Pinstrup-Andersen is at Running time: 72 minutes. Videographer: Peter Carroll


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